Te·sito: the gathering of many to work for a common cause, A Return Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story in the Gambia

Woman in rice farming field in Kiang Jali, The Gambia.

Woman in rice farming field in Kiang Jali, The Gambia.

By Maggie Rudick

Growing up, I remember volunteering for park cleanup projects and school fundraisers, and hearing the phrase, “many hands make light work.”  I understood it, at a superficial level.  But, as I began my Peace Corps service as an environmental and natural resource volunteer in Gambia, “many hands make light work” took on a whole new meaning.

When rice yields from the previous season were low, community leaders in my host village of Kiang Jali got together and brainstormed solutions to avoid the same problem in the future. To grow a sustainable amount of rice to feed the whole village, a new dike needed to be constructed on the outskirts of the village.

This was a daunting task of digging up dirt from one section of the rice fields and creating a 3-foot dirt “wall” for an entire mile.

Kiang Jali women dig to build a dike.

“Who is going to do this work?  There is no equipment or tools!” I exclaimed in Mandinka (the local dialect), to the women’s group president, Daranging.  She gave me a grin and, in her raspy voice, said bluntly, “It’s okay, we’ll finish tomorrow.  Tesito; people will come.”

In the time it took me to walk across the village to my host family’s house, word had spread. Tomorrow.  Tesito. Right after breakfast. 

Kiang Jali  women demonstrate testito while building a dike to ensure higher yield of the village’s rice crop

Kiang Jali women demonstrate testito while building a dike to ensure higher yield of the village’s rice crop

Sitting around the food bowl at dinner, I asked the meaning of ’”tesito.”  My host father explained that tesito is when everyone joins together and works towards one task.

He said they had a week-long tesito to build a road and a day-long tesito to clear the peanut fields. I asked him what would happen if someone didn’t go. He laughed, “Why would they stay home? Everyone else is working. It is our duty as members of the village to take care of our land.”

The next day, everyone trekked out to the rice fields. Shovels, picks, hand hoes, buckets, lunch bowls, and water in tow; ready for a day of hard work. The community worked hard, digging and transporting dirt around the rice fields as they laughed, gossiped, and complained about the hot sun. The camaraderie and teamwork of the community was refreshing. The culture of working together for a common goal, and accomplishing a task was rewarding for all.

Even now, I’m reminded of the importance of joining forces and doing what is best for my community and environment, even if I don’t see immediate results. It’s not always possible to show the direct benefits of environmental education, regulation, and outreach; similar to the direct benefit of digging a trench around a rice field for a potential flood. All we can really do is join together and work to be good stewards of the earth. Tesito.

Kiang Jali women get water from a village well.

Kiang Jali women get water from a village well.

About the author: Maggie Rudick is an Environmental Protection Specialist in EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety Pollution and Protection.

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