This project aimed to train five Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) and their community work partners in earthworks landscaping by creating visible and durable demonstrations in each of the volunteers' communities. Earthworks techniques are used in agricultural settings to improve water harvesting, retention of organic matter, and control erosion. Landscaping plans were designed and implemented at five unique sites in each volunteer's community. Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL) Austin Peterson and Program and Training Assistant (PTA) Youssoupha Boye led the trainings, instructing volunteers and their counterparts on the theory, design, and tools needed for each technique. At each site community members participated in the project implementation. The on-demand training model for a week-long, five-site tour exposed volunteers and counterparts to a variety of landscapes, improving their understanding of the topic beyond implementation in their own communities. While transportation and logistics were more complicated than in single day trainings, the knowledge and skill acquisition evident as counterparts instructed community members in earthworks techniques at the last site proved the input was worthwhile. Volunteers and counterparts will monitor the maintenance and success of each demonstration. Relationships established amongst all participants and the hope for future collaboration will help keep everyone accountable. The informal network created between work partners also provides each counterpart with resources beyond the PCV in their community.
Earthworks landscaping techniques are intended to improve water harvesting, retention of organic matter, and control erosion. These are particularly valuable and necessary in agricultural settings and semi-arid environments. The direct beneficiaries of this training tour vary between communities, but all counterparts involved and each village rely primarily on agriculture for subsistence and income. Increasing water and organic matter retention will improve harvests, and thus enhance food security for the subsistence farmers participating in the training. Local farmers will be able to adopt earthworks techniques once exposed to demonstrations in their community and/or assistance from the PCVs and counterparts who received five days of training on the topic.
Working throughout the Kolda Region provided a diversity of scenarios in five unique communities, which enhanced participants’ ability to understand and interpret the principles of earthworks. In Timbindallah, a village of approximately 1000 people, four kilometers from the large town of Manda Douane, PCV Ruth Nervig arranged to work in a grain field which may become the community women’s garden. The land is on a significant slope and one edge has a dramatic erosion channel where water feeds in from multiple sources. A human foot path exacerbates the flow of water from the village. The village of Nghoki has a population of approximately 1,487 and is located seven kilometers South of Dabo. PCV Dominica Martin is assisting the women in Nghoki to create a community garden on a plot of land with ample run-off from up-slope farms and a variable landscape, including two large termite mounds, a small erosion channel and interspersed tree species. Fodé Bayo is a village of approximately 200 people, fifteen kilometers North of Dabo. The seasonal river in Fodé Bayo does not retain much water and the upland rice species planted on the slopes leading into the river suffer from inadequate rainwater retention. Women throughout the community express interest in improving their rice harvest, and therefore PCV Mary Cadwallender and her female counterpart decided to create a demonstration in the counterpart’s highly-visible rice plot. The village of Sichian Sirin, seven kilometers North of Sare Sanja, is sixteen years old and comprised of 130 people. In the short life of this village a large section of forest has been cut up-slope from the village center to free land for cereal production. This deforestation has resulted in significant topsoil loss and caused an enormous erosion channel that threatens the structural integrity of one of the community wells and many structures along its path. PCV Whitney Stockwell aims to help her village maintain agricultural land and increase the water available to field crops while simultaneous reversing the water damage in the village. In the city of Kolda, PCV Jordan Levinson works with The Sarakemo Centre Agricole, an agricultural education program for young people directed by a Catholic organization, Six Jarres. The educators and students in this program are attempting to best utilize both the natural rainfall and a large amount of water redirected from the neighborhood onto their property for rice production and vegetable gardening. While some techniques were used at multiple sites, each location introduced new challenges and slight variations; and repetition helped participants refine previously learned skills.
Once it was determined that a training-of-trainers system would best introduce earthworks concepts and techniques to Kolda communities, an on-demand training was requested. PCVL Austin Peterson’s success teaching both Senegalese nationals, during his first two years of service, and volunteers, as a training instructor, made him the ideal candidate to facilitate the training tour. As a renowned agriculturalist, a proponent for earthworks landscaping, and a well-loved native Pulaar speaker, PTA Youssoupha Boye was also asked to lead the tour to share his extensive agricultural knowledge and provide Pulaar translation when necessary. Each volunteer prepared her site before departing for the beginning of the tour. Required preparation included determining food and lodging arrangements with their community, sourcing tools to be used for the work day, and collecting rocks to be installed as part of the earthworks.
The schedule allowed a day of work in each community and adequate travel time between sites. Food Security grant money covered transportation and food, prepared by community members. The tour began in Timbindallah, in the far North-East of the Kolda region, where training was held before and after lunch in the coolest parts of the day. The following free day was allotted for the five hours of travel between Timbindallah and Nghoki. In the villages of Nghoki, Fodé Bayo, and Sinchian Sirin, the tour ran three consecutive days working in the mornings, eating lunch at the work site and traveling to the next village in the afternoons. After working in Sinchian Sirin, the tour traveled to its final destination in Kolda. In Kolda lodging was found for counterparts at the Catholic Mission and volunteers stayed at the Peace Corps Regional house.
Austin brought down the materials for three A-frames from the Thies training center, which the counterparts learned to build, calibrate and use to determine level surfaces and follow land contours. Although this was brought from Thies all the materials needed for construction are available locally. All other tools were contributed by the communities we were working in and Master Farmers in the area. Few tools were carried with us throughout the trip, as volunteers were able to access shovels, picks, and hand hoes in their communities.
