Mbolo Birane (my neighboring village) has recently become a commune, with a jurisdiction and a mayor. Before Mbolo Birane was a commune, the villages in the area were under the jurisdiction of Pete, which is about 20k away. Now these 26 villages have a smaller region and ability for self-governance. The mayor, Ndoro Mbaye, informed me that there was money budgeted for the Environment and specifically called me in for a meeting with him to discuss Peace Corps’ ideas for environmental projects and to assess how best we can work together to further the goal of environmental sustainability in our region. Deforestation is an obvious problem in the Fouta, and trees are readily available, free of charge, from the Eaux et Foret, but people are not aware of this nor do they know how to outplant and care for the trees themselves. We decided that the commune’s first environmental activity would involve reforestation activities in conjunction with a trash/litter clean-up project. I had already written a grant and had been working with my counterpart on a village-wide trash sweeping project to move inner-village landfills to outer regions, so this could not have been better timing. We decided that this event would be coordinated using the ASC (Association Sportive e Cultural) presidents in each village, focusing the energy of the youth on the work that would be necessary for the project, but also to increase the knowledge and motivation of the youth towards causes such as improving the environment and curbing climate change.
At the ASC president’s meeting, it was determined that each ASC would be in charge of holding a meeting in their own village to determine how many trees and what types their village needed/residents wanted. This information would be totaled and delivered to the mayor’s office by their next meeting. This was achieved with about three of the village’s ISA’s – the remaining responded by phone. I collected the data and compiled the total number of trees needed (and totals of each type of tree), and communicated them to the Eaux et Foret, who travelled with the person from the Commune in charge of the environment (I do not remember his exact title) and they transported the trees from the regional nursury in Mboumba to the Mayor’s Office in Mbolo Birane on the day before the event. A few days prior, I had announced on the radio about the event, making sure that every village in the commune of Mbolo Birane knew that the trees were on their way and that each village needed to be swept of litter upon arrival of the trees. On the day of the event, I arrived at the Mayor’s Office to find speakers being set up in front and the village sweeping materials (that I had recently purchased from my current hygiene grant) organized and waiting out front. The music was a very pleasant surprise, I was not aware that the village would publicize the event in such a way.
However, I was informed upon arrival at the office that the music would not be used because a woman just passed away in the village. We would have to halt all celebratory activities and streamline the training for the men who had to go bury the woman. This changed things dramatically… Soon, all the ASC presidents had arrived, along with many community and bureau members. As the situation was discussed, someone came running up saying, ‘She’s not actually dead. We just saw her daughter crying and assumed she had passed away. She is awake and well.’ The music clicked on and people gathered. We began the training about how to outplant a tree and care for it until maturity (led by the nearby AgFo: Alicia Gray). About half an hour in, we were again informed that, yes, actually, the poor woman had passed away. She had been sick for a long time and was now dead. We didn’t want to interrupt the training, so we did not make an announcement, waiting for the training to finish to inform the participants. Before the training had ended, however, another runner arrived, announcing that, ‘no, once again, she’s not dead.’ I couldn’t help but laugh! I felt so horrible for my dark humor, but really, why doesn’t anyone check a pulse? She had been in and out of consciousness, which translates to either ‘tired’ or ‘dead’. Really, a lot of confusion could have been avoided there.
When we had checked many times for comprehension and understanding, we began distributing the trees based on the written demands from each individual village. This was led by bureau members and each Commune President of the village ASCs. There were trees left over at the end that were gifted to each person who showed up to help the event. Later, women and children from the community arrived to begin the sweeping of the landfill closest to the Mayor’s Office. I stayed until all that were left were the trees set aside for two villages that were unable to come on the specific day and would come to pick them up later.
The greatest part about this program was that it was community-driven. My part in this project was minimal (compared to the stress and effort I’ve felt while doing other projects). The skills built include correct out-planting, protection and proper watering of trees. The program has also increased the awareness that all of these trees are available, free of charge, from the Eaux et Foret. This program planted 1,600 trees in 19 villages and directly trained 32 people who then took what they had learned back with them to their villages to inform those who would be receivers of trees and would be the ones taking care of them as well.
This project made me feel very accomplished as a volunteer because I felt like my passion and efforts towards environmentalism and tree extension had rubbed off on my community, who decided on their own to take up the cause that I felt so strongly about. Most of my work is done through discussions and conversations about things that I feel the most excited and passionate about, and I always hoped that I might change one person’s mind or maybe persuade two people about the importance of trees. It turns out I effected many more than that. I feel that, having this be one of the first programs that this new commune has undertaken, this could be grounds for impacting the mindset of the community for years to come.