Words by Blyth Brentnall
Giving back is imperative for Ann Sofie Soubrier, Jacqueline Pageaut, and their circle of friends and relatives. Together, they set up Africa Team, a voluntary organisation supporting women and children in Senegal. Their love for this part of the world drew them into local communities where they witnessed such precarity it convinced them to take immediate action.
The idea for Africa Team first came to them about a decade ago, when the internationally-minded group fell in love with the rolling plains and joyous people they met in Senegal.
They were volunteering for an orphanage in Mbour, about 100 kilometres south of the capital Dakar. As they travelled around nearby villages, their eyes opened to the local people’s desperate need for support. In 2013 they could no longer visit the country again without finding a way to solve the issues they witnessed firsthand.
“We saw the distress, the poverty, the precarity in the villages there and it was then we said to ourselves, ‘there is a lot of work to be done here’,” Ann Sofie tells Smiley News.
Step by step, brick by brick
They started small, working where they saw the most need. Their very first project involved renovating a medical centre in the small village of Ndiaganiao, situated in the savannas of West Senegal.
From rubble and disrepair, they transformed it into a sanitary, safer environment with all necessary facilities. They built two showers, two toilets and new sinks with functioning taps. They tiled the floors and walls and constructed a new ceiling in the midwife’s office to prevent snakes from entering.
All this work was possible thanks to private donors, with most of their income coming from an annual Golf Trophee, organised by one of their co-founders, Pénélope. They will celebrate the 10th anniversary of this event in October 2023.
At the medical centre’s opening, Africa Team gathered with health professionals, chatting with excitement about their newly refurbished site. They celebrated with dancing, drumming and an emotive theatre piece based on the theme of motherhood.
“The atmosphere was very ceremonious at first, with a number of incredible speeches. Africa Team was thanked very, very warmly,” Ann Sofie recalls.
From there, they redoubled their efforts, branching out to support educational institutions. They bought books, classroom furniture, colouring pencils and sketchbooks for the public school of Mbodiene - all with funds gathered from bric a brac sales.
“When we saw the happiness on the faces of the pupils and teachers, it made all our efforts worthwhile,” Ann Sofie recounts.
In collaboration with schools, they began building and refurbishing classrooms with eco-friendly construction techniques and materials. In 2019 they opened their fourth new classroom, made from locally-sourced red sand to insulate the building, cooling the children in summer and keeping them warm in winter.
To engage the children in environmental action, they grouped together 200 pupils to clean up the beach near the city of Mbour, just southeast along the coast from the capital, Dakar.
Keen to support more women, they started refurbishing another maternity hospital that served women from across a vast swathe of Mbour. The centre provided midwifery services, vaccinations and family planning advice. But it was in a state of complete disrepair and women were having to give birth in unsanitary conditions. Again Africa Team transformed this essential facility into a more hospitable, safer space.
“The healthcare workers, overseen by the midwife, Martine, warmly thanked the donors who allowed this work to go ahead. The women and young girls who visit for diverse reasons, enormously appreciate this positive change,” she says.
Ensuring children can grow up in safety and stability
To support the most deprived families, Africa Team matches poverty-stricken children from age five upwards, with sponsors who can help them. Local teachers help the team identify the families most in need and volunteers visit the children annually to check on their progress. Today, their sponsors support 52 children, paying their tuition fees and helping to provide them with medicine, satchels and other school supplies.
Since 2014, Africa Team’s small yet determined group of about 10 active volunteers have helped with renovation work on 14 classrooms and constructed four new classrooms across schools in West Senegal. They have bought hundreds of tables and benches for local schools and support hundreds of their pupils each year.
For such a small project they are making enormous positive changes to people’s lives. Unlike many other organisations, all their income goes towards the local people. The volunteers who visit two or three times a year, cover all their own expenses. They operate without any intermediaries, allowing them to find solutions in direct collaboration with Senegalese communities and in respect of local cultures.
Looking to the future
Next, Africa Team plans to refurbish a kitchen and provide healthy, balanced meals to 70 children living in another village in West Senegal. Help them raise the funds needed to achieve this next goal!
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
UNICEF. A UN organisation working towards a world where every child can have a childhood. Learn how to support them here.
Oxfam. The global charity tackling poverty and inequality, offering support to those living through crisis. Find out more here.
Save The Children. They are a charity tackling issues such as famine and weather-related disasters faced by children around the world. Learn more here.