A new FemAid project: Commemorative development aimed at aiding women by perpetuating a loved one's memory.

Un nouveau projet FemAid: le développement commemoratif destiné aux femmes, à  la mémoire d'un être cher.

March/Mars 2007, Sénégal.

Planting one hundred mango trees for Anita from Los Angeles in the village of Garage Bentegne, Sénégal, March 2007 / des arbres plantés à  la mémoire d'Anita de Los Angeles dans le village de Garage Bentegne (région de M'bour) Sénégal, mars 2007.

Some of the hundred women of the village who, for the first time in their lives own their own mango tree, that is to say their own means of survival. Quelques-unes de cent femmes du village qui, pour la première fois de leur vie possèdent un arbre, soit une source de revenus propre.



a memorial project for Anita Feltus/un projet à  la mémoire d'Anita Feltus

The story of a personal project

In the summer of 2006, we all lost a very dear friend , Anita Feltus, in Los Angeles. We had been close for over a quarter of a century, our families knew each other well, we had stayed with each other more than once. She was an exceptional person in every respect, truly charismatic, infinitely supportive and mourned by her husband, her son and daughter and grand-daughter as well as her sisters, brother, nieces, nephews, in-laws and countless sister/brother friends all over the world.
All her life, she had dreamt of going to Africa whence her ancestors had been wrenched as slaves bound for the Americas. We had talked about it more than once, but an untimely illness took over her life. When she passed away, I felt I wanted to do something meaningful in her memory. So somehow the idea formed in my head to go and plant fruit trees in her memory in Africa. Anita was a talented gardener, rising every morning at five to tend to her roses; she also was a superlative cook and professionally an extremely generous and wise social worker, as well as committed to women's rights, having personally fought for black civil rights . She would have wanted to do something for women in need, so the project blossomed in my mind.

I called my good friend Aida in Dakar and she was immediately enthusiastic . She knew of a small village not too far from her, with an enthusiastic women's association in an area fertile enough to grow trees and vegetables. Yet whilst the women bought fruit from orchards to sell at the market, being extremely poor, they did not own anything of their own and each had several children to support.

I wrote round to family and friends, many responded enthusiastically, although perplexed by this wildly ambitious project, all the more as I had never worked in Africa. Well, after Afghanistan, I thought anything must be easier..... Apart from Anita's family, there were also generous friends in France and Dakar who loved the idea. FemAid raised money during the holiday gift sales and looked after the rest.

I arrived in Dakar on March 9th 2007 and went to stay with Aida and her wonderfully supportive and helpful family .

We went to the village, Garage Bentenye, several times. It's along a tarmacked road to tourist areas, unnoticed by travellers in a hurry to get to the beach. Forty odd kilometres away , but three hours drive from chaotic, crazy Dakar, this is small village of 1000 inhabitants made out of two hamlets, one Wolof, one Serere, largely Muslim but also partly Christian as it even has its own church. The village has electricity but just a single manual water pump to which the women come from all over, carrying buckets on their head. There is a tiny dispensary open a couple of times a week, some kind of a school- all of which are in a sorry state. There is large vegetable garden and mango groves, but these are privately owned, one person seems to own most of the goats; the villagers themselves own very little, the women even less and any trees in their compound are the property of the husband's family, this being a patrilocal society, that is to say women move in with the husband's family.

We initially thought that lemon trees would be a good idea, but we first wanted to discuss matters with the women concerned. We presented Anita's story in detail, me in French, Aida in Wolof. This being Africa, they welcomed Anita into their lives insisted on knowing all the details about her life and identifying each relative and friend in the photo album, prepared in Paris - which is what one sees in some of the photographs. The project was presented as a partnership and each recipient feels personal and spiritual responsibility to their tree.

