Monday, April 16, 2007

My Obsession with Civil Society in Africa: Rural Visit and work with APROFES


CIEE organizes a week of rural visits where the students can decide whether they want to stay with a Peace Corps volunteer or stay with a local NGO in a rural area of Senegal. Most of the students opted to stay in the “bush” with the PCV, but I was really torn. The question was, when would I ever have the opportunity to stay in the bush? But I chose to go work with an NGO because A)they were doing sweet things for women in the region and B) I am obsessed with civil society/NGO/Non-profit/Grassroots development in Africa. So, on Monday I and three other girls headed to Kaolack to work with APROFES (Association pour le PROmotion de la Femme Senegalaise). Kaolack is about 3 hours away, whereas most of the PCV kids had to travel 8 hours plus to reach their destinations.
First impressions of Kaolack: It was HOT! When I got to my host family’s house, the conversation consisted as such (directly translated from French/Wolof):
“The heat here is bad.”
“Yes, it is hot.”
“Sure is.”
(The power goes out)
“It’s hotter now.”
“You want this fan? Because it is hot.”
“Is it hot like this in your country?”
“I don’t know, I think so.”
“Because it is cold in Dakar. This is bad heat. We can’t walk down the street, we can’t go anywhere but stay here. You want to take a nap?”
And that was pretty much a daily occurrence. I would wake up, have breakfast, head to the APROFES office, then to a village, where we would “Noppalu” (rest) during the hot hours which meant us laying on someone’s bed or couch and sleeping, and then head back, all the while complaining about the heat.
My host family was two brothers, 15 and 10, and a 25 year old sister who is my twin (we both have jaay fondey and are left handed), my host mom, Bintou Sall, who worked at APROFES with the micro-credit union and a host dad who worked for the salt processing company.
About APROFES: first, let me give you some background on my obsession with developing Africa from the bottom up. Working with CDD in Ghana and now APROFES makes it so clear to me that the best system of development on this continent is through active civil society organizations like those two who are dedicated to correcting the poverty and corruption in their respective countries. Who better to develop a country than those who live there and actually have a stake in the outcome? Granted, organizations like these need the funding and capacity building from the West, but they are the ones that know how best to use the money to actually effect change. Okay to APROFES. Their primary objectives are the promotion of women’s rights, establishing women leaders in various spheres, providing access to health resources and information, giving women economic power and reducing violence against women. They work with community based organizations, directly with the women and children of villages, victims of violence, women leaders and entrepreneurs and their established credit mutual and health mutual. A brief list of their projects: sensitization projects on AIDS/HIV and women’s rights; capacity building for women’s organizations in the region; training sessions that range from leadership and advocacy training to functional literacy courses; microfinance projects; a health insurance program; alternative energy and other positive environment programs; and prevention projects through awareness about violence against women (which includes Female Excision practices). They have many financial partners, mostly European and Canadian, and technical partners like regional and national women’s networks. They work thoughout the Kaolack region as well as Fatick and as far as the Casamance. (In other words, they are AMAZING)
We went to a conference hosted by a regional network of women about women in politics and the idea of equity and a presentation in a village for the 15 days of women celebration. The first village we went to, Kacathe, was the location of a farming co-op that had been funded through microfinance credit and capacity supported by APROFES. They were growing mangos, okra, eggplant, peppers and onions in the small perimeter. It was about 10 years old with 39 women working plots. The women use the produce for their own homes and also sell it on market day to the surrounding villages. The men help, but it is mostly the women who are doing the work here. They all benefited from APROFES’s sensitization programs, workshops, and literacy classes in Wolof. For more evidence about how successful and great micro-credit systems are, look at this village. They received 15,000CFA ($30) per woman in loans from APROFES. The established the farm, cultivated peanuts and, through the sale of their produce, turned that 30 bucks into $120 each and together bought horse carts and sheep. Now each woman has about 57,250CFA ($115) in their savings and the loans have been paid off.
The second village we visited, Ngane Ndiougou, also had a farming perimeter, but it was much larger and had another plot close by. They were also cultivating trees for re-forestation projects and had just started a program of raising bees for honey production. Their farming co-op idea was actually from the youths of the village who came up with the proposal to take to the micro-credit mutual provided by APROFES. In this village we met the chief and provided the villagers with entertainment as we tried to dance to their drumming. Here I also had the best attaya, which I realized I never mentioned before on this blog. Attaya is strong green tea with lots of sugar served piping hot. It is not easy to make actually; it requires skill at pouring and mixing just right so that it is all frothy on top when served in shot glasses.
The third village we visited, Ngathe, generated income from a very different source: by collecting salt from a lake in the area. Every fifteen days the lake dries up and the people move to another location to collect about 500 kilos a day of salt which is then sold to a Senegalese organization that cleans it. This is the only source of income for the area during the dry season and there were a ton of people out there, ankle high in salty water. We tried out the whole salt cultivation thing, but it was tough because there was so much salt that it was sucking our flesh dry and made walking quite difficult. There are salt plots that the villagers can purchase for $30 where the water evaporates faster and yields more salt. It was very strange seeing all this salt out in the middle of nowhere. APROFES assisted this village with education programs using videos and theatre troops as well as through micro-credit loans.
So even though I wasn’t “out in the bush,” I had an amazing experience. I learned about the effectiveness of APROFES’ programs (for example, through education, the number of child birth deaths dropped 50% in one village where they worked). A bakery started by a women entrepreneur with funds from APROFES was flourishing (and we would know, because everyday we had something from the bakery). My host family in Kaolack was hilarious, welcoming and comforting, and the girls I traveled with provided good company as we discussed how in love we were with APROFES and how we were going to help APROFES save the world. So in other words, my rural visit was well worth it.

Birthday photos

one: that is a crepe with stuff on the inside.
two: that is me at the reggae night party after dinner...I love Bob :)
three: the mousse with the candle and everyone singing.