In Soussane, Senegal, children are taught to protect the environment alongside reading, writing, and arithmetic.
The introduction of nature to the curriculum at L’école de Soussane is only one of the significant changes to stem from the UN Development Programme project Participatory Conservation of Biodiversity and Low Carbon Development of Pilot Ecovillages at the Vicinity of Protected Areas in Senegal.
Under this GEF-funded initiative, launched in 2011, a network of communities around Senegal received the tools, training, and resources they needed to chart a course toward a nature-friendly, low-carbon, and more financially sustainable future. Project teams worked closely with residents in the pilot sites to earmark zones for activities such as farming, breeding, reforestation, and biodiversity protection.
On a May 2022 visit to Soussane, GEF CEO and Chairperson Carlos Manuel Rodriguez noted the positive impact that the project has had on day-to-day life for residents of all ages.
Until the introduction of the solar panels that now supply 80 percent of its power needs, the village had no access to electricity.
“The people of Soussane had no refrigeration or access to communications technology,” Rodriguez said. “There are now sites equipped with light bulbs, fans, and televisions, and the children have even tried ice cream for the first time.”
The introduction of solar power has had other benefits. Because of their training in the management and maintenance of the vital equipment, the women of the village have assumed a greater leadership role.
A communal borehole provides clean water for drinking and for the irrigation of cherry tomatoes, hibiscus, and other crops grown in the village’s burgeoning market gardens. With the 2017 introduction of a solar-powered water pump, residents no longer have to draw this water by hand.
The market gardens, are a source of food, income, and employment for villagers and have helped improve the nutritional status of women and children in the community.
The GEF CEO also had a chance to see one of the most life-changing additions the project brought to Soussane: a new village shop stocked with affordable supplies. With a locally run source of staples and bulk goods, set up as a cooperative, villagers are no longer forced to walk 8 km (5 miles) to buy the necessities of life.
The shop, borehole, gardens, village shop, and school are all central to village life.
The school in particular has had an impact that extends well beyond its walls. Mango and other fruit trees planted on its grounds at the start of the project have matured and now offer a haven of shade for children playing during breaks between lessons or on holidays.
With the introduction of solar power and support from project teams, students also have access to laptop computers – and thus to new skills and the wider digital world.
Graduates have gone on to a variety of careers, including teaching and medicine.
Perhaps most vitally, they have also emerged with an understanding of what it takes to protect nature against a growing number of threats.