When we arrived at each new site in the afternoon Austin, the volunteer whose community we were in, and whichever other volunteers and counterparts wanted to be part of the conversation, visited the location where we would work the next day. Having talked to each volunteer before arriving for the tourné, Austin had an idea of the potential project plan. Walking the entirety of the work site, discussing land use and known water flow patterns and quantity, Austin and the volunteer created a design plan. In the morning Austin briefed Youssoupha and the PCVs on the techniques and concepts we would be covering that day. Youssoupha would then translate the overall design plan to all the participants. Each individual technique was then described to the group before starting work. Often times the participants were broken into smaller groups to work on one technique at a time. Occasionally, we would stop to discuss a particular challenge or point of interest. We would also rotate groups to ensure everyone learned each task. At the end of the work day we gathered as a group to discuss the work accomplished, what we did not finish, and the necessary maintenance and plantings.
The 7 counterparts who travelled throughout the tour gained experience identifying different erosion problems and water harvesting techniques that fit with the 5 different sites that we visited. Throughout the tour they became more adept at building the tools involved in landscaping work, carrying out the techniques, and eventually they ended up facilitating greater parts of the training for community members as the tour progressed. Each site gained between two and three demonstrations of landscaping techniques to use as models that villagers can replicate on their land. Techniques learned included counter berms, catchment basins, terracing, boomerang berms, check dams, and spillways to redirect water flow in rice paddies. The variety of techniques demonstrated throughout the course of the tour provided community counterparts with the technical skills to apply different techniques in their own fields and in different settings throughout their communities. Having gained the confidence to not only perform, but also to teach these skills, the counterparts can now serve as community resources for information on water harvesting and erosion control techniques.
The Senegalese counterparts developed lasting relationships with one another as well as the Peace Corps Volunteers. The relationships built between counterparts and volunteers during the tour created an informal network that will serve as a resource base for communities that can be used to develop and implement future projects. Plans are already being devised for future collaborations between these counterparts and the volunteers to continue learning together.
The expenses related to travel to the initial work site, and food and lodging during the urban phase of the project were greater than anticipated, which led to difficulties due to inadequate funding. Participants also relied more on Peace Corps provided transport than originally anticipated. This cushioned budgeting errors and facilitated more efficient and direct transportation than other locally available means such as donkey cart and foot travel which would have been impractical in the hottest part of the day during hot season.
A week-long tour is also exhausting for all participants. While most counterparts kept up their work pace throughout, others’ participation lagged during the final training. Future multiple-site trainings could be done over a few weeks, visiting one or a few sites at a time.
Community counterparts were receptive and quick to adapt and master the demonstrated techniques, taking unprecedented initiative in terms of passing along newly acquired knowledge and facilitating trainings with village participants. This tour model for training local communities was vastly successful, surprisingly simple, and very encouraging. The volunteers and counterparts who participated in this project strongly recommend that other volunteers adopt this tour model when considering doing any kind of multifaceted training tour. The benefits of utilizing multi-day, multi-location trainings ensure that both volunteers and their counterparts are exposed to a variety of techniques that, although they cannot all be demonstrated in each individual site, can be practiced, adapted, and then replicated by the participants in their local environments.
Not all volunteers and counterparts were along for the entirety of the tour. We found that the volunteers and counterparts who participated in the entirety of the tour, not only their local community, were more invested in each others site, created stronger bonds, and had a more valuable educational experience. We recommend that volunteers interested participating in a similar training event be strongly encouraged to participate in the entirety of the training.
Feedback from community counterparts revealed that there was a misunderstanding about the community contribution necessary according to the grant. Culturally, the community’s exceptional hospitality was not surprising but a counterpart expressed that the community thought they should have received more material goods from the visits. It seems it was poorly understood that in exchange for hosting the tour group the community received a day’s training, labor, and improved agricultural demonstrations. We ran into the common problem of not all the allotted food money going directly to the training, so many host families did gain a small monetary gift. In the future each volunteer should attempt to describe the grant requirements more clearly to their counterparts and community members, but we also think that brining a small gift, even tea and sugar, to each village would be culturally appropriate.
Each volunteer and their respective counterparts are prepared to stabilize and maintain the demonstrations built in their communities. After the second rain, each community will direct-seed small, Nitrogen fixing tree species with extensive root systems, such as Leucaena Leucocephala, Cajanus Cajan, and Gliricidia Sepium on the berms and transplant vetiver grass or clumping bamboo on the down slope side of the berms for stabilization. As the rains come, PCVs and counterparts will fix any damage the rains cause to the demonstrations before the vegetation has had time to establish. When seeding field crops in the demonstration sites PCVs and counterparts will ensure seeding follows the contour berms. Any boomerang berms created around trees will be expanded as the crown of the tree grows.
PCVs and counterparts will also assist and teach community members interested in implementing earthworks techniques. If they have questions about a technique not demonstrated in their village, they will use the other participants as informational resources. The change in agricultural productivity in the demonstration sites should be noted throughout the growing season.
We will also begin discussing other topics our communities would like to learn and look for future means for collaboration to keep the informal network active and continue this over-all successful training model.