Open Road Realization: The Power of Language

The power of language, that is understanding and speaking the local language, has never been more evident to me since my arrival in Senegal. This is not only because a language is a gateway into a new culture and way of life, but the backbone to understanding the origin of the language and its significance.

For me, there are two clear stories of the power of language and how it can change your experience entirely.

The first being my progression from “Ca va?” to “Saleemalekum”. When I first arrived to Senegal, I found that the general greeting included many “Ca vas” and as result guided me to say “Ca va” to those I passed along the streets. At first this was okay as almost everybody responded to my “Ca va” greeting. However as I began to learn more about the language, the obvious  greeting was Saleemalekum, which basically means Peace be upon you. Upon mastering this greeting, my world began to change as it began to open the hearts of many Senegalese who assumed that I was just another toubab (stranger) coming to visit Senegal. Interestingly, the word for toubab means stranger and thus even those who are West African (like my good friend Blandine) but cannot speak Wolof are described as toubabs. The greeting of Saleemalekum somehow seems to change the entire dynamic of the interaction between locals and I, clearly demonstrating the power of language.

For the second story, I am currently exchanging English lessons, the language of supposed power and opportunity (maybe ignorance), for Wolof (Oolof) lessons with  my Senegalese brother Malick and the entire family. Friday, Malick and I were spending the afternoon going over everything from “How is your family?” (Anna we ker gi?) to Head and Shoulders (tanke, loho, nop) to “Where are you going?” (Foi dem?). Throughout the afternoon many of our family members and other came and went but each time Malick encouraged me to ask some sort of question to them. I know that I sound absolutely ridiculous saying these words in Wolof but I have learned that it is not about how correct you can be, rather the fact that you are taking the time to learn and understand their language of origin. This fact is clearly evident in my families’ faces of joy and pride as I try to ask in broken Wolof- how did you sleep last night (nelow nga bou bakh dem?). As I continue with my Wolof progression (maybe by the end of this I’ll be able to hold a conversation), I understand more and more the power of language and how it can open the culture to you.

This is especially evident in the significances of certain words. For example, the word dem means peace and ultimately is a question of whether you are going somewhere with peace. Moreover, the Wolof word for home (not house) resembles significantly to the French word for heart (Coeur). Malick attempted to explain to me that this was because your home and your family are very important to you and thus close to your heart. Now these are just an example, and I’m sure that there are many more, but it demonstrates the importance of language.

Overall, I did not come here to visit, I came here to live and experience the real Senegal. One of the best ways to do this is to learn and speak the local language.

As such, I challenge you to learn the introductory words to a new language before you travel. It will help you better understand the culture you are visiting, show respect for their culture/language, and bargain like a true local.


The Story of the Talibe: Boys on the Street

Imagine you are walking on the main street of Thies, you watch old-growth trees blanket the street with shade, shops rotate between established buildings to failing apart fruit stalls, and a constant motion of its inhabitants . As you continue walking, a boy no older than 8, wearing dirty and ripped clothing interrupts you, asking for money. He continues to follow you as many others began to join him continually asking you for money. Our North American mindset will instantaneously classify him as a child of the street, needing money for his own survival.

However, this is not the story of the Talibe.

Their story starts back home, places as far as the Guinee, Guinee-Bissau, or the Casamance region of Senegal, as their mothers and fathers send them to school in Thies to learn the Qu’ran. These schools are called “Ecoles Coraniques” as they are led by an Marabou (Iman) and solely focus on teaching the boys (and only boys) the Qu’ran.

Unfortunately, these Marabous have no source of income to provide for themselves and thus sends the boys, ranging from 4 to 15, out to the streets to beg for money, food, or whatever they can get their hands on. Each day, the boys spend all day on the streets, returning late at night to the “School” compound. When they return, they are not guaranteed food to eat and are often forced to sleep in one room often containing over 30 boys.

