While other African nations frequently experience military coups and conflicts, Senegal has seen political stability since independence. Nonetheless, the number of poor people, particularly in rural areas, remains high. SOS Children's Villages is helping to protect children and young people affected by crippling poverty and commercial exploitation.
Precarious living conditions and child labour are a daily reality
Off to school – SOS Children’s Villages provides primary schooling in Dakar (photo: C. Ladavicius)
Dakar is located on a peninsula on the western shore of Senegal and has a population of around 2.5 million. Like many African cities, Dakar is characterised by uncontrolled growth that lacks urban planning, and the ubiquitous contrast of wealth and poverty. Conditions in the extensive settlements along the city’s outskirts are overcrowded, with an average density of up to 8,000 people per km2. In addition, people live in underdeveloped and unsafe housing, especially in times of flooding.
An estimated 7,600 children can be seen begging on the streets of the Dakar metropolitan area each and every day, some as young as two years of age. The majority of them are boys, and most of them are from families who have migrated from rural areas or neighbouring countries. But many of these boys no longer live with their families: it is common for parents to place their sons in the care of a Koranic teacher. However, far from the eyes of their family of origin, these boys are at risk of being exploited. Children also work as porters, collect garbage or sell small merchandise on the streets. In many cases, the children also sleep on the streets and they are undernourished. Diarrhoea and other health problems are common and the children’s long-term development is severely affected.
In addition, many of these children do not receive an education. Progress has been made in this relatively stable western African country, but children who are refugees or migrants, those who work or have a disability, and those whose families are affected by HIV/AIDS continue to be at a massive disadvantage in terms of education. Schools in Dakar are often overcrowded and unable to cope with the steady influx of children from impoverished rural areas.
Insufficient access to health care endangers the lives of thousands of children
Although the living conditions in the slums of Dakar are not as precarious as elsewhere, high levels of poverty persist. Child mortality, maternal death, malaria and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, continue to be the greatest health problems. In fact, malaria is the primary cause of death in the country. Preventable diseases continue to kill thousands of children each year, and only around 42 per cent have received all necessary vaccinations.
What we do in Dakar
The SOS Family Strengthening Programme helped this single mother of seven set up a vegetable stall in front of her house so that she can make a living and care for her children (photo: C. Ladavicius)
SOS Children’s Villages began its work in Senegal in 1977. In the past, SOS Children’s Villages has also provided emergency relief programmes in Dakar during times of severe flooding, providing food, medicine, mattresses, and mosquito nets to affected families.
Strengthen families: The SOS Social Centres here offer family strengthening programmes to the local community. One of our main goals is to ensure that children have access to essential material, educational, health and social services. The programmes also support families from the local community in building their capacity to care for their children, for example by providing guidance on income-generating activities and parenting skills. The SOS Social Centres provide health services, counselling and psychological support, as well as care and support for families affected by HIV/AIDS.
Care in SOS families: For children from the region who can no longer live with their parents, SOS families can provide a loving home for up to 150 children. In each family, the children live with their brothers and sisters, affectionately cared for by their SOS mother. Some families live in homes in the local community - they receive the same support from SOS Children’s Villages.
Education: The children attend the SOS Kindergarten and the Hermann Gmeiner primary school together with children from the neighbourhood. This ensures that children from SOS families make friends and are integrated into the local community from a young age.
Support for young people: When young people reach an age where they are ready to move out of the family home, the SOS Youth Programme makes shared accommodation available. Qualified SOS co-workers accompany and support the young people on their journey to becoming independent adults, for example by providing guidance and support in finding employment or training opportunities.