Hello friends of REDES! I am writing to tell you of my time in Senegal working with REDES. My name is Heather Stepp and in the spring of 2017 I had the honor of spending two months learning about the thriving ecovillage movement in Senegal. I am a budding farmer-activist from the United States, where I have spent my time in university studying global development, social justice, and sustainable agriculture.
My interests in permaculture and agroecology led me to the ecovillage movement, which takes a holistic approach to social and ecological sustainability. I set out to learn about the thriving ecovillage movement in Senegal as part of a wider project to explore how agriculture as a community movement can be healing for our fractured global food system.
I hope that my account will be encouraging to all individuals interested in becoming involved with REDES, because I arrived in Dakar with no knowledge of French or Wolof, having never been to West Africa before. But when I arrived Dr. Ousmane Pame greeted me with a big hug, and having one person I could communicate in English with was very helpful as I struggled to learn some French to get by during my days in Dakar. Though the language barrier was at times difficult, it was also a healthy, humbling challenge that provided me the opportunity to connect with everyone I interacted with as teachers. I found that once I showed my vulnerability as a learner, people were more than willing to help and were especially excited to teach me phrases in Wolof and Pulaar!
The exciting challenges of being in a new environment were more than offset by the incredible hospitality I was received with. As soon as I arrived Dr. Pame welcomed me into the world of REDES. We convened over delicious meals to talk about the projects of the organization and determine how I could contribute to their work. Dr. Pame was incredibly supportive during my stay, by helping me to find housing and welcoming me to meet his family in Dakar and Guede Chantier. I had the exciting opportunity to join Dr. Pame and some friends of the ecovillage movement who travelled from Switzerland to collaborate with the Women’s Association of Guede Chantier to establish herbal medicine gardens for the ecovillage. During our trip to Guede Chantier we got to see many of the projects REDES has been working on, including the village orchard, the Women’s Permaculture Gardens, and the schools that have been built. Spending time in Guede Chantier was so special because the village illustrates what it is possible to create through community organizing in the ecovillage model. There is a thriving ecovillage movement in Senegal, and the ecovillage of Guede Chantier is really at the forefront of this work! Becoming involved in REDES presents the opportunity to dive right into the heart of the lively ecovillage movement of the Sahel. For all those interested to contribute to the work of REDES in some way, I highly encourage you reach out to Dr. Pame to discuss your involvement because I cannot more highly recommend another opportunity, and I know that you will be welcomed and cared for to the highest degree. Simply, an internship with REDES will open up so many opportunities for learning and connection. Good luck and thank you for your support of this special movement growing in Senegal.