CRS Work in Senegal
Catholic Relief Services has worked in Senegal for more than 45 years. In fact, CRS was the first international nongovernmental organization to begin work here when Senegal gained independence. CRS' long-term presence has allowed us to respond effectively to changing conditions within the country. CRS has helped Senegalese through natural disasters, separatist violence, economic fluctuations and health epidemics. Working closely with various partners, CRS Senegal provides assistance in many sectors.
Senegal is said to be the peanut (or groundnut, as they are called here) capital of the world. While this slogan may be an exaggeration, the importance of agriculture to Senegal's farmers cannot be overstated. Peanut farming accounts for more than 60 percent of the nation's employment, yet makes up only 10 percent of the gross domestic product. Most agricultural produce is low in market value and is used as a domestic food staple. Inconsistent rains and locust invasions are among the many threats to farmers' livelihoods.
CRS Senegal views food security as a vital program to support this large, vulnerable population. CRS supports efforts to increase agricultural productivity and sustainable use of scarce natural resources. In addition, CRS works with farmers to combat locust invasions. Because Senegal is a stopover for migratory birds, Senegalese farmers are also taught how to spot the early sign of avian influenza, or bird flu.
Maternal mortality rates in the towns of Bafatà and Gabú of Guinea-Bissau are among the highest in the world. Contributing factors range from poverty to cultural norms, which emphasize giving birth at home.
CRS Senegal has worked through Caritas Guinea-Bissau to establish two "House of Mothers" locations on hospital grounds to promote healthier pregnancies and safer deliveries. Patients receive health and nutritional education, medical treatment, and three meals a day before they give birth with a skilled attendant at the hospital. Community volunteers are trained to identify and refer high-risk pregnant women.
From the 1990s until early 2002, Senegal experienced a small but violent separatist movement in the southern Casamance region. Infrastructure was destroyed, roads were mined, entire villages were displaced and countless homes were razed. As serious as the destruction was, the damage to the social fabric holding local communities together was worse. While the violence has since cooled, tension remains.
CRS Senegal was one of the few organizations that remained in this dangerous region at the height of the conflict, maintaining an office in Ziguinchor to direct peacebuilding efforts. CRS' stalwart presence was perceived by the local government, the Church and communities as a demonstration of solidarity. Following the cessation of hostilities, CRS Senegal branched out into community-driven reconstruction projects while maintaining the peacebuilding dialogue to resolve the underlying causes that led to the fighting. Repairing both the material and social dimensions is CRS Senegal’s goal.
CRS Senegal and the Catholic Church of Senegal have a long history of collaboration, beginning when the Church first invited CRS into Senegal after independence in 1960.
In 2006, CRS Senegal and the Church worked together on several new developmental projects. One of the most successful endeavors was the institutionalization of CAURIE-MF, a microfinance institution providing poor small-businesswomen with sustainable microfinance services.
CRS Senegal and the Church also conducted a survey of interreligious councils and supported justice and peace commissions to lay the foundation for interreligious dialogue and peacebuilding.
The goal of the CRS microfinance projects is to promote social and economic justice by helping vulnerable communities and poor entrepreneurs. The program targets women, who are usually unable to secure loans from banks. The microfinance projects are a component of CRS' Peacebuilding and Rehabilitation project, helping generate income for women in the Casamance region. The current challenge is to create independent local microfinance institutions.
CRS Senegal manages microfinance projects in Kolda, Ziguinchor, and in Thiès in collaboration with Caritas-Thiès. Microfinance projects provide small loans—the average loan is $152—to poor, rural clients, particularly women. By the end of 2001, the program had provided credit to nearly 7,000 female entrepreneurs.