The Women's Cooperative Association (they exist in African villages, as women are comparatively powerful and respected, quite the opposite of what I have encountered in Afghanistan) decided they wanted mangoes which grow much more abundantly and sell well. They had recently started to make jam and produce from this fruit which they had begun to sell in the nearby hotels, but they had to buy the fruit until now. So, helped by my friend Aida who negotiated (thank goodness!), we bought them in Dakar from a nursery, organised the logistics, the careful and difficult diplomatic issues regarding who got the trees ( a very tricky issue) and finally decided to give them to the hundred members of the association, to each wife and co-wife, an unusual way of organising aid, which was greeted with much gratitude, as this meant a measure of self-sufficiency for each.

Through FemAid, we also decided to refurbish the only crumbling well of the village and dig two meters deeper, essential for this project and the survival of the whole community. As we have done before in Bosnia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, we chose to work with the Women's Association exclusively. I publicly handed its president a sum of money to cover the costs for the well, leaving them to argue prices with the well builder and raise money for any extra features they might want (such as a lid or improved pulleys). As FemAid has always done, we decided to help two particularly gifted and ambitious girls with their studies: Khadi, age 13, top of her class of 65 students who wants to be a lawyer and Mariam, age 10, who aims to become a doctor

Every tree carried a label with Anita's photograph, mentioning that the tree was given in her memory with the name of the donor inscribed. And the trees were planted with great joy, dancing and singing. A little ceremony was held for each, every one insisted on knowing the story of the donor as well as Anita. Each person who gave for this project will be welcomed to Garage Bentenye for years to come.

Somehow, miraculously, the project worked out, despite enormous difficulties at the onset. Africa is not an easy place to work in, to say the least. I am happy because I feel I have helped Anita return to her roots

This is a beautiful, different way of promoting development: we hope that this is the beginning of many such projects world-wide

But hopefully the story of Anita's trees does n't end here.

This is indeed the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Once this project is completed, we want to change the roof of the primary school which lets in blazing sunshine as well as torrential rain in the rainy season. The women have also asked us to help them purchase a plot of land for the Women's Association that they could farm collectively. Any further donations coming in for Anita's trees will go towards these projects.

I will be going back next year to see how our projects have fared. Through Aida, I will receive regular news.

What does such a project depend on? At a time when so many aid projects flounder, it is worth thinking about what is needed to make things work. Naturally the question remains open as we have just planted the trees.
This Memorial project is based on the memory of a real person whose story was told to a population for whom this was particularly meaningful- so much so that women said 'Now Anita is my sister'. Likewise, the project itself had to be important for the person whose name it was created, in this case an African-American who had spent her entire life helping others and campaigning for human rights. On both sides, a sociological and anthropological understanding of the background situation was essential- Senegal is not the same as ever-grim Afghanistan, despite Islam featuring so prominenly in both. Furthermore, this is a partnership, we provided about 80% of what was necessary; hard work, investment, extra finances are the responsibility of the recipient community who take the main part in this story.
Finally, last but not least, a trusting working relationship with a person from the area, in this case wonderful Aida who will provide the all-essential follow-up. And naturally my promise to visit soon.
This project may herald a trend of meaningful development and FemAid certainly hopes to be part of it.

Carol Mann, President of FemAid

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If this kind of commemorative development project interests you, for a departed relative, to celebrate a birth or a marriage or for any other reason, please contact us

Contact FemAid

Garage Bentegne, a village between Rufisque and M'bour

Women's Association Council/Le Conseil des femmes The village well/le puits du village

Buying the mango trees in Dakar/acheter les arbres à  Dakar Anita's trees in about three years time/Les arbres dans trois ans

The Procession of trees being carried round the different compounds of the village/La procession d'arbres portés de maison en maison.

Chanting and dancing planting the mango trees/

Chants et danses pendant que les manguiers sont plantés

The tree planting ceremony/ Chaque arbre est planté lors d'une cérémonie

Preserves made by the women of Bentenye/ des conserves confectionnées par les femmes du village

A future project: refurbishing the school/un futur projet, la refection de l'école primaire


If this kind of commemorative development project interests you, for a departed relative, to celebrate a birth or a marriage or for any other reason, please contact us

Contact FemAid

For more details about FemAid click on: HOME PAGE

For the Kidsread library project: VIEW THE VIDEO ON YOU-TUBE http://www.acagallery.com/acagallery/media/video.php