Eid El Fitr Dinner

This past month, the children shared a special dinner to celebrate Eid El Fitr. Eid El Fitr (Fete de Korite) marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. It is a great celebration in Mali, particularly for kids who get to wear new outfits and receive gifts. ACFA donors from Bahrain and Mali generously provided the funds for dinner as well as the special clothing for the children. Check out the pictures below!

 
 
Teresa Jones
ACFA’s Role in Education in Mali

For my next post I wanted to discuss what I learned about ACFA’s education program during my trip to Mali in December. But first, I wanted to provide some background for readers on accessibility to education in Mali before diving in to this next post. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 69 percent of Mali children of primary school age are enrolled in primary school and only 36 percent of secondary school-aged students are enrolled in secondary school. (Borgen Project, 2017) That means two thirds of Malians never make it to high school. This is typically due to financial constraints, whether the family cannot afford school fees or the child is needed to work to provide for their family. These statistics correlate with the economic and accessibility barriers keeping many students from obtaining a higher secondary education.

Malian girls have a greater risk of early school dropout, seeing as they are expected to marry young. According to UNICEF, while 62 percent of all Malian children who enter primary schooling eventually finish their last year of primary school, 64 percent of boys and only 59 percent of girls complete their basic education. (Borgen Project, 2017) According to the Education Policy and Data Center Mali has one of the most severe gender disparities in education (FHI 360, 2018). ACFA is working to improve that statistic by ensuring that we provide equal education and opportunity to all our children, both boys and girls.  This includes both academic and vocational training. That is why when we visited Mali one of our primary goals was to find partnerships and funding opportunities to build our new school.

Tutor Time

One of the best parts of our trip to Mali was being able to watch some of the girls in our program during their tutoring session. Tutors come weekly to the children’s home and they spend an hour each separated by grade level. On the day that Lisa, Kadiatou, and I were at the ACFA house in Bamako, Diakassan and Kadiatou had their tutoring session in algebra. They are in 8th grade together at a private school in Bamako. During tutoring, the two girls practiced their French and arithmetic skills. What I loved is the special attention that the tutor can provide, engaging the girls and providing them one-on-one guidance in their lesson. Diakassan and Kadiatou are fortunate to receive this extra training, as many children in Mali do not get the extra attention. As ACFA prioritizes education for our children, providing a tutor was a priority for us because many of our children started school late, and we didn’t want them to fall behind.

Diakassan

Diakassan

Kadiatou

Kadiatou

With ACFA’s prioritization to provide education to Mali’s youth, we are planning to incorporate a school as part of our Zorokoro Children’s Complex. As I said in my last post, we made a site visit to Zorokoro to observe its progress. Our plan is to take on an additional 100 children to provide schooling and healthcare, and this will result in impact for the surrounding 7 villages as well. Zorokoro will be an all-encompassing project, holding dorms, a community health clinic, a library, dining room, and finally, a school. ACFA’s goal is to make this school and the library available to its 100 children, 650 other children and 1000 adults from the Zorokoro village and its surrounding 7 villages.  This is going to be very impactful and extremely important in Mali.

ACFA is also prioritizing vocational training for the children in addition to academics. We train the children in sewing, mechanics, hair braiding, carpentry, and soon we will be training them in farming. We are ensuring the children have options when they graduate from secondary school. Either they can go on to University or we will provide them with a micro-loan to help them start their own business using the vocational training they’ve received. We have worked hard to ensure these children do not need to live on the streets, and we want to make sure they have the resources they need to thrive once they complete our program.

Conclusion

While we were in Bamako we asked all of the children to tell us what they want to be when they grow up. Some of the responses we received were a journalist, a basketball player, a solider, teacher, and an engineer. I loved this exercise because it shows that the children in our program are dreamers and are looking forward to goals that require some hard work and determination. I firmly believe that had we not brought them into our program they wouldn’t even be dreaming, and that is a small success within itself. Resolving the education and gender disparity is very challenging but investing and partnering with organizations like ACFA can help take the small steps needed towards progressing to a more equal society.

More to come on the work we are doing here at ACFA. Please stay tuned! Up next is a story on health care in Mali and what ACFA is doing about it.

Note: if you want to contribute to our education project, you can donate directly to ACFA at www.acfacorp.org and click on “donate”.

