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Salamalekum! My name is Sawyer, from the United States. I joined this program for some hands-on experience in development before beginning my master's degree.
Sustainable development has always been intriguing to me. Through this program I had the opportunity work with the various complexities involved in creating a sustainable development program and in doing so also learned about an incredibly rich culture and captivating country!
My Experience (at a glimpse)
Arriving in Dakar just before the weekend, my first view of Senegal was of dimly lit sandy roads of the nation's capital dozing away the twilight hours. The faint shadows of the Islamic influenced soft colored architecture were visible as we were about to touch down.
My two colleagues welcomed me to Senegal and brought me back to our hotel where I was immediately briefed on the work that had already begun that was to become my new home of Joal-Fadiouth, a small coastal community several hours south of Dakar. We had four days in Dakar for orientation and preparations before we would be heading up to the city of St. Louis for meetings with its environmental committee, the town government, and the Aire Marine Protegée (AMP) (Marine Protected Area) of St. Louis, one of a network of protected areas established four years ago. The goals of the AMP program are to protect key coastal fishing zones of Senegal to ensure sustainable fishing business for the future as well as to improve standards and regulations within the fishing communities to assure safe, healthy, and hygienic work conditions for everyone involved.
It was exciting to dive right into the groundwork of a pilot project that no one had attempted before in this region. We were the first volunteers, and with that came the responsibility of setting the bar for those who would follow. We were hitting the ground running and enjoying every second of it.
My first Monday morning, bright and early, we headed into the WWF Dakar office to meet with our directors and colleagues, present our project proposal for the following weeks, and plan our trip to St. Louis. WWF Dakar houses some of the best and brightest of Senegal, stocked full of Master's degrees and PhD's. Most if not all employees are at least tri- if not quadrilingual with English, French, Wolof, and Sereer-Siin along with a collection of other recognized regional languages. At least there would never be an issue with communication!
After a full day of planning, meetings, and preparation, we headed back to our hotel for one final good night's sleep in Dakar before we headed north to St. Louis. Less than a week into Senegal and I'm already meeting with top conservation and government officials, analyzing data and feedback received from the local communities and preparing to implement a new environmental education program for the entire country of Senegal! Needless to say, I was having a blast!
Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from Gorey Island off the coast of Dakar during an educational trip into the rich history of Senegal
This type of conservation and development is not something that can sprout up overnight.
Senegal has approximately 82,500 hectares of protected zones within the network of AMPs off the coast of Senegal. The AMPs are “crucial for the protection of fish spawning grounds and stock recovery.“¹ The local community understands the importance of protecting their ecosystem in order to ensure that their children and grandchildren will be able to provide their future families with food.
This type of conservation and development is not something that can sprout up overnight. It requires everyone in the community to acknowledge and continually raise awareness and understanding of the key issues vital to continued development.
Through direct contact with our community in Joal-Fadiouth, we realized that the best way to provide this education and awareness was through a school-based environmental education program. Through this system, key information would permeate through every level of the community. By providing the children with the knowledge and necessary tools to tackle important ecological issues, not only would they bring this new information home to their families, but they would also teach their own future children about the importance of conservation and preservation.
This program was not designed to provide rapid results, but to provide long lasting effects, which is the aim of sustainability. Sustainable development means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”² It is a balance between the current needs of the community and the world and imposed limitations to ensure the environment's ability to meet present and future needs. Keeping this in mind helps to ensure that any program or project you are trying to establish will have a higher long-term success rate.
Bustling beachside fish market along the coast south of Joal-Fadiouth
Coming from the United States, I knew that I was about to dive into a culture and environment a world apart from what I was used to. While I prepared as best I could, I knew there still would be a huge learning curve upon arrival.
The best advice I can give is to have patience. Many people may not at first understand the concept of “danka danka” or “slowly, slowly” that is a very important part of the Senegalese culture.
What some people may perceive as commonplace, others may put great importance upon. Senegalese carry out many actions in a very very methodical manner, such as situations of formalized greetings and ensuring that everyone involved in the decision making plays an important role in the process. Be sure to remember that you are an onlooker assisting a very closely knit community with important family ties and complex customs that you may not recognize at first.
That being said, the process of learning about the country, culture and history of Senegal was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had!
¹”Senegal celebrates creation of new marine protected areas.” WWF Press Release. 13, July 2005.
² Commonly referred to as the “Brundtland Definition”. Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). 1987.
Newly finished pirogue, the most common fishing boat used by West African fishermen