I was born in Mali, West Africa. Starting at age 3, I was left in the care of my father who then raised me as a single parent. My father was a teacher, and emphasized education. When I was 11 years old, he had to leave my brother and I for work purposes. For over three years we were in the care of family members who had no educational background. It was then that I experienced first hand what it means to be an orphan in Mali. I learned to:
- Hand wash clothes and air-dry them: the traditionally made potassium saturated soap left rashes on my hands;
- Make six one-mile trips at 5:00AM transporting 8 gallons of water on each trip before going to school every morning;
- Pound Ginger with Lemon (both of which gave me rashes) to make Malian Gingerale, freeze it, and then transport it (on my head) to the market, ensuring that I made sales to bring some money home;
- Walk twice a day, a 2 miles distance to and from school in an over 90º F;
- Cook in a wood smoke saturated small kitchen with little ventilation.
As a result, I was held back one academic year in school, something that I had never experienced before. Three years later, upon my father's return, and under his supervision and guidance, I graduated from High School with the highest GPA in the entire country. This is a testimonial of the importance of caring people monitoring children, guiding them, ensuring they are well fed, taken care of and academically monitored. Additionally, in my personal life, I saw how the lack of parental love and guidance can be emotionally and mentally detrimental to individuals and even affect their adult lives. These personal experiences have re-enforced my determination to realize my dream of bringing hope to Malian vulnerable children and orphans. Hence, ACFA was founded.
Three years into this journey, I lost my father. Today I am honored and blessed to continue his legacy, by ensuring that opportunities are given to the most vulnerable children. This opportunity in turns opens doors to a bright future that will support Mali’s socio-economic development. Following in my father’s footsteps, I can say today that: "All children of Mali are my children, except those who refuse to be".
Kadiatou Fatima Sidibe