In celebration of our 10th anniversary in Senegal, we wanted to highlight the founding staff of CREATE!, whose ideas and values we continue to carry out today in our work. We are grateful for their hard work, they have paved the way for the future of the organization as well as helped play a crucial role in developing and introducing renewable and appropriate technology solutions. Barry Wheeler, CREATE!’s founder, says, “In founding CREATE!, I have been enormously influenced and inspired by the resilience, creativity, indigenous knowledge, dignity, and warm-heartedness of villagers with whom I have worked and collaborated, from Togo and Benin to Uganda and Sudan, from Rwanda to Senegal.”

The Beginning of CREATE!

CREATE! was conceived in 1998 while founder, Barry Wheeler, was directing programs in emergency relief in Africa for the American Refugee Committee International. The conception, design, methodology, and mission evolved and was refined over the next ten years, culminating in CREATE! being registered as a non-profit organization with 501(c )(3) status in 2008-2009 and CREATE! was launched in June of 2010 in six villages in rural Senegal.

Barry recalls that the spark of the idea to create CREATE! flashed while he was driving back to Kampala from the Kyaka II Refugee Camp in southern Uganda. The villages he passed on his way were not unlike the thousands of other poor villages in countries in West and East Africa, living on the edge of bare subsistence, but unable to break the terrible cycle of poverty. He wanted to be able to contribute to helping these villagers, in normal villages in non-conflict or disaster areas but with little or no access to international relief and development project dollars —and to employ and use small-scale technologies accessible to them to improve the quality of their lives in areas of fundamental human need.

After years of working in relief and development in Africa, he decided to create an NGO based on sound principles of self-development and the application of appropriate strategies and technologies for self-reliance, sustainability, and community empowerment.  In fact, Barry relates that the acronym for this new NGO represents the merging of two powerful, foundational ideas:

1) to combat climate change in service to protecting the environment, both physical and community, through the use and application of renewable energy and appropriate technologies; and 2) to do so in the knowledge and conviction that creating a better world is possible, with good will, a good heart, and determination.  Creating a better world; creating conditions for change; helping to create a new, different reality for villagers, by villagers themselves.  Thus, the acronym for the Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology for the Environment!

Founder Barry Wheeler with Thieneba Cooperative Group President, Mere Top in Senegal.

A Tribute to All of CREATE! in Celebration of the 10th Anniversary of CREATE! in Senegal

Barry Wheeler, Founder and Director Emeritus, CREATE!   

“CREATE! is an idea. It was founded on humanitarian principles and values conducive to human needs-based village self-development and sustainability: respect; local participation; education and training that empowers people in meeting fundamental human needs and builds confidence and self-esteem among community members; and that is based on participatory approaches and technologies that are appropriate to, that fit, their village life. But all good and successful projects and organizations require dedicated and committed people who truly believe in these principles and values to carry them out, to make them real on the ground in the villages where CREATE! works and is asked to help.

These are the exceptional men and women of CREATE!, without whom this philosophy and model of integrated human needs-based community development would not, could not have succeeded. I am most pleased, humbled, and honored to have worked closely with all of them in common purpose over the years since the founding of CREATE! and to affectionately regard them as my friends, colleagues, and family. I salute and profoundly commend them all for their joyful, conscientious contributions in fulfilling the mission and spirit of CREATE! in the villages we serve.

This is not a surprise, however. In numerous discussions with Omar Ndiaye Seck, CREATE!’s Country Director — and with Kebe before him — a critical element of CREATE!’s success depended upon the recruitment and hiring of people of high moral character, of integrity, and most importantly with a good heart, a humanitarian heart. Of course we needed skilled technicians — Senegalese national graduates in agriculture, agro-forestry, horticulture, gardening, social mobilization, communications, accounting — but that wasn’t enough. Those people could always be found; we needed only those in whom the spirit of Ramadan beat in their hearts: generosity; kindness; compassion and love for those less fortunate than yourself; and sharing what you have with others to help to alleviate suffering. For a model of “development with a human face”, an “economics as if people mattered” to work and be successful, a good heart, a humanitarian heart is essential to understand and implement “la philosophie en action” — the philosophy in action.

Country Director, Omar Ndiaye Seck and Barry Wheeler walk through the community garden in Keur Daouda.

Omar Ndiaye Seck, our leader and Country Director, is such a person, an exemplary person committed to the good work for its own sake, for the benefit of others. As are, very happily, all of our chosen original core staff of CREATE! and those who have since been selectively recruited to this extraordinary team, a team that recognizes and truly represents the concept of “The New Senegal”. These are who we so justly and rightly celebrate during this extended celebration of the 10th Anniversary of CREATE! in Senegal!

