Dustin Steinhoff, News Editor

University of Missouri-St. Louis student and Winrock International volunteer Damon Walker recently returned from his time in Birkilane, Senegal. He was responsible for training members of the Vocational Training Centers of Birkelane and Kaffrine. Walker trained them to be able to implement websites and databases in order to obtain new students and contact their alumni.

Birkilane is one of the departments, or regional subdivisions, located in the Kaffrine region of the West African country Senegal. Winrock International is a nonprofit organization that manages over 100 agricultural, environmental and social development projects in more than 40 countries including Senegal. Winrock International receives funding for projects such as Walker’s from The United States Agency for International Development.

During his three weeks in Birkilane, Walker helped the Vocational Training Centers of Birkelane and Kaffrine complete their goals: attracting new talent to their schools and tracking their alumni. For the schools to be able to do this, the faculty members had to learn how to properly utilize websites and databases; this is where Walker came in.

“My role was to go to these schools and train the trainers on how to create websites, create a database and then integrate that information using Google Forms,” said Walker.

Walker did not have to overcome many hurdles during his time at these schools, but did find Senegal’s, and especially Birkilane’s, Internet connection to be slow at times.

“I didn’t run into any huge obstacles. The Internet connection was a little touch and go,” said Walker. “The part of the country I was in was considered the countryside, so there was a lot of open land, which made it even harder to get a signal in that part of the country.”

At the end of Walker’s time in Birkilane, he had completed his tasks and is confident those at the Vocational Training Centers of Birkelane and Kaffrine will now able to use the website and database-building skills he taught them to complete their goals.

“I believe they will continue to use the tools that I helped them understand and that it will help them reach their goals which were to be able to contact their alumni and attract new talent,” said Walker. “I believe I helped them achieve the goals that they had.”

Walker began thinking about volunteering for Winrock International when he took a class taught by Maurice Dawson Jr., Assistant Professor of Information Systems. He told Walker about the volunteer opportunities offered at Winrock International. Walker’s volunteer work in Birkilane marks his second time volunteering to provide his technological expertise to residents in a foreign country.

Walker completed his first volunteer assignment in Conakry, Guinea in 2017. There, Walker helped the Department of Agriculture by teaching an Introduction to Computers course. For his work in Guinea, Walker received the President’s Volunteer Service Award – Bronze. Walker enjoyed his experience in Guinea so much that when Dr. Dawson informed him there was no one available at the time to volunteer in Senegal, Walker gladly agreed to do so.