Monday, January 05, 2004

Last week, I listened to an interesting documentary on the English service of Radio Netherlands. A Dutch woman explained her involvement in small development projects in West Africa. In the last decade, she has set up over 15 projects in the Casamance region of southern Senegal and in The Gambia. From building a health center, to putting a new roof on a school, to providing running water, to giving poor women mills to grind rice and maize (corn). She has also set up cultural exchanges between Senegal and The Netherlands. She's been lauded by the Senegalese government for the way she involves villagers in every phase of her projects.

One of the most intriguing things for outsiders is, as Radio Netherlands notes, that the woman and a Senegalese partner set up a lodge on the coast of the Casamance. It's a fairly rustic place with only solar electricity and well water. But the surroundings are idyllic, with the warm waters of the Atlantic, palm trees and lush vegetation.

"It's more than a lodge," observes the woman. "It's a cultural centre. We organise many activities to highlight African culture, such as workshops on African dance, drums, music, batik-making, sculpture and drawings. All the workshops are taught by local artists."

Guests are also taken on excursions to the villages in the surroundings to get a better feel for life in that part of West Africa.

So if you've ever thought about a vacation in West Africa and want to do so in a way that benefits local people, check out

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