Recently, CREATE!’s Development Associate, Paulomi Bhattacharyya spent two weeks working in Senegal for the first time. In this week’s blog post, she reflects on experiences, moments, and people that have changed her life forever. (Pictured above is Paulomi with Oumy Diop in Wereyane)
I believe there is something that drives us all who work in development. Something that we experienced, we saw, we heard. Something that we call “our story”. The story that gives us the faith to continue our work. So, what is MY story? At the risk of sounding clichéd, my story is about the women in our CREATE! communities.
Meeting My Inspiration: Arame Nguirane
It started with a picture I saw just few months in my job as the Development Associate at CREATE!. While preparing for a grant proposal, I chanced upon this picture of a woman walking in the fields of one of our CREATE! communities, followed by a few other women. The way she walked, straight, tall, looking forward, a leader worth following. She was Arame Nguirane, the cooperative garden President from the community of Walo. The moment I saw her, I knew I had to do everything I could to ensure that all the women in our partner communities could walk with that confidence. I also knew someday I would have to meet her and tell her how her picture inspired me in my work.
Arame’s Leadership in Walo
Nearly two years later, early this month, I finally got the chance to visit Senegal and my inspiration. I not only met Arame, but also spoke with her and her community of dedicated women and men working together to achieve empowerment and self-sufficiency. Walo also happened to be the community that made me dance for the first time in Senegal while they chanted my name, an embarrassing but endearing ordeal for someone with two left feet. The community of Walo will graduate from CREATE!’s programs under Arame’s leadership later this year. I have complete faith in them to carry on their sustainable development projects for generations to come.
Why Diabel Became My Favorite Community
In this trip, I also had the pleasure of meeting other women who inspired me equally, if in a different way. I met Khady Ndiaye and Awa Kane in Diabel; two women who engulfed me with their warmth and made me want to squeeze my eyes shut to capture this moment in my memory. Diabel was the first CREATE! community I visited in this trip, and will remain my favorite for a number of reasons. This is where I took a picture of a woman harvesting green peppers, who later looking at her picture claimed she was ugly. With tears in my eyes I explained to her that she was beautiful inside and out and she rewarded me with a heart-warming smile.
Diabel was also where I experienced first hand the hard work the people in these communities do every day, willingly, under harsh climatic conditions. It is also Diabel where I realized for the first time that the communities are literally producing nutritious vegetables in the sand. A realization that overwhelmed me and at the same time underscored the absolute necessity to help fund the activities that make their lives just a little bit easy.
The Women of Senegal Will Always Hold a Special Place in My Heart
Every CREATE! community that I visited in this trip had a story to tell, had a memory that I embedded in my heart. Be it Oumy Diop in Wereyane who spontaneously came up to me and wanted to be my friend even though we spoke different languages or Yacine Diop, the Secretary of the community of Gagnick Mack who spoke to me in perfect English and picked Jujubes from the garden to feed my nostalgia. These women, with all their differences, made me one of their own. They made me promise to myself to be the best version of me so that I could be one of them. They say Africa changes a person, and I agree. I am a changed person after this trip of mine to Senegal. And it is because of the people that I met there, people who I now call my friends.