International Development in Senegal: Arianna De Reus, Community, Environment and Development

Posted: November 11, 2014

This program has enabled me to become more independent, improve my French, study international development and gain a stronger sense of self.
Arianna De Reus at Ngore Island

Arianna De Reus at Ngore Island

This spring I studied abroad for the semester with MSID’s international development program.  This program was incredibly beneficial for me as a student, where I learned professional skills and improved my French language competency.

I attended classes at the West African Research Center (WARC), had an internship with Senegalaise Des Eaux (SDE), and conducted a research project. I lived with host families, toured historical sites and learned to navigate Dakar on my own. This experience taught me many personal and professional lessons, enabling me to grow, becoming more independent, self-reliant, proficient in French, and patient in uncontrollable settings.

At WARC all of my classes were in French, which pushed me to learn quickly. My classes focused on the development of Senegal and development in general. One of my favorite classes was Sustainability and the Environment, which is just like taking a Community Environment and Development class at Penn State. As part of this class, we visited an extremely polluted beach, to see pollution problems first-hand. We also visited a neighborhood where the houses sank into the sand one meter each year, showing that this form of development is not sustainable. Since our semester was packed into six weeks, our daily schedule was similar to high school, where we started class at 9 am and didn’t leave until early evening. My professors were professionals in their field of study, or professors who also taught at other universities.

Arianna 2I lived with a host family in Dakar for the entire trip, and spent one week with a family in a rural village. My families were incredibly hospitable, always wanting me to eat large quantities of food. In Senegal, families eat rice and fish almost every day, as they are stables in their diet. It is easy to buy fish in Dakar, since we were right on the coast. It is rude in Senegal to deny food if someone offers it to you. I had large host families, with many host siblings. Everyone lived in the same house, including the grandmother, mother and grandchildren. Living with host families gave me an opportunity to meet Senegalese girls my age, and experience how families live in Dakar and a rural village. 

One of the most important aspects of the trip for me was when our group took a ferry to Gorée Island, which used to be a center of the West African slave trade for over 300 years. The island is so beautiful, with brightly colored buildings and palm trees. All of the buildings were built by slaves and designed to look European. Today over 1000 people live on the island, in these buildings as their homes. This island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so that buildings may be preserved. World leaders have visited the island, such as Pope John Paul II, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and President Obama. It is a strange feeling visiting the island, because it is so historic, tragic and emotional.

Door of No ReturnThe last part of the tour was to visit “The Door of No Return.” This door opens to the ocean, and is the last thing that slaves saw before they walked onto a ship. We learned that sometimes slaves jumped into the ocean as they walked on the bridge towards the ship to commit suicide, and avoid the terrible future ahead of them. At this time there were many sharks near the shore, because people who were too weak or caught a disease would be tied up and thrown to the sharks. Although this door of no return is one that everyone photographs on the island, there are many doors of no return, because there were numerous slave-trading houses on the island.  The most disturbing part of all is that this didn’t happen very long ago. We have come a long way as a global society, but still have a long way to go.

Once classes ended, I had an internship with SDE, Senegal’s national water company. I spent time in the technical department, learning about how SDE is organized as a company and how they are in charge of water access for urban areas of Senegal. It was very interesting to see how SDE builds infrastructure and identifies new locations for water tower and pipeline construction.

SDE is in charge of two water pipes that carry water all over the country. These pipes bring water from Lac de Guerre, over 300 km from Dakar and distribute it to reservoirs and urban regions. SDE has not yet expanded to rural areas, however they build new ‘social branch offices’ each year in semi-rural areas. They charge a social tax on water to raise enough money to be able to sell water to poor regions at a lower cost.

The government plays a significantly large role in water access and sanitation in Senegal. SDE is and the Senegalese government have a public-private partnership, with a contract that SDE bids for every five years. SDE is in charge of water access and exploitation, however not sanitation. SONES is another private company with a government contract that is responsible for sanitation. Outside funders such as the World Bank and investments groups from France fund the projects of SDE, outside of the money that they make from selling water.

After my internship, I conducted a research project on water access and sanitation issues in Senegal, comparing the rural and urban challenges that people face every day. I interviewed 30 people in Dakar and 30 people in a rural village. I learned about how people have to walk long distances to get water, struggle with unsanitary water, and experience frequent water shortages. Urban water infrastructure is very developed in Senegal, however the rural areas are very behind with water infrastructure development. 

This was my seventh trip to Africa, and I am so happy to have been able to visit West Africa. I have always wanted to visit the “Door of No Return” where slaves were taken from Senegal to the U.S., learn about the country’s development issues and improve my French. I feel very appreciative that I have now been able to do those things. In addition, I was able to conduct a research project, learning about water access and sanitation issues for people in Senegal.

This program has enabled me to become more independent, improve my French, study international development and gain a stronger sense of self. It is easy to go on trips abroad when you know other students in advance, but in our program no one knew each other in the beginning. This enabled me to make new friends, and learn about their academic paths in similar fields.

Many experiences during my time abroad pushed me out of my comfort zone. Living with host families, navigating Dakar on my own, having an internship and conducting a research project created many new situations where I had to be adaptable, patient and assertive of the respect that I deserve as a young woman. Each experience taught me to be stronger and rely on myself.