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By Donna Stokes, World Ark managing editor
Photos by Olivier Asselin
BONJISINTHIANG VILLAGE, Senegal— Bonjisinthiang is a small grouping of huts, wind-battered fences and only one well equipped with a pump.
The need in this place at the southern edge of the Sahel, near the border with Mauritania, is clear. Farmers use buckets on long sticks to scrape at pools of muddy water at the bottom of deep, hand-dug pits. That hard-won water is all that keeps the green leaves of cabbage, onion, pepper, carrot and potato plants in the community garden from drying up and blowing away.
At times, there’s no water at all. Around May, in the driest season, farmers take a donkey-drawn cart to the river to get water, Fatou Mata Julde Ba said. “Our wells are small and in the rainy season they fill up with mud. It’s difficult to find fresh water,” she said.
The village is part of the USAID Yaajeende project (meaning abundance in the local Pulaar language) in Senegal’s eastern Matam, Tambacounda and Kedougou regions.
Heifer is in charge of the livestock portion and will distribute 12,000 sheep and goats and 12,500 poultry to 5,500 families, estimated to be the largest such animal distribution in Heifer’s history. Other project partners address agriculture, irrigation and water access and provide a market model to connect farmers to the local economy.
For this tiny community in the Bakel department, the addition of 60 sheep—three each for 20 families—is a substantive change to their quality of life.
“We are hard-working people, but we are still poor,” said Amadou Sall, who was selected to receive animals. “When someone comes early in the morning and gives you sheep, you can only be happy.”
Kumba Daranjay, the president of the farmers association, worked with the group for five years before this day, laboring against drought and poverty to pry crops out of the bare earth and to improve living conditions in her village.
Her outspokenness, determination and small successes earned them a place in the USAID Feed the Future project to improve nutrition and income for 1 million people in some of the poorest areas of Senegal. Today, with the arrival of Heifer sheep, the work in her village continues with renewed vigor even as a growing hunger crisis deepened by the severe drought affects 18 million people in the Sahel.
Villagers wrapped their scarves against the stinging sand as they gathered in a shade shelter for the drawing of orange, numbered tags to match sheep to farmers. Heavy blankets depicting exotic tigers, flowers and peacocks served as walls to block the hot wind.
After the drawing, the crowd scattered into a controlled chaos of sheep sorting and rope untangling, with the recipients finally leading their animals home to already assembled pens, stores of dried grass and fresh lessons on how to care for the animals.
Daranjay was the first to receive her three Ladoum sheep. “When you are poor, you will never neglect the sheep because they are a way to move forward,” Daranjay said. “You know how bad poverty is, and you don’t want to go back. The sheep will help us feed our children and take care of their health.”
Villagers have already seen benefits from the project, Ba said. A technician from the project helped train them on growing methods and gave them seeds for new vegetable varieties.
“In the past, many families didn’t eat vegetables, because they could not buy them,” Ba said. “But now, we produce them ourselves. We even have enough to sell, sometimes.”
Sall said the project’s investment in this community is already life-changing.
“It’s too windy today and there’s too much dust,” he said. “But this day will never be forgotten.”
Editor’s Note: The National Cooperative Business Association is the lead partner for the USAID project, which also includes Counterpart International, Sheladia Associates, Inc., and Manobi, Inc.