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August 23, 2011

Senior women help young women in Senegal

  Photo Credit Dominic Chavez


Maimouna Mbengue is a grandmother in Senegal and like most grandmothers she passes on traditions and gives advice to her family. Unlike most grandmothers though, Mbengue is part of the Bajenu Gox Initiative, President Abdoulye Wade’s community based health worker program which trains women to be leaders in reproductive health. The name of the initiative is a reference to the deep tradition of solidarity between the young women and the old women that is known as bajenu gox.

Mbengue told NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in an article appearing last week about her work, "We talk about the different health care priorities and problems our families face. And with the help of the health professionals in our community, we learn to adopt a more useful approach to tackle any problems."

The pairing of bajenu gox and the use of women as health advocates was a ministry designed and led initiative launched in January 2009 and is currently being scaled up throughout the country.   It was one of the first priorities that the Director of the Reproductive Health in Senegal’s Ministry of Health and Prevention, Dr. Bocar Daff, discussed with MLI.  Subsequently, an early supporter of the program,  Dr. Daff was also instrumental in the design of the program which relies on bajenu gox as important advisors at the family and community level.  This community outreach approach is vital to increase the health of women in rural areas.

In the last year, MLI has supported the Ministry to train the women volunteers for their role as community outreach workers.    MLI also purchased outreach kits for the women containing cell phones to be able to contact a health center if needed and informational pamphlets and teaching tools to help guide the women in providing support.

Julia White of ChildFund International told NPR that these women are changing the landscape of reproductive health. "In Senegal, one of the major decision-makers is the grandmother and, specifically, also mothers-in-law," she says. "And so these women have a huge role on the decision-making authority of the mother — in terms of health and the health of the child."

And their help does not stop with their daughters and community members; they are also helping future generations: "We're changing our attitudes and general behavior." Mbengue says.

These attitudes and behavior include family planning. "I'm a grandmother. I encourage family planning so that the young people can really manage and bring up their families and can afford to feed the children and send them to school," Astou Ndoye, a bajenu gox, said. "Family planning is the answer."

More on the success of the Bajenu Gox Initiative can be found in NPR’s story “In Senegal, The Grandmas are in Charge.”

In Senegal