Community Entry: Senegal


Josephine Luu / Adame Diouf

ɓoly Serere, Fatick, Senegal

August 2013


ɓoly Serere is a rural farming village in the delta region of Fatick. The word ɓoly starts as a traditional ‘b’ but makes a slightly firm sound of air being suctioned inward as it forms the ‘o’ that follows. When people were living in what are now the towns of Djilor, Passe, and Gague Cherif, many came to this particular area because they were able to find, make and sell ɓoly, a special type of wood sanded down and used as the wooden handle to metal shovels, hoes and rakes.


From May 2011-April 2013, Katherine McClendon served as ɓoly Serere’s first Peace Corps Volunteer working within the Environmental Education & Preventative Health program. In her Close of Service report she writes:

There are a little more than 300 people in the village, one boutique, [four wells] and no electricity; only a few houses have running water. The village is made up of around 30 family compounds, all of which are Serere speakers, a small mosque, a few small community buildings for hulling rice etc., and a two room elementary school on the edge of town. […] The village is a 4km walk/bike/charette (horse cart) ride from the nearest paved road found in Djilor, the road town. Djilor has small boutiques, hardware stores, post office and the best breakfast sandwich shack in Senegal. Djilor is also where you can find a mini-car (alhum) or sept-place to the regional capital of Kaolack or the Peace Corps Regional Office in Toubacouta. […] Most people in ɓoly work as farmers growing peanuts, rice, corn and millet. A few individuals garden and the women’s group also has garden that was set up by a volunteer from a neighboring village 4 years ago.

I would add that though the community is small, it is extremely well organized due to local leadership and general peace among the villagers. As a result, they have been able to pilot various projects with NGO’s over the years, in an effort to make incremental improvements to the village.

Boli Sereer village map _ April 2013


The division of labor is heavily disproportionate in ɓoly Serere. Men work in the fields for about four hours in the morning and three hours in the evening during the rainy season that starts around the end of June and lasts until the end of October. During the dry season there is no work in the fields. The farming men have substantially less work to do aside from the occasional hut repairs, animal maintenance, and the two masons who sometimes leave for projects in other villages.

Women cook and clean for their families before and after going to the fields with the men in the rainy season. During the dry season their schedule is the same, though instead of going to the fields, time is spent tending to their beds in the communal women’s garden. Many women also run their own informal petite commerce, buying goods then selling them piecemeal out of their huts. Dried fish, sugar, vegetables, and coal are bought in either Djilor, the nearest road town with a daily market; Passe, where the regional market or luma is held; or Kaolack, the nearest major metropolitan city.

Though there is an obligatory exchange of oral greetings based on the time of day for everyone, there are slight differences between the young and the old, men and women. Men greet with one or both hands, then patting their chest and forehead, a Muslim way of respecting a sect of Islamic brotherhood they are all connected to. Young girls and women look away while curtsying to an older woman or dropping to one knee as a sign of respect for a substantially older, revered leader of the village (chief or paternal head of an important family).

Sandene Diouf is the village chief, but is pushing on 90 years old and thus unable to serve the various functions required of him. He rarely leave his hut, and when he does it is only if tradition requires him to do so. Despite this, he is a revered and highly sought out traditional medicine man. He charges 100 CFA to give healing prayers and touches to ailing people and horses.

Community meetings are led by Sadiouka Ndiaye, my Peace Corps Village Counterpart and the village’s acting leader in any and all village matters. He served in the Senegalese Army in various West African countries, has been trained by several NGO’s, and educated enough to lead (or participate in leading) village trainings and associations.


Since May I have focused my first three months in ɓoly Serere learning the Serere, Wolof and French languages, building relationships with people in my family and in the village, as well as with the people and NGO’s working at the Post de Sante in Djilor. The language barrier and cultural misunderstandings tend to prevent me from being able to peel back all the layers of confusion I have about things like seasonal trends based on work schedules, illnesses, and resource availability. However, I have learned that the information, no matter how succinctly and appropriately asked (which doesn’t happen often on my own) will not always have the direct or accurate answer desired. People will tell me what they think I want to hear, have conflicting answers, or the language confusion will require me to earmark it for later.  So it should come as no surprise that it has been difficult to find anything substantial or accurate to form a quantitative historical analysis of the community. Institutional knowledge of the village is lacking, though, there are always new pieces of information coming with each day my language(s) improve.