Diakassan & Kadiatou during their tutoring session. December, 2018

Diakassan & Kadiatou during their tutoring session. December, 2018


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Marley Leitner
Marley is the Global Planning & Performance Associate for the Ross Center for Sustainable Cities at the World Resources Institute in Washington, DC. In 2016, she was selected as a ProInspire Fellow which brought her to Washington. Marley has a background working in grassroots politics, economic development, and operations. Prior to joining WRI, Marley worked in process excellence for GE Capital and Wells Fargo. She was on the advisory board of an international non-profit focusing on global education, worked for an economic development non-profit in Chicago, and volunteered on two of Obama's campaigns. Marley holds a BA in Political Science and International Relations from Indiana University and an MA in International Development from American University.

Teresa Jones
Lassine and Adama Passed the National Exams!

Our two oldest boys Lassine and Adama passed the national exams to attend secondary school.  We are so proud of them.  They also took and passed a course in computer training where they learned Excel, Windows and Word. 

Teresa Jones
Board Members attend African Diaspora Investment Symposium

In late January, Board members Lisa Savitt and Jordan Molnar traveled to Mountain View, California to attend the African Diaspora Investment Symposium. The two day event sponsored by the African Diaspora Network was an opportunity for entrepreneurs, investors, and non-profits to get together to discuss and formulate ideas for stimulating economic development in Africa. Lisa and Jordan spoke with a number of panelists and guests about how best to achieve ACFA's goals in the coming years.

Teresa Jones
Board member Fattimata Mohamed Ali visits the children!

Board member Fattimata Mohamed Ali traveled to Mali in January. During her visit, Ms. Mohamed Ali and some of her family members visited the children. She met with children's psychologist to discuss mental health services at ACFA. The goal of this meeting was to obtain status reports on the children who have been receiving these services and to discuss the plan for the year 2019. 

Teresa Jones
Meet ACFA's 2019 Interns

Lauren Kissela is a sophomore at the George Washington University double majoring in Public Health and Environmental Studies.  She is learning Spanish and French, and her professional background is in direct care of adults with cognitive disabilities. She is passionate about A Child for All because it targets the social determinants of health, effectively setting the stage for the vulnerable children it serves to have healthy, successful, and independent lives.  

Kyle DiPietrantonio is a sophomore at George Washington University majoring in International Affairs with a concentration in International Development. He is double minoring in Spanish and Public Policy. His interests include photography, Jiu-Jitsu, and language-learning.

Mei Ling Wilson is a sophomore studying international affairs, with a concentration in international security policy, at The George Washington University. She has previously interned at the U.S. Senate and  hopes to get involved with international policy research organizations and think tanks in the future.

Lisa Maina and she is a junior at the George Washington University.  She is majoring in Public Health with a minor in Statistics and she is very passionate about issues affecting African youth. 

Teresa Jones
Diakassan Excels Academically
Diakassan+2.jpg

While Diakassan continues in her superb athletic performance, she has also excelled in her academic pursuits.  Diakassan is now in the 7th grade.  For the first quarter of this school year (October through December 2018), Diakassan received the extraordinary overall  average grade of 16.  In a system of grades from 0-20 where a grade of 10 is average and top student usually achieves between 13-15, Diaskassan has truly excelled.

Teresa Jones
Staff from US Embassy in Mali do Martin Luther King Day of service at ACFA's Bamako children's home

To celebrate Martin Luther King Day, staff members from the US Embassy in Mali spent their day off giving back and helping repaint ACFA’s children’s home in Bamako. We are so grateful for their help and it looks like they had a great time! Check out the pictures below:

Teresa Jones
What I learned from my trip to Mali

Introduction

From Left: Founder, Kadiatou Sidibe, along with Board Members, Lisa Savitt and Marley Leitner

From Left: Founder, Kadiatou Sidibe, along with Board Members, Lisa Savitt and Marley Leitner

In mid December I arrived back in the United States after having visited Bamako, Mali in West Africa. It was my first time traveling to Bamako, and my first time to West Africa in general. I was there with another Board member, Lisa Savitt, and the founder of ACFA, Kadiatou Sidibe, to visit twelve children and five staff members that are part of a non-profit called A Child for All (ACFA).

 A Child for All was started in 2008 to break the cycle of poverty in Mali. At a time of political conflict in this West African country, Mali needed organizations that could provide stability to its most vulnerable people in society: children. ACFA inserted itself into these social challenges to combat instability, taking on 12 young children who were begging on the streets to get food and had no access to education. ACFA’s program provided them with shelter, education, basic healthcare, and access to activities. ACFA believes that these components are the foundation to enabling a child to have a promising future, allowing them to get a job or get tertiary education and thus contribute to a more stable Mali.

I have been on the board for A Child for All for almost two years. During that time, I have worked with our board of 10, located in Washington, DC. As board members, our job is to fundraise, deal with operations issues, and make organizational decisions to ensure the 12 kids in our program thrive.

