Claude Phaneuf dreams of returning to Africa

After two years in Senegal, Claude Phaneuf dreams of returning to Africa. 


A few months after helping provide humanitarian aid to Senegal, Claude Phaneuf has one thing in mind: a return to Africa, maybe even for the rest of his life. Le Canada Français interviewed him to learn more about the dream he was finally able to achieve through Uniterra, a volunteer cooperation program administered by the Center for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI).

Claude Phaneuf’s desire to explore Africa did not start yesterday. He literally fell in love with it through his meeting with the African students to the chair of International Cooperation of the University of Sherbrooke, where he studied economics.

He put his project on hold for several years and was, among others, marketing director at a subsidiary of Bell and worked on behalf of the Union des producteurs agricoles.

“The first time I left for Africa was in 2008 as a communications consultant for a group of peanut farmers,” Mr. Phaneuf said. “In 2009, I returned for a two year term in Senegal as a consultant in organizational development with rice producers.”



Thanks to African friends who could translate Wolof, the local language, Claude Phaneuf stayed in a house in Saint-Louis, a city bordering the Atlantic Ocean. He would travel on a motorcycle within the rice fields irrigated by an impressive system that draws its water from the Senegal River on the border of Mauritania.

"The purpose of my job was to help rice farmers increase production,” he explains. Rice is the basic food in Senegal. Worldwide, 54 kilos per person per year are consumed. In Senegal, the amount rises to 74 kilos. The problem is that the country produces only 10% of what it consumes. "

Training farmers to a democratic functioning, establishing work plans, and organizing the purchase of fertilizer in groups to produce quality seeds; all this is a work in progress. "I was part of the second Uniterra dispatch to St. Louis. It's a long process, states Claude Phaneuf, but at least we have not declined. The yield per hectare has increased by 5%. "


In addition to fulfilling his duties, he had to learn the basics of Wolof and the habits and customs of Senegal, an overwhelmingly Muslim country where polygamy is allowed. "People touch a lot. Greetings are lengthy and we do not offer our hand until they are completed. Seeing two men walk hand in hand is quite normal, it is a sign of friendship. At first I experienced some discomfort because of it! "Says Claude Phaneuf.

Needless to say, the shock of his return was brutal, especially because of the coldness of the contacts. For two years, Mr. Phaneuf was accustomed to live in the moment, to the rhythm of the seasons. "I loved the project I worked on. The advantage with Uniterra is that we work with the real world, not with officials, "he says.


Thursday, May 24, 2012