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Senegal: buttressing hope in the Casamance region

26-02-2010 Feature

For the last six years the ICRC has been building health posts, latrines and wells in villages in the Palms area, which was one of the places worst affected by the conflict in the region.

Women in a health post that was recently built in Djibidione, in the Palms area. 

A health post is being built in the village of Sitoukene. 

A water pump in Sitoukene. 

Sitting on the steps of her home on the outskirts of the village of Essom Silathiaye, Nafissa is radiant as her little baby nestles against her shoulder. He was born just a month ago, in the open air, under the big kapok tree. " Just behind the bushes, " explains Youssouf Rémi Diédhiou, a close relative. " We've had 15 births like that this year, because there is no maternity home, " says this retired forwarding agent regretfully. There is no health post or health worker in Essom. " We have to travel 15 km to Gambia to get treatment, " he grumbles. 

In 1997, the villagers decided not to put up with the situation any longer and clubbed together to build a health post. A few concrete walls went up and then work stopped, because there was not enough money to erect a whole building. The ICRC stepped into the breach a few months ago. It is now supplying the sand, the cement and technical assistance. The residents of Essom turn their hand to building when they are not working in the fields.

Antoine Sagna, a water and sanitation engineer at the ICRC's sub-delegation in Ziguinchor, visits them almost every week to monitor progress on the building site. " People have a very hard time of it here, " he says leaning against a wall of the building. " They are a long way from any health facilities and have no means of travel. A woman on the point of giving birth has to walk for miles and is at risk of losing the baby or haemorrhaging. "  And he adds, " sometimes there are also problems with the water supply. The wells regularly dry up, or there is not enough water for everyone. "  

Is this unusual in this part of the Casamance? Not really. All 200 square kilometres of the Palms area are equally is olated. As Antoine points out, " this is one of the most cut-off places in southern Senegal and one of the worst affected by the conflict in the Casamance. In 2006, the population was caught in the middle of the clashes between various factions. "  


 Despite the lack of security, the residents see their daily lives in a different light  

Ever since then, the area has experienced a chronic lack of security. The ICRC, which has been active in the region since 2004, is one of the few organizations offering support to the thousands of villagers. This assistance, which has expanded gradually, has made it possible to build or rehabilitate health posts, maternity homes, schools and latrines.

As Antoine explains, " at the beginning, working in this area was not always easy, because there was a certain amount of distrust. We had to explain what we were doing in order to be accepted. Even today, armed men ask us where we are going and what we are doing. But in the end they realize that we are here to help people. "  

Six years have passed and the local residents can now see some improvements in their daily lives. The residents of Biti Biti are delighted with their new health post with its sturdy cream-coloured walls, its wells and the freshly planted banana trees in front of the entrance. The happiest person of all is Kenoutan Badji, the community health worker. " We used to have a Banco hut, with walls and a roof which used to collapse. But all this is different, " he says as he shows us round the premises. " These walls are good and solid. We have a consulting room, a dispensary, an office and a maternity ward back there. "

Not far away, the village of Brikamanding has also just opened its new health post. A n aesthetically pleasing building of geocement (a mixture of cement and earth), which took just 100 days to construct, it blends into the countryside. Ansoumana Badji, an eminent local figure, contemplates it with some pride. His family, the 500 or so villagers and people from the surrounding areas have found their community health worker and a midwife and now they can be treated in functional, well-equipped, clean premises.