How Culture Influences Behaviour: Senegal

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Guest blogger Charlotte Ranaivosoa volunteered in Senegal for Y Care International UK through the British International Citizen Service programme (ICS). During her time abroad from October to December 2015, she had the chance to live with a Senegalese host family in Kaolack and discovered how culture influences behaviour.


When I embarked on my ICS journey, one of my personal development objectives was to fully immerse myself in Senegalese culture and embrace their way of life. This was important as it would help me develop an open mind and understand why and how people in Senegal act and behave as they do.

Living with my host family the Badjis has been an incredibly invaluable experience, as I got the opportunity to experience the everyday life of a Senegalese family and its three generations of women. I especially connected with the youngest generation, comprised of three girls, aged nine, 17 and 19. Being French in a French-speaking country, I was able to talk with them about various issues that they faced as well as my own personal experiences.

I spent most of my time with Fary, the 17 year-old. Observing her everyday routine made me realise the influence of culture and environment in educational and personal development. Even though Fary is in her final high school year and preparing to pass the baccalaureat (a final exam concluding high school in France and Senegal), her daily timetable emphasises her family duties before her studies.

Lunchtime. Women in Senegal are normally the ones who prepare food and share the meat/fish on the common plate where we all eat (you can see my fellow male volunteers waiting). Fary is here serving the 'bissap' (sorrel) sauce. Her 19 year-old sister, Siga, is on her left.

Lunchtime. Women in Senegal are normally the ones who prepare food and share the meat/fish on the common plate where we all eat. Fary is here serving the ‘bissap’ (sorrel) sauce. Her 19 year-old sister, Siga, is on her left.

Although Fary doesn’t start school til 9:00 in the morning, she wakes up at 6.30am to sweep and mop every room of the house, prepare breakfast, get her little sister ready for school and do the washing up before finally being able to take a shower and head to school. At the end of the day, she would fall into bed, looking exhausted and whispering to me ‘Je suis fatiguée‘ (‘I am tired’).

I also prepared for my baccalaureat when I was 17 years old, and when I compare my experience to the ones of Fary and her 19 year-old sister, I noticed the difference in the intensities of our preparations. My role at home was limited and more focused on my studies whilst Fary’s house duties sometimes – if not often – took over her studies because this was her role.

When I proposed to watch a film or play cards, she would accept but would often have to withdraw for some time to either cook or answer requests of family members. I felt a bit annoyed for her sometimes for not being able to pursue a leisure activity without interruption. When I asked her if it all bothered her, she replied that for the respect of the elders, she has to do it, and it had always been the way.

Once, I asked her what would she do if she had 20,000 CFA (CFA is the currency used in Senegal and many West African countries – 20,000 CFA equals around £24, but this was a huge sum to my Senegalese family).

She replied she would give it to her grandmother because she gives her the bus money to get to school, and if her grandma can’t pay for the bus, then she wouldn’t be able to go to school anymore.

On the walk to with Fary to buy some ice cream. It was a 40 minute-walk there and back. This leisure moment was taken on a Sunday afternoon.

On the walk to with Fary to buy some ice cream. It was a 40 minute-walk there and back. This leisure moment was taken on a Sunday afternoon.

I felt humbled by the logic of her answer, which opened a whole new aspect to my thinking. I felt her behaviour was neither wrong nor right, just different, and I understood and accepted the reasons why. I realised how culture influences behaviour and that the environment in which you grow up plays a huge role in the way you approach and see things.

If you can adapt and change your lens according to the environment and the people you interact with, then you are on your way to building a more peaceful world.

(While I was working on writing this article I stumbled on this article, which explains how gender influences education in many African states).


Submitted by Charlotte Ranaivosoa, an LLM graduate from the University of Birmingham who completed her dissertation on the Human Right To Peace. Charlotte is originally from Madagascar but was born and raised in France. She has a blog about her Senegalese experiences, and she is planning to volunteer for more NGOs and work on peace, culture and international development. Follow her on Twitter @I_C_Ranaivosoa


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