Sept. 21 is the United Nations-designated International Day of Peace, celebrated throughout the world.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
When I first moved to Senegal, I learned a local language. For official business we spoke French, but in the field we spoke Wolof, the language of teranga, kalante and jamm — hospitality, joking kinship and peace.
When greeting someone in Wolof, the answer is always “peace, only peace.” How are you, how’s your household, and your work, your farm, your herds, your day (or night), how’s the family (just double-checking) and, ending the ceremony, are you all in peace? Jamm’ rekk.
Life in Senegal was peaceful. Senegal’s first president, a famous poet and war hero, was Catholic and part of the Serère population in a predominantly Muslim, Wolof land. Léopold Sédar Senghor, who served as president from 1960 to 1980, transformed his nation into an exceptionally tolerant and democratic society. A visionary in human and economic development, Senghor led Senegal to independence.
Years later, I lived in neighboring Guinea, where joking kinship also reigns. Studying Pular there, I immediately recognized the ritual response: jam tun, only peace. Guinea’s recent history has been much more turbulent than Senegal’s, and the U.N. designated the country in its Human Development Index as one of the world’s 10 least developed.
Lacking peace, a country struggles to educate its children. It can’t provide health care, employment opportunities for youth, infrastructure or public services, safety and security, or a stable economy. Since a country and its peoples have no future without peace, peace is a human right.
Each summer, the Fund for Peace publishes a Fragile States Index (FSI), scoring countries on 12 socioeconomic and political indicators. Overall scores fall into four categories: Sustainable, Stable, Warning and Alert. A county’s FSI level often tracks closely to its HDI tier: Very High, High, Medium or Low.
The HDI measures health, education and income (adjusted for inequality) at a moment in time, while the FSI predicts future conflict. Factors such as the number of refugees, uneven economic development, the flight of educated citizens to other countries, economic decline and poverty, human rights and external influences are all taken into account to determine a country’s status in the Fragile States Index.
Over the past decade, Belarus and Indonesia — countries where ChildFund works — experienced the most notable improvements in the world. Senegal, on the other hand, shows the worst long-term performance. In 2007, Senegal was on par with Brazil. Then the country tumbled 55 places and, in the 2014 report, is now at the Very High Warning level. Why? Refugees from the conflicts in Guinea and Mali, emigration of Senegal’s educated populace, political competition and demographic pressures, such as drought, flooding, food and water scarcity and chronic malnutrition. Guinea, trapped at High Alert, is unlikely to improve. Ebola has devastated the nation’s precarious health system and damaged its economy.
Please consider sharing your peace with a child in Guinea or Senegal.
In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries, thanks in large part to a major gift from a concerned donor. The project’s goal is to raise awareness of gender-based violence, assist child survivors of sexual abuse and help communities develop child-protective systems and responses. In four blog posts, we have learned about the progress made in the countries; today, we focus on Senegal. To read the rest of the series, click here. If you want to help women and girls gain greater independence and empowerment, we have some ideas.
By Danielle Roth, Technical Coordinator for Youth Programs
Senegalese children experience gender-based violence at home and school and in their communities, which amount to an overall environment of pervasive fear and persecution, particularly for girls. A recent study found that in Senegal, 74 percent of schoolgirls have been sexually harassed, 22 percent have experienced an attempted rape, and 8 percent have been raped. Other studies have shown that the people likely to perpetrate this violence are often known to the victim — a classmate, a boyfriend, a neighbor or a teacher.
Gender-based violence, or GBV, is a problem of substantial proportions. It is also an issue with deep roots embedded in socio-cultural norms and community dynamics such as expectations around masculinity and femininity, power dynamics within the household and rigid gender roles. ChildFund is working with Senegalese communities to help them respond to and prevent GBV.
So, what exactly are we doing?
ChildFund works in the Tattaguine and Kolouckmbada areas of the Mbour district to address GBV against children and youth 6 years and older, through a community-led and action-oriented approach known as the community action cycle. This method of community mobilization includes four steps: 1) forming groups, (2) self-diagnosing challenges in the community, (3) developing action plans and (4) carrying out action plans.
From January through June 2014, six child protection groups, composed of community members themselves who are vulnerable to GBV and including both young people and adults, met to discuss some of the most pervasive GBV issues in their communities. These groups then developed their action plans, which outlined key steps they wanted to take in partnership with their communities to address these issues.
