In a Senegalese village, children grow vegetable seedlings and organize traditional wrestling events as fundraisers in a positive youth development initiative modeled after Virginia Cooperative Extension’s 4-H program.
At the Ndoumbouji primary school, the main focus is gardening.
“The teachers told us that every break they have, the students run to the garden,” said Ozzie Abaye, a Virginia Tech professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences. “The group wants to try to expand the garden project outside of the campus.”
Through activities such as gardening and leadership training, 4-H’s international programming has helped to improve thousands of lives around the globe.
Kathleen Jamison, professor emerita and 4-H youth development specialist, and her team completed training workshops in March designed to scale up the programs’ outreach efforts throughout Senegal.
“4-H provides opportunities for younger members of the community to express themselves and be heard,” Jamison said. “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.”
4-H programming has been changing the lives of young people from the Dominican Republic and Virginia for more than a decade.
“I realized my urge to help others, my passion to work with kids, and discovered a sense of leadership that went far beyond my previous experience,” said Julie Billingsley, a 4-H’er from Highland County who participated in the service-learning project.
Carol Nansel and Christine Hodges, 4-H Extension agents from Shenandoah and Alleghany counties, organize the annual weeklong trips to the island where younger children participate in day camps for two days, while teens interact with each other through service projects that teach principles of environmental sustainability and leadership.
“Each year I watch the 4-H’ers discover a culture and language different from their own,” said Nansel. “I see them learn ways to communicate with Spanish speakers when words fail them, and I see their eyes opened to the world that exists outside their comfort zone.”
Glenda Snyder, senior Extension agent emerita, introduced CHARACTER COUNTS! — an education program developed by the California-based Josephson Institute of Ethics — to schools in Brazil.
Snyder and a local school principal trained 80 school and community representatives, and CHARACTER COUNTS! was implemented as a pilot program in Brazilian schools to help at-risk young people, some whose parents were incarcerated. Officials reported positive results such as improved student conduct, decreased violence, more respectful behavior, and increased parent volunteerism.
The relationship with educators in Brazil has grown and developed over the past nine years as Extension faculty members have trained more than 1,000 Brazilian teachers, principals, and community leaders, impacting 70,000 students annually.
“We’ve got over 100 years of experience in youth outreach,” said Snyder. “Our expertise has been utilized across the commonwealth — and across the globe.”