Two Volunteers Combat Deforestation in the Kolda Region
“Early on, the forest here in Kolda… You could get up and go live there for a week without [anyone] having to bring food with you. There was so much food in the forest. There were so many trees...
...Now, the forest has gotten smaller. You can’t even find enough food to spend one afternoon there. The forest has died.” – Filly Balde, Village Chief
“Back when I was young, the seasonal river had water in it year-round. You could go to the river in the hot season and have fish. Now, the water is gone at the end of rainy season.” – Amadou Gano, Peace Corps Partner
“Trees are food. Trees are health. Trees are life.” That is the main message of the deforestation trainings volunteers Janelle and Jenna are facilitating in ten villages throughout the Kolda region of Senegal. Both volunteers noticed the severe deforestation in Kolda early on in their services. In Jenna’s village, she saw people using destructive and unsustainable techniques to produce charcoal. In Janelle’s village, she observed people cutting down old trees to sell for lumber. Both recognized that these activities are often a family’s primary, if not only, source of income, but that something had to be said, and more importantly, something had to be done.
“In America,” says Jenna, “we are so disconnected from these issues, but here, they’re right in front of us. Every day, our community members go to the forest to cut down trees. And every year, our communities struggle with less rain, smaller harvests, decreased food security, and compromised environmental health." Janelle and Jenna identified the main issue as a lack of understanding over how deforestation is causing these problems. They sought out local counterparts who wanted to help their communities recognize that trees provide food, rain, and increase soil health. The trainings are designed to target both the older and younger generations. They teach children the role of trees in the water cycle and encourage children to speak up about the importance of forest health, and they work with the adults to extend techniques for sustainable charcoal and lumber production. The volunteers also paint a mural at the primary school, which emphasizes the link between trees and access to food and water.
The project was funded by a Peace Corps Partnership Program grant, and has been a great success so far. Janelle and Jenna are calling villages to fight deforestation by encouraging each village to put together an action plan of what they will do in the coming year. They have been to three of the ten villages, but the volunteers in those villages have already reported community members approaching them to begin implementing the solutions discussed at the training. Janelle and Jenna hope that this will become an annual project taken on by future volunteers in the region of Kolda to reach more communities and implement greater solutions to actively fight deforestation.