Learning and Living in Senegal

With more than 50 countries available, Global Grant recipient Rachael Mattson (IAFS ’18) had a daunting task of choosing where to study abroad. With her academic interests in politics and environmental issues in West Africa, she chose the Dakar Development Studies program in Senegal during the fall semester. Her time abroad proved challenging and fulfilling, including an internship with ENDA Energy, an NGO that creates sustainable economic, social, and environmental solutions; a class trip to the Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative; and a visit to Dakar’s Mbeubeuss landfill. Throughout, she learned family traditions in rural Senegal.

Visiting the Matam Region

One of Mattson’s most memorable experiences was her 10-day visit to the Matam region in northeast Senegal, where she interacted with local farmers and learned about daily life in small communities. In Matam, the native language is Pulaar. “When local women saw me practicing my vocabulary, they enthusiastically came over to help me with pronunciation and grammar,” explains Mattson. “It created a closer bond between us because Pulaar is very important in their culture.”

During her stay in Matam, she attended a wedding as well as a baby-naming ceremony. She spent time with a young farmer, Djiby, who talked of his challenges in producing water for his crops. In several places of the region, she saw community initiatives for environmental and economic growth, such as gardens for women and funding programs for girls’ education. “Of the many things I learned, I value being given the opportunity to understand how family and community are significant in Senegalese culture,” says Mattson. Visiting Matam was more than just a visit to a rural area – it added to her overall understanding of Senegal’s history and ultimately, how communities can shape their future.