By Berta Gielge

The Ndem community was started by Serigne Babacar Mbow, a Sufi Guide, and his wife Sokhna Aissa 35 years ago. In 1984 they initiated the creation of a villagers’ association, that brought together the population of 15 villages in order to

  • strive to give access to basic infrastructure (like water, healthcare, or education)
  • stop – and reverse! – rural exodus by creating income generating activities

and

  • Promote sustainable natural resource management.

Since, the association has been recognized as a Non-Governmental-Organization by Senegalese law, and the village of Ndem has multiplied their population by 10 (from 50 to 500).

  • Three deep-wells give water access to 28 villages.
  • A health care center with a maternity unit and a health insurance cooperative covers a radius of up to 10km which corresponds to a population of apr. 9000 people.
  • A Kindergarten, a primary school and a middle school host over 500 students, who additionally have access to a lunch canteen, a library and a school garden.
  • Three village gardens are managed by women’s’ (and mixed) groups who were trained in organic vegetable gardening.
  • An educational botanical and animal park (the “Fauna and Flora Garden”) in Ndem gives tours to student groups on the topics of biodiversity, ecology, and the cycles and symbiosis of the different reigns of nature.
  • A veterinary station gives prevention and treatment services to local herders and sheperds.
  • And, most famously, an artisans’ cooperative by the name of “Maam Samba” creates colorful textiles and other artwork that sells nationally in three galleries, and internationally through the Fair Trade networks, thanks to the WFTO certification. The cooperative is equipped with a photo-voltaic installation that reliably supplies it with solar energy.
  • An artisanal food processing workshop, a garbage collection system, an alternative charcoal production unit, and many more things can be named, and the process goes on, with more activities being added continuously to the list.

Three years ago, the community has been invited to lead the revival project of the historical pilgrimage site of Mbacke Kadior, the founding place of our community’s Sufi path. The region faces the same difficulties as Ndem, desertification and rural exodus mainly, economic isolation, disengagement by the state. Even more than Ndem though, due to its visibility and high symbolic status, Mbacke Kadior has the potential to become a showcase for all the alternative solutions and strategies for rural development introduced in Ndem and that are still being experimented.

Thus, a network of experts, supporters and activists has gathered around this new budding Mbacke Kadior project, and is developing a model of sustainable, holistic education, that equips young people with the knowledge and tools to make a dignified living in a sustainable rural environment.

The curriculum, that is still in the conceptual development phase, includes Koranic studies (which includes reading and writing the Arabic alphabet), reading, writing and speaking in french, mathematics, and understanding of the world around us ; it then continues with a vocational training in a craft of the students choice: the options go from tailoring and fabric dying, to masonry in many different construction methods currently experimented on the project site, and different fields of agricultural expertise. Additionally, the students are also coached in basic management and computer skills, and a foreign language, in order to become successful micro-entrepreneurs.

Agro-ecology is an integral part of the School, since students from the first year on are systematically initiated to an ecological relationship with their natural environment, plants and animals, and a sustainable resource management; and later, even if not choosing an agricultural specialization, continue to learn a minimum about sustainable subsistence agriculture.

But the agricultural project in Mbacke Kadior goes beyond the School and involves more actors than just the (future) students. On two farms, resilient models of agriculture inspired by permaculture and agro-ecology are being adapted to the context of the semi-arid Sahel climate, put into practice by members of the community together with the local peasant populations, and then, if proven efficient, taught and spread, by and to young students, villagers, and newcomers from cities who want to reverse rural exodus and return to a life on the land.

All while these ambitious and complex projects are being envisioned and take shape little by little, thanks to many supporters and contributors from near and far, the aims and intentions of our presence in this new place are already lived on a daily basis, with small means but a lot of enthusiasm:

  • Both farm plots have already been fenced and planted with a variety and number of trees: fruit trees, shade and wind break trees, fertilizing trees, etc. At this very moment, rainy season crops have been planted, such as manioc, beans, peanuts and hibiscus.
  • A Kindergarten for the children of the community is led by volunteer community members with activities in arts, first reading skills, stories, etc. In addition to that, the children participate in all the everyday work alongside with the adults.
  • Women from surrounding villages come to the community for literacy classes, and crafts training in tailoring, basket weaving, crochet and fabric dying. All classes are led on plastic mats, under straw shade roofs, by local volunteer teachers from within the community.