"I leave Senegal with so many memories and friends. It is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”

Ben Galazka

Epsom College, 2013

Ben Galazka

Epsom College, 2013

Receiving our Travel Award in 2013 allowed Ben Galazka time to reevaluate what it he would like to go on to do with his career. He spent his time travelling to Senegal, stepping out of his comfort zone, learning and giving back - through the practice and development of his french and learning about Microfinance.

“I thought the opportunity to do something really different was amazing but it all seemed so far away. I had always planned to take a gap year but applying for the Traverse Trust scholarship really made me think differently about what I should do.”

In Senegal, many kids at the age of 3 or 4 are sent away to Koranic schools by their parents. These kids are known as Talibe and the Koranic schools are called Daras. The conditions in these Daras vary, with some being in bad condition and providing a very limited curriculum. Often these young people will leave the schools at 18 with very few job prospects. Ben worked on a mircrofinance project aimed at giving the opportunity for Talibe to thrive through the running of their own sustainable business.

“The microfinance project I worked on is absolutely amazing. It is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.” 

The project planned to prepare the potential beneficiaries for running a business by offering free maths lessons. On average he spent two or three days a week teaching basic maths and accounting. When Ben first started he wasn’t too keen on teaching and wanted to be involved in the business side of the project, however he soon realised that the education of potential beneficiaries is crucial for the success of their future businesses.

He found that, more often than not, the people who understood the modules on profit and loss and basic accounting scored higher on their tests; they were far more successful with their businesses than others who did not fully understand. Ben also found organising the lessons challenging. Although efforts were made to organise and teach students by levels of similar ability, he would often have to teach a class 2 or 3 different lessons at the same time.

For this reason, he invested some time in improving the educational framework of the project. Ben created 5 short tests for the beneficiaries to do after each topic they learned. They could only move onto the next topic if they scored over 75%. This ensured that everyone had a sound understanding of basic accounting and could use a cash flow table.

Once a basic understanding of profits and losses was achieved, students had the opportunity to apply for a loan. If their business plan was accepted and they received a loan, then they would be helped to improve parts of their business plan. They were also able to closely monitor their progress all the way through to completion, even after fully reimbursing their loans.

Although the project was incredibly rewarding there were still some challenging aspects. Ben noted that one of the most frustrating parts, which could be said to be true of all small businesses, was the vulnerability and volatility; from what seemed like a stable position with a steady income to having nothing in the space of a few days.

“Alongside the frustration of seeing some projects fail, often due to no fault of the beneficiaries, another thing I learnt was how to deal with some of the other volunteers on the microfinance project who were tricky characters. However I feel that I have learnt to work alongside different styles and types of people over the last 2 months and I know that team work is an invaluable skill for a career in business.

I leave Senegal with so many memories and friends. I saw real poverty but also hope. I learnt a lot about a different culture and about myself.”

                                                                        — Ben Galazka

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