Greetings from Gossas! This week, I am writing from Senegal while I’m here working alongside our Senegalese staff and visiting our field sites for the first time. My main task while I’m here is to help increase the capacity of the communications team, which works separately from the agricultural technicians to document activities at the field sites and interview participants to evaluate social impacts and collect stories from the field. While I came here to help provide training, I think I am learning just as much from everyone here!

I have been continually impressed by how expertly the technicians lead their field sites and relate so well to all of their participants. Each site seems to have its own character, reflecting the great diversity of leadership, skills, and personalities of the technicians and their beneficiaries.

In Walo, a girl carries her little sister back to the village while mom finishes up in the garden.

In Walo, the first village I visited, I found the cooperative members to be warm and friendly. Omar Aw, one of the technicians who leads training in Walo, motivated participants by working right alongside the other men, and making all the women laugh each time they came up to the water basin to fill their watering cans.

CREATE! Communications assistant Ndeye Fatou Thiam jokes and laughs with the women in the Fass Koffe site.

In Fass Koffe, the energy was high and the women all wanted their pictures taken when they saw my camera. They were all smiling and joking around with each other, while their highly respected cooperative president, Khady Kebe, brought a powerful, quiet presence to the group. I could tell they all had much respect for technician Codou Gadji as well, and looked to her for advice and direction during her visit to the site.

A woman in the village of Santhie cooks lunch on her improved cookstove in her kitchen hut.

Three hours north, the women of Santhie sang while they worked in the hot sun. Just established this past November, Santhie is new enough that it does not yet have many trees for shade or a windbreak, but over the coming months the group will plant a living fence and trees for shelter from the desert wind and sun. The women were enthusiastic about their work and enjoyed spending time together in the fast growing garden. After visiting, I was welcomed into some of their homes to see their improved cookstoves.

Children dance and sing with the women in the VSLA group after the women’s weekly meeting in Diender.

Yesterday, the highlight of my visit to Diender was watching the women and children start singing and dancing after their VSLA meeting. Clapping and drumming on buckets and pans, they took turns stomping to the beat, the children squealing playfully and the women laughing and joining in the fun.

As my first week in Senegal comes to a close, I can’t help but feel that I will never quite see the world the same way again. It has been challenging to conduct interviews across three different languages (French, English, and Wolof), but I have come to find that there are so many human universals that need no language to be understood. I could see the pride on some of the women’s faces when they showed me their thriving vegetable plots. I could see how seriously they took their VSLA meetings to manage their earnings from their vegetable and poultry sales. I could feel the love they had for each other and their communities, and see how the CREATE! sites in their villages help to further those bonds.

What an experience it has been so far!

Until next time,

Andrea Willingham
CREATE! Communications Coordinator