December 20, 2011 |

Finding “the boss”

Photo: Siri Wood.

Siri Wood, a senior officer in our Reproductive Health Global Program, recently gave us a great reminder of whom we work for when she shared the story of a little girl whose bath-time photo has become famous around PATH.

In the mid-1990s, Siri was working on an HIV/AIDS prevention project in Dakar, Senegal, when her host family invited her along on a visit to relatives in the southern part of the country. “We got to the family’s courtyard, and this little girl was having a bath in a big blue bucket,” remembers Siri, who is a talented photographer as well as an expert in behavior change communications. “I took a picture of her as she peered over the edge of the tub.”

When Siri came to PATH a few years later, she brought the photograph of two-year-old Ndèye Ndiaye with her. We loved the image of the little girl and paid a licensing fee to use it in PATH communications. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation licensed the photograph too and began to use the picture of Ndèye (pronounced “en-day”) as an illustration of the person foundation staff worked for. Some staff members nicknamed her “the boss.”

Looking for Ndèye

Siri put the licensing fees aside for Ndèye with hopes of locating her.

Ndèye now, at age 18. Photo: Siri Wood.

“I started looking for her on subsequent work trips to Senegal in 2006, 2007, and 2010,” she says. “I contacted my host family and said, ‘Do you know this little girl?’ They said yes, she was a niece, but now she lived very far away in the eastern part of the country—about a 10-hour drive away. They didn’t have a phone number for her.”

Every time Siri traveled to Dakar, she asked about the little girl. She wondered what had become of her. Was she in school? Had she gotten married? Did she have children? Had she escaped the health problems that can sabotage even the brightest child’s future?

Finally, last spring, Siri found Ndèye. “As it turns out,” says Siri, “she’s been living with her aunt in Dakar since she was three years old.”

Happy, healthy, with a dream

Ndèye is 18 now, and grew up with her five cousins. She loves dancing and playing with the neighborhood children and is enrolled in a three-year program to become a hairdresser. Her dream is to own a hair salon. The money Siri collected from the licensing fees will go toward paying Ndèye’s tuition and other expenses.

Siri and Ndèye. Photo: Yaya Touré.

“She is healthy, happy, and strikingly beautiful—very much a teenager turning into a young woman,” says Siri. “She reminds me of my own older daughter.”

When Siri visited Ndèye and her family last spring, she took more photographs—and gave Ndèye a copy of the picture of a little girl with huge brown eyes, peering out from her bath. She told Ndèye the story of “the boss.”

“She laughed at the photograph,” Siri says. “I think she didn’t have any photos from her childhood. She was bemused that people in a country so far away thought the photo was special.”

Global health quiz

What’s “unrestricted funding” got to do with improving health worldwide? See our post on Friday.

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