A summer in Senegal

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Last year, Grace Bachmann ’17 became the first first-year student in Denison history to be awarded a Davis Project for Peace prize—an initiative that funds 100 college students each year to design and implement projects that will help build peace around the world. And right now, Bachmann is working on doing just that in a remote village in Dindefelo in southeast Senegal.

When Bachmann found out she had been awarded the prize, her reaction took her by surprise. “I cried! And I don’t cry,” she says. “But I was so humbled. I figured that I am a first-year. I’m doing this alone. I’m not from this place—I am just honored to have the chance.”

While she is not from Senegal, she does have experience with Dindefelo. After graduating in 2012 from Linworth Alternative High School in Worthington Ohio, she took a bridge year to live and volunteer in the West African country with Global Citizen Year, a program for high school students modeled after the Peace Corps. There she lived with the family of the village’s religious leader and worked in the local school.

As a part of the program, Bachmann ran her own art class. While the culture of this area is very communal, there isn’t a lot of room for self-expression, she said.

Her idea was to teach the children about environmental awareness through art by drawing and talking about food chains and ecosystems, inorganic waste and organic waste, and how that affects the environment.

Many of the students had never had an art class before. “That added another layer of complication besides having this young, white girl as their teacher who didn’t speak their language,” says Bachmann.

During her stay in Senegal, the need for effective waste management in her village became increasingly apparent.

“In many developing countries there really isn’t a way to manage trash. In the village I was living in in Senegal, there were streams of waste lining paths and gardens where livestock would roam.” The villagers would then consume the animals and the vegetables. “It’s where kids are playing, too.

It’s a constant reality,” said Bachmann who, as someone fluent in Spanish, served as a translator between a Spain-based organization and locals, who speak Pulaar.

Frustrated with the inefficiency of aid organizations and understanding the Dindefelo community, Bachmann decided to take matters into her own hands.

Using the $10,000 budget offered by the Davis Projects for Peace committee, she is living this summer with the same host family in Senegal. She will spend nearly three months overseeing the purchase of a small-scale incinerator that will burn non-recyclable trash, and she will work to educate the community on how to change waste habits.

As someone interested in international policy and foreign language who has also lived abroad in Ecuador and Switzerland, Bachmann is most excited to be able to return to Senegal, because she breaks the stereotype of a short-term volunteer.

“People have this perception of volunteers, in which they think: It’s nice that you’re here but you’re going to leave and you won’t come back. I’m excited to be that anomaly. I’m coming back because the people of Dindefelo mean a lot to me, and this is real life, not just short-term,” says Bachmann.

Bachmann is the seventh consecutive Denisonian to be awarded the prize in the eight years that the Davis Projects for Peace have been available. She now joins the ranks of former students who have traveled to Ireland, Bolivia, China, India, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ethiopia to make change.

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