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University Outreach and Positive Youth Development in Senegal

This blog post was written by Bineta Khalla Guisse, a specialist in community economic development who currently holds the position of Gender & Youth Integration in Community Economic Development Program Coordinator with the USAID/Education and Research in Agriculture (ERA) project. 

The public land grant university mission of teaching, research and outreach is a familiar concept in the United States. U.S. land grant universities share their knowledge and research with the public through the Cooperative Extension Service. An important part of the land grant outreach mission is 4-H, the positive youth development component of Cooperative Extension. 4-H’s hands-on youth leadership programs are delivered through Cooperative Extension in over 100 universities.

However, this long history of university outreach through 4-H is not necessarily the case in other countries. The USAID/Education and Research in Agriculture (ERA) project managed by Virginia Tech wants to change that. ERA is building capacity in Senegal’s agricultural education, training, research and extension institutions. ERA interventions inspired the creation of new legislation making community service and outreach an integral aspect of the higher education mission in Senegal.

Senegalese 4-H club members and their leaders ready to work in a vegetable garden. Photo: Ozzie Abaye.

Among other successful initiatives to link universities with communities, in 2015 ERA launched the “4-H Senegal: Youth and Agriculture Positive Youth Development” program. After some initial groundwork and a week-long master class with experts from Virginia Cooperative Extension, ERA helped establish three clubs in and around the town of Toubacouta and provided trainings and curriculum development workshops for club leaders and university partners. The clubs serve different age groups and have different foci. Yet, all three instill the principles and practices of positive youth development, a hallmark of 4-H, while focusing on content and activities that are pertinent to—and chosen by—the youth, such as vegetable gardening, raising chickens and organizing traditional wrestling competitions as a fundraiser. These groups are the first 4-H groups to be established in Francophone West Africa.

The 4-H Model

The 4-H model is an exciting way to engage young people. 4-H establishes extracurricular clubs to promote science, citizenship, agriculture and healthy living for primary and secondary students. Through experiential learning, it cultivates the essential elements of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity, focusing on cultivating life skills among youth.  All of this is helping to shape strong personalities and future leaders.

Partnerships Key to Operations and Sustainability

Introducing 4-H in the Senegalese education system was a major innovation. Knowing that all innovations carry some degree of uncertainty, we looked for potential partners to ensure the new idea’s functioning and sustainability. From the design needed to implement the program to the logical framework, ERA looked for potential partners to carry out the program at the local level. This is why we elected to associate 4-H groups with agricultural universities—L´Ecole Nationale Supérieure d´Agriculture de Thiés (ENSA) and Institut Supérieur de Formation Agricole et Rurale–Bambey (ISFAR). Peace Corps/Senegal and ANCAR/Kaolack, a Senegalese agency that provides extension to farmers, were among the program’s pioneer partners. Furthermore, during the scaling up stage, we reached out to other partners that work in similar areas. ERA successfully collaborated with Synapse (a local NGO), the Ministry of Youth and other agencies at the local level to establish more than 15 clubs in three regions of Senegal.

All these partnerships contribute in different ways and help to keep the program running smoothly by providing:

  • Guidance and training: Virginia Cooperative Extension 4-H experts helped train faculty, change agents and community leaders involved in the program.
  • Investments of time and resources: Peace Corps and ANCAR allocate personnel to work in collaboration with our faculty members at the community level.
  • Shared ideas and collective decision making to sustain the program: As early adopters, all partners work closely together gathering new information and fine tuning the program.
  • Social structure and sustainable adoption of the program: ENSA and ISFAR resource persons have invested in their new community service role by working faithfully with community leaders and youth to solve problems. This sharing of a common objective binds the system together and helps faculty and students to be closer to their communities.

Early Positive Changes

4-H Senegal is still in its startup phase, but we can already see positive changes. University faculty members and students have gained new knowledge and approaches to service delivery. Through institutional engagement of village youth in 4-H, ERA is promoting outreach services for faculty members and service learning opportunities for Senegalese students.

Via the 4-H model, the project is implementing an educational approach designed to help young people develop critical thinking, understand the challenges of life in society and exercise their citizenship. These are all important soft skills that promote youth employment.

One major change is a “mentality outburst.” Faculty, community leaders and students all together are thinking differently and in a more critical way about how to invest in the future of their youth and how to bring out the best in the next generation of youth. We have noted a new attitude of commitment to improving the lives of at-risk youth.

Through this 4-H program based in agricultural universities, ERA and its local partners are working to make university outreach a familiar concept that contributes to the development of Senegal.

Bineta Khalla Guisse is one of ten experts who will present at a side event of the RUFORUM Biennial Conference sponsored by the USAID-funded Innovation for Agricultural Training and Education (InnovATE) project, managed by Virginia Tech. InnovATE is bringing together representatives of universities and 4-H groups from Ghana, Liberia, Senegal and Tanzania to discuss "Positive Youth Development and Experiential Learning in University Outreach" on October 20, 2016 from 11:15-17:30 in Meeting Room 9 of the Century City Conference Centre in Capetown, South Africa.