Oct 14, 2020

WEATHERING THE STORM

Dear Friend,

I can imagine that by now we have all experienced or witnessed the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether through the loss of a loved one, our income or the social contacts & activities essential to our mental health and well-being. But while Europe is facing new lockdowns, Senegal has been hailed as a success story. If the number of cases is relatively low, the negative social and economic impact of the measures is, like everywhere else, considerable.

“I was put on furlough with no income.  With no other job opportunities in Dakar whatsoever, I decided to come back to my hometown Saint-Louis, to be close to my family and support them through these difficult times. But there is no work here either. We are truly struggling to get by.” says one of our former beneficiaries, who was working full-time at one of Dakar’s most prestigious hotels. 

During the lockdown, talibes were not allowed to leave their daaras. While the older boys could no longer earn money to pay for their food, the younger ones couldn’t visit the families who usually feed them. “It was a real struggle” says one talibe “we were very lucky our neighbours were so kind to share their food with us.” As they were stuck in often-overcrowded living conditions with a lack of sanitation, it was almost impossible to implement social distancing and hygiene recommendations. As COVID fears intensified, talibes also became prime targets and stigmatised as potential "super-spreaders".

But as one Koranic teacher told us: “Nothing justified the way some people forcefully removed talibes from their daaras. Children were taken against their will, and packed into a room, before being transported back to their villages. On one occasion I witnessed them beating the children, so I had to call the police.”

If dealing with the pandemic and the measures in place wasn't enough, on the 5th September, Senegal suffered severe flooding due to an “exceptional” rainfall (more than what the country would usually experience during the whole rainy season). Many daaras were inundated, exposing the talibes to further challenges and health risks. 

With the end of the rainy season now in sight and the relaxation of the COVID measures, people dare to be hopeful. Many of our (cohort 1) talibes, who voluntarily returned to their villages to help out their families with the seasonal crops, are looking forward to coming back and starting their second batch of chickens. Cohort 2 should be recruited to start their training as soon as the CIPA centre is once again fully operational. Even though we are feeling optimistic about the future, and have faith in the resilience of our beneficiaries, many are currently in dire need. I hope we can count on your continued support to help them weather this storm. 

Please look after yourself and your loved ones. Stay safe.

With warm wishes,

The Aspyre Africa Team

Jun 18, 2020

Success in times of crisis

Dear Friend,

We hope this message finds you and your family well in these most challenging of times. Few of us could have imagined the extent to which COVID-19 would affect our lives and the world around us.

Just like the rest of the world, Senegal has been heavily impacted by the pandemic. While the virus initially appeared to have been effectively suppressed thanks to the prompt response of the Senegalese government, cases have steadily risen in recent days. With 5,173 confirmed cases and 64 deaths, there are fears that Senegal has not yet reached its peak. The country remains in a state of emergency as it battles a host of health, social and economic challenges posed by COVID-19.

In recent days, the IMF has cut Senegal’s 2020 economic growth forecast to 1.1% from a 3% estimate in April. In a country where over 40% of its population currently live below the poverty threshold, and where social safety nets are quasi inexistent for anyone working in the informal sector (97% of enterprises), the impact of the pandemic on people’s livelihoods has been devastating. In addition, with 42% of total loss of activity, Saint-Louis (where we currently work) also ranks amongst the regions most affected in Senegal.

Our chicken-rearing project

The first official case of COVID-19 was diagnosed on March 2, after which the government undertook gradual response measures, including a curfew and a travel ban between regions. Needless to say, our fears for the project grew as measures were tightened. With schools and restaurants closed, and gatherings cancelled, the market for the sale of chickens shrunk overnight and competition rocketed. Even for already established and successful entrepreneurs, the context became seriously challenging.

Our talibés however were determined not to lower their expectations. They had done an excellent job rearing their 350 chickens, which were large and of great quality. Their product could handle a little competition. They therefore decided to stick to the standard price and avoid selling in bulk at reduced prices. Despite the restricting measures in place, the CIPA team continued to support them and did a fantastic job.  They mobilized all their contacts but also provided a freezer, which allowed the talibes to extend their sales period. Many of our Saint-Louis- based friends and contacts also showed their support by placing orders. In light of current circumstances, the end result of this project was a real triumph as they:  

  • managed to sell out without lowering their price;
  • secured all the funds needed for the next batch of chicks;
  • shared a small part of the profit to cover their urgent needs;
  • still managed to put aside a considerable amount of savings.

