On June 27th we began a four day trek to the southern village of Segou to visit Ali, Kate, Laurel, and Rebekah. Segou is located in the southeast of Senegal a few kilometers from the border with Mali. While Senegal is only about the size of Missouri, the trip highlighted the wide range of landscapes and associated cultures and livelihoods that define the country. The trip began with a thirty minute stop in Gambia where the six Yoder Linds renewed their passports. We then continued south and east for two days of driving. On the way we passed through the salt flats surrounding Kaolack where large piles of drying salt dot the landscape and define a major form of economic activity in the area. Later as we passed through the Niokolo-Koba National Park and into the south of the country, wood became a major roadside commodity and all manner of passing traffic stopped to load up on cheap fire wood and coal, including our driver who managed to squeeze two bags of coal in with our luggage and piled the rooftop high with firewood. The architecture changed as well from cinderblock and squared concrete dwellings to round mud huts with grass roofs. Even the cattle changed from the tall humpbacked breed of zebu cattle of the drier north to a stouter stockier breed (probably N’Dama) that I must assume is better suited to the hilly, rocky, greener terrain of the south. We were also lucky to be traveling south just as the first rains were falling in central Senegal. All along the way farmers were out in their fields with horses, donkeys, and cattle plowing and planting for the rainy season. After a day and a half of travel we arrived in Kedougou where we hired a four-by-four that drove us out to Segou and the concession where the four SSTers are spending their service.
The students are working with an organization called 10,000 Girls, which is conceived and run by an American ex-pat, Viola Vaughn, who has dedicated much of her life to working in Senegal to help empower Senegalese girls and women especially by encouraging them to stay in school and get an education. Madam Vaughn has established a small concession outside the village of Segou which serves as the incubator of a number of different projects. Ali, Kate, Laurel and Rebekah, along with a number of other young Senegalese women from around the country, live in newly constructed huts nestled into the crook of a forested mountain. The evening we visited a storm rolled in over the mountain just as the sun was setting. Announced by dark clouds and a strong wind the rain was quite a treat for those of us coming from Thiès who hadn’t seen it for some time.
In Segou the four Goshen women are each responsible for various chores like strolling into to the village center every morning to buy bread, cooking meals, cleaning, and gardening. They are also responsible for following through on a number of small projects. Laurel spent much of the first half of her service cataloging donated books and organizing a book mobile in the trailer of an old truck. Ali and Rebekah tend to a small garden on the concession and in the afternoons visit with the village girls and assist with their gardening. Kate is helping to organize and develop hibiscus production. Hibiscus is the main ingredient of a favorite drink in Senegal called bissop, and 10,000 Girls has a contract to sell the organic flowers to a US company. Also noteworthy are the connections the students have made with the Jane Goodall Institute which has also begun to develop projects in the area to protect habitat for and reintroduce chimpanzees. The students are working on a number of projects with that organization including surveys of local fauna and interviews with local people.
We left Segou for Kedougou and made the journey from Kedougou to Thiès on Saturday.