Empty school buildings are a common sight in Senegal since all schools were closed on March 15th.
Pictured: MAP’s Cheikh Amadou Lô Elementary School
Classrooms once filled with students reciting grammar rules accumulate dust by the hour, while school courtyards where children can usually be found playing soccer are completely abandoned. Though this image may be bleak, it actually demonstrates the appropriate response that Senegal has taken to reduce the spread of Coronavirus in the country, which will likely save the lives of many schoolchildren and the communities to which they belong.
This has meant an unwelcome interruption to the school year for the 3,500 students in preschool through fifth grade at MAP schools in Senegal. Students have returned to their families, a major shift for parents who now must care for them during the day and who provide meals that their children would have otherwise received in school.
For families in Senegal, coronavirus prevention measures represent a major shift in social interaction. The warm hospitality of the Senegalese, often shown through handshakes, high-fives, and friendly pats on the back to their friends and family members has been replaced by social distancing.
MAP’s team is currently working with staff on the ground to determine how we can continue to deliver food programs in schools and support many families whose work, education, and quality of life have all been affected by this global crisis. Until then, families will remain home, as our team prepares to mobilize in the face of an ever-evolving global crisis, with the support of our amazing school principals and staff.
“While the schools are all closed, I’m confident the students can remain healthy,” says Mamadou Thiaw, principal of MAP’s Médine Extension school. “I’ve reinforced to all our parents to be incredibly vigilant and ensure their children do not leave the home, especially after seeing the number of cases and deaths in the United States.”
Two weeks after the first confirmed case in the country, the president of Senegal, Macky Sall, closed all schools and ended all public gatherings on March 15th. Since then, a national curfew has been imposed as well as restrictions on incoming and outgoing travel. Having seen the toll that Coronavirus has taken on countries around the world, Senegal realized it needed to respond immediately before it was too late.
Two weeks later, the number of confirmed cases has grown from 22 — but only to 142, which include 27 recoveries. This level of decisive action by President Sall is unmatched in the rest of the world — the United States waited until tens of thousands of cases were active within its borders to even consider restrictions on its citizens. Senegal’s ability to first, issue this directive, and second, enforce it, have likely saved countless lives.
Containment measures have helped the infection rate in Senegal remain lower than in many other countries. Data: Johns Hopkins CSSE
Senegal has a well-functioning healthcare system but lacks the scale necessary to combat a major pandemic. Expensive equipment such as ventilators are in shorter supply than in more economically-developed countries.
“We are in a country with few means so it’s crucial that we put all our energy in this fight now and appeal to all the goodwill we can,” says Omar Fall, MAP’s field manager in Senegal. “Given the equipment we have, Senegal will be very challenged to support more than 100 cases.”