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.





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.


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 and click on “donate”.

Diakassan & Kadiatou during their tutoring session. December, 2018

Diakassan & Kadiatou during their tutoring session. December, 2018


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