Oct 5, 2010 KV Kiva HQ
By Kathy Guis
Making Soap, Fighting Illegal Immigration in Senegal
Senegal is a beautiful country with a long coastline, welcoming people and fantastic music. But for most Senegalese people, life is not easy. The unemployment rate in Senegal was 48% in 2001 (CIA World Factbook), and most any Senegalese person will tell you that life in 2010 is harder here than life was in 2001. Costs have risen, salaries stagnated, and the middle class has continued to shrink. Even those who are lucky enough to have jobs often struggle to feed their families.

This situation encourages immigration to relatively wealthy European countries such as France, Spain, and Italy (though Senegalese immigrants can be found all over the world). Men in their twenties and thirties with no jobs or prospects are desperate for a chance to work and earn an income. However, wealthier nations are not usually keen to take these aspirants in. As a result, the waits at embassies are long, the fees unaffordable, and the prospects for getting a visa are very slim.

Because of these difficulties, illegal immigration is a constant problem. Over the course of the past decade, Senegal’s trademark pirogues, colorful wooden fishing boats that appear in every guidebook and tourist brochure, have come into use as passenger boats. Outfitting a pirogue with little more than a couple of outboard motors and some water, traffickers ferry illegal immigrants from Senegal to the Canary Islands, the closest piece of European soil to Senegal. Thousands of uncounted African people (many of whom are Senegalese) have died making the 930-mile journey from Senegal to the Canaries.

The still-more-invisible victims of the flow of young men from Senegal to Europe are the wives, mothers and sisters of the immigrants. It is common for a female family member to sell her material goods or even to take out a loan in order to help her husband, brother or son get to Europe. La Collectif des Femmes pour la Lutte contre l'Emigration Clandestine au Sénégal (COFLEC) is an association of women victims of illegal immigration that works to promote economic recovery for its members and inform the public about the dangers of illegal immigration.

One of the projects launched by COFLEC is a soap factory in Yoff, the seaside neighborhood where COFLEC is headquartered. After receiving training from Fundación CEAR, a Spanish NGO and COFLEC partner, a group of COFLEC members established a small factory on the roof of the COFLEC president’s home. In order to purchase materials, these women obtained a loan from Kiva partner UIMCEC, taking 1,000,000 CFA (about 2,000 USD) to purchase raw materials. By fostering local industries like soapmaking, fabric dying, produce selling, and more, COFLEC is not only helping its members recover from illegal immigration, but stemming the tide by creating jobs in communities where jobs are most desperately needed.
We’re excited to offer Kiva lenders the chance to contribute to Commission Savonnerie Coflec Group’s loan. Happy lending!

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As Portfolio Manager for Francophone and North Africa, Kathy Guis is responsible for oversight and expansion of Kiva’s microfinance partnerships in the region. Currently based in San Francisco, Kathy began working with Kiva in February 2010. She spent her first two years with Kiva as a Senior Field Support Specialist working remotely in Dakar, Senegal and Beirut, Lebanon. Prior to working with Kiva, she worked at nonprofit literary journal Memoir, and organized the journal’s memoir writing program with juvenile detainees. Kathy graduated from Cornell University with a BA in Comparative Literature, summa cum laudein 2006. She is fluent in French, and has traveled extensively in Francophone Africa and the Middle East.

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