A Stay at “Le Tremplin”: A Model Ecovillage for Dakar Street Youth

As all good things happen when you are open and in the flow and on your Heart Journey following The Call…Fred, our gracious Warmshowers host who picked us up when we arrived at midnight in Dakar with bikes and bags, told me about Village Pilote.  Within minutes of hearing about this organization focused on “natural building” located on the path of our (my son Viva and I) first bike ride through Senegal, I felt driven to see it.  Looking it up online I was filled with even more interest. But its 2-D representation did nothing to prepare me for the grand Soulful experience  of spending a few days with the 120-strong Community of 3 to 25-year olds and their Counselors, Teachers and Mentors living near the famous Lac Rose (Pink Lake) region 50km north of Dakar.

I contacted the French expat Director Loïc the day of our departure who, upon hearing of my own mission of COB trainings in Senegal, came right over with map in hand to introduce himself, shake my hand, and invite Viva and I to stay there and share meals with the group.  As always happens when 2 or more Eco Freaks get together, vibrant conversations of compost toilet cover material, earthen building styles and the latest on cob oven fuel sources ensued.  I knew I was in the company of my global “family”.

After 2.5 hours on the most blasphemously long, polluted and dangerous road I’ve yet biked, the 15-mile stretch of “Route Nationale” that is absolutely (they say) unavoidable when wanting to leave Dakar and go anywhere else except for the airport…Viva and I finally lowered our physical, emotional and face guards after turning left onto the smaller offshoot towards Keur Massar

The majestic and ancient Baobab

The majestic and ancient Baobab

and the even smaller offshoots taking us to the tourist-heavy Lac Rose area.   

Biking through the salt mounds of Lac Rose

Biking through the salt mounds of Lac Rose

The villages became smaller and more bearable (only 20 rather than 50 onlookers surrounded our bikes in excitement) until we arrived at the source of all of Senegal’s salt.  The water looks red because of an algae that lives in it, the only thing that can withstand the ridiculously high salt content.  Flurries of “salt flower” foam line the shore as do repetitive mounds of greyish-white salt being packed into bags for shipment.    Now our road is an undulating and hard-packed (thankful!) dirt path weaving through the salt mounds until we reach the end of the Lake accompanied by a fast-jogging gaggle of young girls who have spotted us.  Eventually between questioning passing locals, trying to make out GoogleMaps on our phone and using common sense with regards to the ocean direction….we were on our way to the Village Tremplin in the distance.

We arrive at Deni Biram Ndao at dusk, led by a local co-biker Mamadou,  hesitating to stop lest we get surrounded once again with a team of short onlookers.  IMG_4894The sun is set now and the last minutes of light accompany us to the Tremplin Village of red mud brick buildings that announce adobe land.  A big smile of happiness and relief fills me with joy to have found my brethren here in Senegal: natural builders, no concrete. Immediately the feel is different. We arrive to a scene of 30 male sandy soccer players of all sizes in the center of the village. Noone cares we are there. They are used to the visitors. Giorgui the 2nd in charge comes to welcome us. He shows us to our room in the main red building with a giant thatch roof. It is dark and the generator is not working and they don’t have enough solar panels to light the night. He tells us that when we hear the triple clang of a metal spoon on a tire rim, dinner is served. Viva and I have been pedaling for 6 hours or so, with minor food stops, and we happily go bucket shower ourselves and prepare for a wonderful dinner experience Senegalese-style.

There are about 100 youth here of all ages.   They have been found on the streets lost, away from their families and up to no good. They come from Dakar neighborhoods known for street kids and have been brought here if they passed the first three steps of showing willingness. Here they are in a safe, joyful, IMG_4931healthful setting which is also strict, regulated, organized and focused. They get loving teachers and counselors who teach them life skills, work skills and academic skills…all on this large piece of red sandy land dotted with trees. This is the brainchild of Loïc Treguy, a French expat, who has garnered the support of France, the US and some other organizations to create a beautiful model of community, brotherhood, love and support. IMG_4930Here the boys all work and play together within the strict rules of the village and receive all they need to grow into confident, respectful, hard-working and inspired individuals. They receive schooling and practical specialized skills in the area of their choice: woodwork, electrical, metal, masonry, cooking and general cleaning services.

Viva and I are blown away at the fluid and happy flow of life here at Le Tremplin. With only red mud (laterite) brick buildings built by the youth specializing in “masonry”, compost toilets that are emptied daily into a big hole in the ground, shower water lifted up from a well, a huge commercial kitchen that is spotless, this simple place with a vegetable IMG_4922garden and sheep is a wonderful model for the world. I imagine grabbing the inner city kids in the US and placing them in somewhere like this, even bringing them to Africa, would heal them quickly. Lastly, the food we ate out of a large communal round silver dish in a circle of 7 IMG_4939spoon-ready mouths each meal , quietly and respectfully, was phenomenal. Perhaps the love with which it is made adds to the deliciousness. No desserts but noone is complaining. They are happy with so little. Few have phones, but they have each other. Love, companionship and mentorship.  We have been well-taken care of here. Kindness abounds. A deaf youth follows us and stares, picking up all the information he can. Apparently he is one hell of a rapper, despite his inability to hear. We watch him beat rhythms on the walls, unconsciously.  One of his “brothers” passes him with a supportive pat on the back.  Viva and I decide we will be back to build a giant cob oven with these boys.  It is hard not to come back here.  There is so much LOVE in the air.  My Heart is touched. Bless this place.