Fairfield community comes together to build maternity ward in Senegal

Waly Thiam plays a djembe drum in front of his home in Bridgeport, Conn. Sept. 2, 2021. Thiam recently made a return trip to his home village in Senegal to help work on construction of a new medical facility.

Waly Thiam plays a djembe drum in front of his home in Bridgeport, Conn. Sept. 2, 2021. Thiam recently made a return trip to his home village in Senegal to help work on construction of a new medical facility.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”

The words spoken during a speech in 1957 by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to the sentiment that people should simply be willing to help others, whether they are in need or in a random act of kindness.

Waly Thiam, a cashier at The Pantry on Post Road in Fairfield, decided to put these words to action by helping to build a maternity ward in Senegal after being notified of a woman that died in childbirth. Thiam said the news was “too sad” and he needed to find a way to help.

“When we went there and built the wing of the maternity ward they were so happy because we saved other lives,” said Thiam, a Senegal native who now lives in Bridgeport. “It was amazing.”

Prior to Thiam heading to Senegal, he partnered with his friend, Susan Levine, a dentist that practices in Fairfield. Levine was familiar with the struggles of Centre De Santé De Joal — the health center in Joal, Senegal — because she had assisted a friend’s daughter in the region with dental help.

At 15, the daughter had three missing front teeth. The health center didn’t have the capability to help her so Levine made the necessary impressions for her in the states and created a removable prosthesis to replace the missing teeth.

Subsequently, Levine was invited to the health center facility in December of 2016, where she had come across a medical facility that lacked money to provide the proper care.

“Following a tour and meeting with health care providers and administrators, they clarified their biggest need are funds to complete an unfinished maternity ward,” Levine said.

Levine added that at the time, women and infants cannot receive the care they “desperately need.”

Together, Levine and Thiam created a Gofundme and through the support of the Fairfield community, they raised more than $20,900, surpassing their goal of $20,000.

“When I was there on TV, they asked me how I helped and I said that this money didn’t just come from me, it came from good people,” Thiam said “The town could not believe how the United States and Fairfield helped to save lives.”

When he got the money, he knew he wanted to help the Senegal community in person.

“I didn’t want to give it to politicians, I wanted to come and do it because we cannot wait,” he said. “To see a woman passing away like that, that’s too much. It needed to get done.”

Thiam, who returned from Senegal last month, said that the project was completed this year. The overall excitement from the Senegal residents even sparked a conversation about him becoming the mayor. While that conversation is still up in the air, he said that he just appreciates the help from all of the Fairfield residents that donated to the cause.

“It was amazing that Fairfield residents helped,” Thiam said. “Everybody was so happy. Even some of them were asking me to please come back and be the mayor. It was amazing.”