Wellbeing in West Africa: How We Gather Together

Guest post by:

Carina Ndiaye, Chief Partnerships OfficeTostan

In Senegal, we call it Teraanga. It stands for openness and sharing, meaning: “we invite you to come in.” This cultural norm is present throughout the region and across the continent. Words like Ubuntu in southern Africa portray acknowledgment, respect, and coexistence. In Senegal, through Teraanga, the concept behind the Hindi word Namaste (meaning: “the light in me sees the light in you”) is extended and reinforced to say, “what is mine is yours.” This applies not only materialistically but also to the earth, the sun, the sea, and the unseen. From visitor to member, from transitory to influenced, in our culture, the ‘you’ never stands alone. What affects you also affects me and my community, and community includes anyone who walks our way and crosses our path.

As Tostan agreed to host the first African Wellbeing Summit, joining The Wellbeing Project and key partners hosting similar summits around the world, Teraanga has been a foundational concept for us. It is an entry point into the broader West African cultural systems that value people and their shared history and interconnectedness and that prioritize interdependence over independence.

Our upcoming African Regional Wellbeing Summit Dakar-Thiès 2023 reflects our dedication to embracing community-centered models that resonate with our core values. Locally-driven initiatives and capacity development for communities are critical paths forward, as our CEO Elena Bonometti has pointed out. But at the heart of our vision is Teraanga, where openness and sharing guide us in meeting the multifaceted challenges that our world faces. In Senegal, when challenges arise, a community gathering – referred to as a “pénc” in Wolof – is called to bring together the community for discussion. The Summit will be a globally-connected pénc, embodying the essence of African-based, African-led collaboration and growth in wellbeing. This is not just a “nice to have”; it is essential to our collective wellbeing and social cohesion.

There is a deep respect here for where people come from and for who and how they are. Many traditions create space for people to be seen, acknowledged, and recognized. Through greetings, names, joking, showing respect, and almost countless ways of engaging, we witness and reinforce one another. We see more clearly the threads interweaving our collective well-being. These traditions aren’t technical solutions or abstract topics; they are ways of meeting and gathering together, of creating spaces and openings where we can understand one another, share our perspectives and passions, and work better together.

With over 32 years of experience as a Senegal-based organization, welcoming partners from more than 50 countries far beyond Africa’s border, at our Tostan Training Center, we have come to understand that these ways of welcoming, these traditions for creating space, for seeing and being seen, can be powerful. As our global community seeks to find ways to support increased wellbeing in a context of increasing urgency and challenge, we hope our African Regional Wellbeing Summit Dakar-Thiès 2023 can contribute and share these ways of coming together.

Through our collaborative planning for the Summit, we have found some important themes to explore together. These include mental health, digital wellbeing, wellbeing in the workplace, and others. But the success of our conference won’t be limited to topics, action plans, or best practices. It will also depend on how people feel when they leave, how they can sustain connections, and whether they have found some new ways of inviting change into their lives, their organizations, their work, and our world.

About the African Regional Wellbeing Summit in Dakar and Thiès, Senegal

Join us for the first African Regional Wellbeing Summit in Dakar and Thiès, Senegal, hosted by Tostan from November 29th to December 1st, 2023.

The Summit will be an opportunity to engage in workshops, panels, and social moments to explore wellbeing, especially for those working in service for community-led development, from diverse African perspectives. Discover themes including mental health and its impacts on wellbeing, the role of religion, youth, and digital health.