Dan Thelen is from the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin. He is in his second year of Pre-theology at Mundelein Seminary. Dan participated on CRS’ Global Fellows trip to Mali in February.
I wanted to come here as a student, aspiring to learn from the Malians and their way of life. It is true that they suffer much from a poor economy and therefore they are deeply thankful for the work of Catholic Relief Services and of the other aid groups. However, despite this poverty, they are deeply rich in other ways. One of these ways is in community.
Just after our plane touched down in Mali, we were driven through Bamako at about 10 pm on a Wednesday night. I was startled, however by the overwhelming activity. Mopeds, cars, bicycles and walkers were crowding the streets and alleyways for miles and miles. In America we would be wrapping up our day and looking forward to a nice and quiet night. However, here in Mali the people were enjoying their evening by socializing and sharing with one another. The energy and excitement of the evening was vibrant and wonderful. The next morning, the activity was no different. As we drove through the city, once again the streets were lined with people. The people seemed joyful. They were dressed in many different traditional outfits. The colors and the diversity of their clothing seemed to speak to their love of life.
Outside of the city, much of Mali is rural and we saw many miles of it as we traveled within the country. Though the topography and landscape is much different than my native Wisconsin, I could not help but see in every small village and every rural hut striking similarities to the small Wisconsin communities that dot my childhood memories. Every village had a unique character and seemed to have a deep sense of pride in who they were. Again there was much life and vibrancy among the people from the children to the adults. They were selling, playing, planting, talking, etc.
It is true that Mali lacks much economically. The standard of living for the people is far below what Americans are accustomed to. Yet in the midst of this I saw a sense of joy and fulfillment that deeply filled me with awe. They loved life. They found fulfillment in their community and the pride that they shared as a people. Therefore, perhaps their gift to us, in return for the generosity that we share with them, is their witness to life. Their life boldly speaks that happiness is not found in great wealth, but in great love. The Malians live love through simplicity, through families, through communities, and through faith. Therefore, I pray that we may we be touched by this love and find within ourselves the joy that comes from simplicity. By giving of our life in this way, I think that we can be deeply enriched by our brothers and sisters of Mali, just as we are enriching their lives through CRS.
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