Diarra Pont

Diarra Pont
Diarra Pont: My village in southeastern Senegal, 75km west of Kedougou.
"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.

But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."

-John F. Kennedy

Friday, May 31, 2013

Tragedy emphasizes communal nature of Senegalese

I have long heard that one of the most distinguishing factors between Eastern & Western cultures are their communal and individualistic natures. Although this has been apparent to me in many different ways, not only in my travels in college and noticing differences between my character and life in America and with where I was, but often in my Peace Corps experience here in Senegal (i.e. eating out of a single bowl for meals, sharing the smallest proportion of food between many so everyone gets a little, etc). Nevertheless, it is amazing to see the fundamental nature of a community come out in full force, although generally this takes a horrific event as a catalyst. The catalyst in the Bow Pellu neighborhood of Diara Pont was the destruction of two family compounds consisting of seven huts.

Although there is a lot to be said about the burning of fields, everyone here does it. The occasional result in the destruction of homes, does not stop people from doing it. In Kedougou, we are still in the midst of the dry season, temperatures are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit daily, with it cooling into the 80s in the middle of the night. However, the rainy season, simultaneously farming season, is approaching. There have been a handful of rains and it prompts people to start thinking of preparing their fields. This is the reasoning as to why a field was left burning, unattended- normal practice- on Saturday May 18. It may have been left because of the approaching dark clouds (bringing rain) visible in the distance, and the increasing winds, telltale of an incoming storm. Then again, it may not have been; the farmer may have started the burn and normal and left. Nevertheless, the winds that afternoon were horrendous. I was biking to a nearby village and had to stop several times against the head wind because I simply could not pedal against it . I struggled to stand over my bike & even when I could move, I was afraid that the wind would knock me over before I got to the protection of trees or a turn that would get me out of the wind. As I said, I left my village the afternoon the households burned. I was told the next day upon returning that the flames were meters upon meters in the air, larger than any fires people had seen before. Fortunately, all the villagers who lived in the houses ran away to safety nearby. In the comfort of neighbors and villagers who came running to see what was going on, together, they watched everything the families own, besides the clothes they were wearing- clothes, buckets, furniture, money, food stores for the upcoming months, EVERYTHING, turn to ash.

In America, this would result in an insurance claim as a means of recovering things. Here, the cash savings of these families burned because they did not have a bank account, the nearest bank being nearly 50 miles away. By the time I returned the next morning and heard the news, people of my community had been visiting through the day, offering food and clothing to the families while the elders worked out a schedule for the upcoming week with the heads of households to get what was remaining of the structures livable before the rains inevitable become more consistent. Although some outer walls were knocked down and some of the hut walls structurally unsound, five huts in the upcoming week were reinforced with manure painted walls by women over two days, and roofed the following day by men from surrounding villages thanks to a radio announcement made earlier in the week. I am shocked at the transformation within such a short amount of time thanks to the community effort of so many in cutting and collecting bamboo and grasses, collecting manure, fetching water, not to mention the time and labor to get the work done as well as cooking for those who came to help. It is amazing. I am heartbroken for the losses of the family but am touched to see how many contributed to the beginning of the restoration of their livelihoods. I can only imagine the seeds that will be donated so they can farm this year, although they will undoubtedly have a more challenging year than most as they rebuild their lives from essentially nothing.

A view of most of the huts the day after

Alfa Oumar Kante showing the remains of his hut

Burned bikes

Burnt corn

The difference after painting!

Painting the walls with a manure mixture

Making the roof

Mens work day for roofing

Etchilo Latrine Project

I have done several latrine projects in my service, something that came very much as a surprise to me. However, when approached by a villager, I find myself unable to say no because it is such a simple need that I can help fulfill; I can write a grant to get funds for the materials whereas the villages I do them in, already have the knowledge and capacity to construct them but lack the money to do so (often it is being spent or saved for other things). Therefore, after initially saying no because of my involvement with other projects, the persistence and hospitality of the women's group president finally made me agree, despite of the tight timeline due to the upcoming rainy season (you can't build latrines during the rainy season because the holes will collapse and the cement will not set properly). So, having a motivated work partner, the former host mom of a volunteer who has since completed her service and did not get replaced in village, I was able to get materials for 10 latrines in the community and see their completion thanks to another grant from the Water Charity.

Not a completely "hands off" AgFo season

Although my intention was to delegate more this work season, in many ways I have been with seed and sack distribution meetings and tree nursery checks, I still managed to get my hands dirty. I, of course, have a small personal tree nursery in my backyard with cashew, mango, and papaya, but in a nearby village, Kekeressi, I organized a 400 sack tree nursery with Acacia Melifera for a live fence for the women's garden there with the volunteer who lives there, Jubal. With an afternoon of seed preparation (cutting and soaking) and manure gathering, we were able to put in a long day (nearly sunrise to sundown) to fill and seed the tree sacks. They are coming along quite nicely! Outplanting will be a lot of work but hopefully a work day with villagers will make it happen more quickly.

Prepping corners of sacks

Jubal filling sacks

Tree Nursery

Thursday, April 11, 2013

AgFo Work Season!

