The first week that we got there it was a team of twenty American students and twenty Senegalese students from the University of Dakar. So the first week we were learning about what exactly a microcredit loan is. And, it’s a small-scale loan, usually up to $1,000, sometimes a little more dollars of financial support to start a small business with the goal of providing a Senegalese village or community that has need with the means to stabilize themselves economically and that means to be able to provide their village, or at least their family, with food or their needs.
And the second week, we broke up into groups and we went out and sprawled out all over Senagal. So there were ten groups and there were six people in a group: two Americans, two Senegalese students and two facilitators translators. My group went off to Louly-Ngogom and Ndiaye-Ndiaye which are two Senegalese villages that are about two hours from Dakar, so really not far on a U.S. scale. The first village, Louly-Ngogom, about 600 inhabitants, two parts to the village we called them deux compartiments, so just two sections. It was a very poor village. One of their main concerns was really healthcare. It was a village that had one well for the entire village…no electricity.
So we met with villagers, and the younger generation wanted something very different than the older generation. The younger generation really wanted to put money from a loan towards agriculture and towards really revamping their agricultural system and doing a whole process of irrigation and the older generation wanted to do élevage bovine, which is cattle rearing. With that, they would purchase the cattle and have cattle to eat themselves but also meat to sell to other villages. And cattle could reproduce so you would have a means that could sustain itself. So that was Louly-Ngogom, that was very interesting. That was also a Serer village which is one of their ethnicities, so in terms of langauge, it went from Serer to Wolof and from Wolof it would go to French. And then one of the American partners spoke French minimally and so then I would translate from French to English so there were four languages going on here. Very…very interesting.
And then our second village was Ndiaye-Ndiaye . The community of Ndiaye-Ndiaye came out to kind of listen to what we had to say about sustainable growth in general, and then we listened to them. Our goal was not to tell them what should or shouldn’t be done or what they could do but more to give them a model and see how that could apply to their village.
Our final week, we all returned to Dakar and we all shared our stories of where we went and each one was unique in each village. There was one project that was chosen; that was the goal of going out to the villages, was to find a project that really needed to be financed for the benefit of the village. The one that was chosen was a chicken raising project so they would get money to buy chickens and then they would raise them, sell some, keep the meat for others, keep breeding them, so this self-perpetuating system which is in essence sustainability: a system that can keep providing without making nay other resource worse.
Because of the program, I completely changed my major. I decided to design my own major. I had started off as environmental science, and then after coming back from Senegal I understood that I want to work with communities and I want to work with people a lot more than I want to be in a lab doing sample work. The study abroad gave me direction and because of it, I feel like I've got a firmer grasp on where I want to go with the rest of my life. I know that when I enter the workforce, there are goals that I want to meet and there are things I want to get done.