Mate Mbaye’s Story
Did you know that young people in Senegal are so desperate that they’re crossing deserts and oceans in search of a better life?
You can only imagine the dangers. Some never make it there alive! But, in their mind, risking death crossing the Sahara and the Mediterranean beats surviving another year as an impoverished farmer, struggling to make ends meet.
Last year, I traveled village to village and met with teenagers and young men and women. Sitting on the dirt floors of huts, in Wolof language, they shared the challenges they face.
I had many mouths to feed and I saw tree planting as a way to feed my family.
They’ve never gone to school. All they know is farming peanuts and maize which turned their families’ farms into a barren landscape. Many leave the village in the offseason and compete for low paying and dangerous jobs.
Not far from where I spoke with youth about their desperation, I met Mate Mbaye and his kids. I saw hope. And I saw a solution: Planting forest gardens.
Mate has nine people in his immediate family, but when his uncle died he started taking care of his relatives and now has 25 mouths to feed.
As you can imagine, he accumulated a lot of debt trying to care for the family. His annual peanut crop was dismal because his soil was dying. Mate tried to earn extra money by repairing radios in the market, but still couldn’t make ends meet.
Four years ago Mate joined our program, and like thousands of other families we work with, it turned his life around. Mate learned to revitalize his old farm with beneficial trees and graft valuable fruit trees. Today seven patches of vegetables and a dozen types of fruit trees growing in his forest garden feed his family throughout the year.
What is truly impressive about Mate Mbaye is how he now can give his kids the opportunity to help and feel responsible.
Rather than planning to cross deserts and oceans in search of a better life, Mate’s kids are learning to grow their own future.
They learned to produce and sell mint and other vegetables under the 1,544 trees their father planted. With the proceeds, these enterprising boys bought chickens, clothes, and a radio, and they even pay workers to help them grow more on the farm.
When he was a peanut farmer, Mate had accumulated a lot of debt trying to feed all 25 mouths. Now, thanks to his forest garden, Mate can provide his family nutritious foods every day of the year, and he has paid off all his debt!
Mate says: “I get more from my two acre forest garden than I could get from six acres of peanut crop. My sons have a future now, and as I age, trees will continue to feed my family.” So it is no surprise that Mate is now planting the living fence for a second forest garden which will bring the family above the poverty line indefinitely.
Mate can rest assured that hungers are behind him. His sons are learning to grow their own opportunities, one seed at a time. One tree at a time.
His perspective on life is changing.
Mate’s grandparents left a legacy of a several mango trees that, decades later, continue to provide fruit for dozens of people. Mate wants his legacy to be thousands of fruit trees throughout his village, including soto ajana (heavenly fig) which he remembers from his childhood and which is nearly lost from the landscape.
To make a permanent change in his community, Mate is now volunteering as a lead farmer in our program, assisting 20 more families to achieve his level of success while simultaneously keeping Senegalese families safe, productive and away from horrors that lie across deserts and oceans.