Mali Visit: Recalling Faces, Stories

Mali Visit

The chief of Deri village. He and the people of his village benefited from CRS assistance in building a water canal near the Niger river which helps them water their produce more effectively. Photo by Mikaele Sansone / CRS

Anne Marie Bonner is the program coordinator for Operation Rice Bowl. She traveled to Mali with the Global Fellows in February in order to gain a better understanding of how CRS works.

Our 12 passenger van bounds across the alternately paved and dirt roads between SevarĂ© and Bamako. Our visit to the West African nation of Mali is coming to a close; today we return to the country’s capital and prepare for our departure tomorrow evening. As we drive west toward Bamako, I find myself staring out of the window for long stretches of time, trying to embed the image of the Malian countryside into my mind. The landscape here seems endless. Miles of sandy plains and brittle brush are punctuated by the occasional mountain range. Stately baobab trees appear at intervals, like mile markers on an interstate. In the distance, the meeting of sky and desert forms a perfect horizon.

Mali is a large country – roughly the combined landmass of Texas and California – and is located in the Sahel region of Africa. Close to ninety percent of its population lives in the southern territory where fertile land and vegetation are more abundant. However, the most pressing concern facing the Malian people is the issue of food insecurity. The economy in Mali is agriculture-based, with nearly eighty percent of the labor force working as subsistence farmers. Crop yields are dependent on favorable or unfavorable conditions, including droughts, floods and locust invasions.

During our travel throughout Mali, our delegation has seen a variety of CRS projects aimed at reducing the population’s vulnerability to these conditions. As I reflect on our journey – on all that we have seen and heard and experienced here – I recall the faces and stories of the men and women we have met along the way.

Mali Visit

Josephine participates in CRS SILC project. She used the loan from the community to buy seeds for her garden so that she could grow produce that will not only feed her family, but she will also be able to sell the produce in the market. Photo by Mikaele Sansone / CRS

Abbé Robert is a Catholic priest in the village of Beleko. He warmly welcomed our group on our first day in Mali and invited us for a delicious meal of locally-grown food from a CRS-supported agriculture project.

Josephine is a participant in a CRS micro-finance program called SILC (Savings and Internal Lending Community). With the loan that she received from this self-selecting group, Josephine was able to diversify her crops and begin growing carrots. This small investment has helped improve the economic security of her family. I can still remember the sincerity in Josephine’s smile as she clasped my hand while we toured a market gardening project in Beleko. Despite our language, age and cultural differences, we shared a moment of mutual joy and understanding.

The Deri chief is a village leader in the Douentza region. He graciously welcomed our group into his home, a gesture which deeply touched each member of our delegation. The chief was eager to speak about the benefits of the improved irrigation system in his village. With technical training and assistance from CRS, the Deri community recently completed construction on a series of canals. However, the chief also explained that a broken water pump had slowed the agricultural productivity in his village – a stark reminder of the fragility and intricacy of the Malian agro-economy.

Mamadou and Neni are students at an elementary school in the village of Logo. Both are beneficiaries of the CRS Food for Education program, a USDA-funded project that provides daily hot meals to 23,000 school children throughout Mali. Each day after school, Neni returns home to help her mother prepare dinner and care for her younger siblings. When asked about what she is learning in school, Neni shyly but proudly explains that she is excelling at mathematics – it is her best subject.

These are some of the individuals we have encountered during our journey. We have heard their stories and shared our own. And through these communal moments of learning, listening and reflection, we have begun to witness how solidarity can transform the world.

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