From CREATE! Communications Coordinator, Natalie Deehan-Clark
I’ve been working at CREATE! for over a year from the U.S. office: brainstorming and implementing outreach projects, editing photos from the field, writing narratives from testimonials, and dreaming about one day seeing this impressive work in action. Earlier this October, I had the incredible privilege of traveling to Senegal for the first time. I worked side-by-side with CREATE!’s team, visited our partner communities and projects, and spoke with local leaders. As I settle back into my routine in Eugene this week, I can’t help but reflect upon my time in Senegal. From seeing CREATE!’s projects firsthand to delving into Senegalese culture, it was an experience I will remember forever.
Teranga in Senegalese Culture
Over the course of one week, I visited 13 of CREATE!’s partner communities with the Senegal team. These ranged from graduated villages to communities who were just starting their first projects. In every community, I was greeted with friendly smiles, handshakes, a multitude of questions, and a small cup of Café Touba. Teranga, or hospitality, is a value deeply ingrained in Senegalese culture. Chef Pierre Thiam describes it best, “The most important value is what we call teranga. The more you share, the more your bowl will be plentiful. It’s not about how much you have, it’s about how much you give.” And indeed, I have felt welcomed everywhere I have visited there.
Between the time change, long travel hours, and extreme heat in Senegal, it’s easy to feel ungrounded, tired, and lost in the unfamiliarity. However, CREATE!‘s team was so welcoming, patient, and kind to me. I understand why everyone says the team feels like a family.
One of my favorite and most touching moments, however, happened with Nogaye Faye in the village of Mboss, although my story with Nogaye started before I traveled to Senegal. As the U.S. Communications Coordinator, I receive photos and testimonials from Fatou Thiam and Fatou Sow, the Senegalese Communications Team. About one year ago, they sent me a testimonial about Nogaye and her work in Mboss. I had no idea that over a year later, I would be visiting Mboss and actually get to meet Nogaye in person. I recognized her smile immediately. Not only that, but she pulled me off the bench where I was sitting, backpack still on, and got me to dance in front of everyone despite my hesitation!
The Impact of CREATE!
I arrived in Senegal as the rainy season was coming to an end and the land was still green and alive. However, I knew that with the dry season around the corner the ground would be tanned and barren once again for the next nine months. Even throughout the dry season, CREATE!’s partner communities continue to cultivate fruitful gardens. During my visit, multiple people from other villages visited CREATE!’s partner communities to purchase fresh produce. This means that not only are CREATE!’s partner communities supporting their own families, but the benefits are spilling over to surrounding villages.
While touring the garden in Yougouré with CREATE!’s technicians, I picked up a palmful of dry sand and let the grains slip through my fingers. It’s one thing to see photos and read about the agriculture activities in rural Senegal, but it’s another thing to be here and see it with my own eyes. I was continuously amazed.
The Power of One Tree
Along with cultivating year-round community gardens, CREATE! partner communities participate in an annual tree-planting campaign every rainy season. These trees provide a variety of benefits from fruit, firewood, medicinal purposes, and environmental benefits. October’s sweltering heat, often hovering around 100 F/ 38 C, can be overwhelming and draining. We escaped the heat in the village of Diabel by sitting under a large tree during the afternoon for one of our meetings. It easily felt at least several degrees cooler there, and I found myself perking up with energy again.
Developing Local Leaders
Every village had a dedicated area to host meetings, which were often under a large tree. I was inspired to hear Seck, CREATE!‘s Country Director, speak in each community. He focused on the participatory approach of our programs and how the women were working to transform their lives and their village for generations to come. CREATE! is just simply providing the tools and knowledge to do so. It’s so important to put the power of change into the hands of those who need it, to remind them that they are capable. I recalled a quote from one of my favorite books:
“Philanthropists should find innovations that release the energies of people. Individuals don’t want to be taken care of- they need a chance to fulfill their own potential.”
– Jacqueline Novogratz, “The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich & Poor in an Interconnected World”
Meeting Cooperative Garden Presidents
I spoke with multiple cooperative garden leaders across CREATE!’s partner villages. I learned how cooperative community gardens not only support food security and income generation, but they also create a sense of community amongst women. Many women told me that before they began working on a community garden together, they did not get to see each other often.
One of the last communities I visited at the end of the week was Wereyane in the northern Louga Region. Here I met Arame Diop, Wereyane’s garden cooperative president. We stood amongst young papaya trees enjoying cold fruit drinks and talking about her goals for the community. Arame said she wants her children to be able to support themselves in the village as her generation is doing today. To support this, her goal is to pass on the new knowledge that she is learning from CREATE! to the next generation so that they can sustain themselves and their environment.
I am so inspired by the local leadership and determination of the women I met. They are working in such harsh conditions to develop their communities today and for future generations to come. I also want to thank the CREATE! team, who I am constantly learning from, for so kindly welcoming me in Senegal. I am certainly coming home with a full heart.