From Summit County to Senegal and back |

From Summit County to Senegal and back

special to the daily
Special to the Daily

On Nov. 15, 10 Friends and Families of West Africa (FFWA) team members returned home from a two-week learning and cultural exchange visit to Senegal, West Africa. Members of the team included Aliou Ba and Oumar Niang, residents of Summit County, whose families provided their homes and guest houses in the communities of Hoorefonde and Doumga Ouro Alpha, 675 kilometers up-country from Dakar, the capital. Other team members included Sylvia Dowty (Silverthorne), Mary R. Francis (Breckenridge) and Jim Gulley (Frisco) of Father Dyer United Methodist Church, Catherine Clark (Dillon) of Lord of the Mountains Church, Susan and Zach Robertson (Denver) of First Unitarian Society of Denver and Aaron Gulley and Jen Judge of Santa Fe, N.M.

The FFWA team visited markets in Dakar; the notorious prison on Goree Island, (which was the last point of departure for the largest number of African slaves sent to the Americas and the Caribbean from Africa); St. Louis – a city known for its international jazz festival; as well as the rural villages of Aliou Ba and Oumar Niang. In addition, Susan and and her son Zach traveled further and visited and spent an overnight in Ndindory, the village of Mamadou Sow – who lives in Avon.

In the villages of Hoorefonde and Doumga Ouro Alpha, the team lived in homes and guest houses provided by the families of Ba and Niang. Arriving in the first village, we were welcomed by riders on horseback and accompanied to our guest house by scores of delighted school children and residents.

The first day’s business included visits to meet the local chiefs and elders, who assured the group that we were most welcome and that it was important for us to visit them so that they could properly care for us during our stay. The second visits were made to the religious leaders, imams or “thiernos,” where we had warm exchanges. In addition, we visited a Koranic school at night and learned more about the traditional Koranic education system.

We also visited the local primary and middle schools, women’s farming groups and health clinics. In each school we presented them with school supplies of notebooks, pencils, pens and chalk. In each of the villages, together with some of the local people, we were able to make a mural that depicted Senegal and Colorado on their respective continents as a sign of our friendship.

We presented three local clinics with medical supplies, which we had purchased from Project C.U.R.E. in Denver, each receiving an estimated $3,000 worth of supplies. Susan and Zach Robertson gave these same educational and medical gifts in the village of Ndindory.

The local water works and the committees that oversee the collection of payments for water supply were also included on our agenda by our hosts, highlighting the crucial role of water in that Sahelian environment on the fringe of the Sahara, where the fact that water means life was so evident. Each of us drank at least two liters of water a day to stay hydrated! And this was NOT the really hot season!

As we visited, we learned more about the challenges of providing education, health care, water and livelihoods in this dry Sahelian environment. Most are dependent on agro-pastoral farming: raising cattle, sheep and goats on the sparse grass and farming vegetable crops on the river banks and flood plains. Large-scale sugarcane and some commercial farming was seen along the main route to our host villages, but apart from that, we saw few economic enterprises outside of local markets.

One of the highlights of our stay was a visit to the Senegal River where in 1992 the family of Aliou Ba (father Baidy Ba, mother Famata Ndiaye and sister Aminata Ba) crossed over from Mauritania to Senegal, fleeing and leaving their land and livestock due to persecution by the government of Mauritania. Aliou narrated the story to us in the presence of his new wife, a student in Senegal, and his friends and former classmates still living in Senegal.

In addition to feeding us and accommodating us as their guests, our friends also entertained us with local music, dance and drama. Leaders in the two host villages made each one of us traditional Senegalese outfits and presented them to us as departing gifts, symbolizing their appreciation and respect. We also presented our hosts’ wives with pieces of silk cloth as tokens of our appreciation.

The visit gave several who had never visited rural Africa an extraordinary glimpse of life as it happens daily for millions of rural Africans. All of us were overwhelmed by the openness, friendliness and generosity of people who have much less material possessions than the average American. Yet, they housed, fed and even clothed us out of their limited personal resources in a most genuine and joyful way. We paid for virtually nothing in their villages. One team member, Mary R. Francis, said:

“For me personally, this was a trip I will never forget in that it expanded my world view and appreciation of the many unique aspects of this culture and how privileged we are. I was moved to tears by the receptions we received in the villages. I do feel I was transformed and reminded of the wealth that lies in the human spirit. I was allowed to partake and share in the daily lives of these warm and hospitable people. I also experienced amazing communication that required no words.”

There were many tears shed as we parted, knowing that they had given us far more than we could ever hope to give to them.

The visit opened our eyes to ways that we may continue our relationship and that could provide additional opportunities for improved education (a computer lab), health care (ambulance, sterilizer, needle disposal equipment) and farming (irrigation, fuller utilization of moringa plants). Together, we will work with our friends Oumar, Aliou and other West Africans to see how to further build a bridge of friendship and mutual help from Summit County to Senegal … and beyond in West Africa.

On behalf of the Friends and Families of West Africa (FFWA), the FFWA Team of 10 want to thank all of those in our communities who provided funds for the projects and assisted our two West African friends, Oumar Niang and Aliou Ba with their air tickets and transportation costs.

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