WHD 2013

Thursday, February 14, 2013

« Mama Légumes » and resilience in Senegal

By Esther Huerta García, Communication and Social Media Officer - OCHA Sahel

Joséphine runs a fruit stand in Dakar. Everyone in the neighborhood knows her as “Mama Légumes” (Mama Vegetables). She is very lucky, since she has many clients coming from around the city to buy her produce - ruby colored tomatoes, juicy carrots and leafy green bundles of cilantro, just to name a few. Mama has adapted to the times. She uses SMS to inform her clients each time she receives some particularly succulent fresh fruits and vegetables. “Hello, this is Maman Légumes, I received some juicy local oranges. How many should I keep for you?”

She will hand you the calculator at the end of each purchase, her lovely smile glowing across her face. She allows you to calculate the total amount yourself. It is all about trust.

"Mama Légumes" runs a fruit stand in Dakar. Credit: E. Huerta García- OCHA

“Maman Légumes” has long known exactly what resilience means. Though she has never heard of the word, she fully embodies it. “I come from a family of eight brothers and sisters. My mother sold fruits and vegetables too. I could not spend a lot of time at school. I had to leave when I was a child to help my family. But at least I attended enough classes to understand many things.” She smiles again. “It´s what´s in your head that really helps you move out of difficult situations.”

“Maman” has recently moved and upgraded her stand. Heavy rains had hit her old stand, which threatened her livelihood. “I saw rain flooding my fruit stand more than ten times.” Each time water wrecked her stand, Maman Légumes would take a deep breath, having to fill herself with courage once more. With the help of her family and friends, she would rebuild the stand each time it collapsed. “I am a positive woman. This is who and how I am. When I see a problem, I double my efforts.” In addition to relentless floods, she had to face a new adversary: the construction of a new building that obliged her to move out.
Credit: E. Huerta OCHA

Maman Légumes looks very proud when she says “I only needed ten days to find a solution.” She took advantage of this opportunity to build a new fruit stand - this time one that was much bigger and on a much busier corner. “I mustered courage, made new contacts and found my solution.” Her stand is more modern, grandiose with higher quality material replete with a big roof protecting the precious fruits and vegetables from the harsh Senegalese sun, the wind and the heavy rains. “I have more work now. I asked my sister to help me. She is full of energy, just like me.” She looks over at her sister. They share a knowing glance of complicity. Her sister answers with a loud laugh. “I was able to keep all my clients, because I knew where they lived or worked. I went personally to inform them, one by one, of my new location. Of course I also have some new clients from the new area who have started to come around”.

When I ask her what she thinks about the Sahel crisis, Mama Légumes answers: “Too many people leave their villages and come to the city here in Senegal. I think that the future is in agriculture.” She pauses a moment in silence, then continues: “People are discouraged, because they see their harvest destroyed by droughts then flooding. This becomes frustrating. They prefer moving to the city to look for easier work.” Still Maman Légumes remains hopeful. “I think we have to depend on ourselves and gain knowledge to move forward. Sometimes in life, we need a hand, but we must always get up and continue our fight. Every day when you wake up and see the sun shine, just move and get to work.”

Mama Légumes is confident that with the right know-how in farming, with good family planning, with unwavering courage in the face of crisis, and with the help of God, the country will undoubtedly pull itself out of this endless hunger cycle.

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  1. Great contribution. No High-Level resilience plan at Government and Donors level has a meaning without these people who are naturally building resilience in the area. Not only in Senegal, but also in other countries such as Mali and Chad.

  2. I know that woman! She is my neighbor. I go to her place to buy fresh fruit every week. Amazing character.

  3. Great story. Simple and powerful.