Senegal

The Enormous Toll of Vector-Borne Diseases

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. 

malaria in Senegal

A malaria clinic in Senegal.

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. 

mosquito bed net

A Gambian girl’s bed net helps protect her from malaria.

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.

Recognizing International Mother Language Day

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.

Tea in different languages

Tea entered most languages from the Chinese in the mid-17th century.

“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.

Senegalese children

Children in Senegal show posters in French. Many speak three or more languages fluently before the age of 15 and may learn another in high school.

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.

Why Do You Work at ChildFund?

“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

El Hadji (Sidy) Ndiaye

50 Days: Keeping Women and Girls Healthy

 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.

Senegalese mother and daughters

Sadio and her twins, Awa and Adama.

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. 

Senegal health hut

A health hut in a Senegalese village.

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.

Senegal mother and children

Sadio, the twins and their 4-year-old brother, Assane.

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.

Community in Senegal Unites to Protect, Educate Its Children

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.”

Sengalese childrenThe 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 Girls and boysshade 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.

new classroomA new classroom buildingDuring 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.

old classroom spaceThe 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.”

young boy

Moy

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.

Respect for Culture Creates Dialogue and Results

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.

Two members of ChildFund Senegal staff

Mamadou Diagne, left, and Emile Nansemon N'Koa

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.

Senegal women

Community members in Senegal.

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.

Around the Globe with ChildFund in 31 Days: Delivering Community Health Care in Senegal

31 in 31 logoOver 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.

ChildFund Senegal leaders

ChildFund Senegal national office staff Mamadou Diagne (left) and Emile Namesemon N'Koa on a recent visit to the U.S.

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.

Health hut building

A ChildFund-supported health hut.

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.

Community meeting

A local health committee meets.

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.”

Discover more about ChildFund’s programs in Senegal and how you can sponsor a child.

Celebrating Community Health Improvements in Senegal

Reporting by ChildFund Senegal

Senegal group celebrates award

Team members from ChildFund, USAID, Senegal's Ministry of Health and other NGOs celebrate Senegal's second-place win.

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.

Saving the Lives of Mothers and Protecting Their Children

ChildFund’s successful health huts and community health worker training in Senegal are featured in a film produced by the Stories of Mothers Saved project.

Organized jointly by the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and the United Nations Population Fund, the film project honors women who did not die needlessly in pregnancy or childbirth due to a key action taken by her, her family, the community, a health worker or others.

ChildFund’s story of Maïmouna, a mother with a high-risk pregnancy, is just one example of how local access to quality medical care saves lives in remote, impoverished areas.

Thanks to the community mobilization, training and supervision efforts of the USAID-funded and ChildFund International-led Community Health Project (Programme Santé, Santé Communautaire), Maïmouna had easy access to a community health hut run by volunteer community health agents. The project works hand-in-hand with the health districts in Senegal, such as the Health District of Popenguine.

Maïmouna’s story highlights the importance of a community structure that stands by women and their families before, during and after pregnancy to help them understand reproductive health, danger signs and how to take action.

ChildFund also works to forge links between the community and government-run clinical structures. In this case, it was a community health worker, who was the critical link in the system that ensured continuity in Maïmouna’s care and treatment from the community level up through the clinical levels.

Watch the film and discover just how many more lives can be saved.

ChildFund Welcomes Renewed Focus on Maternal Child Health

by Julia White, ChildFund Business Development Specialist

For organizations like ChildFund International that have been working on the ground in maternal and child health (MCH) for decades, the Women Deliver Conference in Washington, D.C., last week was an inspirational recharge.

Government agencies, dignitaries, NGOs, private-sector foundations, advocates and experts in the field came together with both the political will and the monetary backing needed to reset MCH as a top global priority. We heard from numerous leaders, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the heads of UNFPA, UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Chile’s former president Michelle Bachelet and Melinda Gates, just to name a few.

At the conference, Melinda Gates announced that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will invest $1.5 billion in MCH, family planning and nutrition programs over the next five years, which will complement work already being done in malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea and HIV/AIDS prevention.

The new grants under the Gates Foundation will include a focus on integration — training frontline health workers to provide multiple services and emphasizing cost-effective safe motherhood and newborn health practices. Both are areas of expertise for ChildFund, aligning with our strategic focus on children’s life stages and healthy development.

Maïmouna Faye with her husband and child.

In fact, our work with MCH in Senegal was featured at the conference in the Stories of Mothers Saved, a campaign organized jointly by the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and the United Nations Population Fund. The story of Maïmouna Faye, a mother with a high-risk pregnancy, is just one example of how we forge relationships with communities.

Maïmouna’s life was saved thanks to the community mobilization, training and supervision efforts of the USAID-funded and ChildFund-led Community Health Project (Programme Santé Santé Communautaire) and a well-trained community health worker trained under the PSSC. In Senegal ChildFund works with communities to run more than 1,370 community health care units, or health huts, nationwide.

In Honduras ChildFund has implemented community health units called UCOS (Unidades Comunitarias de Salud), which support community-based maternal, neonatal and child health care, through improved access to high-quality and cost-effective care. We’ve also trained more than 200 community volunteers in the integrated management of childhood illnesses.

Speakers at the Women Deliver Conference repeatedly referenced the U.S. government’s six-year $63 billion Global Health Initiative and its renewed focus on improving the health of women, newborns and children through programs that address infectious disease, nutrition, MCH and safe water. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest U.S.-funded bilateral health assistance program, will serve as the cornerstone of the Global Health Initiative.

ChildFund has been a proud partner of PEPFAR in Ethiopia and Zambia, focusing on vulnerable children whose loss of their primary social structure increases their vulnerability to hunger, malnutrition, abuse and exploitation.

It is heartening to see a renewed international convergence of support for maternal and child health that reflects ChildFund’s long-term commitment to ensuring positive outcomes for children in every stage of their lives.

In my work with ChildFund, I’ve seen firsthand the power of supporting communities, local organizations and women themselves to ensure that mothers are safe and healthy before, during and after the birth of their babies. That support leads to the continued growth of their children into empowered adults.

Because ChildFund believes that the well-being of children leads to the well-being of the world — and that starts with healthy mothers — we’re excited to be a part of the global call to action for mothers and children.

The Mama Effect

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