Cross the Bridge!

My Friend, My Brother! The Salaayel Ecovillage Approach in Mauretania

Severe droughts in recent years have had negative consequences, including impacts on the socio-economic life of our people. One of the most serious consequences was the exodus, which forced village communities to lose some of their socio-cultural values: in hospitality, pride, solidarity, and the cultural space of the village. The initiative, Salaayel, rebuilds original values to establish regional sustainability, in order to re-establish the bonds and bridges between villages, cultures and nations that had been there previously. Aly Ly, participant of the GEN Summit in Dakar, reports and shares the anthem of the initiative.

The drought problems that have weakened, economically and culturally, our communities, coincide with the negative effects of development: globalization constantly aggravates the situation. Even our languages are being depleted due to the abandonment of certain activities.

Usually it is the men who leave the villages first. Women who stay with a few, often older, men and children, are forced to survive on natural resources at their disposal to prevent the worst; submitting to prostitution.

We have experienced almost total deforestation. However, despite its many perverse consequences, the drought has also,had some positive effects on the lives of our communities: The schools receive more students; there are travels, and through these, the knowledge of our culture and discovering new cultures grew; and the emigrants contribute to the development of our villages: building schools, mosques, health centers etc. We also get more knowledge of agricultural techniques: irrigation schemes have been introduced that allow people to survive and cultivate crops even during dry times.

Since the emergence of desertification, states, NGOs, subregional organizations and international organizations and people of good will, are all looking for solutions to improve the living standards of our people. As climate problems persist and become more and more alarming, each of us is challenged and must be concerned with looking for ideas, expertise, resources, to participate in this great struggle to mitigate the suffering of people with low incomes. It is for this reason that, in 2007, the Salaayel Association Loboudou was formed. Salaayel means: small bridge in the local Pulaar language.

The association chose the name of a small artisan bridge that elders of the village Loboudou erected across an arm of the Senegal river called Kondo, to enable local people to conduct cross socio-economic activities and exchanges for the needs of everyday life.

Founded in 2007, Salaayel has become a philosophy, an approach inspired by the culture of solidarity and mutual aid. The openness to trade had already existed between local communities long before the years of drought began.

Each family could easily ask their neighbor to borrow what was needed: food, seeds, tools, or other objects. This was quite natural and normal as it was felt that all property was common to all and should therefore be used and preserved by all.

The barter system was practiced to sell and buy local products, which was also a way to help each other among the villagers (eg milk for cereals). This solidarity system also succeeded in agricultural work, construction, and social ceremonies such as weddings.

This culture of good collaboration, that existed even between neighboring localities, gave strength to the people to easily conduct their socio-economic activities. Moreover, when the granaries were empty, the villagers had no shame in going to other localities in search of supplies.

Our association has reflected on the culture of solidarity and its advantages to engage the communities in sustainable development activities. The Salaayel approach seeks to promote profitable activities to improve living conditions while emphasizing the preservation of natural resources and culture.

For all of its activities with more than 40 villages, through the town of Dar El Barka, Salaayel takes into account the experience and the knowledge of the target communities. In fact, these communities already have knowledge and good practice. A saying goes that "a man will feel the heart comforted and a reassured mind when his works will be in harmony with the universe, the laws of nature ...".

Salaayel´s office is in the village of Loboudou in the town of Dar El Barka, Department of Boghe, Brakna Wilaya. Our actions are first to identify what individuals or community groups do, in order to meet their needs: e.g. agriculture, livestock, fishing, handicrafts, transport.

Subsequently, we try to put them in touch with neighbors, development officers, state, donors, so that they can find solutions, skills, funding or materials. We organize and animate the inter-community meetings to facilitate the exchange of experiences on: cultivation techniques (methods of preparation of natural fertilizers and non-chemical control against pests), reforestation and preservation of nature, and basic education. We encourage communities to communicate with NGOs and other partner initiatives about problems of the people.

We support eco-tourism activities, with 10% of the income for community projects of the villages for health, education, water ... etc. Salaayel has developed a tourism program with a circuit of about 43 villages in the commune. Through tourism, people have got some support such as new windows in the college class rooms of the town of Dar el Barka, a Pirogue, fishing tools, and the possibility of sales of works of art by some local crafts during the stay of tourists. Some crafts like basketry, pottery, embroidery are recovering. The association of beekeepers has also received support in training and equipment.

Anthem of Salaayel
Salaayel welcomes us and presents us with honor of the connection of cultures.
By Salaayel, every idea of solidarity can cross between our young generations and other homelands.
Oh my friend who believes in my ideas, my friend who admires this; Come! we exchange, I cross, we cooperate.
We cooperate through our different cultures and we help each other to develop our resources.
Salaayel is calling; it is calling our young generation with willpower for cooperating and mutual respect between our different cultures.
Our objective is to cross by Salaayel so that our cultures can enrich and benefit from each other in preserving our cultural values.
Oh! My brother, please listen to me. Don’t be in a hurry!
It is better to work slowly and succeed, than to be in a hurry, which may end in a bad result.
One has to be able to support smokes in order to get char-coal.
Oh! My friend; oh my brother, cross toward me, I cross to visit you.
When there is a lack of food, we must go to look for supply with no pride.
Come to pay a visit in my home. You will go for a walk in my environment and run your eyes through my Nature. That way we will make a discovery.
You will know the bridges, the lakes, and the rivers.
When I cross by Salaayel, I will know the different types of sands, the mountain rocks and I will discover the oceans with their salty waters.
All of this belongs to us. All of this is common to us. We are offered this by God. Thanks to his ingeniousness.
As the world has become as a small village, our duty is to walk hand in hand.
Unite our initiatives and our strengths in order to defeat the problems of the time.

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29.Dec.2014