The groups chose to focus on community mobilization and advocacy with authorities around rape, early and forced marriage and early pregnancy. An example of the successful work of one group involves a case of forced marriage. A young woman, aged 14 — we will call her Mawa — was forced to leave school when her mother received a pre-dowry gift.
Mawa says, “One day, around 8 p.m., while I was learning my lessons in my mother’s room, she called me to introduce me to two young men. She told me with a very low voice that I should be very kind with one of the men because he had come to ask me for marriage. When I told her that I did not want to get married — I am a student and I want to stay at school — she told me that if I did not love the guy and if I refuse this marriage, she will no longer support me.”
Mawa was left with no choice. To prepare her for marriage, Mawa’s mother withdrew her from school and sent her to the capital, Dakar, to work as a housemaid.
When the youth group in her village learned of Mawa’s situation, they brought the case to the newly formed child protection group. The group then met with Mawa’s mother to negotiate for her return under circumstances that the mother would find amenable but that also recognized Mawa’s human rights.
Mawa had no idea that all this was going on. “One Sunday, my mother called and asked me to come back to my town to resume my studies,” she says. “It is then that I learned that it was thanks to my village child protection committee that I was able to return home.
Cases like Mawa’s are not uncommon in Senegal, and that is why child protection groups like the one in her community are so important. To deepen this vital work, ChildFund will continue to support the child protection groups through another community action cycle.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
One in a series this week for World Health Day (April 7)
One bright morning, I was administering the English language section of a four-hour exam in a high school in Saint-Louis, Senegal. About halfway through the test, which divides high school graduates who go on to university from those who return to their villages to farm, I felt dizzy and feverish.
By noon, I was walking slowly across a quarter-mile-long cantilever bridge, clinging to the handrail. The bridge connects the island portion of the town to the mainland, where I lived. It felt as if a vise was crushing my head; I could barely see.
Reaching the mainland, I sat down on a pile of rocks on the bank of the Senegal River, shaking uncontrollably in the intense sunlight. Eventually, a cool hand grazed my forehead. I heard a sharp intake of breath, then a familiar voice saying, in French, “malaria.”
I stared at the child in front of me, unable to move or speak.
“Miss Meg, it’s me, Amadou N’Diaye. I’m taking you home now.”
He ran back to the street and flagged down a taxi. Together, Amadou and the driver lifted me inside. When we arrived at our apartment block, Amadou ran first to my Peace Corps colleagues, who carried me up the stairs and into bed. Then he found my French friend. “Bring your medicines, quick,” he told Christian.
Christian’s cocktails of anti-malarial and tetracycline drugs worked. Three days later, I came out from under my mosquito net, no longer wanting to die.
I’d slept under that net for nearly two years. And I’d taken tonic water daily for its quinine benefit, lit a mosquito coil in my bedroom each evening at sunset, and swallowed my weekly pills. But despite these precautions, on restless nights when I bumped up against my net, mosquitos feasted on my arms and legs. Anti-malarial drugs don’t entirely destroy plasmodium parasites, which carry malaria; they merely keep them under control. In those days, the West African breeds were increasingly drug-resistant.
Now imagine what it’s like for children without bed nets or medication who are bitten every night of every rainy season by hundreds of mosquitos.
This year, World Health Day is turning its focus toward vector-borne infections; its motto is “small bite, big threat.” Epidemiologists refer to insects and snails as the vectors for parasites and viruses they transmit to our bloodstreams.
Malaria is the world’s most prevalent vector-borne infection, but dengue fever, a mosquito-borne virus, is the fastest growing. In the countries where ChildFund serves, other parasitic diseases such as Chagas, from kissing bugs, and trypanosomiasis, from tsetse flies, threaten children’s health. Viral illnesses, including chikungunya (mosquitos), schistosomiasis (freshwater snails), and the hemorrhagic fevers — Yellow Fever (mosquitos), Rift Valley Fever (mosquitos) and Crimean-Congo Fever (ticks) — are less widespread but still deadly.
Urbanization, deforestation and damaging agricultural practices all contribute to the spread of malaria. Deforestation and urbanization also led to resurgences of Yellow Fever and the sudden emergence of dengue and chikungunya.
