Ambassador Lukens Visits Region of Kedougou
From April 17-19, Ambassador Lukens, joined by three officers from the U.S. Mission in Dakar, visited the southeastern region of Senegal, Kedougou, located on the border of Mali and Guinea. It was the Ambassador's first trip to this region and an opportunity to visit U.S.-funded projects, Peace Corps sites, and Senegalese government and local officials - as well as meet with the local press and inaugurate a community radio station.
Mining Activities: Both formal and informal
Over the past 10 years, the gold mining industry in Senegal has boomed, and experts say that there is enough gold in this region of Senegal to take such mining to "world class" levels, just behind Ghana and Mali in West Africa. The only large-scale company currently involved is Canadian firm Teranga which runs the Sabodala Gold Operation. During the visit to Sabodala, the Ambassador and his delegation saw the very impressive set-up, met with some of the 900 Senegalese workers, and heard about Teranga's community activities, including a local middle school and scholarships for university students, as well as Teranga's future plans.
The other side of mining is the informal, or "artisan" mining that most communities in the Kedegou area are involved in - sometimes, and regrettably, even among children. USAID is working with these communities to promote safe practices and teach them how to expand their activities to allow them to get economic benefits from other activities, like gardening and agribusiness. The U.S. delegation visited a USAID-Teranga partnership called Yaajende, which includes an irrigation project and grafting of fruits and vegetables to provide nutrient-filled food that can be sold for profit. The Ambassador said the okra he saw was the most beautiful he had ever seen!
Efforts large and small continue to ensure that communities are not negatively impacted by mining activities. The organization La Lumière (the Light), based in Tambacounda, does exactly that and is run by a former International Visitor Leadership Program exchange participant.
Peace Corps Volunteers on the Move
During the visit, Ambassador Lukens and his delegation had the opportunity to see two different Peace Corps Volunteers' sites, each of which was clearly affected by the volunteer's contributions. At the first site, a volunteer named Martin explained how he literally helped bring water to his town by fixing a long-broken water pump AND training a team to be able to fix other pumps in the region as an income-generating activity. Village women sang and dance to sing praises for the volunteer who brought water back to their lives. In the second, the delegation visited Kyle, who is working with an EcoLodge to help bring in revenue to his community, located next to the beautiful mountains and waterfalls of the southeastern region. The delegation tried out a delicious dish of fonio and onion sauce at the lodge's restaurant to show its support.
Conservation and Chimpanzees
Most people have heard of the Jane Goodall Institute but few may know that Spanish researchers from the Goodall Institute are working in Dindefelo, just outside of Kedougou, with chimpanzees and local populations to foster better understanding of the intriguing animals, so that the chimps can help bring additional tourism to the area. This project is supported by USAID through its partner Wula Nafaa. During the Ambassador's visit, the delegation met with Institute staff and local officials, hiked to Senegal's tallest waterfall (125 meters), and was lucky enough to see a group of five chimpanzees during the walk!
Village Salemata Gets a Radio Station
The biggest event during the Ambassador's visit was the inauguration of a new community radio station in Salemata. The villagers, including Bassari ethnic dancers, came out to sing and dance for the Ambassador, who officially opened the station by cutting a ribbon with the town’s Prefet. After the ribbon-cutting, the Ambassador went on-the-air at the new station – 100.0 FM, interviewed by local journalists. The radio, also funded by USAID/Wula Nafaa, will broadcast in French, Wolof, Pulaar, Diahkinke, and Bassari.
In addition to all of these visits, the Ambassador met with local officials, the Regional Council, the Governor, and the Deputy Mayor in Kedougou. The Ambassador was particularly honored to meet a long-time friend of American visitors, especially Peace Corps Volunteers, in Dindefelo, Mr. Ibrahima Baji. Mr. Baji runs the Health Center, and was able to help one of our drivers when he came down with malaria. The U.S. delegation also visited a health center in Saraya; met with representatives from the Kedougou press corps; and saw a women's cooperative in town.