Friday, February 27, 2009

ENDA-Ecopole (and a cross-dressing fete)

This week I’ve been a part of two different social events here, each from opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.

On Tuesday I went to a Mardi Gras party with Nogaye and Illy (the maids who work at my house). Apparently the Mardi Gras tradition here is to cross-dress. Unfortunately, Illy and Nogaye weren’t up for putting on men’s clothes, so I didn’t either, which I regretted as soon as I arrived. The party was basically a dance, and it’s really something to see people dancing in couples, each dressed and acting as the opposite gender. There were a lot of girls walking around like rappers, and a few guys sporting thong underwear sticking out over the top of their skinny jeans. (In the Muslim community here the cross-dressing holiday is New Year’s . . . I think I may have to introduce this tradition at any New Year’s parties I have in the future.)

The last night I went with Illy to a memorial mass and then her family’s gathering to commemorate the anniversary of her cousin’s death. Outside of Illy’s family’s house, plastic chairs were set up in the street and all rooms of the house were also filled with family members and visitors. In addition to the family and friends, neighbours and anyone else involved in the life of the family is welcomed. We were all served food and beverages (baobab juice, bissap juice, soft drinks, beer, mixed drinks, wine . . . they had it all – note that Illy’s family is Catholic, at Muslim funerals there is no alcohol but the gathering is quite similar). While I think it would be difficult to be surrounded by so many people while mourning, it also gives a really strong sense of community and support network which must be comforting.

Now as promised, the educational portion of my blog (I am here to be a cultural ambassador and pass on information after all . . .)

As part of my classes, I’ve begun visiting different charity organizations in the city. The first of these visits I took part in by chance when one of the short-term students, an employee of Medecins Sans Frontières, mentioned it to me in passing. The organization that we visited was ENDA-Ecopole, located in downtown Dakar next to the Khadirmore Rassoul neighbourhood which is one of the poorest in the city. These makeshift neighbourhoods (or quartiers flottants) of tiny wooden buildings are formed when villagers come into Dakar in search of work during the dry season. Dependent on subsistence agriculture in their villages, during periods of drought many try to find work in cities to be able to send money back to their families. Arriving in Dakar with little money and no acquaintances, people make a home where they can – some even sleeping on the side of the road where by day they sell peanuts or wash laundry. The laundry seen hanging here in the quartier probably doesn't belong to the people who live there - it's brought so they can wash it and return it to the owners.
ENDA (Environmental Development Action) is an international organization created in 1972 by Jacques Bignicour. ENDA-Ecopole is one of its facets was created in 1996 when an agreement was reached between ENDA and the owner of the Khardirmore Rassoul land. In this agreement, ENDA has become the “landowner”of the neighbourhood for 50 years, ending in 2046. Some of ENDA-Ecopole’s basic work in the neighbourhood has been to work with residents to improve the layout of buildings so that now all mechanics are located next to each other, instead of being dispersed among other houses, and there are communal toilets available for the community. Here's a view of the neighbourhood from ENDA-Ecopole's office. All of ENDA-Ecopole’s activities focus on development while protecting the environment. They run a recycling program where artisans are taught how to make products from recycled cans, bottle caps, and iron recovered from the dump. Classes include education of children with emphasis not only on regular school subjects but also on environmental and social responsibility. And one simple project they have is to make candle holders out of the recovered iron. These candle holders are then given to households in quartiers flottants and play a role in preventing fires in homes where candles are the only source of light. As you can imagine, fires in such neighbourhoods of wooden shacks are absolutely devastating.

At the end of our discussion at the centre, we were able to walk through Khadirmore Rassoul. Upon entering, we saw the medical office, an empty room containing a sink, some soap, a few medical tools, and a woman who works there to treat minor wounds, accompanying patients to a hospital if the injury is too extensive for her to treat. Next we visited a preschool where all of the students were singing when we arrived, but soon stopped to hold out their hands while yelling “Bonjour!”. While the tour was brief, I felt very welcomed in the neighbourhood by its friendly residents and in meeting them appreciated more fully how important it is that ENDA-Ecopole works with the residents of the neighbourhood, not for them. Here's one of the local women making ceebu jen in front of her home (mmmm, bowl of steaming vegetables).

To learn more about ENDA’s involvement in Senegal, check out

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