Mosquitos breed in stagnant water, hiding in tall grass during the day and tracking their human targets nightly by the carbon dioxide we exhale. Although we can’t yet eradicate malaria, giving families access to medicated bed nets is a step in the right direction.
Today, Feb. 21, is International Mother Language Day, so we’re looking at some of Africa’s linguistic traditions. Did you know that a child you sponsor in Africa may speak as many as five languages?
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
In July 1975, I began a training program for Peace Corps volunteers in Dakar, Senegal. The volunteers were immersed in French and Wolof in the classroom and in field settings. We practiced our bargaining language while speeding along in cars rapides — large, open vehicles painted bright blue and crammed with women, children, chickens and goats — on our way to Dakar’s open-air markets.
Speaking a mixture of Wolof and French, we sometimes saw English phrases painted lopsidedly on cars and walls: “It is forbidden to spit,” for instance.
“Spit” is one of about two dozen words common to many cultures that have remained highly stable over time, so they’re useful for understanding language dispersion. In French, to spit is cracher, and spit itself is crachat; Wolof uses tufli and tuflit. Both languages make use of onomatopoeia — the words sound like what they mean — even though English and French are members of the Indo-European cluster, and Wolof belongs to the world’s largest language family, the Niger-Congo.
As an English speaker, it was easier for me to learn French than Wolof. The U.S. Foreign Service Institute agrees. French, Portuguese and Spanish are relatively straightforward for native English speakers to learn, with their many cognates, similar alphabets and common grammatical structures. It’s tougher for us to achieve proficiency in Hindi, Vietnamese or Thai; Arabic is among the most difficult of languages for Americans.
West Africans move effortlessly between four or five languages.
Yet many of the children in ChildFund’s programs speak three or more languages fluently before the age of 15: First they learn their mother tongue, then a regional or national language — Wolof, in Senegal — and, in school, an international language like Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Russian or Spanish.
In Senegal, I lived in a Pular-speaking district. Wolof and Pular are siblings: Tuttugol (to spit) is clearly related to tufli. My high-school students had already mastered Pular, Wolof, Arabic (the language of Islam) and French (Senegal’s official language). I taught them their fifth language: English.
English is often hard for non-native speakers to learn. Our vocabulary borrows from two sources — Romance (tricky, difficult, arduous) and Anglo-Saxon (tough, hard, thorny). Decades later, I taught English to university students in neighboring Guinea. Guineans also speak Pular, along with Malinké, Soussou and Kissi.
Just as Romance languages (French, Portuguese and Spanish) all derive from a Latin root, Malinké, Soussou and the Sierra Leonean Mende dialect belong to the same cluster as Senegalese and Gambian languages such as Mandinke, Bambara, Soninke and Serahuli. Its influence is felt in Liberia and Sierra Leone too. Niger-Congo languages blanket the West African coast, from the Sahara Desert to the River Congo.
West Africans move effortlessly between four or five languages. Not surprisingly, linguistic research suggests language itself originated there. As our African ancestors explored and settled the rest of the globe between 50,000 and 75,000 years ago, these expert language learners took their abstract communications and distinct cultures with them.
Our original mother tongue was an African language. Why not celebrate International Mother Language Day by sponsoring a child in West Africa? Explore one of the 1,500 living languages spoken by nearly a quarter of the world’s population.
“In the beginning, I was just an IT guy, but I learned what ChildFund does for the African children. It’s noble. It’s very powerful.”— El Hadji “Sidy” Ndiaye, information technology manager at ChildFund’s national office in Senegal
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered, and safe — no matter where they live. Improving the Health of Women and Girls is this week’s theme.
Visiting the doctor is usually a mild inconvenience in the United States. It may entail a drive across town and a sit in a waiting room filled with people coughing and sneezing. But in Senegal, which has only 822 doctors serving a population of more than 12 million, seeking medical attention is a major undertaking.
For some families, it’s too much. Sadio is the mother of 2-year-old twin girls in the village of Pakala, which is often flooded during the rainy season. This makes it difficult to travel 6 kilometers (more than 3 miles) to the nearest health post staffed by nurses. Awa and Adama suffer from respiratory problems, and Adama is especially sickly, having come down with a debilitating cold that required a doctor’s care — a 30-mile journey from home to a hospital.
