In November, 1997 Oumar Dia, an ex-pat from Diorbivol, Senegal who was working as a bellhop at the Hyatt Regency in Denver, was shot and killed while waiting for a bus after work. The murder was an unprovoked hate crime perpetrated by two skinheads. The outcry from Denver’s citizens was tremendous, including arrangements to return Oumar’s body to his village and the start of a project to establish a bridge of solidarity and respect with the people of Diorbivol. In 2003, as part of the outreach to Diorbivol, a team of youth and adults made a humanitarian trip to the village, delivering teaching supplies and short term educational activities to the region. The team also helped build an additional classroom as part of the village school and paired up with a dental mission, the first of its kind to ever visit the village. Nonetheless, the team returned with absolute confidence that through the graciousness of their hosts, the Denverites had received much more than they gave. Upon returning home, the members of the team searched for ways to respond to their incredible experience in Senegal. After considerable reflection, the 501(c) (3) non-profit Denver-Senegal Humanitarian Foundation (DSHF) was established, with a primary focus on improving educational opportunities and economic conditions for the youth of Senegal. The goals of DSHF are to: provide school supplies and teaching aids for Senegalese students, provide scholarships and support for higher education, provide humanitarian aid for the village and surrounding area, educate others about Diorbivol and the needs of developing countries, and provide opportunities for others to support this mission, all on a sustainable basis.
Life in Senegal is challenging – unemployment and illiteracy are rampant, and the poverty level is exceptionally high, especially in rural areas. The correlation between abject poverty and social unrest in developing countries is well documented. However, as USAID points out, Senegal is “…a model of religious and ethnic tolerance, it plays a key role in conflict resolution in West Africa and beyond, and is committed to fighting terrorism. Senegal is an important partner of the United States because it has found a way to ensure social stability and religious tolerance without violence and repression.” DSHF is focused on collaborating with Senegalese citizenry to develop educational opportunities, with the intent of improving literacy rates, and consequently employment opportunities. In so doing, DSHF envisions a means of “helping Senegal help itself,” and in the process, fostering stability in an unstable region. We believe the efforts of DSHF can extend well beyond the students we support.
Since its establishment, in collaboration with villagers and other non-profits like African Heritage Celebration, DSHF has provided students in Diorbivol and five other villages in the isolated region with books and school supplies. DSHF has purchased school books for approximately 795 students and made additional school supplies available for another 265 at a cost of $5,300. The organization has awarded $1,300 in scholarships for students to continue their education past the 6th grade. In addition to delivering educational supplies, including textbooks, teaching materials and more, approximately two dozen youth and adults from the Denver area have developed personal relationships with villagers during follow-up visits in 2007 and 2009.
In the past two years, DSHF worked with the village to realize its highest priority, building and outfitting a middle school. DSHF donated $3,000 to help kick-start the building of the school, an additional $4,000 to purchase windows and doors, and then a final $2,000 to complete the school. In the Fall of 2009, school commenced in the new facility for about sixty 7th and 8th grade students, most of whom would not have had an opportunity to go to middle school at all, due to the isolation of the village. This was a testimony to the vision and courage of the villagers. In addition, during the past year, DSHF has begun to work with other villages in Senegal to improve educational resources. Based on improving test results and retention rates, DSHF’s strategy and actions are already changing lives.