Bonjour, I’ve been in West Africa for most of the month and I wanted to share a bit with you about the great things I’ve seen and been lucky enough to participate in along with our US and African partners. Today, I am in Dakar, Senegal supporting US Africa Command’s Flintlock 2016, an annual regional exercise among African, Western, and US counterterrorism forces. The event is massive and involves activities, training events, and projects throughout the host country, which this year is Senegal. I’ve been in Senegal for about a week now and I’ve gotten to support a couple of impressive projects conducted by Senegalese forces and their US counterparts. The first event I was involved with was the dedication of a Spirit of America-funded warehouse for a local women’s cooperative in the remote city of Kedougou. The warehouse will help the women’s co-op improve their agriculture output and their incomes. In turn, this will help reduce hunger, food insecurity, poverty, and other local civil vulnerabilities associated with regional extremist groups like Boko Haram and AQIM and with the recent gold rush just outside the city that has brought an influx of money, undocumented workers, and malign actors. The whole city of Kedougou rallied around the women’s co-op for the dedication and were incredibly thankful and hospitable to all the Americans present for the event. There was music, dancing and speeches to commemorate the day. It was a genuine and moving display of gratitude and appreciation from a hardworking and deserving community. In addition to the warehouse dedication, I was able to participate in a Flintlock 2016 community medical outreach event in Kedougou. The event brought US and Senegalese medical providers to an underserved community to provide medical, dental, and eye care to those in need. Over the course of the 9 hour event, the medics, doctors, and nurses worked in the 100+ degree heat to treat over 650 patients, including conducting multiple minor dental surgeries, pulling 44 teeth, distributing over 100 pairs of prescription glasses, treating 16 acute cases of malaria, and identifying multiple serious conditions that required immediate care. Prior to travelling to Senegal, I was in Cameroon where I had the opportunity to work with US service members in Garoua. At the request of the Cameroonian government, the US has a small number of troops in the country providing training and intelligence support to the Cameroonian military in their fight against Boko Haram. The Cameroonian government and military are working hard to provide basic services to their community and newly arrived refugees displaced by Boko Haram. Of these basic services, education is seen as the highest priority as it will help keep local children from falling under the influence of violent extremists. With SoA support, the US military provided new desks and school supplies to a local school that serves over 900 students. These much-needed supplies will go a long way towards keeping children in school and improving the education they receive while there. The Civil Affairs team leader in Garoua and his Cameroonian partner deliver much-needed new desks to the local school. Until now many students had to sit on the floor for class. Across West Africa, the US and their various African partners are doing incredible work to build their capacity, strengthen communities, and address regional threats to global security. I am honored and humbled to be able to support these efforts. None of this would be possible without your generous and on-going support to Spirit of America. You can see more ways to help here. Merci Beaucoup, Chris VanJohnson Project Manager – Africa
Chris is a US Army veteran having served as an Armor officer with a deployment to Baghdad in 2008-09 and then as a Special Operations Civil Affairs Officer with multiple deployments to Nepal in 2011-12.