Mamadou Diakhaté has become a hero in many rural areas of Senegal due to his humanitarian work. Photo:

By Firmain Eric Mbadinga

Young admirers call him "Aquaman" in a doff of the hat to the eponymous DC Comics character of the same name.

But Mamadou Diakhaté is no fictional superhero with divine empowerment like telepathic control of all aquatic life. He's all flesh and blood, and heart.

A teacher by training, the 36-year-old Senegalese has devoted his life to digging wells in parts of his native country where it is difficult to get water every day of the year to meet domestic needs, irrigate farmland and rear livestock in many areas.

Mamadou has already covered 10 of Senegal's 14 regions in the four years since his mission started.

In a country where rainfall tends to decrease, favouring the advance of the desert, his presence and commitment reassure thousands of people, particularly in the north.

Last November, Philippe-Auguste Moundor Sène, head of the regional department of Senegal's National Civil Aviation and Meteorology Agency, said that by the start of 2024, the country would have experienced a drop in rainfall spread over only around fifty days for the whole year.

Mamadou Diakhaté has become a hero in many rural areas of Senegal due to his humanitarian work. Photo:

This downward trend in water resources, coupled with the lack of water supply systems in some regions, prompted Mamadou to take action.

"When you are a teacher in Senegal, you mostly work in the remote parts of the country. It was in one such village where I was posted that something pushed me to get involved in the community's well-being," he tells TRT Afrika.

Participatory model

The seed of Mamadou's project germinated in the Kaolack region of west-central Senegal, where he was teaching in a school in the village of Darou Salam Mouride.

Like all such missions, funding was a challenge. Mamadou chose to try participatory financing, leveraging the power of social media to reach out to people and get them to play a role in the project.

As contributions started coming in, the young do-gooder procured materials and surrounded himself with a team of people specialising in digging wells.

From the first well to the last one, it's always the beneficiaries who have approached Mamadou for help.

Upon receiving any such request, Mamadou inspects the area to assess the urgency and practical feasibility of building a well. If the relevant criteria are met, the team gets going soon after.

For "Aquaman" and his team, the greatest satisfaction comes from the joy on the faces of the villagers once construction is complete and the well is handed over to the community.

"All these wells we have dug are thanks to participative financing and each beneficiary community's cooperation. We have functioning wells in the Kaolack, Diourbel, St Louis, Matam region, Zinguinchor, Sédhiou and Fatick regions," says Mamadou.

Personal adjustments

Reconciling his teaching duties with his passion for humanitarian work was challenging for Mamadou in the early days.

Mamadou Diakhaté combines teaching job with humanitarian work. Photo: TRT Afrika

But thanks to his experience and skills in the education sector, Mamadou has been able to move up the ranks and be assigned to a section that keeps him in teaching, albeit away from the blackboard and chalk.

This enables him to balance his day job and social responsibilities in a manner that provides fulfilment that money can't buy.

"I travel a lot. The last time I was out in the field, I travelled almost 1,600 kilometres. I was out of Dakar for 15 days before returning on New Year's Eve. It's a lot of driving, it's tough, but we try to keep going all the same," explains Senegal's Aquaman.

As with any construction activity, Mamadou and his team members occasionally suffer injuries in accidents mainly attributed to the rugged topography of specific sites, which vary from one to another, depending on their geotechnical structure.

Since civic commitment is time-consuming, Mamadou's personal life also takes a hit. The one change he has made is to reorganise his schedule. Neither he nor his team now work at night, which also helps them minimise the risk of accidents.

Adopting best practices

Most of the wells dug by Mamadou's team are 25 metres deep and take around 30 days to complete.

During the construction phase, room and board are provided by the community benefiting from the work. Over a month, four teams can create as many wells, a ratio Mamadou is proud of.

Mamadou's actions are not confined to digging wells. Aiming to get the community and the government more involved in resolving water supply issues in rural areas, he routinely attends symposiums and conferences.

Most of the wells dug by Mamadou's team are 25 metres deep and take around 30 days to complete. Photo: TRT Afrika

"Decision-makers must do everything they can to ensure that the abysmal water-supply gap between our towns and the interiors of Senegal is reduced or bridged completely," he tells TRT Afrika.

"I have travelled through many regions and scores of hamlets, meeting leaders of ethnic groups and commoners. The facts speak for themselves: some areas need more assistance accessing essentials such as water."

While Mamadou is still to receive any public award, that's the last thing he would aim for. He is more focused on getting funding to scale up his project and benefit a more extensive section of the population.

Several organisations have offered help as part of their corporate social responsibility commitments. One firm provided 15 million CFA franc to fund the construction of 15 wells nationwide.

Mamadou regularly posts images of wells built in Senegal's rural belt on his social networks. He also highlights how he is rehabilitating rundown village schools, using the same formula that has brought his wells into the fight against water scarcity in parts of the West African country.

In the eyes of grateful rural folk, the love for Senegal's "Aquaman" waxes stronger each day.

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TRT Afrika