In one of the poorest regions of Senegal a locally driven artisan initiative, known as Maam Samba, provides work for over 350 employees.The home base is the tiny village of N’dem, about 120 kilometers north east of Dakar. Maam Samba first began in 1985 with a single sewing machine and a single couple's commitment to better the living conditions for inhabitants of 15 surrounding villages.
"The project began as a response to the rural exodus", explains Maam Samba's manager Abdourahmane Dieye. The artisan center symbolizes a revitalization and re-appreciation of traditional arts and craftsmanship in this region and in all of Senegal, and specifically in the pursuit of local development initiatives.
Maam Samba's workshops include 16 quaint blue and white huts scattered against an inhospitable backdrop of dust and scorching hot skies. Each hut is dedicated to a particular craft: their trademark patchwork designs, bogolan or 'mud' dyeing, basket weaving, and metallurgy to name a few.
A Senegalese marabout, or spiritual leader, and his French wife created the project. Having lived abroad for 10 years, the couple returned intent to improve the socio-economic situation for hundreds of families. Over the years the re-invigoration of traditional arts and crafts became a way to instill community and improve quality of life. "My job allows me to earn a salary and make a living for myself and my family", explains 38-year old Babacar Ngom, a tailor who is married with three kids and has been working at Maam Samba for over five years.
Though Maam Samba is considered 'a project constantly in progress'- there are continually new financial and organizational challenges to overcome- the initiative has merited noteworthy achievements. Maam Samba's profits, most of which is earned through sales in France, Belgium, and Italy, are used to subsidize the cost of local facilities. Today there is a health clinic, a preschool, a primary school, a potable water tank, and a micro-credit lender. Maam Samba's crafts are not only about revitalizing a tradition, but also about building for the future.