MEET CRISTAL SARR TRAORÉ, FOUNDER OF NGO D.E.F.I.S

What is your professional background?

I am a trained occupational psychologist. My work is quite broad in scope and covers areas such as recruitment, performance appraisal or career & personal development. I also get involved in stress-related cases, such as harassment or job burnout. After I became a mother, I started developing an interest in child psychology so I took some additional classes but it is more a passion than a job.

What lead you to launch NGO D.E.F.I.S ?

I am usually based in France but I took a leave of absence from my employer for 5 years and went back to Côte d’Ivoire where I grew up. Before coming back, I knew I wanted to create something in the charity sector. For me, it was about contributing to a positive societal change and giving back to a country that gave me so much as a child.

When I got there with my 2-year old toddler, everyone kept telling me ironically “Good luck finding a good nanny!”. There were a lot of negative preconceptions that I found quite shocking about this profession.

At the end of her career, my mother became a childminder. I always thought that it was an amazing job so I felt sad that a career that I saw as the most beautiful was not well regarded.

At first, I trained my nanny then a friend’s nanny, then other friends’ nannies and ultimately decided to do it in a more structured way.

THE JOURNEY

What was the set-up process like?

It took about a year to get all the paperwork done. I returned to Abidjan in 2012 and launched the NGO in 2013.

Tell us about your team.

We have a permanent staff of 5 people: one coordinator, 3 supervisors who mainly run coaching sessions once the nannies have started their position, and myself.

What is the purpose of your NGO?

In French, D.É.F.I.S means Développement Enfance Formation Insertion Socio-Professionnelle (Development, Childhood, Training, Socio-Professional Integration)

We have two focus areas:

  • Children and the early stages of development are at the heart of our mission. Our values are well treatment, well-being and self-confidence. We are committed to these concepts that had been forgotten and are fortunately making a big come back.
  • The second part of our mission is the training and socio-professional integration of vulnerable female populations.

How would you define vulnerable female populations?

Women who are illiterate or who were not fortunate enough to get a post-secondary education. These populations also include single parent families or women who got a higher education but have been unemployed for over 4 or 5 years because they did not manage to find a job.

Ultimately, our goal is women empowerment. We are not looking to hand out food or money but rather to give these women the tools to cover their primary needs and be self-sufficient. Since our purpose is economic empowerment, we had to focus on short-staffed sectors where, by definition, there is no unemployment. In Côte d’Ivoire, the short-staffed sectors that are accessible to low skilled individuals are domestic assistance and personal services.

In the past, there was always a family member like an aunt, a mother in law or a cousin who would come from the rural area to look after the children. In Abidjan, our economic capital, we see more and more nuclear family models and less extended family assistance. Consequently, people have become increasingly demanding when it comes to the quality of services.

Based on this reality, we have a dual objective:

  • Providing a quality training to those women
  • Changing the society perspective so that those jobs are viewed in a more positive manner

 THE PROGRAM

What are the admission criteria to your training program?

We ask for a basic level of oral and verbal expression in French (Côte d’Ivoire is a French speaking country). It is also imperative that they are able to read: the course involves writing a daily report, reading bedtime stories to children and administering medicine so, to me, it is inconceivable that a nanny be reliable if she is illiterate. It is even dangerous.

During the interview process we try to understand the candidate’s personality. I usually run the interviews and try to perceive a genuine interest in early childhood care. We receive about a hundred applications per month but unfortunately, we turn down roughly 80% of the applicants, either because they are not suitable for the program or because we do not have the resources to train all of them. Sometimes, when we come across very motivated candidates, we try to refer them to adult literacy programs and ask them to come back once they are ready. Some professional integration paths take longer than others.

Please give us more insight into the content of the program.

The course lasts about three months so we run a session every 3 to 4 months depending on the availability of our instructors. We only start a new session once all our participants are employed. It is usually quite fast.

Once they graduate, we stay in touch for a few weeks to ensure the position is the right fit. Since we are not in a money-making business we can afford to take our time and provide them with all the support they need.

Is there any dedicated childcare qualification in Côte d’Ivoire?

No. There is no accredited qualification for domestic workers at this point in Côte d’Ivoire. We are waiting for the ratification of the International Labour Office convention No. 189 by the government, which would secure the rights and protection of domestic workers.

(http://www.ilo.org/actrav/areas/WCMS_DOC_ATR_ARE_DOM_EN/lang–en/index.htm)

What is the general profile of the families who use your services?

We consciously did not want to reserve this quality of personnel to only a few privileged families. We really wanted quality childcare to be available to all families. Most middle-class families can afford it. According to the latest studies, a middle-class family would be a household with a combined monthly revenue of XOF500 to 600,000 (GBP670 to GBP790 or EUR750 to EUR900).

STUMBLING BLOCKS

Did you face any resistance?

Yes. In the early days, there was a lot of resistance when we tried to set basic rules like:

  • Giving the nannies a weekly day off
  • Establishing work hours
  • Paying the legal minimum monthly wage (XOF 60,000 so roughly GBP80)

People thought we were crazy but slowly, things changed, mainly because of the nannies who worked so hard and were so professional that they became our best argument.

We also work with external providers such as our IT specialist, our tailor who provides the nannies with their uniforms and some specific workshop speakers like our art therapist who works on self-confidence through art.

What are your biggest challenges?

I would say that with the program participants our main challenge has been teaching them the basics in terms of acceptable professional behaviour. For instance, if you want to quit a job then you need to give your notice first, things that can seem obvious but are not for them.

When it comes to the NGO, the biggest challenge clearly lies in the funding issues. It breaks my heart to turn down all these women because we do not have enough resources to train all of them.

Finally, with the families, the challenge has been changing the way they view these professions. It can also be frustrating when people confuse us with a placement agency by disregarding the training and charity elements of what we do.

NGO funding can be quite complicated. What are your sources of funding?

This is the most challenging part of our job.

We do not receive any financial assistance from local government institutions but we did receive a small subsidy from the French Embassy. We also received a grant from Danone and Orange, who asked us, in exchange, to issue an employer’s guide to help families in their recruitment process.

All our instructors are volunteers and our offices are lent to us.

Today our main sources of funding are:

  • The employers who pay a fee when they recruit one of our participants and, that way, contribute to the cost of their training
  • The nannies who pay a small contribution to their training course

THE FUTURE

Any future projects you would like to share with our readers?

A project very dear to my heart would be opening a socially diverse and affordable nursery with good quality educational activities. What I like is for quality to be available to all and not only a few.

What you do is simply amazing! What can we wish you?

To survive and keep doing the work we are doing! We face a lot of uncertainties every year so if people would like to support our mission by donating to our organisation or volunteering in any way, that would be extremely helpful.

Please visit the ONG D.E.F.I.S page on Facebook if you would like to donate or contact them.

Watch a short video (in French) about the NGO.

 

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3 Comments

  1. Adiaratou
    October 11, 2018 / 5:36 am

    Thank you for this beautiful and insightful portrait. Having recently moved to Abidjan with a 4 year old and a baby in the way, I am in dire need of trained nannies. I will definitely get in touch with ONG DÉFIS and support their mission.

    • ONG DEFIS
      October 11, 2018 / 5:39 pm

      Hello Madam. The team is waiting for you, we’ll take good care of you.

  2. Michka Alli-Tognisso
    October 15, 2018 / 7:08 pm

    I love the highlight on this great initiative! We need more of those in Africa. I wish people would take the education of their aides more seriously. Please expand to other west african countries!

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