Nicole Dewing and Curtis McCormack

by Seck from Dakar

Nicole Dewing and Curtis McCormack<br>(Courtesy of Cheikh Seck)
Nicole Dewing and Curtis McCormack
(Courtesy of Cheikh Seck)

Nicole Dewing and Curt McCormack were living comfortably in their home in Montpelier, Vermont (USA), until that famous morning when they woke up and decided that they wanted to have a different life. They were tired of sitting around and watching the days go by. They could not come around to the idea that this was the way they wanted to live for the rest of their lives. This uneasy feeling, and the fact that they discovered that Nicole, the wife of Curt, could not have a baby, led them to make the decision to enroll in the Peace Corps. As Curt explained to me later:

"We had enough of that type of life. We really wanted to do something good. Some good action and the best way we could achieve this was through the US Peace Corps program. So here we are."

It was one morning in August that I first met with Nicole Dewing. She was sitting with a friend in a restaurant in Joal, sipping some kind of drink I can’t remember, a friendly smile across her face. We immediately engaged in conversation. She got more and more interested in our filmmaking activities, and the next thing I knew we were exchanging emails about the ambitious project she and her husband were implementing in Ndiong and Mbelenieme, two small neighborhoods in Joal, a small city on the Coast, 118 km away from Dakar. At that time I had not yet met Curt, Nicole’s husband.

The couple had the brilliant idea of initiating a project that consists of the transformation of domestic wastes into fertilizer. It was Curt who got the idea one morning when he was walking through the streets of Joal. He could not help noticing the women who woke up early in the morning to sweep the interior of their compound and the immediate surroundings. Nevertheless, garbage remained a problem in Joal, as he told me:

"People here do clean up. There are even some who use a sieve to sieve the sand to make it cleaner."

But still some other people are always there to litter again. So the main problem here was not really cleaning, but changing people’s mentality, teaching them basic health and environmental principles. Letting them know that you don’t litter streets and you do not dump solid wastes in natural places like the sea or the estuary.

As an environmentalist with great experience acquired from years of active involvement and practice in health care and global environmental awareness issues, Curtis really felt that this was some kind of dream come true where he could help improve the ways of a community. He started figuring out ways to get rid of the solid wastes coming from the compounds of the neighborhood. This was how he developed the idea of a compost facility where the garbage could be turned into fertilizer. The solid wastes had to be separated from the source into two different kinds of waste: organic and non-organic. Two kinds of garbage cans were designed with two different pictures showing organic wastes and non-organic ones attached to them. This simple method helped the population know where to put what. Different pick-up days were set for the organic wastes and the non-organic. Then, with the arrival of the cartloads of organic waste, the activity of composting began.

The compost facility in Joal, Senegal, West Africa<br>(Courtesy of Cheikh Seck)
The compost facility in Joal, Senegal, West Africa
(Courtesy of Cheikh Seck)

While Curt dealt with the technical aspects of the project, which is a pilot one as this waste collection and treatment system is meant to be expanded to the other districts of Joal, Nicole took charge of the coordination of the project. In a short time she succeeded to get herself perfectly integrated in the Serer Community, which gave her the local name of Salane. She worked with the women of the health and sanitation committees within the two pilot project neighborhoods. Along with Nicole, these women educated the residents how to correctly separate the wastes at their houses, putting them into two different trashcans, one for the biodegradable waste like leftover food, leaves of trees, etc…and another for non-bio waste like empty cigarette packs, plastic bags, industrial plastic boxes, etc…

The idea is to turn all the bio solid wastes into fertilizer through a composting process. Finding the place for the compost facility was not difficult. A local retired admiral, who used to serve as a Senegalese military attaché in the USA, lent his land to the project to host the compost facility. From that day on two carts pick up the wastes from the houses and bring them to the compost facility five mornings a week. At the compost facility three piles can be seen as they undergo the transformational process. Every morning, under the supervision of Curt, Paul Sarr and Francois Diokh, two young men manning the project, take temperatures, receive the wastes and put them in the first pile which they water using gray waste water the women of the neighborhood pour into a tank at the compost facility. This water used to be dumped directly into the saltwater estuary, polluting the environment.

Nicole at a community meeting about the project<br>(Courtesy of Cheikh Seck)
Nicole at a community meeting about the project
(Courtesy of Cheikh Seck)

Another great merit of the project is that Nicole succeeded in focusing the women’s attention on the issue of littering and illegal dumping. After some months, no litter could be found in the streets of the two districts targeted by the project, and people had stopped dumping trash in the estuary, which was a major achievement as this negative habit used to be at the root of great environmental and health problems. In fact, I can remember a time when Joal was frequently hit by Cholera. By that time many tourists had expressed their deep concern about the garbage problem in Joal. Today, with the help of the Dynamic Nicole Dewing, the women’s committees hold regular meetings for assessment needs, and they have already been invited three times to the local radio station due to the success of the project.

After composting for about four months, the first pile is ready to be taken away freely by local farmers to fertilize their crops. The last time I saw that pile, it was nearly gone.

Yet two questions remain to be answered: how are the non-bio wastes going to be disposed of? The fact is some contacts have been initiated with TRANSEN, a local plastic recycler, but no conclusion has been reached yet. Another solution for the non-bio wastes could be a partnership with an Italian NGO interested in this innovative project. They could help with the non-bio wastes as they have a program to recycle plastics.

Leaders of the project at a local radio broadcast<br>(Courtesy of Cheikh Seck)
Leaders of the project at a local radio broadcast
(Courtesy of Cheikh Seck)

Despite all their great work in Joal, the Dewing couple is not completely satisfied with their work. There are still some aspects of the project that need to be addressed like the great number of used batteries found in Joal. Those batteries cannot be dumped anymore in the estuary as they pollute the water and constitute a great danger for fish and other marine species living in the waters of the estuary. How to get rid of those batteries remains a question to be answered.

With the help of Tostan, an NGO very active in environmental issues, the Dewing couple have become real heroes in Joal, though they do not want to hear about heroism.

Page created on 8/3/2014 3:46:17 PM

Last edited 1/5/2017 7:11:17 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

U.S. Peace Corps - Peace Corps Volunteers serve in 74 countries around the world. Collaborating with local community members, Volunteers work in areas like education, youth outreach and community development, the environment, and information technology.
State of Vermont Joint Concurrent Senate Resolution - The General Assembly officially extends best wishes to former Representative Curt McCormack and Nicole Dewing as they embark on a new path as Peace Corps volunteers in Senegal.
Compost Guide - Read more about composting.

Author Info

Cheikh Seck has been a important member of The MY HERO Project and has shared many stories and short films about people in Senegal making a positive difference in the world on this web site. Cheikh Seck has been working on a documentary short film about the waste management project that was launched in JOAL with the help of Nicole Dewing and Curtis McCormack.