The good heart, the compassionate hearts of kindness and commitment to others are exemplified in this team that I particularly recognize with my fullest respect, appreciation, and admiration, all of whom are essential spokes on the wheel of CREATE! : Omar Ndiaye Seck, Amadou Diouf, Mame Souka Diouf, Codou Gadji, Abdou Ba, Ousmane Diallo, Ndeye Fatou Thiam, Charlotte Odille Diedhiou, Ndeye Fatou Sow, Papa Mayoro Diop, Nogaye Loum, Georges Nesta Mancabo and Bamba Diagne, the newest members of the CREATE! team — and Louise Ruhr, whose many contributions over the years were integral to the growth and success of CREATE! since its founding. To learn more from our team and read their quotes, click here.

For those of us working in Africa, and certainly for all of us in CREATE! in Senegal, the words of the late Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Green Belt movement in Africa, inspired and motivated us in our work from the very beginning of CREATE! In helping to spur others to action, she wrote: “Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own — indeed to embrace the whole of creation all its diversity, beauty and wonder. Recognizing that sustainable development, democracy and peace are indivisible is an idea whose time has come.”

Indeed, it had. In discussions and meetings with our staff over the years in the evolution and growth of CREATE!, understanding the larger social and environmental context of the critical work of CREATE!, our team became increasingly inspired to demonstrate the best examples of what is possible in participatory rural self-development; and each new village was challenged to become the best, the most exemplary model of integrated village self-development to be able to show others — the four inter-related foundational legs of CREATE!’s project design and methodology: water acquisition; local food production; renewable energy/energy conservation; and income generation. And this success and inspiration has become contagious, as service to what is good is always right! As we say in referring to these exemplary models, the new motto is “Voir c’est croire!” — Seeing is believing!

I shared some of the wisdom of Lao Tzu from the Tao Te Ching with Seck and our staff during a series of meetings regarding our work, our purpose, our philosophy. All were very reflective, engaged, inspired, and in accord with the wisdom of Lao Tzu for CREATE!: “Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say, ‘We have done this ourselves.”


The team poses near the well in Darou Diadji with Vibrant Village Foundation Program Officer Marieme Daff (back row, second from left).

Louise Ruhr, Executive Director Emerita, CREATE!   

“Working with CREATE! in Senegal was one of the great learning experiences of my life thanks to our wonderful staff and community members. Their patience with an American woman of a certain age showing up in their communities with decent French language skills, not a word of Wolof and a very limited understanding of the cultural context was absolutely extraordinary. I don’t think that I have ever been in another situation where people showed so much kindness, generosity, respect and forgiveness as I struggled to make my way down a steep and sometimes bumpy learning curve.

My original role with CREATE!  was to support the Founder in establishing, publicizing and raising money for a brand new 501(c)(3) nonprofit and I was eager to have the opportunity to work directly with the Senegal staff and communities to realize CREATE!’s ambitious vision.

Louise Ruhr chats with Diender cooperative president Ndaga in the community garden.

My first visit to Senegal was in the summer of 2011 and during the eight years of my tenure with CREATE!  my field visits became progressively longer, as the numbers of communities increased and I found that there were ways in which I could not only learn from our team but teach them as well.

A particularly memorable and rewarding experience was the five-day training of trainers for the Voluntary Savings and Lending Association program, or VSLA, at the CREATE! training center in Fass Koffe.  For this training I was able to bring skills and knowledge that I had gained during my years working with similar groups in refugee camps in Rwanda, and training that I had received from Hugh Allen, the world’s leading expert in the VSLA methodology. As VSLAs evolved to become a key component of CREATE!’s approach to village self-development, I greatly appreciated the opportunity to supervise this particular area of implementation and to build the capacity of staff and community members.

The women in Darou Diadji attend their weekly VSLA meeting. VSLAs are self-managed, highly organized, and democratic money management systems practiced by over seven million people worldwide, and represent a central part of CREATE!’s income generation program.

At the Fass Koffe training, supported by our Senegal team and another member of our US staff, we trained representatives from the five original communities in the VSLA procedures so that they could go back and train community members.  On each subsequent visit to Senegal it was my great pleasure to sit in on VSLA meetings and see the extent to which these important institutions of self-development had become—and continue to be–integral to the life of the communities.”

Louise with the women of the Thienaba community and a newly built improved cookstove. At CREATE!, Improved Cookstove trainings are the first step towards building a relationship with a community. Community member’s enthusiasm in the construction and use of the improved cookstoves helps CREATE! choose villages to participate in CREATE!’s fully integrated programs.