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Overview | World Vision's history in Senegal| World Vision in Senegal today


Located on Africa’s west coast, the Republic of Senegal is bordered by Mauritania to the north, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to the south, and Mali to the east. The Republic of the Gambia reaches nearly 200 miles into the center of the country along the Gambia River. Senegal’s capital city, Dakar, is the westernmost city on the continent of Africa, making it a leading transportation hub for European and trans-Atlantic travel. Low, rolling desert plains in the north of the country give way to foothills in the southeast. The tropical climate includes a May to November rainy season and a dry season from December to April, dominated by hot, dust-laden winds. Natural resources include iron ore, fish, and phosphates.

The Wolof are the largest ethnic group in Senegal, comprising more than 43 percent of the population. Other groups include the Fulani, Serer, Jola, Mandinka, and Soninke. There are about 50,000 Europeans (mostly French) and Lebanese who reside in Senegal. French is the official language of the country, but it is not spoken by the majority of people. All Senegalese speak an indigenous language— Wolof is the most common.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British traders set up posts in the Senegalese town of Saint-Louis and on Goree Island where ivory, gold, and slaves were exported. The French eventually dominated the area, incorporating the Senegal territory into French West Africa by 1895. In August 1960, Senegal achieved independence, with internationally known poet and politician Leopold Senghor elected as the country’s first president. In 1980, Senghor retired from politics and handed over power to Abdou Diouf, who ruled for 20 years.
Map of Senegal

Map of Senegal 

Country statistics 
Population12 million
Land mass75,749 square miles
People per square mile159
Life expectancy57 years
Under age 5 mortality rate116/1,000
Literacy rate39%
Access to safe water76%
Average annual incomeUS$750
Indigenous Beliefs 1%

Since 1982, separatists in Senegal’s southern province of Casamance have waged a low-level guerilla campaign against the government, claiming marginalization and neglect. In 2004, the separatists and the government signed a peace accord, ending the conflict that displaced 64,000 people. Abdoulaye Wade won the presidency in 2000, concluding 40 years of socialist party rule, and won his re-election bid in 2007. After agreeing to remain a country that provides for the free practice of all religious beliefs, Senegal hosted the Islamic Summit Conference in Dakar in March 2008.

The United Nations currently ranks Senegal 156 out 177 countries on the Human Development Index. Poverty levels, which affect more than a third of the population, are particularly acute in rural areas. The post-conflict region of Casamance has the highest poverty rates in the country at 49 percent. Nearly half of Senegalese people are unemployed, and 56 percent are living on less than $2 a day. Economic development is greatly dependent on foreign aid and remittances sent from Senegalese who now live in other countries.

The economic slowdown has affected Senegal’s healthcare system. Many medical programs are hampered by a lack of governmental funding as well as a shortage of trained personnel. As a result, the quality of health care has decreased and the prevalence of preventable diseases has increased. Malaria is widespread in Senegal and is responsible for 28 percent of child deaths. Malnutrition levels are high due to poor dietary habits and inadequate sanitation. More than 16 percent of children under the age of five are chronically malnourished—a level that is twice as high in the Casamance region and other rural areas.

Enrollment rates in Senegal’s primary schools are 58 percent for boys and 59 percent for girls, though the number of children who complete classes this level of education. In secondary school, 20 percent of boys and 16 percent of girls attend. Only a small percentage of students are eligible for free secondary education, and many parents cannot afford private instruction. Limited personal finances and the lack of access to education across the country have contributed to a low adult literacy rate—51 percent for men and just 29 percent for women. Many schools lack sufficient funding and resources, such as textbooks, electricity, and running water.

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World Vision’s history in Senegal

World Vision began to minister to the people of Senegal in 1975, although most of the early work was overseen through the World Vision office in Ghana. Initial work focused on the provision of medicines and nutritional foods and the implementation of various agricultural projects through partnerships with New Tribes Mission, Worldwide Evangelization Crusade, and national churches.

In 1984, a regional office was opened in Dakar in response to drought conditions in the Sahel region, which brought severe food shortages and malnutrition. World Vision’s relief project aided 26,500 victims in the Senegal River region with millet distribution and counseling services that year. Two development projects addressed the drought problem by constructing five reservoirs, 100 wells, and several medical facilities, as well as providing food supplies, agricultural advice, and training in irrigated rice cultivation for unemployed youth.

Large swarms of desert locusts attacked and destroyed vast areas of cropland from Senegal to Djibouti in 1988. This infestation, along with irregular rains, caused an 80 percent crop loss. As a result, World Vision implemented a locust control program to assist in preserving the future food supply through a process that destroyed adult locusts and larvae. The project benefited approximately 150,000 people.

In 1991, child sponsorship began in Louga. By 1995, development work in the Louga and Thies regions had formed three community development programs in the towns of Njambur, Kajoor, and Ndande. That same year, World Vision’s water project in Louga succeeded in drilling the country’s 500th borehole well. Other development programs opened during the 1990s focused on such issues as agriculture, literacy, animal husbandry, and health.

In the past ten years, World Vision has focused on water development and management, sanitation, agriculture, natural resource management, livestock, education, health, and HIV and AIDS awareness.

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World Vision in Senegal today

World Vision is committed to partnering with the people of Senegal to enhance their lives today and to help enact sustainable solutions for the future of their communities, families, and children. Currently, 56,250 children are registered in the World Vision sponsorship program. Several times this number of children and other family members benefit from World Vision activities. Of these registered children, many have World Vision sponsors in other countries. U.S. donors sponsor 13,000 girls and boys. In addition, World Vision operates 21 development programs, five of which are supported by U.S. donors. Highlights of these efforts include the following:
  • The Community Health Program is a partnership with World Vision, Christian Children’s Fund, USAID, and Africare that aims to improve family health and preventive services in five cities in central and western Senegal. The project will focus on family planning, malaria prevention, maternal and neonatal health, nutrition, HIV and AIDS awareness, and immunizations. Services will be expanded in five regional hospitals, 18 health centers, and 743 health huts. More than 3.4 million people will have access to these services.
  • The Senegal Water Project began in 1986 in response to a severe four-year drought. The project’s initial objective was to increase the availability of safe drinking water by drilling several boreholes. Currently, activities focus on constructing piping networks, water towers, and dams. World Vision also provides continuous technical skills training for community-led water committees and technicians, who will maintain and repair existing wells. More than 630 boreholes have been drilled to date throughout the country.
  • Located in the communities of Sine and Tattaguine in western Senegal, the Red Card to HIV and AIDS Project aims to educate people and to urge them to consider HIV and AIDS with the same degree of concern and acceptance as other diseases. A red card, like in soccer, denotes a warning and is easily identifiable across language barriers. Project activities include training and supporting young “celebrity” athletes to be role models and peer educators, organizing soccer games and enabling participants to communicate positive messages, facilitating local meetings and workshops, and producing TV and radio ads with encouraging and educational messages.

For more information on World Vision’s programs in Senegal, contact the United States office.

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