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Making Ripples: How our Waste Affects More than Just Ourselves

Bridget with her pup in Senegal

I have had the opportunity to spend time in Tanzania, where I studied abroad in college for a semester, and more recently, in Senegal where I lived for a year and a half as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Senegal and Tanzania are in Africa and are two of the poorest countries in the world. There are many similarities and differences between these nations - some of which will be highlighted in this post. I am passionate about protecting the environment and therefore, I have tried to pay close attention to how each country is being impacted by climate change. In this blog, I will share what I noticed through my singular lens during my time in these places as an American.

Farming is Life

In both countries, communities rely heavily on small-scale farming to feed their families and provide a source of income. Since both countries are coastal nations, they are highly affected by climate change. That being said, there are also many differences.

While in Tanzania, I had the opportunity to conduct a research project on happiness. To complete the research, I held interviews with people in the small village of Ikanga, in the Southern region of Iringa, where I was staying with a host family. When I asked the question “What activity are you happiest during?” 29 out of 30 people answered simply, “Farming.” They often explained further that while farming, they felt a sense of purpose being able to provide for their families. They knew by farming they would, for example, be able to pay for their children’s school fees.

In Senegal, ten of the twelve months are dry. Once the rains start to pour, however, the landscape completely changes. Women commence the long process of rice farming, while men plant corn and cashew trees. One morning while I was living in Sitaba, I began talking to an older neighbor and experienced cashew farmer. He informed me the rainy season when he was growing up was double its current length. When rainy seasons are short, late, or sporadic the Senegalese people suffer. If their crops fail to produce, they face food insecurity. Small-scale farmers put in long days in the field to provide for their families and rely on the rains to support their crops.

Most of the small-scale rice and cashew farming in Sitaba is done along the Casamance River. The river runs along the south of Senegal and ends at the Atlantic Ocean. Due to sea level rise caused by climate change, the river water is experiencing heavy salt intrusion. As the ocean rises, its salt water pours into the Casamance. This salt damages the soil along the river and creates a challenging environment for plants to survive. This ultimately affects the impoverished communities who live along the river and rely on fertile soil for their crops to survive.

How Our Choices Cause a Ripple Effect

What I find to be most troublesome about this is that people who live in rural communities, such as Ikanga and Sitaba have a very small carbon footprint. At least, not one of large enough scale to impact the climate to the degree in which they are feeling the effects. Alternatively, the United States can, for example, afford to and choose to waste water, leave lights on, ignore reusable energy options, and fund large corporations to produce single use plastics they are not responsible to clean up, who are causing the sea levels to rise and predominantly affecting climate change. However, most US citizens are fortunate enough to not feel the direct consequences of global warming and climate change themselves.

Furthermore, the United States is directly adding to the challenges of the environmental degradation in Senegal. Since China has refused to receive America’s recycling, Senegal and many other low income countries who lack necessary resources have picked up the slack.

Using Our Privilege for Good

This was me teaching a 'Let Girls Learn' club of middle school girls how to start a tree nursery.
Bridget teaching in Senegal

In order to care for and protect our global environment and global community, we need to reduce our carbon footprint in America. We need to accept more sustainable options because our wasteful choices are affecting more than just our local neighbors. Our everyday choices directly impact poor, food insecure farmers across the globe. They affect people’s happiness and their sense of purpose.

I am not perfect. I like how cold the air conditioning feels in hot weather, and the beautiful places you can get to when you take a long drive in the car. However, there are options to make a difference. To get started, do some research! Here is a website that shares ten easy ways to live more sustainably! There are ways to make your voice count and care for not only the Earth, but also the people with whom we share it and who lack the many opportunities our own country has to offer.

As my favorite Chipotle bag reads “We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or naïve to work toward a better one.” ― Steven Pinker

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Anna Bellow
Anna Bellow
05 jul
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