Sadio and her husband Moussa, a farmer, have experienced loss before; their first child, Matar, died in 2007 at 13 months from diarrhea and a respiratory infection. But today their village has a health hut, which is staffed by a matron, community health workers and birth attendants. They can help patients with basic needs, but more complicated illnesses and ailments still call for a trip to the health post 3 miles away or 30 miles to the hospital.
Sadio reports that her diet improved during her pregnancy with the twins after receiving advice at the health hut, but her girls still face challenges from the respiratory infection; also, they were born underweight.
The health of women and girls is important to ChildFund, as we work with local partners to provide access to health care in isolated villages as well as underserved urban areas in developing nations. In Senegal, ChildFund is leading the implementation of a $40 million grant from USAID to establish community health care services for children and families in great need.
Over five years, we plan to establish 2,151 health huts and 1,717 outreach sites throughout the country, along with a sustainable national community health policy working in partnership with USAID and other key community development organizations. By the end of the project, we expect to have helped more than 9 million Senegalese people in 72 districts.
By Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
To celebrate Blog Action Day 2012, we take you to Mékhé, Senegal, where a community has discovered the “Power of We.”
The sun is high overhead when we arrive at the Daara school on the outskirts of Mékhé, Senegal, located in the Thies region, about 100 miles from the capital city of Dakar. A large crowd of community members has gathered in the circle of shade bestowed by the largest tree in the compound. The children, unfettered by the heat that is radiating from the parched and sandy soil, run quick steps around us, flashing shy, yet welcoming smiles.
Thies is home to more than 700 Daaras, which are informal Islamic schools that most parents favor over the government school system. From an early age, boys are sent to board at Daaras, where they learn religious principles and how to read and write. Because most of these schools have operated independently without oversight or financial assistance from the government, more than 30,000 children in the Thies region are missing out on a well-rounded formal education. Far worse, these children – often lacking proper shelter and food at the Daaras – beg on the streets and are exposed to risks and abuses.
To address this situation, while respecting religious traditions, the government of Senegal is undertaking a Daaras modernization program, working with nonprofit partners like ChildFund. The goal is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children while incorporating languages (French and Arabic), math and science education with traditional religious teachings.
During the past 12 months, ChildFund has been working closely with community leaders to jointly transform the Mékhé Daara. We immediately see the results all around us – a new building with two airy classrooms; a brightly painted dormitory for 60 children, complete with neat bunk beds and hall bathrooms; and an open-air shelter for religious studies. Well-built private latrines are available for boys and girls—yes, the school now welcomes female children to day classes.
The new facilities are impressive, yet it’s only when school and community leaders lead us through the old classroom and dormitory building that we begin to comprehend just how much Mékhé Daara has changed. On the opposite side of the compound are the old buildings. Inside, we find a dark and dingy classroom that once held 300 students in what must have been impossibly crowded seating. Across the way is an equally bleak dorm room where 50 students once slept with cots and mattresses crammed together. As we step outside, we drink in the fresh air and sunshine while inwardly wondering how children could have possibly learned and slept in such environments.
Community members make room for us under the shade tree, eager to talk about the modernized school and to answer our questions. “We wanted to improve the situation of the children living here,” the leader of the Daara Management Committee says. “Everybody in the village is involved; we want to be effective,” he says.
As we talk with the men and women, we learn that the work of keeping up the school and grounds is now divided among subcommittees: education, children’s health and welfare, animal husbandry and food. The community has welcomed ChildFund’s efforts to strengthen and support teachers in delivering expanded courses. “Our children can now do the same exams as in formal school,” one community member says.
ChildFund also has been instrumental in helping establish the animal husbandry program (goats and cows) and a large garden to grow eggplant, okra, tomatoes and other nourishing foods for the children. “Children in other Daaras must go outside [the compound] and beg for food. We are growing our own food, and the children have mother and parent figures they can turn to,” the committee leader explains. “It’s a big difference in the old way of running the Daara, and the way it is now.”
We turn to ask the children what they think about the changes in their school. Shyness renders them silent. But then, Moy, a young boy of around 12 speaks up. “I like the new beds and the sleeping arrangements. I like the classrooms. And the fences that protect us.”
