Senegal shopkeeper finds a reason to stay home

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Business is booming for Mouhamdou Boy Sow, a shopkeeper from Senegal who used to think he’d have to go abroad to find a better life. But a new programme to help families buy food from shops like his has helped turn around the local economy and given Mouhamdou a reason to stay home.

by Paulele Fall

ZIGUINCHOR — Like so many other young men in Senegal, Mouhamadou Boye Sow attempted to cross into Europe years ago in the hopes of finding a better life and completing his education.

But things didn’t go as planned and Mouhamadou was forced to return home to his food shop in the slums of Pikine City near Dakar. For years he muddled through, selling what little food local families could afford and dreaming of a return trip to Europe.

But things turned around when Mouhamadou’s shop was selected among 49 businesses in the area to participate in an EU-sponsored programme that provides local families with vouchers that they can use to buy food. Mouhamadou embraced the opportunity and now his sales have quintupled.

A real relief

“The food voucher programme is a real relief for me,” says Sow. “This is a very poor area and my customers can’t always afford to buy food.”

Sow says that his customers either bought very little or ran up credit at his store they were unable to pay back. That’s changed now that they have food vouchers to spend, which get them staples like rice, millet and corn, in addition to oil and sugar.

Now, his customers are getting enough to eat while he and other shop keepers are turning higher profits than they ever have before. No longer dreaming of a life abroad, Mouhamadou says he’s thinking about expanding his business at home.

Win-win situation

Soy isn’t the only one in this area prospering with the help of the food vouchers. Now that his customers have more food on hand, Sow says that many of them are doing visibly better than they were before.

He points to one woman who lives across the street and sells firewood for a living. After a day of chopping and gathering wood, she often comes by the store for a chat.

“She used to be tired all the time and complained of headaches,” he says. “But she’s in better shape now. You can tell just by looking at her that she’s eating more than she used to.”