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Senegal: seeing themselves as something other than victims

01-07-2010 Feature

Among the people displaced by the armed violence in Casamance, those injured by mines are often in the greatest need. The ICRC gives them the means to improve their standard of living. But the impact is more far-reaching than that.

 
©ICRC    
 
Mouskéba Diemé at her food stand in Ziguinchor: "The ice cream brings in a little money, and now we have electricity in one room, which makes it easier for the kids to study". 
     

 
©ICRC    
 
Boubacar Ba repairs bicycles. "I have the impression that people look at me differently, maybe with more respect," he says. 
     

 
©ICRC    
 
In February 2010, the ICRC paid for a small bicycle repair shop to be built on the road that leads to Ziguinchor University. 
      

“Ice for sale, 75 francs”, reads a ragged piece of cardboard. Behind this modest, handwritten sign lies the hope of an entire family. The family is composed of Mouskéba Diemé, her husband and children, who for the past 15 years have lived in Néma 2, a neighbourhood in Ziguinchor.

“Before”, they lived in Kaguitte, a village located around 40 kilometres from Ziguinchor. Husband and wife worked in the fields. They were rice farmers, and they lived off the land. Then, in February 1994, Mouskéba Diemé stepped on a mine near the village and lost her leg. The family had to leave because she could no longer help her husband, and they were afraid of the mines. They moved to the city, the only viable option in the search for work and a fresh start.

Their standard of living has deteriorated considerably since they left their village. Mouskéba Diemé opened a small food stand beside their house, where she serves palm wine, grilled fish and red wine that she buys in Guinea-Bissau. Her husband can only find piecemeal work. Farming had been their main source of income; forced to leave their land, they were left with nothing.

This story is typical of the thousands of victims who, displaced by the violence that has lasted for more than two decades, have swelled the population in and around Ziguinchor. An estimated 10,000 people who were displaced either recently or long ago live here, the largest city in Casamance.

 Microprojects  

In keeping with its mission to protect and assist victims of armed conflicts and other situations of violence, the ICRC launched a programme to help the neediest displaced people, in part through microprojects.

" We are working initially with displaced mine victims, whose circumstances are particularly dire. We help them develop a project aimed at improving their standard of living, " says Christophe Driesse, the coordinator for economic-security programmes at the ICRC's sub-delegation in Ziguinchor. In 2009, the Senegalese Association of Mine Victims had 330 members in Casamance, 50 of whom were living in Ziguinchor.

Mouskéba Diemé spent a lot of time developing her project with the help of the ICRC. She thought about fixing up her food stand before settling on a related activity: selling ice, fruit juice and ice cream. The ICRC bought her a freezer and took care of wiring her home for electricity and handling the related paperwork. " The ice cream brings in a little money, and now we have electricity in one room, which makes it easier for the kids to study, " she says, proud of finally having light at home.

In addition to helping people develop a project that corresponds to their skills and ambitions, the ICRC helps them manage their business.

 Seen in a different light  

Boubacar Ba repairs bicycles. He lost his left leg in 2004 when he jumped on a mine near his home in Oumpack, not far from the border with Guinea-Bissau.

In February 2010, the ICRC paid for a small bicycle repair shop to be built on the side of the road that leads to Ziguinchor University. The organization also provided him with a toolbox and the materials he needed to make a sign.

Boubacar Ba has been plying his trade since April, sheltered from the sun and equipped with the proper tools. " Since I opened my new workshop, my business has steadily increased. I repair more bikes no w and earn more money, which I can use to pay for my kids’ schooling. And I have the impression that people look at me differently, maybe with more respect, " he says.

A little farther along, in Tilène neighbourhood, sits a small sewing workshop filled with colourful fabrics and spools of thread. Two people are bent over their sewing machines. Stéphanie Malack uses her good leg to work the pedal – in place of her other leg she has a prosthetic device. Before her accident in 1998, she sold lemons and fruit juices. " Then I had to find a job that I could do while seated, so I took a sewing course, " she says.

With the help of the ICRC, which will provide her with a sewing machine in a few months, she recently began sharing the workshop run by a tailor, who is teaching her the tricks of the trade. " I wanted to learn how to cut fabrics in order to create my own designs and develop my own clientele, like a real dressmaker. "

These microprojects are suited to each individual's profile and interests and improve the beneficiaries'standard of living. But they also help them to think of themselves as something other than victims.