How Women With Vision Transformed A Community

How Women With Vision Transformed A Community | Jennifer Spoelma

This story of vision I'm about to share with you today is one that I hope finds a special, deep place in your heart to live. I pray that you think on it, wonder on it, and remember it. It's a story about a community of Senegalese women whose vision and dedication changed the destiny of an entire region.

It's magical, powerful and convicting all at once, as the best stories are. This one happens to be true, too, which makes it all the sweeter.

I first learned this story from Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyways. Anne's friend, Lynne Twist, told her this story about a village in Senegal that she experienced when traveling with the Hunger Project (a non-profit working to end hunger and poverty around the world).

Senegal was one of the first regions that the Hunger Project worked with. Senegal is in the desert on the western tip of Africa. The sand is hot and all encompassing. It’s dry, and difficult for vegetation to grow.

The village that the Hunger Project set out to meet with was located hours into the desert. It was one of 16 known villages in the region. The Hunger Project was aware that the tribe’s only source of water, a well, was drying up.

The water was in limited supply, putting the tribe in danger. The Hunger Project team drove for hours down deserted desert roads. The village was so far removed from any cities, the only signs of life were the baobab trees that speckled the landscape. They had planned to consult with the tribal leaders and discuss options for relocating them to a region with a more sustainable future.

Anne writes that upon arriving to the village, her friend is surprised to find the people energetically welcoming them with drums, dancing and smiles.

Not what was expected of a village whose heritage site had been condemned.

When they gathered for the meeting, they followed the tribe’s customs. The representatives from the Hunger Project sat down in a circle shape, with the men of the tribe surrounding and up close to participate in the discussion.

Then, around them, the women gathered. On the outside ring and silently engaged. Anne’s friend says that she became aware that the women had something to contribute, but were culturally restricted from speaking up.

She asked the men for permission to speak directly with the women. When they agreed, the women spoke up proudly.

“We’ve seen a vision.” They said. “There is an underground lake. If we could only have the opportunity to dig for it, we’d have all the water we’d need.”

This caused some raised eyebrows. An underground lake? A collective vision? Yes. The women credited Allah with giving them the vision of an underground lake. They could see it, they knew where to dig, they said.

The men scorned them. Silly women. Yet they stood their ground, confident and resilient. Sister next to sister.

“What do we have to lose?” they asked. “Just let us dig.”

In their culture, the women weren’t allowed to contribute to manual labor, making this a big ask. Up until then, their work had consisted of weaving, cooking and child care.

But something, maybe a little hope, or maybe indifference, led the men to say, “Okay. You can try digging.”

So they started digging.

They dug and dug. They watched each other’s kids and covered each other’s chores and they kept digging.

Their shared vision keeping them spirited and persistent as time carried on. For over a year, they dug in that hot orange sand, only to find more orange sand.

But as they kept digging, the men took notice. Slowly, they started to show their support. Not by jumping in to dig themselves though. Rather, they began caring for the children occasionally. And later, even started to pitch in to help with the chores.

Finally, more than a year after they’d started digging, the women hit the lake.

Just as they had envisioned.

Now, that lake is the source of life for all 16 villages in the region! Irrigation infrastructure is in place, providing stability the tribe has never experienced before.

Now that they have water, they have a sustainable agricultural system, providing food for the people and livestock. With their basic needs met, the village has been able to shift their focus to education. Isn’t this incredible?!

These background details aren’t readily provided on the Hunger Project’s website. However, there are several pages of information about the educational, agricultural, women’s empowerment and environmental initiatives that are happening in this very same region of Senegal today.

The vision, and the persistence to see that vision through, have birthed new life.

I have goosebumps!

What can we learn?

  1. Ladies got to stick together. We may not be blessed with a singular vision as these Senegalese women were, but we can all commit to supporting one another. If we take the time to listen to and learn from one another, we’ll find we share many motivators, worries, hopes and hurts. Remember: Empowered women empower women.
  2. Good things (like lasting change) take time. Anytime we face adversity the easiest option is to point a finger, get upset and be self-righteous. Instead, let’s take our cue from our Senegalese sisters. I challenge you to speak out the visions you have, the world you want to see. Then make sure your actions follow. Act, speak up and collaborate with others working to make that same vision a reality. We need to take the long view, because only then will it be worth it. Think what would have happened if the ladies had said, “We’ll try it for 30-days, but if we don’t see results, we’ll quit.”? That region would be barren now.
  3. Your voice is powerful. Make sure you’re using it and using it wisely.