Virginia Tech professor, 4-H youth team up to establish Community and 4-H Center in Senegal

4-h senegal

4-H Senegal members help bring food to the new center in Santamba.

After years of fundraising and collaboration, the Samuel and Eleanor Morris Community and 4-H Center has been established in Santamba, Senegal, an inland village in the southern region, just above the Gambia.

The center, designed to benefit the entire community, will become a place for youth and adults to develop leadership skills and move forward together.

The center was made possible through the work and financial support of many, including the Morris family, the Virginia 4-H program, the USAID Education and Research in Agriculture (ERA)project management team, and Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences professor Ozzie Abaye, whose participation was instrumental. For Abaye, her work with the Santamba community was inspired by her parents and mentors, Samuel and Eleanor Morris, for whom the center was named.

“They dedicated their lives to public service and emphasized education as the tool for successful individual development and community-building,” said Abaye, explaining why her parents were a perfect fit for the naming of the center.

The center, which will serve around 300 people, is designed as a venue for a variety of social and business activities, providing a meeting room and a food preparation space. It will meet the needs of the Santamba community and will be led by a community-elected management team.

The center will also be key to the continued development of 4-H Senegal as a safe space for youth to gather and learn. 4-H Senegal was established to motivate young people to understand agriculture, to be involved in family farms, and to join in with their communities. The program was officially launched two years ago and now has a home in the center.

Katlyn Smith, a Virginia Tech student interested in youth development, saw the potential for a 4-H program early on. Smith traveled to Senegal with Abaye.

“I feel that 4-H is really going to help bring the community together, and I know the youth are going to be so appreciative to have something like 4-H to participate in,” Smith said following her trip to Senegal.

While there, she worked with children, playing games, gardening, and leading community service projects. This work was central to the early stages of 4-H Senegal.

When efforts on the Senegal project began, the center captured the hearts of Virginia 4-H’ers. The 4-H youth selected “Cents for Senegal” as their 2016 State 4-H Congress charity campaign – an effort that would become the group’s highest grossing youth campaign, more than doubling the initial goal. This was largely because of the personal connections many 4-H’ers made with Bineta Guisse, the Senegalese 4-H coordinator and outreach officer who visited Virginia during last year’s 4-H Congress.

Guisse’s visit was so impactful that one 4-H’er was inspired to donate all proceeds from the sale of her 4-H lamb project. Elizabeth Koranek from Madison County donated $2,331 after learning about the Senegalese woman’s hopes for the center.

Virginia 4-H’ers showed their dedication to their peers in Senegal while demonstrating the impact young people can make. The Virginia 4-H funds were used to pour cement, paint the center, and plant trees.

The Samuel and Eleanor Morris Community and 4-H Center is advancing the efforts of USAID/ERA, Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Virginia 4-H. For the village of Santamba, the center will be a home for education and community.

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