Have you ever celebrated a new year in Mali? The Ouelessebougou Alliance Administration team had the opportunity to ring in 2020 in Ouelessebougou. The 2019 expedition team included 10 people: three staff members from the Salt Lake City office (Judy, Emily and Djiba), three OA board members (Robyn, Dick and Mike) and four volunteers (Bronte, Emma, Diane and Eddie). Seven members of the team stayed in Mali for two weeks while three had to return to the USA earlier. We also had the opportunity to meet up with John and Ann Lewis. John is our former board chair and both he and Ann are committed supporters of the Alliance. They are currently serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Coite d’Ivoire Abidjan and they split their time between there and Bamako which is also part of their mission area. They joined us for a few days in Ouelessebougou and we also got to spend some time with them in Bamako.
The team was able to visit 21 of our 25 villages. We got to know each other very well along with the Ouelessebougou Alliance staff in Mali and our partner villagers. Every single day, we visited two or three villages to understand their problems and progresses. We listened carefully to the Alliance’s health agents, matrons, teachers, and village chiefs, young and older people. Everyone also received a Malian name in the villages we visited. The Malians loved hearing the Americans introduce themselves using their new Malian name.
Our first village visit was to Bassa. Our team enjoyed the warm welcome that villagers provided with singing, drums and dancing. We particularly appreciated the party that the villagers of Bassa organized for their new garden school inaugural ceremony. The traditional singer and drummers from Folona were amazing. The Ouelessebougou staff enjoyed dancing with the villagers of Bassa to show their appreciation of the partnerships. We had great lunch with villagers and they cooked us some rice and onion sauces with chicken. The lunch was absolutely delicious.
After lunch, the Ouelessebougou Alliance offered twelve bags of corn to the Internal Displaced Persons as a gesture of solidarity and appreciation. These Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs) had to leave their places in Koutiala region in Mali and settled in Bassa. They were threatened by terrorist attacks. Arriving in Bassa, the villagers warm welcomed these IDPs to their village and gave them some places to live and grow crops. The IDPs were so happy to receive that gift from the Alliance because of violence; they were not able to grow crops in their places. Djiba could see tears on these people’s eyes because of joy and gratitude. Additionally, the village chief of Bassa and his councils thanked the Alliance and expressed their gratitude to that humanitarian action. Furthermore, the Alliance went to deliver thirteen bags of corn to the Internal Displaced in Famana and twelve bags of corn in Solo. Our three villages that welcomed the IDPs appreciated the Alliance’s action.
Other highlights of our trip included:
- attended the school garden opening and celebration in the village of Bassa
- visited with and gave corn to IDPs in Bassa, Solo and Famana
- met with the Ouelessebougou Youth Association and developing a partnership to increase business training opportunities
- volunteered at the Youth Association to teach computer literacy and help clean their building
- visited the Ouelessebougou hospital and meeting with the new director to discuss future expedition opportunities and programs
- met with Dr. Bagayogo, the Malian OBGYN who was trained by and worked with Drs. Kammeyer, Newman and their team
- worked with and meeting different NGOs such as Mali Rising, The Wash Project, Plan International, Islamic Relief, IPRO-Reagir and more.
- visited with Ouelessebougou dignitaries and the chief of Ouelessebougou
- gardened with the women in the Ouelessebougou Women’s Garden
- hosted a Days for Girls training at the Ouelessebougou compound attended by 200 girls and women
- worked with the Health Matrons and providing training and materials for safe birthing in Farani
- teached and trained young men at the Lycee Karamoko Sangare the Men Who Know program from Days for Girls and providing 100 men’s hygiene kits
- visited with malaria experts and organizations to discuss efforts to help eradicate the disease in the Ouelessebougou region
- attended Literacy Workshop training in Tamala
- played games and soccer, played with the colorful parachute and sang with the kids in our villages and schools
- participated with Teningnini and Mariam on the Days for Girls training and distribution in Bamakoni, Fadiobougou, Soumaya and Djemene.
- interviewed and spoke with many villagers and leaders on the impact of the Alliance and the challenges they are facing in their communities
- experienced Malian culture and village life by making friends with and spending time with villagers
- watched, learned and gave a try at making shea butter; pounding millet; spinning cotton and trying to carry items on their heads like Malian women
- ate delicious meals (Malian and American) prepared by Robyn and Bronte, and Teningnini
- shopped at the Ouelessebougou, Selingue, Bamako markets for the Gala Auction, bought auction items from wood carver Pascal and butterfly artist Pascal
- Mike and Djiba visited with Ami, the wife of former OA director Modibo Diarra, in Bamako.
- rode in the “Party Van” out to villages on long, bumpy, dirty roads
- having Malian clothes hand tailored, getting henna tattoos and hair braids
- some people attended services at the Ouelessebougou mosque and/or the LDS Bamako Branch
- listened to a Malian band play at the hotel in Bamako
- visited microdams
- played with the kids outside of the compound, walked to the soccer field and to the market, made friends
- ate delicious meals at Anounou’s daughter restaurant and the restaurant in John and Ann’s Bamako building
During the two weeks of our trip, the members of our expedition found something there are passionate about. Volunteer Emma Hicks became passionate about sanitation and will work as an OA Ambassador on a handwashing project. Board Member Mike Maughan appreciated the sense of community he saw in the Ouelessebougou region. He was very interested in economic development opportunities and working with leaders in the area. Board Member Robyn Mock is excited about birthing centers in the villages and partnering with the Health Matrons to provide healthy birthing solutions for mothers and their babies. Her daughter and volunteer, Bronte, is excited about working on providing solutions to malaria prevention through gardening and repellent made of shea butter. She will be working on this project as an OA Ambassador. Volunteer Diane Richardson was passionate about children’s health and was able to provide first aid and care to an infant in Ouelessebougou with breathing issues. Board Member Dick Loomis and his son Eddie learned much more about malaria protection and prevention in our villages and they are eager to work with partners to provide long-term solutions in the area. Staff member Emily Muir is particularly passionate about our programs that support women and girls including school gardens, the women’s garden, girls’ enrollment, literacy workshops for mothers and Days for Girls. Executive Director Judy Hut was grateful to be able to work closely with Anounou and the Mali staff, and for the chance to visit so many villages and understand the villagers’ concerns and evaluate our programs. She was also very happy to share her love of the Malian people with others. Staff member Djiba Soumaoro visited the Ouelessebougou hospital and learned more about children’s deaths due to malaria and malnutrition. He is excited we will be partnering with the Youth Association and including five members in the business training that will be held next week.
The expedition was life changing experience for most of our team. They are engaged in doing good and making a difference in our villages in the Ouelessebougou region.