Whether the justification is religious reasons (sending your child may give you blessings or grace) or its monetary, the fact of the matter is that children should not be on the Streets.

As such, there have been both State-led and NGO led initiatives to combat the problem of the Talibe. On multiple occasions, the State has attempted to ban children from begging on the streets on the streets. However, after only a month, the efforts and enforcement mechanisms stopped, allowing the Imans to send their boys onto the streets again.  On the other hand, NGOs have attempted to work on the problem by focusing on access to food/ water, clean clothes, and medical products for their injuries. While these initiatives are admirable and extremely important, they do are not addressing the root cause of the Talibe- that being the Imans do not earn enough to prevent sending their boys to streets.

As a result, the Talibe continue to beg on the streets and each day I interact with them I face an extremely difficult dilemma. I am blessed enough to afford the amount of money (25/50 francs) to give to the children, however I know that is will go straight into the pockets of the Marabout thus perpetuating the cycle of child exploitation. Contrarily, I could give them nothing and continue on my day. This, however, is an equally difficult decision because at the end of the day- these are only children with hearts that do not deserve to be in this circumstance.

Have you ever been in such a situation? What would you do?

Is Canada’s fight against Global food insecurity denying their citizens the right-to-food?

Malnourishment and hunger constitute the daily reality of almost one in seven people worldwide. This statistic is commonly interpreted in such a way that many believe food insecurity only exists in the Global South. As a result, individuals and governments are tricked into thinking that this issue only exists far away from home: this is not case.

In Canada, the land of the “True North, Strong, and Free”, approximately two million individuals are food insecure. Furthermore, the rising inequality between the rich and poor is continuing to drive additional Canadians into daily uncertainty. The most vulnerable include: government-supported households, single parents, aboriginals, and new immigrants. These groups are confronting deeper and more severe insecurity than ever before.

Even more troublesome, is that the last national government Food Security initiative was written in 1998. This out-dated document has left Canadian families helpless, forcing them to make a dreadful decision between rent and groceries. What then gives our government the authority to promote equality and food security abroad if we cannot do so at home?

Regardless, the Canadian government continues to pump more and more aid dollars into the Global fight against food insecurity. In fact, since 2008, over 1.18 billion dollars of our tax money has been disbursed internationally.

As a result, these international policies have established Canada as a leader in the Global fight against food insecurity. Canada was the first G8 Country to meet the L’Aquila Promise for Food Security (a promise by donors to provide $22 billion dollars in assistance), ensuring its title as a global leader. 

While it is evident that Canada often leads the charge in fight for Global food security, its domestic policies fall firmly in the vanguard. As such, Canada needs to address local problems of food insecurity and hunger before it begins to look outward. However, the government has decided to shift its focus abroad instead of reinvesting our tax dollars into the revitalization of our out-of-date action plan.

On October 11th, 2012, the illustrious Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented a twenty million dollar project to combat hunger and malnutrition across Senegal.

Like Canada, Senegal’s food insecurity remains worrisome as sporadic rainfalls, insufficient harvests, and abnormally high global food prices continue to put pressure on communities. Moreover, half of the country’s food requirements are imported- including staple crops such as rice and wheat. Unless effective and sustainable action is taken, this situation will continue to proliferate.

Enter Canada, the benevolent country with all they answers, who introduces the Integrated Support to Food Security program.  This program is delivered through the joint efforts of the World Food Programme, United Nations Children’s Fund, the Food and Agricultural Organization, and the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

This miraculous project is targeting the approximate eight hundred thousand Senegalese suffering from food insecurity. It will will both assist farmers in the short-term, but also will empower and enable farmers to build the capacity for sustainable, lasting solutions. 

However, this governmental program is both hiding and sidelining Canada’s own food security issues and the 1.92 million Canadians who struggle, daily, to put food on their plates.

