Of Nature and of Dedication
An enlightened Giant, solidary and resilient, engaged for the autonomy of women, ecologist by necessity, by resistance and by love of nature.
In a small fishing village on the Petite Côte south of Dakar, Popenguine, known for its pilgrimages around a black virgin for the last 130 years, a group of a hundred women dedicated to the protection of nature, was born around the Thioupam nature reserve, which covers an area of twelve hectares and eight villages.
Kathy Ndione, a mother of seven children, was president of the Women's Group of Popenguine for the Protection of Nature (RFPPN) but she considered herself as a simple member of the group which has existed since 1988.
In those days, men used to fish and cultivate fields of peanuts and millet. Women would help each other in pairs. When one went to sell the fish, the other one stayed home to cook, water the plantations and smoke the fish.
The women offered their services to participate in the rehabilitation of the environment when the national parks were established to preserve the area. They worked to regenerate the forest because as the first beneficiaries, they were the ones who went there daily to fetch firewood and helplessly witnessed the quick rate of deforestation there. In addition, the processing of fish products which provided them with a living was diminishing and there were fewer and fewer fish to smoke in Popenguine.
"...Many women who joined us in this reforestation struggle have been almost divorced by their husbands. We were called "savages" and were considered "crazy" because when our husbands came back from the fields to rest, we would take their tools secretly and leave for the forest and reforest the destroyed areas. What kept us from giving up was the constant desire to leave something behind to our grandchildren, who might otherwise never know what a forest looked like..."
With National Park agents, the women of the collective learned about market gardening and cultivated vegetables from the reserve, which they would sell to vacationers on Sundays. With the national parks, the women of the collective learned gardening and grew vegetables in the reserve which they sold to visitors on Sundays. Their first activity was to learn how to plant and make nurseries. They made seedlings of fruit and forest trees. First ones were for sale, second ones for replanting the Reserve.
They helped in tracing trails and making firebreaks to avoid bushfires. Above all, they transmitted to children a love for nature by undertaking these tasks with them during school outings.
Little by little, species that had disappeared from the environment started to come back. Katy explained: "We see more and more hyenas, gazelles and birds that had deserted the area».
These first concrete results finally convinced their husbands to value their work there. Prior to that, there was much gossip about the women behaving badly in the reserve, leading to a lot of arguments among couples.
They have built a tourist camp "Kër Cupaam" (named after the protective female figure of the place, Coumba Cuppam) and help from Nicolas Hulot Foundation allowed them to equip the camp with five bungalows and a restaurant in 1990. Seven women work there daily, which allows them to provide for their needs. A tontine has been created, and a store that sells gas canisters set up, to encourage women to give up cooking with firewood.
Today, these activities have decreased; the camp's income generating activity is threatened since the crisis in tourism. Moreover, the area is becoming more and more residential with villas being built and the nurseries plundered by animals (monkeys from the reserve and neighbors' goats). The women are looking for ways to maintain their activities.
"My wish is to do my utmost so that my children can see the land in the way I saw it. »
Together with the youth dropouts, they have created a unit of volunteers who help them clean the beach.
Kathy passed away on February 29, 2020.
Don't sit around my coffin crying,
I'm not there - I don't sleep.
I'm a thousand winds blowing,
I'm the sunlight on the ripe grain,
I am the sweet autumn rain, I am the quick flight of
Birds that begin their circular flight when you wake up in the calm morning
I am the speedy boom that flies towards the sky where silent birds swirl. I am the sweet star that shines at night,
Don't sit there lamenting in front of my grave, I'm not there: I'm not dead. (Original version in French By Stevenson)