Development in Guènté Paté by Ian Collins
As a Geography & Development student, I’ve always been taught there’s no one concise solution for the development issues faced by communities throughout the world. This has never been made clearer than during my week in Guènté Paté. Life in a midsized village, three hours off of the Route Nationale is full of challenges and opportunities. Issues of accessibility can be found throughout the community. The village health post is overworked, and the roads are underserviced. Despite these and other challenges, development and improvement were very much on the minds of many people I met. With the help of my Peace Corps host, I was able to ask people their thoughts on development issues, and no one was short on opinions. Better roads, a more equipped health post, and improved agricultural equipment were all common responses. After spending a month learning about development from a major urban center, being able to see how development is perceived in rural parts of the country was an enriching experience: one necessary for kindling a holistic understanding of development.
One of the most fascinating parts of the visit was observing the high level of community engagement. From being introduced to everyone in town, to passing hours at the soccer pitch, to making soap with thirty people, every moment in the village was steeped in community. The people with whom I interacted were all deeply invested in seeing their community flourish. As much as economic development and capital were valued, social capital seemed to hold a place of premier importance throughout the village. All the conversations I participated in were saturated with jokes and handshakes. Word spread quickly around town anytime something notable happened: be it market stalls sustaining damage in a storm or a certain American student getting sick...
Despite my minor illness during the week, it was without a doubt one of the most enriching week I’ve experienced. Never before have I been able to witness community development on such an intimate scale. Reading about development certainly gave me a good sense of the topic, but books don’t compare to being on site and asking local leaders what development means to them and their community.
My one week in rural Senegal furthered my understanding of Geography & Development more than many semester classes could. Even though I’m still full of burning questions, my sense of the world has certainly… developed.