Grandmother Project - Dec '07

Posted May 29th, 2008

The Grandmother Project and Senegal

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There are times in your life where the term "serendipity" is the perfect description of what is happening.  I got that analogy from Betsy Stephens, a Grandmother Project advocate when I first told her the story about how I became involved with the organization.

All the years that I have been interested in helping the many valuable concerns out there, I never imagined I'd have the opportunity to be a part of such a meaningful program.   In my personal experiences, my grandmother and my grandfather were always the foundation for my thoughts about the world.  I have always seen those with life experience to be the most interesting and (atleast in the US) the least appreciated for all that they bring to us.  The Grandmother Project not only appreciates the value of these individuals but shows them respect in the education process that is so critical for future generations.

I would like to take the opportunity to share with you my experiences in Senegal with those individuals that are focused on making our world a more educated, healthy and productive place that we all benefit from.
To get us started, let me describe the goals of my trip.  My travels would be to see Judi Aubel, founder of the Grandmother Project, in action at her workshops with other international development groups.  This would give me a good idea of how they all work together to make their projects the most successful.  My second goal was to get out into the villages themselves and see how the education and implementation worked with the Grandmothers and the villagers.  This was the best part of my trip as you will see.  A third goal that came about from the trip was to meet those individuals that have devoted their life to making life in the continent a safer, healthier and more educated place.  As it was so far outside of my normal US banking scope, I learned a lot about those that are willing to devote themselves to something that can be quite overwhelming.

As I land in Dakar, Senegal. I learn that the country is over 95% Muslim but they are a tolerant society.  My first challenge is that Senegal is primarily a French speaking country and I don't speak French.   I am happy to hear my driver speaks broken English! I also find out that I can see the sunset over the Atlantic, something that I could never do in the U.S! Amazing!

The first stop on the trip for the Grandmother Project begins in Mbour.  This is where I find Judi and her team in their workshops.  These workshops are what we'd call in my business "Jad sessions", where the group works together to brainstorm current challenges or models and then comes up with solutions for implementation.  It's a very effective way for the participants to learn from each other about differing approaches and the best possible implementation strategy for their programs.

Here you see Judi working with the team on a game where there are visuals that help educate the grandmothers on different aspects of nutrition and health.  As most of the grandmothers we will meet are not formally educated, pictures and stories are the most effective ways to communicate within the villages. 

My first experience in the villages comes the same day, as I visit with Christian Childrens Fund in the village of Saokome.  This is a truly unique experience as Judi is busy with her workshops and I am off to the village with people I have met for the first time who speak in a language other than mine.  As I learn, there is no fear here, as all are dedicated individuals with a great sense of purpose and are happy to show me all that they are accomplishing.  Each village has a health hut which is run by trained women in the villages.  This is where the Grandmothers meet to learn about various health and nutrition issues that affect their families.  By telling stories of different health issues found in the village, dialogue is open within the group and all feel they have a role in making life better in their world.  

The story for this day was about anemia and how it affects the young women of their village.  Between 60 and 70% of pregnant women in Senegal suffer from anemia.  Here are Grandmothers showing me (by dance and song) how they help the younger women of their villages that are suffering from anemia with natural remedies, including black eyed peas, peanuts and herbs which are iron rich.  As an aside, I was told* that cancer is not a prevalent disease in the continent.  Even though there are many challenges relative to health, the natural nature of the villagers' diet has its advantages.

 *In fact people often say that not so many people get cancer and die of cancer.  In fact, many people die from cancer but are never diagnosed before they pass away due to limited diagnostic facilities and poor access to the services that do exist.

Here is a Grandmother that is blessing me for coming to her village and showing respect to her and her peers.  She knows that without the help of the Grandmother Project and Christian Childrens Fund, her village would have less success fighting malnutrition and other life threatening health issues. 

The second stop of my village experience was also with CCF.  This time we were in a village called Yabo-Yabo.  The health hut workers showed us their communication methods pictured in the photo above.  We were also lucky enough to have all of the male elders join us to support the Grandmothers of the village in their efforts. 

Here you see the whole village participating in the health discussion.  As always, these things begin and end in song and dance.  Even I was asked to participate! I included both photos so you could also see the beautiful face of my dance partner!

As we moved along our path, one of the things that impressed me most was how Judi, as one individual has been able to gain and implement partnerships with leading development organizations.  Christian Children Fund in Mbour, World Vision in Velingara to name just two of many projects the GMP has working currently.  The most impressive joint venture I found was in Velingara, where World Vision and GMP worked together to develop a well made booklet about Grandmothers and the importance of their role in the village society.

On the left is one of the girls whose drawing was chosen in the drawing contest for the booklet.

Next to her are the village teacher and a Grandmother reviewing the booklet together with the children of the village.  As we traveled to additional schools in the area, it became apparent that the booklets were not only well received but a cornerstone of the GM project as there are currently limited resources to express and validate the role of the GM in society.  The booklet is one that shows not only the role but expresses the value to society that all can understand through pictures and proverbs.  An example of a well-know saying we heard at the Gmiba School was: "When an elder dies in Africa, it's as though a whole library had burned down".  It's a saying we can all relate to.
Here you see a close up shot the booklet and the kids telling us who is most influential in their lives. "Grand'Mere"!

As I have already expressed, the dedication of these groups alongside the Grandmother Project are making a difference in the lives of these women and those that they care for.  There are so many more photos to share.  Photos that show Grandmothers with young mothers participating in a nutrition project, Grandmothers nurturing their grandchildren, Grandmothers that meet each week to discuss their village needs and take care of them with the money they have pooled together for those in need.  It's amazing to see how motivated, educated individuals can take a program that may be started by an outside sponsor, but with the right training and inclusion in the process, continue to grow it to positive results for their future.  That's the goal of the program.  To help those that are experienced and looked to for guidance to be as educated as possible to enrich the lives of their villages.  I'll end with one of my favorite photos. Here are some beautiful children with a bright future because they are getting the benefit of their Grandmothers experience and knowledge.  

To learn more about the Grandmother Project and how you can provide resources for our growth, come to .  There is so much to learn about life and how we can all experience more of what makes us important to each other.  I am so glad to have had the opportunity.