Friday, September 23, 2011

Sinking city

Flooding commenced in the late eighties, but it wasn't until 2005 that it became a permanent problem. A working class neighborhood in the outskirts of Dakar is slowly disappearing into the ground. Gounass and its surroundings bloomed in the sixties, when many families came to live here from countryside, looking for higher wages in the Senegalese capital. Without proper urban planning, a neighborhood was built over sand, with no adequate plumbing or sewage system. The years have proved to show how short term thinking takes a toll on thousands of life's.

For the last six years, underground water has been seeping to the surface through the sandy ground, creating a perpetual flood. During the rainy season, this problem increases exponentially. Few buildings have cement foundations, and there is no proper canalization for all the water, thus buildings slowly sink into the soft ground. In the spirit of "taranga" (which stands for the warm-caring-hospitality and the capacity to help others) the youth gather on Sunday's to work on hand dug the canals; a desperate attempt to drain out the water from the homes.

Six years ago, as a short term solution, the state destroyed four large areas across the neighborhood, hundreds of square meters large. The Jaxaay Plan displaced the hundreds of families forty kilometers away, to a newly built neighborhood in a locality far from social commodities. Four deep holes were dug in the new lots, the basins would allow for the water to be canalized here, and from the basins, pumped into the ocean.

Most people don't have enough money to move, and are forced to live with the water in their homes. Neighbors with a little bit more economic power buy garbage and sand to elevate their floors, competing against the water to stay dry. The privileged can move to another home, but won't be lucky enough to be to sell their sinking property.

Malaria and hygienic diseases have been at an increase, due to the filthy water and human cohabitation. Septic tanks mix with underground water, proper working sewage for the bathrooms is more of a commodity than a given. Life gets increasingly hard, yet a proper solution seems far away.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Yaay ak Doom

Gounass, Senegal.

Mai Yajate: four children, widow and I’m guessing around 55 years of age.

Ten years ago her quiet village life took a drastic turn. Mai’s husband, a truck delivery driver from Ziganshor to Kaolack, was kidnapped and killed by local rebels. She was left alone to fend for herself and family.

Mai’s older sister lived in Dakar, off she went to the capital to find warmth in the proximity of her family. Here she realized how such a small act of kindness from one person to another can do to change a life around. She saw how most of her neighbours needed just a little help, a little guidance. Thus in the sea of her own sadness she became inspired to help.

Yaay ak Doom (mother and child in Wolof) is painted on the exterior wall of a well kept building in Gounass. Any child can approach her humble office, a building she constructed out of her own pocket and effort, housing two classrooms for workshops and a small patio for children to play. She selfishly gives all of her time to help, and deals with everyone in an individual basis.

She started out with a small group of children, funding the activities by collecting 100 CFA’s (15 cents) every Thursday from neighbors. Over ten years have passed, and currently she directly helps 110 children. She pays tuition and school supplies for over fifty children. Since her help has exponentially grown, every Thursday she now asks for 500 CFA’s (76 cents).

Mai is a model of how an NGO should work. Transparent in her affairs, she attends meetings where money is donated to her cause with five other people. They walk, in order to save transportation cost, and presents herself with her co-workers so they can witness how much money is given.

More to follow.

Y'En A Marre

The government of President Abdoulaye Wade will have a hard time silencing a growing part of his population. For the last couple of years, Senegal has been suffering chronic power outages. In 2010, then Energy Minister Samuel Sarr was under pressure to resign due to the power managing of the electrical situation. The government failed to give a tangible explanation to the population, some explain that it has to do with the poor quality fuel damaging unit generators. Former Minister Sarr, revealed that the government was lifting taxes on renewable sources of energy in an effort to diversify supply. He said the power problem would end by August 15, 2010, still the end is nowhere in sight. After a week of strong protests President Wade replaced the Minister of Energy with his son Karim, adding speculation that the President is grooming his son as his successor (although both deny claims).

2010 - Imams of Guediawaye (an area on the outskirts of the capital) called on its mosques to boycott Senelec (the state controlled company) for one month.

Energy problem also has reduced the rice production -Africa’s third-biggest importer of the grain. Estimates by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Service said imports dropped 33 percent in the first quarter of 2010.

The International Monetary Fund has also identified the energy sector reform as crucial to expanding economic growth.

A group of young advocates are arising from the turbulent waters the government has being brewing. Led by four rappers and a journalist, the masters of words speak out on the common thought found in a growing part of the population, “enough is enough.” Y’en a marre they call it.

The group of rappers mobilized thousands of their peers to assert themselves non-violently for democracy. As of early 2011 the apolitical group known as Y’En A Marre, has been advocating voter registration, protesting against the growing power cuts, and defending their constitution. On June 23rd, Y’en a Marre participated in a street protest for the prevention of President Wade’s grab for power attempting to amend the constitution in order to serve a third term and reduce the portion of votes needed to win re-election, at 85-yrs of age.

Rappers, Thiat, Fou Malade, Kilifa and Simon and fellow journalist Fadel Barro will fight to keep their democracy afloat. They wont let the state touch their constitution, and they will animate their fellow colleagues to stand in protest.

Dakar, 9 am, Sunday, September 18, a roomful of colorful t-shirts with printed bold letters screaming Y’EN A MARRE, dress the populace who attentively listen to the five spokesmen of the movement. Senegalese have gathered to share ideas in an open forum. They all have time to speak, and the assembly drags from morning to late afternoon. A mic is passed, from hand to hand, as the chapter leaders from fourteen regions speak of their individual progress and chip in thoughts, as everyone listens.

Corruption is a common topic among the people. Some rappers have let go of their dignity and joined the campaign trail of prominent politicians, lured by large amounts of money. Yet others have looked the other way when offered campaign participation. Fou Malade can speak for himself, no money will buy him out. He will speak his voice on his distaste of government affairs, not be manipulated by them.