The following is a brief account of my week spent in the eco-commune of Guédé Chantier, in northern Senegal. It was there that I was able, thanks to Dr. Pame and his invaluable help, to do part of my research internship on ecovillage movement in Senegal for my Master’s degree on ecosystem services at the University of Edinburgh.
This movement is the first of its kind in the world. Senegal is home to many actors who are working toward a rural transition through ecovillages, and my stay taught me that the REDES represents this dynamic with passion and tenacity!
Guédé Chantier, the first village visited during this stay, is located in the arid lands of Fouta, not far from the border with Mauritania. The week I spent there was filled with great encounters and warm moments- starting with the very hospitable Pame family! It was an opportunity for me, a young Westerner, to discover a culture that was totally foreign to me at the time: Senegalese cuisine, traditional customs and clothing, various religious practices and extended family life. What a discovery!
Assane Diop, REDES local contact point, and Ousmane Pame’s right-hand man introduced me to the various initiatives that have emerged since the municipality became involved in the ecovillage approach. Thus, it is a whole range of socio-ecological practices that was implemented on Guédé Chantier and its surroundings: ecological and permaculture farming, waste management and recycling, schooling of children or awareness of the inhabitants on ecological and solidarity themes. The agroforestry project in Diarra, for example, is an oasis where many vegetables grow in the middle of fruit trees, where they previously could not in the arid Sahelian soil! This fight for a healthy and sustainable agriculture is taking place on all fronts, like Salamata Pame who works in the center of agricultural genetic resources and for the establishment of a community radio for the farmers of the department of Podor .
Guédé Chantier is a large group of people involved in the life of their community: artists, teachers, high school students, farmers etc. The Movement for the Renaissance Guédé Chantier, proudly supported by the students of the municipality, has a mission to take concrete action on environmental issues and to raise awareness among the youngest and the oldest, in order to collectively reduce plastic pollution and participate in the reforestation of the region.
To see the collective strength of a handful of assured and determined individuals can change the face of a village like Guédé Chantier was truly a very rewarding human experience. Of course, municipal politics play an important role in this dynamic, but the transition is well underway and the movement is growing! The REDES network tends to involve itself beyond borders in order to positively impact the whole Sahel by promulgating the integrated and endogenous ecovillage approach. This is a fascinating and necessary vision in view of the important climate changes affecting this region located at the ‘door of the desert’ and which pushes so many young people towards the rural exodus.
The REDES and ecovillages show us that human societies, far from being a scourge for nature, can instead work with it, integrate with it with humility and respect, and even embellish it with all kinds of practices. and knowledge that only needs to be heard, propagated and applied in harmony with the environment. Thus, between the warm welcome and the wealth of initiatives eco-villagers, I can only recommend to those who would like to know more or even get directly involved with Dr. Pame. A huge thank you to his family and Assane who made this trip a human adventure that I will never forget. As Assane would say, little by little, the bird is nesting, and if there is one thing that can contribute to this, it is to share and exchange more on this visionary project of a green Sahel and solidarity.