Hello, I’d like to take a moment to update you on a recent effort by Spirit of America, the Senegalese military, and a US Army Civil Affairs Team to empower female entrepreneurs in the remote southeastern Senegalese city of Kedougou. We first told you about this effort here. Even in early spring, daily temperatures in dry and dusty Kedougou top 100°F. The only relief from the heat comes from the scant shade of a mango tree or from ducking into a thatch roofed hut. A vibrant city, life in Kedougou starts early before the heat but by mid-day most streets are empty. Only when evening comes do temperatures begin to fall and the city comes alive again. Kedougou, Senegal’s southeastern-most city, was recently designated as the regional capital for the nation’s newest administrative region. The city is strategically located at the crossroads of transit routes into bordering Mali and Guinea and is also close to the restive Casamance region putting it at risk of radicalization from extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and Boko Haram from across West Africa. Increasing this risk. Kedougou relies heavily on agriculture for its income but is mired in poverty due to low yields and aging infrastructure. A recent gold discovery nearby has brought an influx of miners from across West Africa that strains the already stressed government systems. In an effort to bolster the regional economy, address local grievances and vulnerability to extremist influences, and support those already working for positive change, a US Army Civil Affairs Team and their Senegalese partners identified the Kedougou Women’s Agricultural Cooperative as leaders in the community and an example of the region’s potential and opportunities. The cooperative, comprised of approximately 600 local women, create processed and finished products from local fruit, the grains and cereals they grow, and their own bee hives. Unfortunately, these entrepreneurial women lacked the ability to store their raw materials during the rainy season or to protect them from vermin and theft. This is where Spirit of America was able to help. SoA funded the construction on a new storage warehouse, adjacent to the co-op’s impressive fields. This new building will serve as a collection point for their crops, allowing them to increase yields and wait for advantageous market conditions before selling. Bottom line, the warehouse will increase the productivity and incomes of 600 local households and contribute greatly to the economic development of the city. The building was dedicated in late-February during a joyous and energetic ceremony that brought together the women of the co-op and their families with local government and military leaders, the US Civil Affairs team, and other members of the Kedougou community. There was singing, dancing, and speeches to mark the occasion. The Co-op President, Iassata Aya N’Diaye, proudly accepted the keys to her new warehouse and stated “Today we thank God because you came and helped us. You knew our difficulties and you helped us, all the women of Kedougou.” She further explained, “The women of Kedougou are brave. If they have just a little help, they will work hard.” Projects like this one demonstrate America’s commitment to its partners and, more importantly, help build stronger relationships and more resilient communities that are capable of solving their own problems, resisting extremism, and defeating radical forces in West Africa. Your generosity allows Spirit of America to continue supporting initiatives like this as US teams and their partners work to counter extremism in West Africa. Click here to find out how you can help with this effort and many others around the globe. Chris VanJohnson Africa Project Manager
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.