We are saddened and shocked by the recent events here in Mali. In case you have not heard, five Europeans were kidnapped last month (a first), and one tragically lost his life when he resisted. One incident was in Hombori, a desert town in northeastern Mali, and the other in Timbuktu.
Mali is a poor country, with most young people either unemployed or underemployed. There is still a shockingly high rate of illiteracy even after decades of foreign and local projects and initiatives. In addition, too many people die young of completely avoidable causes: diarrhea, malaria, meningitis, and other diseases. This situation is even more prevalent in the North of Mali, where the encroaching desert threatens traditional livelihood, and decades of political and fiscal negligence exacerbate the situation.
Living here in Mali I am confronted daily with these facts. I am often asked by visitors how I can reconcile this harsh reality with my conscience. And, equally often, I am asked what I believe will bring about change ...
I feel strongly that the short answers to these complicated questions are: creating jobs and supporting education. Educated and employed people live longer, better lives, simple as that. And even in light of these recent tragic events I feel confirmed: gainfully employed, educated people usually do not abduct harmless tourists!
We try and create as many jobs as possible by bringing tourists to Mali with our travel business Mali Yaara (www.maliadventuretours.com). In Timbuktu about 60% of the economy is based on tourism, and it is estimated that one wage earner supports about twenty (20!) family members. So even just one visitor to Timbuktu, who sleeps & eats there, rides a camel and buys a postcard helps feed a (big!) family. In 2006 there were 45,000 visitors, and each subsequent year the numbers declined. This year Timbuktu may not even get 2,000, further declining already substandard living conditions in the north of Mali.
We want to help children access education, and we had been looking for a small but impactful grass roots organization to partner with and to support. We discovered Caravan to Class (www.caravantoclass.org ) earlier this year. In 2009 Barry Hoffner was visiting Timbuktu and visited a nearby village whose school building was so neglected and underfunded that it was basically dysfunctional. Barry, himself a father of two young boys, believes that education is the key to durable change, and –once back in the US- he quietly raised 60,000 USD among his family and friends to build a new school building in that village, and fund teachers, support staff, school lunches and school supplies for one year.
Caravan to Class needs to keep this school going, and wants to build additional schools in the region. Barry was able to post his project on the website Global Giving (www.globalgiving.org/projects/build-a-school-in-mali) for a fund raiser challenge. He has to raise 4,000 USD (and find 50 new donors) before the month is up.
We wholeheartedly support Caravan to Class, and we have already made a donation on the Global Giving website. We make a donation each time a Caravan to Class supporter travels with us and we support Barry with some logistics. And now we are asking you to support Barry’s program. Donate as much as you can, or as little as 10 USD, and help him build a school in another desert village! Just go here and click on ‘DONATE’ to help fight illiteracy and a host of related inhumane conditions, including terror and terrorism: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/build-a-school-in-mali/
(Malé, second on the left, in Mora, where Caravan to Class is hoping to build their next school. With him are the village chief (with turban) and Caravan to Class representative Hamandoun Toure, in the middle.)