Yves and I were excited about going to Mali last year, and to learn about Instruments4africa. As we had much experience teaching in French Immersion, we looked forward to contributing to a cause that would help children get an education, and hopefully better opportunities for work and a healthier life.
When we arrived in November 2011 it took a couple of weeks to adjust to the conditions, climate, city life, and to the African way of operating.
Greeting everyone is a lengthy daily procedure, and is very important as it creates ties and connections with everyone.
Solidarity is a word we often heard, and people were very kind and helpful to us.
Using good humor, being patient, considerate and tolerant are important in all interactions. ….If the taxi stalls, we help push or just wait for another to come along…. if we arrive late we are still greeted with smiles and friendliness…. if there is a shipment of French cheese at the little Supermarket we buy some (now !) because there may be no more for a few weeks.
And music is everywhere, as casual neighborhood performances in the street or as scheduled events. We were lucky to live near the Palais de la Culture and to be able to attend excellent shows often.
Then the project started to take form; we decided to set up an open air classroom in the yard of the Togola Community Center at Sabalibougou. The aim was to give the girls who were struggling in school a base in French, to enable them to speak, read and write, and to give them basic math skills using hands on activities.
We tried to use relevant situations such as writing about themselves and about daily events, learning about math through money, shopping at the market, measuring themselves and estimating, problem solving, etc
As motivator we also created a booklet about them and their neighborhood. They learned how to use the camera, wrote sentences for each page, and helped compile the booklets in proper order.
The progress was fast and rewarding, for them and for us. During the 6 weeks that we taught them they learned to read and write simple sentences, to answer in phrase form and they developed self confidence. We also learned so much from them, their family life, their passion for dancing, their eagerness to learn, their appreciation for every little gift or contribution (a lesson on fraction, using papaya and watermelon- a treat !).
We were sad to leave and determined to find a Malian teacher who could continue the work with the girls, and we discovered Bakary. We decided to fund his salary ’till the end of the school year. We have been fundraising since we returned in Canada to keep him on board this year. We hope to go back soon and expand the project to include more students, and eventually build a school.
Staying connected with Paul and Tama has been great as they keep us well informed about the project, life in Bamako, and the politics of the country. They were so helpful to get us set up and feel at ease when we arrived.
Now we only need to get our Malian names when we return.