Senegal: microprojects restore dignity in Casamance

04-03-2010 Feature

For over two decades, Casamance has suffered violence and insecurity. Thousands of people have been displaced. ICRC microprojects are supporting some of the most vulnerable displaced people, many of them women.

Kinta Mané sits in front of her house, preparing a meal. Her crutches lean against a wall. Six years ago, she was collecting firewood in a field near the border with Guinea-Bissau when she stepped on a mine, losing a leg.

Since 1988, the Senegalese mine action centre has registered over 750 victims of the mines laid in connection with armed violence in this part of southern Senegal.

Kinta Mané has been living with her two boys on the outskirts of Ziguinchor since 2006. The seven-year-old goes to school, but his older brother (11) has left school to become a mechanic. The walls of their tiny mud-and-corrugated-iron house are cracked. The next rainy season will destroy it.

At 49, Kinta Mané has been reduced to begging. Each day, she goes into the centre of Ziguinchor to scratch together a few coins. She earns around 2,000 CFA francs a day, the equivalent of about 3 euro, and half of that goes on transport. She gets no help from her neighbours because, as she points out, " Life's difficult for everyone. They have enough trouble feeding themselves. "

To get Kinta Mané and other vulnerable displaced persons out of this situation, the ICRC has set up microprojects in Ziguinchor, both in the centre and on the outskirts of the town. The first beneficiaries of the scheme are all mine victims.

©ICRC/ A Fontaine 
Casamance, Senegal. Life is beginning to look up for Kinta Mané. 

Christophe Driesse runs the ICRC programme in Ziguinchor. " We choose people on the basis of how vulnerable they are. And that depends on how poor they are and how bad their social situation is. But their motivation is also a criterion. The aim is to enable them to increase their income permanently, so that they both enjoy a higher standard of living and recover their dignity. "

 Poverty and destitution  

Women are often among the most vulnerable groups, with widows in an exceptionally dire situation. Most of them have to adopt new survival strategies. Many have to give up farming and take on odd jobs or start small shops. For some, prostitution is the only option.

Kinta Mané wanted to make doughnuts. After some discussion, she is going to move to the town centre. " I'll be able to start my life again. I'll be able to eat, dress myself and live in a better house. " The ICRC will supply her with a market stall, kitchen utensils and a gas ring.

This is the first time the ICRC is providing such aid in urban areas of Casamance. Previously, the organization had concentrated on agricultural community projects. In this fertile region, agriculture is the principal source of income, but the conflict and the resulting displacements have brought change.

As Christophe Driesse explains, " Because of their situation, displaced people in towns have no community to fall back on. And they've all lost their land, so they can't go back to farming. "

The ICRC estimates that there are 40,000 displaced people in Casamance, of whom 10,000 are living in Ziguinchor. Most of these families are living with relatives. As a result, the houses are overcrowded and children receive little or no education. Some are malnourished. Many people have been unable to return home for over ten years. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over 13,000 people who fled the violence are still living as refugees in the neighbouring countries of Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.

 The right project for the right person  

Other microprojects are in the pipeline at Ziguinchor. One woman wanted a freezer, so she could sell ice-cream, fruit juice and ice cubes. Another hopes to produce peanut butter.

" The idea is to run projects suited to the needs and aptitude of the individual, " explains Christophe Driesse. For men, this might mean setting up a maintenance business, a mechanical workshop or a welding shop. Women might become dressmakers, or produce dried fish, or perhaps set up a market stall.

Meanwhile , Kinta Mané waits impatiently for her equipment to arrive, so she can finally stop begging. The doughnut stall will enable her to regain control of her life and recover her dignity.