Day 1: Ndiarendi & Talibadji Toucouleur
In January 2017 Farsight undertook a five day venture into a remote reserve called the Boundou (pronounced Boondoo), in the far east of Senegal. We were there to create a series of short documentaries to be used as part of the environmental education program currently being undertaken by reserve staff. What follows are our thoughts and feelings as we spend our time working with the local communities.
Our first outing was to Ndiarendi, a village about an hour’s excruciatingly bumpy ride away from our camp in Talibadji. We arrived at the only active school in the four villages we passed on the journey, and endeavored to open a dialogue (or at least Gabriel, our guide and volunteer for France’s Conscil Departmental de l’Isere did) about the benefits of planting trees – the current ecological education on the docket. The conversation was stilted, partly from the shyness of the students, partly from apathy to the curriculum, but mostly from the distraction of four white “toubabs” charging into their one-room schoolhouse with cameras. If the students were shy about answering questions, they certainly were not camera shy. What ensued next was a chaotic, euphoric, unproductively giggly two hours of Gabriel attempting to teach the students how to prepare plots with soil and dung for future trees, and him being ignored as us with cameras got mobbed by admirers and children desperate for photos. The experience was incredible, and reaffirmed my often-shaken faith in humanity. However, it also highlighted a critical flaw in conservation schemes as they so often exist in African countries. The ability to effectively change children’s attitudes is inherently stifled by the novelty of the (typically white) Western conservationists that seek to do it. Their mere presence is so exciting that the lessons behind the visits seem to get lost. The impetus for conservation education really falls on the teachers, and in an ideal world the families and communities, continually reinforcing the lessons. But, as many in conservation have realized, the adults are usually a lost cause, which is why the programs are so often aimed at kids. Thus, we are caught in a catastrophic catch-22.
Gabriel teaching children the importance of planting trees in Ndiarendi.
The campsite in Talibadji highlighted something else – how perfect Senegal is for tourism. The first day we arrived early afternoon to a small enclosure with two spacious huts, a tap linked to well water, and two blazing fires with lunch bubbling away in cast iron pots on top. With a mattress set out on mats in the shade, it felt like paradise. The only caveat was the mysterious bathroom area. It had a clearly designated stick partition for such things, and even a section with a wooden slate intended to facilitate a bucket-shower; however, it had no defined ‘toilet,’ nothing even remotely resembling a hole. It transpired that the latrine was labor the locals weren’t willing to invest for a camp with such paltry visitation, and rather they’d welcome you into their private bathrooms, or you could go squat outside the fence with the cows. Once the mystery was solved, the camp returned to its paradise state, with the evening meal taking place on mattresses under the stars.