Olivier De Schutter, part of the UN Right-to-Food envoy, reported over a year ago that this number was only on the rise. De Schutter spent eleven days traveling across the country to examine the way in which the human right to adequate food is being delivered in Canada.

Instead of receiving affirmation and congratulations from the Canadian government, De Schutter’s reported received severe backlash by many Conservative MPs, notably Minister Jason Kenney referring to his report as a waste of money better spent funding projects that actually help starving people in poor countries.   

Why is it that the Canadian government can invest millions into implementing such a program, but cannot manage to recreate the same thing at home? Canadians are facing similar problems as our Senegalese brothers and sisters yet do not have the same support from the national community, let alone the international community. In fact, Mr. De Schutter found that inadequate wage and insufficient welfare payments forced as many as one in ten families to question where their next meal is coming from.

It is not a matter of choosing to feed our own citizens or those of another nation but of allocating the resources necessary to ensure the development of a truly sustainable and secure food system. Only once our own citizens are properly nourished and food secure can we, as Canadians, begin to truly combat similar tensions abroad. 

Protecting the Environment- Giving Mother Earth Rights.

One of the common strategies to ensure environmental conservation/protection is through a concept known as Market Environmentalism, which is essentially putting a price on the “goods and services” provided by the environment. However, in some Latin American countries, there has been a radical departure from this traditional economic thinking.

In different forms, the governments of Bolivia and Ecuador have recently given Mother Earth rights equivalent to legal personhood. Ecuador recognized the Right of Nature in its rewritten


Constitution of 2008, marking it as the first country to recognize these rights in its Constitution. Comparatively, Bolivia enacted a law through the legislative assembly entitled “Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierre” in 2010.

However both give Mother Earth the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles without disruption from humans. Additionally, it gives the ecosystem (through the people) has the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights. This designation of Mother Earth as a legal entity has laid the groundwork towards a truly sustainable future.

The movement has been gaining such precedent that in April of 2011, the General Assembly passed a resolution deeming that day “International Mother Earth Day”. Furthermore, the Bolivian President Evo Morales envisions much more, attempting to create a “Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth”.

However, the movement is not without its critics as many question how these laws will be enforced, the appropriateness/ idealism of giving Mother Earth legal rights, the motives behind the passing of these laws, and how far will the protection go (such as in protection life forms such as insects).

Interestingly, there have also been cases of adoption in places as far off as Pennsylvania in the United States where the first law of its kind has sparked similar laws in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Pittsburgh (learn more here)


What do you think about giving Mother Earth Rights? Is it a step in the right direction? Will it be successful?

For more information, check out here, here, and here!


Canada’s Water Resources- As abundant as we think?

In the eyes of the international community and many Canadians, Canada’s water resources are immense, plentiful, and widely variable (with precipitation ranging from 3500 millimetres on the West Coast to 500 millimetres in the Prairies). We hold approximately one-fifth of the world’s total freshwater supply distributed between lakes, rivers, and streams. Twenty-four percent of our landmass is covered by this freshwater, contributing to the belief that we are extremely water-wealthy. However, upon further observation, several discrepancies arise.

Firstly, the commonly cited figure of one-fifth the world’s water supply includes all water freshwater resources, both standing water (if used up, it will not be renewed) and the renewable supply (that is replenished each year). This means that to maintain our ecosystems as they are, we must withdraw only the renewable supply. If we are to remove more, there could be serious consequences for biodiversity and economic industries. For example, only one percent of the Great Lakes is renewed annually. As such, only that one percent is available for human consumption during the year.

Secondly, Canadians have the second highest per capita water consumption rate in the world. At 329 litres a day per person, we are approximately double the European standard and nines time higher that of East Africa. This potentially is fuelled by the belief of water abundance and the minimal cost of water, which includes only the services associated with its provision and delivery, not the water itself.


Thirdly, approximately sixty percent of our fresh water flows north, whereas eighty-five percent of our population lives within 125 kilometer of the US Border. This is problematic because it means that the most densely populated areas may not have enough water. Coupled with the fact that these areas threaten their already limited water supply with overuse, pollution, and urbanization.

