Postcolonial Urbanisms in Senegal: Jan 20th – SEM Fund and Biostoves

It was so wonderful to have a free morning. I woke up at my leisure and went for a run along the beach. After breakfast, I went back to the beach and just fell asleep there. This class has been very intense and we have had very little down time, including beach time at that. I’ve been feeling that I could sleep for a week after we get back from Senegal.

We visited a social entrepreneurship project that afternoon, called SEM. SEM is actually a nonprofit that is utilizing social entrepreneurship as a strategy and ideology in order to carry out its mission of improving conditions for marginalized communities in Senegal. They have one project involving biostoves that serve several purposes at once. Four million people die of indoor pollution every year in Senegal, more than malaria or tuberculosis and other similar diseases, due to poor ventilation in homes and harmful fumes coming from traditional coal-burning stoves. Moreover, these stoves are very slow, and women in Senegal spend virtually the entire day in the kitchen cooking the next meal. Bio stoves burn much more efficiently and burn a type of wood harvested from the Green Belt in Senegal, a purposely planted grove of trees stretching from Dakar to Saint Louis to combat desertification from the Sahara Desert that is being exacerbated by climate change. SEM not only sells these biostoves at a subsidized cost in Pikine-Guédiawaye, one of the banlieues that we have discussed a great amount and also visited a couple of times, but also teaches and enlists women there to sell stoves and biomass (the sustainable wooden fuel) to others in the community, thus enabling them to earn income on the side and learn valuable marketing and selling skills. I was very impressed with the SEM Fund’s presentation, but even more so when we saw that stove in action. We went to Pikine once again to attend one of their weekly demonstrations for the neighborhood. A couple of women’s associations from the neighborhood came to visit and welcome us – it was a very convivial atmosphere. I suppose that feeling of conviviality is enhanced by the fact that every time that the SEM fund does a demonstration of its stove, they cook a traditional dish and the onlookers get to share that dish afterwards. That day, it was yassa poulet, but we had unfortunately already had lunch and also had to rush back to our hotel before the demonstration even ended in order to make it to our drumming class.

I was most intrigued by the young man who was handling the demonstration. He was American, had done the Peace Corps in Senegal and lived in a village working on a community intiative I assume, and had received his particular job only several months prior from a colleague that he knew who had left SEM fund to work for Tostan (!). I believe very much in having experience in the field that you want to work in and also having a network of contacts in the international development sector, because 70% of jobs in nonprofits are not advertised. People have to be able to trust your background and ability to work in the field based on who knows you and how they introduce you. Talking with this young man and listening to his story only encouraged me to work in the field as soon as possible after I graduate and really call out to all my contacts in the development and civil sector field. I was also even more encouraged to meet Tostan, with whom I had a meeting the next day.

Question: 1. SEM Fund is currently in the pilot phase. How do they envision to spread knowledge about the true dangers of traditional cooking stoves?

2. How will they be able to affect this behavioral change on a large scale? Will this involve changing certain values – for example, a consciousness about environmental and personal health for example?

3. The second wave of the women’s rights movement in the US focused on saving women time in the kitchen and household. It was also a very capitalist movement, capitalizing on women to buy new appliances. At the same time, the average American woman today does not spend much time in the kitchen and instead is working and studying in much greater numbers. If Senegalese women spend less time in the kitchen, would they perhaps also go in this direction? Or – if they are still expected to stay in the house and manage the household, would this extra time only be socially allowed to be dedicated to other chores?


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