I am taking a different approach to agroforestry work this year. Last year I was really good about having a large personal nursery and going out and helping people with theirs. However, this year, having been able to include my area for training in coordination with NGOs Trees for the Future & Yaajeende, I am taking a more hands off, supervisory approach/role. I have coordinated to have farmers go into Kedougou for a nursery "how to" training. Then, it is their responsibility to train others interested in their villages, rather than me seeking everyone out. Further, I held meetings to determine what people wanted (types of seeds and consequently tree sack sizes and numbers) in order to obtain, organize, and the distribute materials and the knowledge for them to make nurseries. It has been good to check up on people on a weekly basis at the weekly market. This approach stems from the fact I will be taking a vacation when it would be essential to water my personal nursery, and don't want to burden someone to do it since the women's gardening has drastically increased since last year and most women are already watering their gardens in the morning and evenings, without going to my separate area. We will see how it goes! I am really hopeful because a greater number of people are interested in live fencing (more trees) whereas last year I primarily focused on mangoes and moringa last year. I am hoping their success last year with mangoes gave them the confidence for these live fencing species! It is the early stages...

Senegalese Independence

April 4th celebrated Senegal's 53rd year independent from French colonial rule. It's crazy to think that it has been independent less than an average lifetime whereas the US will be celebrating its 237th this July. Nevertheless, I was fortunate to be in village this year to witness the celebration. The vast majority of my village went to Dar Salaam, our rural communitaire, just 2km away, the village separating where I live from our regions' market town, Salemata. Dar Salaam is along the main laterite road and they set up a shaded area and took the desks from the school in addition to other plastic chairs for seating. It was hot but I walked over with my host mom, her friends and six children at 9am before the heat of the day really began to sink in. It was great seeing people in their nice outfits and admiring the womens' hair (e.g. braids). The day started with the raising of the Senegalese flag with a short musical tidbit I assume was the national anthem. Along the highway they used ash to make lanes you would see on a track. These served as sprinting lanes later, although beforehand, an equivalent of a parade happened. Group of children in matching "fete independence" (independence party) shirts, provided by World Vision, marched by, followed by a soccer team, men pretending to work fields, women in various matching outfits, a young girls dance group with a minor interruption by a sheep herded who joined the party by running by with his sheep in tow. Afterwards, various sprints took place. They also did this funny game where they blindfolded children, spun them around, handed them scissors and they walked towards a string to try to cut it. Seems a little dangerous, but children play with knives all the time here, and we give children fireworks in the States, soooo yah. There were drummers that played & people from the crowd came and danced. Dar Salaam is ethnically Malinke, known more for its music and dancing that Pulars in my area, so it was fun to see! I was invited to a government official's house for lunch at 2pm which I was grateful for (not only was I hungry and only shared a bowl with 3 men with oily rice and a meat and onion sauce, but I didn't have to eat in the crowded classrooms with many people sharing bowls, which also happened an hour after I ate). I saw people I knew from at least 6 surrounding villages, and even a man from Kedougou who came to cover the event for the radio. After everyone was done eating, we rested in the shaded area until it cooled down enough to walk home at 4:30pm. During this time we listened to a short playlist on repeat over big speakers. Coming home, we had a dinner bowl loaded with vegetables I bought from the market earlier in the week.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Kedougou Youth Leadership Camp

As a regional project, we invited 22 adolescents (ages 13-16), half boys and half girls, from the four subregions to Kedougou for a week-long residential camp during their school vacation. We rented out a campement and were able to conduct nearly the entire camp within its compound. Although I was not able to invite anyone from my village, I stayed at the camp as a supervisor for the entire week since I was in charge of morning and afternoon snacks, in addition to photographing the week, and leading in arts and crafts sessions. I am amazed at how well the camp came together! The theme of the camp was leadership and we truly did have an amazing group of kids. We did arts & crafts (tie dye, drawing, painting, making backpacks), as well as challenge course activities (bowl stack, human knot, counting to 20 as a team, and jumping through a rope in groups). We had a few dance sessions as well (Ballet, bollywood, and Zumba). We also had guest speakers for a career panel, to play "Best Game," a money management game, a women's doctor for health questions, Peace Corps cultural coordinator, Awa, came to address male and female roles in the household, dating at young ages, continuing one's education, and female genital mutiliation. We also talked on types of communication and rights of the youth as well as had family planning sessions. We had a great field trip to a waterfall in Dindefello for a nature walk! The kids had an amazing time and were very sad to leave by the end. I hope someone takes up this project again since it was a huge success! Unfortunately I cannot since I will leave before it happens again.


Monitors/camp counselors

First Aid session

Money Management Game


Jeopardy session after learning about family planning

Helping with skits

Looking for animals

Waterfall fun

Art session

Soccer in the evenings

Women's doctor visit

Listening to a presentation

Learning guitar

Awa presentation

Challenge course activity: counting to 20 without repeats or interuption

Group painting activity

Certificate presentation

New Roof!

Roofs here are grass. Therefore, there is a particular time of the year to reroof. You must wait for a particular grass to be ready, collect it, and then rethatch. Last year my roof was leaky during rainy season so I needed to fix that this dry season. Enjoy the pictures of the process! They all thought it was so silly I was so interested in how it worked, although, it is much different in the States! It’s something I’d never seen before!