So maybe we are not as abundant as we think?

If this triggered a sudden revelation over water scarcity, your first step could be investing in a rain barrel to lower your per capita consumption. It just so happens that INDEVOURS is currently running a fundraiser; where you can get one yourself!

For some further research, this site by Environment Canada is a great primer on Canada’s Water resource.

Have you heard about National Aboriginal Day?

Recently, one of my fellow INDEVOURS and friends –Danielle wrote a post (here) on the upcoming National Aboriginal Day in Canada on June 21st. As someone who is keenly interested and aware with the situation of our aboriginal peoples in Canada, it is shocking that I have not heard of this upcoming event.  Especially during the recent aboriginal movements known as Idle no More and the Journey of Nishyuu (check out my previous post here).

As such, I decided to do a small amount of searching to determine what National News Channels were covering and supporting this momentous and annual event. The only leading newspaper that I could find any information on upcoming events was in the CBC Manitoba Scene (here). Newspapers such as the Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, Vancouver Sun, Calgary Herald and the Canada East only have past articles of years past.

Now, as a result of it being a fortnight away, I can sort of understand why these newspapers have no information on what is happening, because heck- it’s 2 weeks away. However, if Canada or Victoria Day were only 2 weeks away, I can guarantee you that the daily events, gatherings, and celebrations would have already been covered. So therefore, I ask you why have we have not heard of this?

Is it the size of our aboriginal population? Probably not, as there are over 1.4 million spread over our vast nation. Even more so, the aboriginal birth rate is double that of the rest of Canada.

So then what is it?

Lack of political support?

Lack of community awareness? Until university, I had no option to take any sort of aboriginal studies outside of the traditional Canadian history courses.

Historical stereotypes? Check out Wab Kinew’s comments about common stereotypes here

Or Media Misrepresentation? Is the story of our aboriginal peoples is limited to the words and pictures we commonly see in National newspapers, or is there more (Check out CBC’s 8th Fire).

Harper himself once said, “that Canada do[es] not have a colonial past”, when referring to the historical relationships with our aboriginal peoples. However, after 200 years of assimilation, marginalization, oppression, and poverty, I am sure that our aboriginals have a very different viewpoint on the matter.

 I, for one, will celebrate National Aboriginal Day- will you?  


Trees, Crops, and Livestock Oh My!

While working for AUMN, one of the main components of my mandate is to work with agroforestry systems. Since it is not a very common term, here is a quick explanation of what it is!

Agroforestry is an ancient technique (traced back to the time of animal domestication) of farming that is currently being reintroduced into the sustainable agriculture scene. Quite simply, it is an agricultural system that uses trees, livestock, and crops on the same plot of land. Depending on the combination of those organisms, the practice will be known by a different name- silvopasture (trees and livestock), agrosilvicultural (trees and crops) and agrosilvopasture (trees, livestock, and crops).

One example, among many others, of Agroforestry is known as Alley Cropping. Alley cropping 


requires tress to be planted in rows, and then crops are planted between the rows of said trees. Before the growing season, the pruned tree clippings will be used a type of living mulch to protect crops from wind and erosion, lock in heat and moisture, and provide additional nutrients (and soil organic matter) for the crops. It will also help with shade, carbon sequestration, and nutrient pumping (bringing nutrients to the surface for crops to use).

This is just one example of how Agroforestry can be beneficial for farmers across the planet. By diversifying your production, you have less risk than traditional agricultural systems, a higher per capita yield (as the plants are symbiotically working together), and more income streams (crops and milk in the short term and trees in the long term). Even more so, the diversification will allow for increased soil fertility and quality while lowering external inputs.

Are there other examples of polyculture (this is one example) that you’ve found? Are they more productive than monocropping? What are their constraints?

For more information in the field, check out: