World Vision Travels: Senegal

In this series, we give you a close-up of some of the incredible countries where World Vision works. 

Read about travel stories, experiences, as well as culture, history, and attractions of these vibrant communities. This one has a bonus at the end- a recipe for one of Senegal’s tastiest meals!

A Senegalese "pirogue" boat on the beach. Photo/Evgenia Dolina

By Megan Radford

The first thing that hits you as you step off the plane in Senegal is the warmth. It’s not just the temperature (although that is pretty staggering if you arrive in hot season), but the way the people and atmosphere seem to embrace you, hugging you to them in a big, Senegalese-mama hug.

The next thing that you will probably notice is the colour palette. The beautiful wax print ensembles that Senegalese women don every time they leave their house; mountains of ripe fruit piled at the sides of the road; the whimsically-painted “car rapides” (local buses), and walls overflowing with bougainvillea in every hue lend themselves to the riotous rainbow that is my adopted home.

I first moved to Dakar, Senegal when I was seven years old. For a small-town girl from Newfoundland, Senegal seemed like an enchanted playground of colours, sights and smells. Twenty-two years later, and this beloved country hasn’t lost its magic for me.

A Profound Place in History

Senegal is home to the only democracy in Africa that has never experienced a violent government overthrow. The peace in many parts of the country is something that seeps into your bones, slowing life down to a pace that allows you to take everything in and let the unnecessary worries dissipate. And, with temperatures soaring to 40 C in the hot season, you’re going to want to take the requisite afternoon nap that can stretch from 12-3pm and shuts down many of the country’s worker bees.

Senegal is home to quite a few historic sites. For many North Americans of African descent, the most powerful draw is Gorée Island, where so many of their ancestors were loaded onto ships, never to see their home again.

The island remains much the same as when the Transatlantic Slave Trade was booming. The colonial homes, colourfully painted and brimming with flowers, betray nothing of the painful history they hold. But a museum, featuring the ominous “Door of No Return”, brings the past into the present in a powerful way.

                                                        Photo/Robin Elaine on Flikr

From City to Oasis

After the solemnity of Gorée’s museum, take some time to process and unwind. Dakar is home to many hidden beach gems, where a dedicated few take to the waves on surfboards, boogie boards and skim boards. Of all the beaches I’ve been, the wild untouched quality of La Phare, the beach just below Dakar’s iconic lighthouse, holds the most beauty and memories for me. Easter sunrise services here as a child were magical, sacred moments with my family and community.

When I was 19, it was the place my friends and I would trek every Saturday to enjoy the waves in relative solitude. Walking down the rocky path to the sand below always felt like an adventure. We also built relationships with the few locals who visited the beach- an older lady who sold us frozen “bisaap” (hibiscus) juice in plastic bags, and the guys who owned the beach shack and made sandwiches. When I think of home, La Phare is where my mind goes.

These days, hotels have begun to crowd many of the coastal spots. But there are still secret beaches to explore along Senegal's long coastline. And, on off-season, quite a few of those Dakar hotels are nearly empty, providing a quiet spot to enjoy a cold drink pool or beachside. 

If snorkeling is more your thing, take a “pirogue” (colourful long wooden boat) to Ngor Island and enjoy the cool water and peaceful break from the city. Have lunch at one of the restaurants right on the water, then head to the nearby beach for some sun and surf. You can also walk straight across the island. I remember my younger brother, around ten at the time, particularly enjoyed this rambling exploration.

Photo of an Ngor Island Sunset by Evgenia Dolina

Centre of Culture

Senegal has been free from colonial rule since 1960, and in the decades since, its artists, writers and designers have flourished. Our first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, is famous for his soulful poems. And international superstars Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal and Akon have put Senegal on the map for their passionate music.

For Senegalese music newbies, I suggest watching this incredible Baaba Maal collab with Mumford and Sons called “There Will Be Time”, live in Johannesburg. And put on your dancing shoes- it’s one of the most powerful songs I’ve heard this year.

My adopted home is also a centre for incredible fashion design. Culturally, it is a sign of pride and respect to make sure you are looking your best every time you leave the house. Annica, the owner of Bapribap- a collection of modern children and women’s clothing handmade in African fabrics- will definitely help you out in that department! Bapribap is in the process of moving to a new space, so you’ll be able to visit their atelier in Dakar very soon.

Dakar also features an incredible Artisan’s Market, where local craftspeople skillfully create everything from ebony animal carvings and professional “djembé” drums, to intricate silver filigree jewelry and brightly patterned cloth bags.

If bargaining isn’t your thing, Keur Marie Ganaar (or KMG) is a one-stop-shop for artisanal wares. Pick up a wax print tie for grandpa, or a hand-woven basket for your mother-in-law's bathroom. Meanwhile, check out their Facebook page before your trip for some virtual window shopping.

Working Together

World Vision is proud to work with local change-makers in Senegal so that children can grow and thrive in their beautiful home. Our programs there focus on the education and empowerment of children, as well as economic development that helps communities become self sufficient.

These women are supporting themselves financially through making and selling soap. Photo/World Vision

Of all our programs, the practice of working with local school districts to create child parliaments has been one of the most profound. Groups of children in schools are given specific responsibilities, such as ensuring school grounds are well maintained, or being watchdogs for their fellow classmates.

The children build such confidence and leadership skills in these parliaments that they often become strong advocates for their peers. If a student doesn’t show up for school, children will connect with local mothers’ groups, who will confront the family. Child marriage, which is common in rural areas of Senegal, is another issue that child parliaments address. In some cases children from the parliament will address the family themselves, and try to educate them on the rights of their daughters.

World Vision is also working with local growers to ensure that families are getting proper nutrition. By coming alongside farmers and determining what local produce will best supplement local diets, we are able to improve the health of communities.

Since drought has been an issue in the region for the past few years, World Vision is also exploring crops that have higher yield in dry conditions. Because of the partnership between farmers and World Vision, families are now doubled the number of months they are able to have three meals a day. Our long term objective is that families in rural Senegal will be able to eat three wholesome meals a day year round.

My personal favourite meal from Senegal is a delicious dish called “Poulet Yassa”, chicken marinated in lemon and onions and served over rice. To learn how to make Poulet Yassa, and whet your appetite for more travel and recipe posts, read on:

Ingredients

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

4 large onions, thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/8 teaspoon minced fresh habanero chile, or to taste

5 tablespoons peanut oil

1/2 cup olives

1 Bay leaf

4 cloves of minced garlic

5 tablespoons vinegar (cider vinegar is good)

1/2 cup water

1 chicken

Directions

• Mix all ingredients (the more onions the better) in a glass dish and place the chicken in to marinate overnight.

• Remove chicken from the marinade, but save the marinade.

• Grill chicken over a charcoal grill or roast in the oven until chicken is lightly browned but not fully cooked.

• While chicken is browning: Remove onions from marinade and sauté them in a large saucepan for a few minutes.

• Add remaining marinade to the onions and bring to a slow boil, cooking the marinade into a sauce.

• Reduce heat on the sauce and add chicken. Cover and simmer until chicken is fully cooked and fall-apart tender.

• Serve over steamed white rice

For more information on our work with the people of Senegal, or to sponsor a Senegalese child, check out our country page.