During officer nominations for the 4-H Positive Youth Development in Agriculture program in the Senegalese village of Toubacouta, one young woman stood out.

As Aida Nathalie Dieng’s hand shot up to volunteer for the position of president, she explained why she wanted to be the leader of the club in her village. Toward the end of her speech, tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Having the opportunity to be heard is empowering and even moving,” said Kathleen Jamison, Professor Emerita and Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist in 4-H  youth development.

Jamison and her team took the mission of Virginia Cooperative Extension’s 4-H Positive Youth Development in Agriculture program to the West African nation to build ties between children, families, and communities and give individuals the ability to live sustainable and meaningful lives that exemplify 4-H mission goals.

The team completed a series of training workshops in March to scale up the programs’ outreach efforts throughout the country based on 4-H methodologies.

"4-H provides opportunities for younger members of the community to express themselves and  be heard,” said Jamison. “This is important since young people continue to be an effective way to spread knowledge about new technologies and approaches to problem solving in their own communities.”

Toubacouta, south of the capital Dakar, is one of three locations where 4-H Youth Development in Agriculture is being established. Others are St. Louis to the north and Ziguinchor, a territory that borders Guinea-Bissau.

In Zinguinchor, teachers were on strike but students came anyway.

"Memories of their faces alive with excitement will always be with us," said Reggie Morris, a 4-H Youth Development Extension agent.

Morris, a unit coordinator and agent based in Alexandria, and Senior Extension Agent Ruth Wallace, based in Buckingham County, helped execute training and programming in Senegal.

“4-H provides consistency regardless of where we do the programming, but we tailor program needs to specific communities,” said Jamison.

For example, community members wanted to learn about chickens in one village, while another site wanted to focus on gardening

Officially launched in March 2015, the Positive Youth Development program is designed to motivate "young people to understand agriculture, to become agriculturalists, and to be involved in family farms and their communities," said Ozzie Abaye, a professor of crop and soil environmental sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The Education in Research and Agriculture-Senegal program, led by Virginia Tech’s Office of International Research, Education, and Development, planted the seeds for the scaling up of 4-H. ERA is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of the Feed the Future initiative.

The program initially got Abaye involved in the region and provided the groundwork for a 4-H presence in Senegal.

“During training about livestock forage activities, parents would accompany their children in the field,” said Abaye. “Our workshops even several years ago were utilizing the tenets of 4-H to strengthen communities here by promoting activities that whole families could perform together. The entire community would turn out. Everyone was very happy that the kids were involved in doing something meaningful."

Assistant Professor of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education Tom Archibald serves as chief of party on the project on the ground in Senegal and is a former 4-H educator himself. Archibald said the close alignment of mission goals of 4-H philosophies and the ERA program is one reason the program has been so successful.

“In a nutshell, ERA is trying to bring elements of the land-grant model and the Extension model to communities in Senegal,” Archibald said.

Some of those elements include fostering ownership of a project, something Archibald witnessed in the youth who tend the garden established as a service-learning project by a Virginia Tech undergraduate.

“The kids set up their own schedule for watering and caring for the garden. It’s a ways out of town, so they have to ride their bikes to get there. The attention to the garden demonstrates youth leadership and taking responsibility,” he said.

The president of Senegal, Macky Sall, decreed 2016 to be the year of youth employment and youth entrepreneurship, making the 4-H positive youth development programming an ideal spring board for connecting youth in the region with positive ways to become more involved in their communities.

Written by Amy Loeffler.

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