A First-Person Memory About a Student Newspaper in Senegal

DENVER — In the face of so much distressing news (necessary to keep us informed, of course), it can be reassuring to look back at some more reassuring events.

This is one of those times.

In 2018, SPJ Colorado Pro provided start-up funds for a student newspaper in Gueoul, Senegal, part of a program with strong Colorado connections.

Amanda McCracken, a Boulder journalist and writing instructor, offers a very personal report and two-years-later progress report on an SPJ Colorado-funded effort to help girls in Senegal learn about and practice journalism.

–SPJ Colorado Pro


I want to first thank the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for supporting the Senegalese project from which the following story unfolds.

Imagine teaching a 16-year-old Senegalese student how to write a story about her life, her village, and/or her country. Then imagine teaching her how to broadcast it so that the whole world can read the story. When you empower someone with the ability to share stories, you ignite change that grows exponentially.

The summer of 2018 kicked off the beginning of a journalism program for female students in Gueoul, Senegal (a village of about 11,000 on the edge of the Sahara). Thanks to the grant provided by SPJ Colorado Pro, Friends of Gueoul was able to purchase software to start an e-newspaper authored by the girls of Gueoul.

Friends of Gueoul is a Rotary-sponsored organization started in 2005 by Coloradan Judy Beggs, a former Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Gueoul in 1990 when she was 50. Beggs developed a vision: by helping girls attend and succeed in school, the overall quality of life in the village would improve and further improve the entire country. This strategy is one that many African countries are striving to achieve.

Students learn to type

Like most projects, this one started small. Now Friends of Gueoul has supported 169 girls. By offering $100-per-year “scholarships” to targeted girls’ families (the poorest in the village), girls (called boursieres) are encouraged to stay in school. Several of the journalism students were girls who had started out with these scholarships. For example, journalism student Dio Dio Diop (who contributed to this online story) is now attending midwifery school. She has been a boursiere since junior high school.

Thanks to four American volunteers (myself included), the journalism program began with several stories on the website www.gueoulnews.com The program partnered with a high school journalism program in Englewood, Colo.

While I was in Gueoul during the summer of 2018, we worked on typing, editing, interviewing, and brainstorming skills. We also worked on computer literacy and overall English language skills. Part of our two weeks in Gueoul was spent teacher training and preparing a few key teachers to take over the program once we left. I recognized that going into a new culture with a preconceived notion (or plan) of what I could accomplish was a foolish mission. But I had hopes.

Hope is the one word I will take away from my entire experience. Abdoulaye, one of the teachers, told me the girls relied on extrinsic motivation to be journalists. They asked him, “Why should we attend these sessions and do the work? Will we get paid money?” He said the entrepreneurial mindset is a foreign concept for them.

Amanda instructing journalists

I was stumped. How could I teach them the power in being able to share a story and distribute information if they wanted extrinsic motivation? I was living in the land of “inshallah” or “God willing” where control is out of your hands. I was teaching a population in whose native language, Wolof, there is no difference between the words “if” and “when.” I was reminded how there are pros and cons to believing you have the power to do anything in your life.

And yet the seed was planted. Four months later the girls were still meeting and hopefully they are finding intrinsic motivation in sharing their stories so that the ripple of journalism will extend beyond their village.



From the SPJ Colorado Pro archives:

SPJ Colorado Pro Reaches High School Journalists in Senegal

 by coloradospj, posted in uncategorized

GueoulJournalism - Copy
Teacher Amanda Janae McCracken explains some journalism concepts to first-time students in Senegal.

When board members of SPJ Colorado   Pro learned in 2018 about a remarkable   effort by a suburban Denver group to   bring education and an online   newspaper to young women on the edge   of the Sahara Desert, they saw   opportunity.

In the end, the chapter granted $2,000 toward the 2018 initiative in Senegal. The project there was led Judy Beggs, a lawyer from Denver, whose organization, Friends of Geuoul, has worked tirelessly to establish a school and more for the young women.

SPJ Colorado Pro Board Member Fred Brown, a former SPJ national president, explained the details for Quill, the SPJ magazine. SPJ Colorado Pro Board Member Bob Burdick offered more information in the original SPJ SenegalPitch (1)