Sira Diabaté, 12 years old, making diampe sponges in Bady village, Senegal
Photo: Sylvain Cherkaoui/ActionAid
It’s noon when I arrive in Bady village and step out into a scorching, 40°C dry heat. This dusty village near Tambacounda, in East Senegal, is suffering from a drought that is hitting countries across West Africa’s Sahel region hard.
With last year’s harvest failing, the villagers are forced to eat less and have reduced the number of meals that they eat per day to just two.
Without the security of a good harvest, people in Bady are increasingly reliant on other ways of making money to buy food. Women and children gather mangos, which are then sold in the nearby markets. And men gather dried grass, wild honey and make traditional bamboo chairs that are sold at the side of the road to cars and lorries travelling to and from the Mali border.
Moving closer into the village, I hear the thump, thump, thump of what sounds like djembé drums. But as I turn a corner, I see it’s clearly not the case.
As my local guide explains, this is diampe – a traditional washing sponge that the village women make by pounding wood fibres, twisting them into a sponge-shaped ball.
One of the women told me that once a week, they go to the woods and carry back up to 150 wooden poles on their heads, each measuring approximately 3 metres.
The fibres in the wood are then pounded by the women with metal bars against tree trunks, and made into small bundles of diampe sponges. With each ball being sold for a paltry 5 Senegalese francs – less than 1 Euro cent.
Sira Diabaté, a 12 year old girl sponsored by ActionAid tells me that it’s hot and tiring work. Since the age of five, she’s helped her mum to produce diampe during the weekends and school holidays. The sponges are then sent to market in the local towns and the capital Dakar, giving them money to help provide food for their family of 24 people.
Whilst making diampe is a traditional activity in the Tambacounda region, villagers are now increasingly reliant on it to provide them with money for food, as a lack of seasonal rain followed by flash flooding wiped out their harvest.
The head of Bady’s school committee told me that he has had to take his three children out of school as he doesn’t have the money to pay for it – now they just sit at home.
All efforts in the village are focused on getting enough money to buy food and the villagers say they need food aid to be able to survive.
ActionAid is sending a convoy of food aid to the Tambacounda area which will help villagers in the next few months. But long-term solutions are needed to help the people of Bady to adapt to the harsh dry seasons and changing rainfall patterns.