I wanted to reflect on our journey to Bamako, to share what we worked on, what we saw, and who we met with. It was made clear to me before my trip that most people only know Mali because of the conflict highlighted in the news. Many people told me not to travel there because of it. But I think it’s important to share with you all the promise that I saw there: both economic and social.

As I write this, I realize it will require more than one blog post as I have multiple topics I would like to cover to give readers a full understanding of Mali and our experience. First, I want to focus on the work we did for ACFA. So, to start, I’ll share more information about what we accomplished for ACFA while we were there.

What did we accomplish?

Lisa, Kadiatou, and I had three primary objectives for our trip: Relationship building, Operations, and Fundraising. Regarding relationship building, the most important relationship for us to focus on was our interactions with the children and staff. The first day that we visited the ACFA home, we were greeted by young teenagers who were smiling and anxious to learn more about their new visitors.

Bassan

Bassan

To an American, it may appear at first glance that these children don’t have much, but when you know their stories, where they came from, and what their lives could have been, you begin to understand how important the ACFA program has been in establishing stability for many of these children. For example, one of our youngest girls, Bassan, was first brought to ACFA at a very young age, having been begging on the street for food. Her first month at the ACFA home, she continued to sneak food from the staff, not understanding that she would be fed regular meals every day. Years later, she is close with the other children, doing well in school, and has welcomed her schedule that keeps them all grounded. When I met Bassan, she was curious, shy, and very bright. She was quiet in her communication, but she found a way to connect with me quickly by braiding my hair. Soon enough, most of the other girls had joined in and it was such a fun way to bond with the girls that I knew so much about but had never met.

Another essential component to our trip was identifying operations issues and correcting them while we were on the ground. As any board member of an international organization knows, when you are a working board, it is challenging to manage and have full knowledge of every issue when you are based in another country. Therefore, we had separate meetings with our staff and their management, making sure we provided a confidential environment for them to inform us of problems. This was a delicate task, as culturally it isn’t as comfortable for our staff to bring problems to our attention in such a formal way. However, many of the things we heard are fixable and are on our agenda for our board to discuss. For example, one of our staff members admitted that she was needing a new mattress. She had felt guilty brining it up, but upon inspection, we saw that her bedding was thin, worn, and in definite need of an upgrade. We quickly noted to speak to the board about adding a new mattress as an expense.

Braiding.jpg

Finally, we focused on fundraising. ACFA has big goals for the next several years, and these goals will require strong backing and financial support. In 2019, we hope to break ground on a new school at Zorokoro, the compound we are building that will be an all-inclusive destination for additional vulnerable children. Zorokoro will include dorms for 100 children, a school, health clinic, library, dining hall, and a lot of open space for the kids to run around and play.

We focused on the public and private sectors while we were in Mali to raise awareness and gain financial commitments for FY19. We met with current and prospective donors including banks and private businesses. Because of those meetings, we secured a commitment of thousands of dollars for FY19 . We also met with ministers in the government including the Prime Minister of Mali which was an incredible turn of events and gave ACFA a national platform when the meeting was filmed and broadcast on national television and radio. You can find more about our meeting with the PM here.

From Left: Salif, Kadiatou, Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, Lisa, Marley

From Left: Salif, Kadiatou, Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, Lisa, Marley

Overall, everyone we met with was so appreciative of the work ACFA is doing because they all see the opportunity gap in Mali for those living in extreme poverty. The 12 children we have in the program currently will go out into the world and either go to university or join a new business. With the help of our donors, we will also create an academic and social curriculum for the next 25 kids that we will take on soon. Can you imagine where Bassan would be if she was still begging on the streets for food? She is such a success already I can’t wait to see where she goes. That is all thanks to the program ACFA has created for her and the others like her in our program.

I plan to write four more installments of this blog over the next two months. Readers will learn more about how we educate the ACFA children, their sporting activities (and awards), our progress on building Zorokoro (and what that project looks like), and finally more about the security and development of Mali in general. So please, stay tuned!

Sincerely,
Marley


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Marley Leitner
Marley is the Global Planning & Performance Associate for the Ross Center for Sustainable Cities at the World Resources Institute in Washington, DC. In 2016, she was selected as a ProInspire Fellow which brought her to Washington. Marley has a background working in grassroots politics, economic development, and operations. Prior to joining WRI, Marley worked in process excellence for GE Capital and Wells Fargo. She was on the advisory board of an international non-profit focusing on global education, worked for an economic development non-profit in Chicago, and volunteered on two of Obama's campaigns. Marley holds a BA in Political Science and International Relations from Indiana University and an MA in International Development from American University.

Teresa Jones