Our partner, Vibrant Village Foundation (VVF), recently published an article about our work in Podor, the northern region of Senegal. We want to share it with you. The following is republished with permission.
Oasis in the Desert: A Conversation with Andando Foundation's Bocar Diack
Andando Foundation has been a VVF partner since 2014, working in rural Senegal to alleviate poverty by taking a multi-sectoral approach and “focusing on the growth of the whole village.” And though most of Andando’s programming is in Keur Soce in southwest Senegal, in 2017 VVF’s support enabled them to embark on a new project in the Northern Region.
The needs are high in the north—it’s one of the poorest areas in Senegal, few NGOs work there, and it’s extremely dry and affected by climate change. Though Andando has done some sporadic work there for several years (their Country Director has family ties in the north and they’ve given microloans and dug wells over the years), our funding has enabled them to launch a new, holistic program.
In November 2017, Marieme Daff, our Senior Program Officer who’s from Senegal herself, traveled to Senegal to conduct an initial assessment of the program area, alongside Andando. She participated in interviews to select a candidate for the Podor Program Manager position and met Bocar Diack, who was eventually hired by Andando.
What stood out to Marieme about Bocar, she says while smiling, were “things that normally [she] might not consider strengths. He’s young and doesn’t have tons of experience. But he’s so excited, committed, and wants to make a change in that region. He’s a hard worker and has a good vision.”
Bocar is from the Podor region and had been eager to move back to his home. Marieme describes “it was like a start-up. Andando basically sent him there with a cellphone, motorbike, and laptop.” Bocar’s first months were spent canvassing villages by motorbike to understand the needs and select communities, and as of late 2018, Andando’s programs started to be implemented. Andando’s Executive Director, Lewis Kiker, says Bocar has “done very well in covering a great deal of ground quickly to get this program up and running.”
Lewis and Marieme visited Podor in early March of 2019, and both were excited by what they saw. Lewis wrote a short story on Andando’s website sharing his takeaways (read that here), and Marieme she was amazed at what’s been accomplished in such a short time.
Bocar hasn’t done it all alone—Andando’s two other Podor staff members, Souleymane Sall (Garden Manager), and Hamedine Thiam (Accountant & Administrator) have been instrumental in getting programs underway. In just a few short months the team has renovated a health post, established 2 women-run community gardens, and renovated 2 schools. The gardens, which are true oases in the desert, have “really taken off,” Lewis says.
These community gardens are solely run by women, and Marieme says she “loved meeting women participants and found their determination inspiring. For these women, their participation in the program leads to greater respect, dignity and status in their communities.”
We’ve all been inspired by Andando’s team’s work in Podor. A few weeks back, Marieme talked with Bocar about his background and inspiration for taking on his new role. Here’s what he said:
What was exciting to you about this job? Why did you want to apply?
I was excited about this job because of the location. I was born and raised in the Podor region (Ngaolé village), so I was excited to apply for a job that would allow me to go back to my native region. I was also motivated and wanted to contribute to the development of my region. I’m thrilled that I’m in a position to help my community to manage gardens and help kids to go to school.
Did you always know you wanted to do this type of work? What draws you to it?
I studied project management in university and I’ve always been passionate about community-based development. I am the co-founder of two community groups in my native village: The Student Association of Ngaolé, which supports elementary school students with tutoring and summer classes. I was also active in our village association dedicated to the development of my village. Having a job that allows me to go back and implement what I’ve always wanted to do is a dream.
What was it like growing up in the Podor region?
I was raised by my paternal grandmother and uncle in a poor fisherman family (my parents divorced when I was very young, and as a boy, I belonged to my father’s family). I’m grateful for my family’s support and being able to go to school. My uncle paid for school supplies and other basic needs.
Growing up, I saw the impact of poverty on people’s lives. I saw my aunt die because she couldn’t afford to get medical treatment. I will never forget that. I’ve always wanted to do something to help the people in my village.
What's been the reaction from your family, friends, and those in the community to you stepping into this role?
Everyone was so thrilled. Many people expected that I was going to do something like that someday: come back to my village and do something for the community. As I said, I was active as a young teenager and formed a youth association. I was also always first of my class in school, so people had hopes for me. Everybody prayed for me and hoped for the best. I feel very supported in my work by the community.
What's been the most rewarding part so far? The most challenging part?
The most rewarding part of my job has been to see kids go to school and learn in decent conditions. Through our renovation work, we’ve moved kids from basic temporary classrooms (made out of branches and leaves) to proper classrooms with a roof and windows (see before and after images below).
The challenging part is that there are so many needs and we can’t help everyone. Dealing with expectations has been difficult.
What's your ultimate dream for this project? In 15 years what do you hope to see?
My dream is to see the project grow and expand to other regions in the north. I’d like to see gardens, schools and health posts everywhere there is a need. I also want to see strong, dignified and independent women. I’d like us to be known regionally and nationally, why not?!
Many thanks to Bocar and all of Andando’s staff for their ongoing dedication to this work. For more information on Andando Foundation or to donate, visit their website.
Dana is the Communications Associate for Vibrant Village Foundation.