The success of the school has not gone unnoticed in the region. More parents are now sending their children to Mékhé. In turn, the Daara Management Committee and ChildFund are working together to gain more financial support from the Senegal government to pay teacher salaries and add more classrooms and teachers. Plans are under way to expand the garden and promote more community farming of millet, corn and peanuts to feed the children and also provide an additional source of income.
Working side by side these past 12 months, community members have discovered that they have the power to bring about positive change.
by LaTasha Chambers, Communications Associate
Respect for different cultures is so important, and it’s a value I constantly teach to my son. Working in a diverse environment is important to me because it’s challenging to “fit in” to a one-size-fits-all organization — our hair textures are different, our religious faiths may require us to wear a bindi or head covering or our attire may be an ethnic print. The bottom line is that although professionalism should be exhibited in all we do here at ChildFund, our unique identities encourage dialogue, show pride in who we are as individuals and represent the diverse global community we serve.
Recently, Mamadou Diagne and Emile Namsemon N’Koa from ChildFund Senegal visited our headquarters to share the wonderful community health work we are doing there. An African-American woman who happened to be visiting our office that day asked, “How does ChildFund go into these countries and expect change without disrespecting the culture?” That was a million-dollar question I had also planned to ask sooner than later, now that I’m a member of the ChildFund staff.
Diagne shared, in his native French, that ChildFund does not go into a community and force what it believes on a group of people who have long-held traditions, some of which are unhealthy like female genital cutting. He explained that you don’t break traditions with a hammer; you simply show community leaders ways that will improve the overall health of an entire community.
His hammer analogy was so moving to me. I couldn’t agree more. Relationships are not built by beating people down. Yes, many of us are passionate and unyielding in our efforts to eradicate poverty and give children a fighting chance in this world. But the fact that ChildFund engages in dialogue at a grassroots level that fosters new, healthier practices and traditions is the best way to create long-term change.
And that’s exactly what we want.
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we learn about ChildFund’s community health grant in Senegal.
When ChildFund began working in Senegal in 1985, much of the country lacked access to adequate health care, particularly mothers and children under age 5. As a result, many young mothers were dying in childbirth and children were succumbing to malaria, diarrhea and undernutrition – all preventable conditions.
In most cases, doctors and health posts are miles and miles away, out of reach. Although the country has a rich resource in its traditional medicine practitioners (often the village grandmothers), these lay health care providers worked outside of the state health care system, with no formal training. If a mother or child’s health condition became life-threatening, the family and the community would have nowhere else to turn for help.
Today, health care access in Senegal is vastly improved, says Emile Namesemon N’Koa, ChildFund’s national director in Senegal. With grant funding from the U.S. International Development Agency (USAID) and a consortium of partners, ChildFund is implementing a large-scale community health project. Mamadou Diagne, ChildFund Senegal’s national health coordinator, is overseeing operations. He points out that by 2016, Programme Santé Santé Communautaire (PSSC) will have reached 12.3 million people (almost the entire country), providing community-based health huts and outreach sites to both rural and urban populations.
In addition to providing day-to-day maternal and child health care, the project will also address neglected tropical diseases and work to educate communities about the health dangers inherent in the cultural practice of female genital cutting.
ChildFund has long recognized the vital role of grandmothers and godmothers who assist and mentor younger women in their communities. Another key component in ChildFund’s strategy is involving and training community health volunteers and traditional birth attendants. By providing these caregivers with additional health information and formal linkages to a growing network of health posts, ChildFund Senegal is seeking to weave them – and the entire community – into the very fabric of the country’s health care system.
As Mamadou notes, “Through the synergy of cooperation with the community and other organizations at work in Senegal, we’re finding solutions to the problems we face.”
Reporting by ChildFund Senegal
ChildFund is working closely with USAID and local partners to improve community health in Senegal, with a special focus on mothers and children. At a regional conference on reproductive health organized by USAID in late July, Senegal won second place for its USAID-funded health program. Awa Diagne (fifth from left in photo), a trained birth attendant supported by ChildFund under the USAID program, made the conference presentation.
In Senegal, ChildFund leads a consortium of NGOs including World Vision, Plan International, Catholic Relief Services, Africare and Counterpart International in implementing the Community Health component of this program. ChildFund helped survey community members to gain their insight and support for future family health projects.
Congratulations to ChildFund’s team in Senegal who contributed to this joint effort. And to Madagascar, first-place winner, and Nigeria, which placed third.