Basket weaving has a long history in Senegal, West Africa. In the northern region, Wolof, Pular and Serere women have been weaving baskets for generations, and the young girls learn weaving techniques from their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. Traditionally, weavers crafted baskets by binding “Jorox”, a tick and local grass which grows near a lake. Weavers also use thin strips of palm frond to make baskets. To learn more about artisans involved in this tradition, Aid to Artisans (ATA) interviewed Jean Pierre Londjidaye, a former local coordinator for ATA’s USAID Economic Growth project in Senegal from 2007-2010. Jean Pierre is currently an exporter of baskets in Koungheul.

1.) Can you tell us about your background?

I am Elhadji Moustapha Londjidaye (a.k.a Jean Pierre). I was born and raised in Koungheul, Senegal. My parents are originally from Guinea (Conakry). They moved to Senegal as political refugees during the reign of Sékou Touré.

I attended Senegalese French Catholic schools in towns located throughout Senegal, including, Guinguinéo, Kaffrine, Koungheul and Dakar. I currently hold a baccalaureate in French. Additionally, I attended the Priest training school in Dakar to become a minister of the Catholic Church. I speak French, English, Spanish and African dialects: Kognadji, Pular, Wolof, Mandingka and Serere.

Professionally, I have worked with various NGOs such as World Vision, JICA, United States Peace Corps, Franciscan Sisters of the Poor and USAID/EG Aid to Artisans. Overall, I have 10 years of experience in working with International NGOs.

After organizing a 20 foot freight container for Gabriela (Schaaf), the owner of in Switzerland, I explored the idea of becoming a basket supplier by building my website and Facebook page.

Currently, I am exporting to the USA, Norway, UK, Switzerland and Australia.

2.) What inspired you to work with artisans?

After working with ATA for 2 years, I came to appreciate what was being done with the artisans. I felt that I had to find a way to continue working in that sector when the particular project that I was working ended.

Maud Obe [née Mabika] is the main person who helped me start the baskets project after recommending me to a buyer from a major international retailer. ATA has really been instrumental in my enthusiasm in working with the artisans. This work has taught me a lot.

Grandmother Fatou Ba, the oldest weaver in Ndiréne, at work

4.) Can you tell us about your work with ATA? What have you been working on since the project ended?

I was responsible for logistics for all of ATA’s in-country consultants and project visitors, including following up with all the artisans groups located in 4 different regions.. I traveled with Docey (Lewis) and Sophie (Sauzeat) on all  project related visits for a total of 15 weeks during 2010 and four weeks in 2011. In addition to handling logistics, I managed all follow-up and served as translator.

Since the project ended, I have been working with small businesses; selling handbags, accessories for women, teaching French and English and farming during the rainy season.

5.) What goals do you have for the artisans you work with?

My goals are to help the artisans gain exposure in the international market. This includes participating in craft and trade shows and teaching quality control and design techniques. A major goal of mine is to help the artisan make a sustainable living and promote the artisans sector.

6.) Have any of the artisans you’ve worked with been featured in trade shows?

Some of the artisans I worked with in the textile sector have been featured in trade shows. The basket weavers I am currently working with have never been featured in a trade show. It is something I would like to accomplish in the near future.

7.) What do you think is important to know as an artisan and exporter?

As an artisan, the most important thing to know is the quality of your product and the expectations of the international market.

As an exporter, I must know the regulations of the international export market, be focused on the quality of the products, understand the needs of the buyers and respect the delivery time of the shipment of products and be frequently in touch with my buyers.

Gathering baskets for export

8.) What goals do you have for yourself?

My goals are to participate in ATA’s Market Readiness Program in NY, NY NOW tradeshow, NY NOW, attend the ATA’s Market Readiness Program, export products across the globe to many countries, hire people who are unemployed and contribute to the artisan sector and build 2 store rooms: one in Dakar and another in Mékhé, a commune located in northwest Senegal. Also, I would like to have a store in the USA.

To stay up to date with Jean Pierre and the basket weavers in Senegal, follow Handmade Baskets from Senegal on Facebook