President Obama is wrapping up his trip to Africa, which included a visit to Senegal last week. Although my own visit to ChildFund’s programs in Senegal a few years ago did not get the same kind of press coverage that the president’s did (actually, it had no press coverage at all!), it was still a memorable trip.
ChildFund has been working in Senegal since 1985, offering many programs to improve the lives of vulnerable children. We are placing major emphasis on extending basic health care services for mothers and children living in remote, rural areas. Working in partnership with USAID and other community development organizations, ChildFund is supporting establishment of more than 2,000 fully functional health huts and 1,717 outreach sites in Senegal, while helping develop a national community health policy. At the end of this five-year project, ChildFund will have assisted more than 9 million Senegalese people in 71 districts.
My trip was focused on those rural communities, meeting with children, parents and community leaders and touring the health huts we helped establish to provide those much-needed basic health services like vaccinations, treatment of diarrhea and malaria and other lifesaving interventions.
Although I prefer to arrive quietly in a village and have a low-key visit, it was not to be in the villages I visited in Senegal. Once they heard the president of ChildFund was visiting, an elaborate and warm welcome was planned. However, Mother Nature didn’t cooperate on that day. The welcoming speeches had just begun in the local schoolyard when the skies opened up and it started to pour. Hundreds of people made a mad dash for the school buildings and crowded into whatever dry space they could find. The welcoming ceremony continued as best as it could in the crowded space; it was a little chaotic, but spirits were high, with lots of singing and laughter.
Of course, just as things were wrapping up, the sun came out. As I made my way out through the crowded and drenched schoolyard, trying as much as possible to avoid the mud, I was stopped by a big mud puddle, too big to jump over. Suddenly a traditional band with four or five players appeared on the opposite side of the puddle. Obviously disappointed that their performance had been cancelled due to the rain, they seized the opportunity of finding me still on the grounds and began to play.
What stands out most in my mind from that day was one of the dancers. As he was getting into the music, he glanced down at the enormous mud puddle, shrugged his shoulders slightly (as if to say, “whatever”) and flipped over – dancing to the music on his hands in the middle of the muddy water. Hand dancing was obviously a big part of their act, and he was determined not to let a little mud stop the show!
I don’t know what will stick in President Obama’s mind after his trip to Senegal. For me, in addition to my “mud dancer,” it is the warmth of the Senegalese people and the determination of the families I met to bring up happy and healthy children. ChildFund is proud to be their partner.