 “For me this first income generating project for talibes was very important, because it helped them understand the limits of their knowledge, learn by doing and strengthen their skills. Many of them have put a lot of hope in this project. And this is just the beginning… if all goes well, this will be a great success, and a glimmer of hope for talibes, as they realize they too have an oportunity to succeed in life and become economically independent. The success of this project will also give Koranic teachers confidence to guide their talibés towards vocational training, while the talibes will be able to enrol, knowing they have the same chances to succeed as any other young people their age.” Nafi (CIPA Training Centre)

While everything was technically in place to move forward with the next batch of chicks, the current crisis has posed a range of challenges. As such, the talibes are now planning to commence the second batch in July. The chicken coop of the CIPA is reserved for them, as well as a small plot of land adjacent to the coop, where they will start horticulture activities to expand their income generating activities. We are most grateful for our partners at the CIPA Centre, who have and continue to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Next Cohort (CIPA/USAID project) & Aspyre Africa Strategy

Meanwhile, the recruitment of the next cohort was again delayed due to additional administrative requirements from USAID, as well as the closure of the CIPA centre. Given the rapidly changing context and the new challenges that the pandemic poses, the next pilot project is more crucial than ever. As forecasts predict a sharp fall in economic growth, there are real worries that existing problems of inequality will be exacerbated. Since the start of the crisis, 89% of the population who were educated in a Daara (same % as those who did not receive any education) experienced a drop in income, compared with 68% for those who pursued graduate studies.

While it would be tempting in times of crisis to focus on “emergency support”, Aspyre Africa has always been committed to “systems change” through the introduction of long-term sustainable solutions. Our projects aim to pave the way to make quality vocational training more accessible. We want to make sure the most vulnerable young people in society, as well as the services that support them, remain resilient in the face of any crisis ahead.

Thank you for your continued support.

Stay safe and healthy,

Warm wishes,

The Aspyre Africa Team

Feb 18, 2020

A Valetine's day to remember

What a special Valentine's day it was indeed! On Friday the 14th February 2020 I had the great pleasure to be there in Saint-Louis to welcome the newborn chicks, and see our first cohort of talibes embark on this new journey as entrepreneurs. It had been a long wait, and days before the arrival of the chicks, the purpose built coop was still not quite up to the standards to guarantee the full safety of both the chicks and the talibes.

Thankfully, the CIPA centre's coop happened to be empty and (our partner) Director Mr Diop kindly offered it to the talibes. Plan B was put into place, with added benefits that the security was guaranteed and the location would allow the technical supervisor to be even more available. Both the CIPA team and the vet in charge of technical support at the SEDIMA (the company from which we bought the chicks and the feed) provided the talibes with all the support and advice needed to succeed.

"We are very very happy, we keep praying for you, to thank you. We never lost our motivation for this project. Today, the trust we have in you, makes us want to do more!" Abdou

"Today the chicks have become my main subject of conversation, even with my Koranic teacher. This project means everything to me. I am so grateful!"  Mamadou

The talibes themselves organised their group into teams and agreed on the most efficient way to coordinate the work to be done and make their income generating project a success. Ownership will be key to guarantee the success of this project. Advice and support will be offered in response to their requests. The chickens should be ready to be sold in about 45 days. We look forward to updating you on the results of this first batch of chickens. 

Meanwhile I also had a chance to meet with a representative of the USAID "Feed the Future" project who updated us on the funding secured by the CIPA for the technical training of our next cohort. We are hoping that the project will start in April/ May. We would have liked to start sooner, but remain convinced this collaboration will provide real opportunities to increase the impact of our work. 

Last but not least we had the great pleasure of receiving a visit from the British Ambassador to the Republic of Senegal Ms Victoria Billing OBE. We were  delighted to have been given the chance to present our work and introduce our partner the CIPA centre.

We look forward to updating you again very soon. In the meantime, as we are starting the procedures to recruit the next cohort of talibes, we would like to make sure to mobilise the support we need to reach our fundraising goal for this project. We truly hope that you will continue to be our partner on this journey. Many thanks in advance for your continued support. 

With warm wishes,

Savina

 
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