Observers in Dakar: Three initiatives dedicated to Senegalese youth
In Dakar, three of our Observers have dedicated their lives to helping young people in Senegal through activism in the fields of education, ecology and employment. In this episode of The Observers Direct, we went to the Senegalese capital to learn more about their initiatives.
Whether it's by fixing up schools in disrepair, leading community clean-ups or helping young people take part in the economy, three of our Observers in Senegal are making a big impact.
The teacher who fixes up dilapidated schools
At 34 years old, Mamadou "Junior" Diakhaté already has a team of citizens following his lead. In 2020, he participated in the launch of a network of volunteers raising awareness on how to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
During the first wave of the pandemic in Senegal, he found his calling: refurbishing schools. It all started when he went to his old elementary school after it was closed for health reasons.
I went back to my old elementary school, for instance, the school I attended back in 1995. They still had the same toilets. That evening I sent out a tweet asking a few friends to help me get together the materials we needed to renovate.
The next day I had more than 250 retweets and a donor who was offering to finance the whole operation. Other schools got in touch asking us to help them too, and since then it hasn't stopped
Now, Diakhaté's team of volunteers works together to update classrooms and cafeterias by painting, repairing roofs, fixing tables and more. But he says that renovating the toilets are a priority: "During their menstrual periods, many girls stay at home because they don't have functional toilets at school. They miss classes and don't perform well."
In two years, the dozens of volunteers of Team Niintche ("niintche" means "man" in the Mandjak language, spoken in our Observer's home region) have restored 23 establishments and raised the equivalent of 150,000 euros.
At first, Diakhaté did his own fundraising by appealing to individuals on social media for donations, but now he has attracted the attention of international companies such as Auchan and Senegalese cleaning companies such as UCG.
We don't do it just so it looks nice. We do it because it has an impact on the children's safety and comfort. We know that if a child is in a space that is comfortable and secure, he's going to learn well and become a successful adult.
The urban farmer turning Dakar into a green city
At age 47, Abdou Touré has found his mission as the go-to person for all things environmental: he raises awareness about keeping the streets clean and adding green spaces into the neighbourhood. Thanks to the power of social media, his message has spread to 15 African countries, where others use his approach to improve their communities.
In 2019, he launched the hashtag #QuartierVertChallenge ("Green Neighbourhood Challenge") designed to boost ecologically responsible initiatives in a city with major trash and pollution problems. In Dakar, air pollution levels are two and a half times higher than World Health Organisation guidelines.
The Green Neighborhood Challenge was born right here in front of my house. One day I realised how much trash was lying around. I decided to put my phone on a tripod, then film the clean-up in time lapse. I put it on social media to encourage people to take responsibility for their own surroundings.
At the same time, he is working on planting an urban farm on his own rooftop, growing plants such as cabbage, strawberries, mint and even apples. It's an oasis in Dakar, where green spaces are nearly non-existent.
The roof garden has helped his message go viral.
In Ivory Coast, Chad, Togo, Ghana, the Comoros, young people have taken the hashtag and made it their own. In Mauritania, they do a lot of sessions in schools, promoting reforestation. In Ivory Coast, they focus on cleaning up plastic waste.
We share information among the 15 member countries. Every country has its own ambassador. There's a special group called Green Neighborhood Senegal.
We do this kind of thing to keep ourselves motivated. We know we can't expect much from the government. People can do what they want with the hashtag, but they must be doing something positive for their community.
The radio host helping youth find their voices
Mandiaye Pety Badji, hosts a radio show that helps young people in Senegal express themselves - it's called "Parole aux jeunes" or "Let the Kids Talk".
Mandiaye's show has been on the air since 2011. He travels across the country talking to young people about tough topics like sexual health and violence. It is broadcast on community radio stations and a well-known private station.
This summer, Mandiaye is planning to bring together 100 young people active in agriculture.
We want to get more young people inspired by the idea of working in the agriculture sector. I believe that agriculture is the only sector that can provide the jobs we so desperately need in Africa, and especially in Senegal. The government should do all it can to develop the agricultural sector and make young people realize the real potential it offers for giving them jobs.
Senegal, a country where more than half of the population is less than 25 years old, struggles with chronic youth unemployment. Initiatives like these are essential.
In the same way that Mandiaye Pety Badji is trying to help young people get involved in agriculture, Mamadou Diakhaté has steered volunteers in his school renovation projects toward training programs in the building sector. And Abdou Touré's roof garden is inspiring young entrepreneurs to set up urban farms themselves. Three ways that the youth of Dakar are being encouraged to take part in the economy.