Before COSing, I had Katherine help me map out who lived where in village, and later with my family, I wrote out names of individuals, their relationships and how they were important in the community (Village Imam, President of X Association, Pulaar not Serere, mason, brother died, husband sick etc). Luckily with just 300 people and several months encouraged by Peace Corps to not do anything but talk to people, I was able to meet almost everyone. I created a larger community map as a guide that I filled in with more information after I slowly got to know and remember who people were. Though I would greet a new family once every few days to establish a comfortable rapport, I felt it was a better time to ask deeper questions after Ramadan in July; once everyone was able to eat and drink water before and after going to the fields to plant and weed. I wanted to attempt to fill in the blanks in my observations about their lives I’d been watching over the past few months

Draft 2

(Rainy season notes are referring to potential for maintenance of more crops)

Generally everyone in ɓoly Serere operate within and subsist on the same things. There are the exceptions of a few families who are considerably more “well-off” in that they have enough of a disposable income to have concrete homes ( versus thatched roof huts), pay school fees for advanced education and that they can put more carrots and cabbage in the bowl. They are still vulnerable to a host of socioeconomic and health challenges the entire village faces. Everyone depends on the abundance of their crops and the demand of larger cities to come in and buy them. Very few have technical training in other trades and even a smaller number are educated beyond high school. Additionally, the location is seemingly close, but the distance is far enough that it can deter someone from taking a necessary trip to the Post de Santé.

Many of the questions starting beginning to bubble up as I was slowly understanding how things work in this village prompted me to do a SWOT analysis, as a way to evaluate what I’m seeing and hearing. The analysis falls into two classes: tangible and intangible (see image below). It is evident the village is motivated to work together for the greater good of the community, especially when a project is led by Sadiouka. He has spearheaded various projects given his experience trained in the Senegalese Army and later with various NGO’s, serving in a leadership or advisory role on nearly every village association and committee. The flow of control and respect goes from him to the men to the women to the teenagers and the children, yet, it is clear mothers hold a heavy hand and influence over the development of children and their habits. Getting mothers to buy in to any of the new health information Peace Corps and Government of Senegal wish to impart upon the people will clearly be the most effective way of getting this community to adopt healthier behaviors.

Draft 3


1. Continue to actively develop language skills (conversations in communal spaces, having lunch at different compounds, volunteering at Poste de Sante, helping in the fields) through the end of the year

2. Continue informal questions with individuals and groups for a better understanding of what health information people already have, where they learned it, what do they do/don’t do about it, why, and what they think they would need to improve it

3. Observations of nutritional and preventative actions, services at Post de Sante, sit in at relevant association and committee meetings (if allowed), retrieve more health “data” reflective of village from Post de Sante or other NGOs, keep in contact with older volunteers to work around challenge of record keeping systems (inaccurate)

4. Have school counterpart and potentially village counterpart to multiple nutrition and gardening trainings being held nearby at the local Master Farm (food groups, servings, micronutrients in vegetables, vegetables by season, proper growth techniques and insecticide pest management, garden protection, maintenance and costs, extension) – afterward review PC 10-week School Gardening Curriculum and test to see if there are things that are still unclear in the material he is teaching

As the communication skills improve I hope I’ll be able to start identifying where and how the major nutritional and preventative health information gaps could be addressed at elementary school, teenage/young adult, female parent and male parent levels. The next hurdle will then be finding a way to design a small pilot training program for my village Counterparts and a few reliable health relais (village workers already trained to provide basic health advice and services at rural level) that will be catered to these gaps. The ideal goal is that they are designed so that they know how to turn around and educate the other health relais in village who will then use the same information to share, demonstrate to, and train villagers (ex: it is important to increase complimentary foods at one years old, these are the reasons why, and this is how you can make fortified porridge at home). It is the PC “training of trainers” model that encourages those locals trained by PCVs are the ones owning and leading village-wide health training, not the volunteer.

There is no way to put a time table on any of this. It very well could take up my two years serving, because I never know what new information will present itself and how it will stall or accelerate whatever momentum is being made. Additionally, I have yet to learn how to master the politics of being a woman in this particular type of paternal society and the culture that comes with it. There are egos to be stroked and men’s approval that needs to be obtained. I have to be judicious in what I say and how I say it, so really, we’ll mutually be ingratiating one another towards what are currently unnatural behaviors, but have a high potential of working in our favor in the long run (Inshallah).