Peace Corps Experience in Senegal leads to new education fund
UWM-Alumni Magazine Article
It's a long way from the sugar maples of Milwaukee to the baobabs of
West Africa. From the soft, quiet forests of Wisconsin to the rolling
sandy plains of Senegal. From the comfort of a modern kitchen to an
open fire in a village courtyard.
It's the journey Judy Kader (BA Biological Sciences '97) made,
culminating with her establishment of the Senegalese Education Fund.
Along the unexpected twists and turns, she used knowledge she gained
from her studies, learning to adapt to and enjoy a culture she never
dreamed she'd be experiencing.
Since her days at Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, Kader planned to
become a Peace Corps volunteer, but her studies came first. Her plan
was to serve her country in some way, then complete studies in mycology
(fungal biology) or become a veterinarian, spending two years at UWM,
then transfer to UW-Madison.
But plans can change. "I had the most amazing professors at UWM," Kader
exclaimed. "First, there was Prof. Karl Taylor. He was head of the
herbarium at the Milwaukee Public Museum, and everthing excited him.
So, I shifted my whole focus to plant ecology."
During her junior year, working on prairie restoration and at an organic
farm, Kader thought of abandoning her studies. But she continued for
two reasons. With a degree, she had a better chance of being accepted
into the Peace Corps. But more compelling, she continued because of
"the amazing professors" she studies with at UWM; people such as Jeffrey
Karron, Norman Lasca and Bernard Grosfeld. It was Grosfeld who
encouraged Kader, who knew Hebrew, to complete a second major in
Biblical Hebrew Studies. With unabashed enthusiasm, Kader called her
But after graduation, her priority was the Peace Corps. "I believe the
average person should do something for our country, whatever form that
takes," Kader emphasized. "I love to travel, meet and talk with people,
and I'm not bad with languages. So I chose the Peace Corps."
And that's where Kader's life took another unexpected twist. Learning
she would be assigned to Haiti, she studied all she could about the
country. Just two weeks before she was to leave, she learned that she'd
be reassigned to Senegal, a West African country about the size of South
Her 2-1/2 year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer took place in the small
villiage of SanchiTaba (pop. 100) where she lived in a 12x12 mud hut and
took part in the village activities.
She met the village chief's family who are Mandinka. Her village
"family" was Pulaar, and she had learned the Sareer language. So,
initially they used hand singnals, until Kader learned the common Wolof
language and could converse with the villagers. Then, she discovered
exactly what the villagers wanted her to do. Because the well they used
was polluted and unsanitary, they asked Kader to get them a new,
sanitary well. With no knowledge of well-building, Kader asked herself,
"Do I say, 'I don't know' or do I ask myself, 'How can we get this
done?'" Kader applied for a grant and found a professional well
engineer, and helped organize volunteers from the village to dig and
build the well.
"It was what I expected, but harder," Kader admitted. "Living in a
different culture is an amazing experience. I really felt I was using
my knowledge, because now they have a clean well and clean water."
Now in Milwaukee, she is a land steward at the Schlitz Audubon Center,
where she plants natural varieties and manages invasive plant species.
"What I really love about this is the hardcore restoration work, what
you do to nurture plant communities," she explained.
It's the same for Kader when it comes to nurturing her "other home" of
After returning to the U.S., Kader wanted to continue to help the people
she had become so close to in Senegal, so she established the Senegalese
Education Fund, a non-profit organization (under the auspices of The
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Madison, Wis.) that provides
scholarships for higher education and for a Girls' Club program that
teaches critical life skills and basic education to Senegalese girls.
Because only one of every 25 Senegalese boys and one of every 75
Senegalese girls graduates from high school, Kader looked to education
as the way to help. But more than numbers, it stems from deeper
feelings she discovered while living in that small village in Senegal.
"You see," Kader said thoughtfully, "you don't stay in Senegal for the
food (mainly millet and rice) or the climate (hot and dry) or because
you're doing great work. You stay because you fall in love with the
people." (Senegalese Education Fund Web site: http://sefproject.tripod.com)