After almost 2 months in ville I have made some significant observations that will indicate the direction of my work here within my community.
I have noticed that my village is very self-sufficient. Almost everything crucial they need: food, oil, soap, etc., they produce or gather themselves. Right now, it is nearing then end of rainy season, so everyday almost the entire village goes out to the surrounding fields to farm peanuts, millet, corn, and rice which are the main staples of the village diet. However, this self-sufficiency also means that there is very little money within the village (which seems to be a recurring theme for the root of many problems within Mali). Thus, this augments the viciousness of hunger season which we are currently experiencing the worst of. It has been almost a year since the last harvest, so the stocks of food and cereal banks are very low if not empty. This lack of money means that many families struggle to feed themselves sufficiently. This then also augments the frequency of illness, especially among young children. Most Malians have an insufficient diet to begin with; therefore, this, coupled with unsanitary practices, such as not washing their hands with soap after going to the bathroom (there is no toilet paper here, so use your imagination) or before they eat, they are more vulnerable to disease and illness. It is also the peak season for mosquitoes which means the threat of Malaria is substantially higher at the moment and threatens the lives of the weak and malnourished. Again, the lack of money means that many families have to forgoe efficient treatment of illnesses.
As an Education and Literacy volunteer, I thought that my main focus would be improving the access to and quality of education within my community. However, through my observations and conversations, all problems within my village, even those regarding education, seem to lead back to the lack of money.
As the farming and harvest season runs into November and December, and since this is the main livelihood of my village and surrounding hamlets, many children are needed to work in the fields to help sustain the family in lieu of going to school. This, coupled with the inability to pay the school fees, many families opt not to send their children to school. (Families also have so little money that they can't afford to buy their children a pen and notebook, so as my host mother said, "how are they supposed to learn?") Here in Mali, the government pays for part of the teacher's salary and the village pays the rest. Thus, the fee is split on a per child basis and will fluctuate based on the number of children attending school. From what I have gathered, each family usually pays around 400-600 cfa to send one child to school. That is approximately the equivalent of $1. This inability to pay results in a low attendance rate, with an average of 20 children per class in grades 1-6. We were taught that overcrowding was a major issue within the Malian educaion system with most classes packed with around 100 children, but my village, with a population of approx. 800-not including the students that come from surrounding villages-this number is shockingly low.
Again, this lack of money creates a problem for the teachers as well. Many times they go unpaid for months at a time which results in strikes. These gaps in the school year negatively affect the students learning. My village struggles to pay the three teachers they employ. Yes, only 3 for the 6 grades. One teacher splits their time between two grades in the three room school house. So, the 2 consecutive classes (1 & 2, 3 & 4, 5 & 6) must share a room and a teacher. Again,this impacts the efficiency of the students learning.
This is just the beginning.
While the tasks ahead of me may seem daunting (where do I even begin?!) I am hopeful that I can enact some sustainable change within the community to allow for their continual development and success long after I have completed my service. This may be the wishful thinking and hoping of a nieve, new volunteer, but I believe that positivity is the best way forward.
Peace and Love.