Mali trip to the Ouelessabougou Alliance
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The Ouelessebougou Alliance has been blessing the lives of the people in Mali for over 20 years. They have developed strong relationships in the communities and have garnered the trust of the people in the villages where they work.
Democratic government that changes every 5 years in a peaceful transition
The main offices change but the lower levels stay consistent
114 political parties
President appoints mid level officials
Mayors are elected
Villages have chiefs that are positions passed from father to son
There is little interaction between villages and other government levels
Very little money trickles to the villages
There are government extension workers that go to the villages but they are not consistent
The Alliance supports 11 primary schools and 25 villages ( down from 72) about 75% of the students that started finish through 6th grade.
There are secondary schools in the area that have a similar completion rate of about 75%
The country is 95% muslim. The church is not officially in this country but there are members. Anounou is not a member but he wants to become one. Several of his children are members. There is no terrorism except to the far north of Mali.
The diets are very poor and consist of millet and okra. There is no milk, eggs, meat, etc., on a regular basis. Some gardens are grown.
In the lowlands by the river rice is grown is flood irrigation. They have about 14 varieties available to them. The farmer that we talked with uses three of those varieties. The rice is harvested and left resting in bundles on top of the rice stalks for several days to dry. Portable rice processing machines travel around the area pulled by donkeys. Small gas engines power the small machines that extract the rice from the rest of the plant. The rice is bagged up and sent to be dried hulled and sold. The stalks are often burned near the edge of the field. The ones that are not burned are used as animal feed.
Corn/Maize is grown away from the river and becomes the basis for one of their main meals, To, which is a corn flour dish. This is very similar to Nsima of Malawi and Ugale of Kenya.
There is a large variety of fruits available here, some of them are cultivated and some grow wild. I am familiar with some of the fruits such as mango, papaya, banana, but others I have not heard of or tasted before such as;
- Zebon is about the size of a lemon and very sour. The outer shell is cut open to reveal a brain like fruit, the fruit surrounds large pits. You suck the fruit off of the pits and spit them out. It is like eating the sour patch candies, sweet and sour.
- Tongue is a small found yellow fruit about the size of a bing cherry. It grows on bushes in the wild. There is a large pit inside and the fruit is somewhat sour.
- Shea is a medium sized fruit that looks like a small light green pepper. Inside the fruit is a large nut a little smaller than a pecan. The nut can be hulled or peeled and the meat has a sticky milky substance. The oil is used in lotions and the nuts can be roasted and eaten. The fruit was not ripe so I could not tell what it would taste like. It was like a very young green apple.
- Cashew is a funny looking fruit about the size of a green pepper with the cashew nut stuck tto the end of it. The fruit itself is bright yellow and very fibrous. It is extremely juicy and drips all over you as you eat it. The cashew nut has an acid inside that can burn the skin. The nut has to be roasted before it can be consumed. (Before Anounou told me about the acid, I tried to bite open the cashew to see the nut inside. After he told me about the acid that can burn your hands if you are not careful, I went and washed my mouth out several times. About half an hour later my lips began to burn. I rinsed them several more times. Later that evening they felt numb and were a little sensitive when I touched them. The feeling was similar to the feeling that I feel when the deadening agent that the dentist uses is wearing off.)
Ouelessebougou has a large open air market every Friday. We went to Selingue which has a large open air market on Saturday. It is similar to the other markets that I have seen in developing countries. This one had small shops with all sorts of food items both prepared and raw. We purchased chofufu, which were small deep fried balls of soybean dough. They were very tasty. In addition to all of the local products there were many vendors of clothing, sunglasses, jewelry, cds, and other items imported. The market was quite dirty and very crowded but people were used to it. In the shops that sold food they often had ways of washing your hands before eating. The little chofufu balls were made with a little tail so that you could pick them up by the tail and eat them throwing the tail away so that your hands never touched your food.
We visited the Tamala school to investigate the possibility of setting up an agricultural training program that would include a garden area and classes in nutrition and gardening. This is a very desirable program because it infuses the students with a very practical education that will help them throughout their lives and also give them skills that they can teach to their families.
There is adequate area around the school to plant a garden. Setting up the garden would require several steps. The more the students and parents are involved the more successful the project will be. They should feel ownership of the school agriculture program.
- The first step is to select an area for the garden. Right between the schools might be the best place for it. If everyone is constantly seeing it, the garden will get better care and it will become a source of pride for the school.
- The selected area needs to be fenced off and strict rules as to who can enter, have to be enforced. Many trampling feet or hungry animals can quickly destroy a garden. The community can decide what kind of fence they want and how they will go about putting it in place. We have found that our project are more successful if some sort of work is required before we start the training.
- I would recommend that a water storage tank, fed by gutters from the school roof, be constructed. The school session does not correspond with the rainy season so the garden will have to be continually watered. (This is actually very good because they will learn that they can grow food even during the dry season if they develop their water sources.)
- The soil is very deficient in organic matter. The students should be recruited to bring leaves, grass, manure, and any other organic matter that they can find to be mixed into the soil. Without the organic matter the soil does not have sponge activity and the water that is put on the soil either leaches through or runs off. This is a great way for the children to gain ownership and to learn about organic matter and composting.
- The soil is very hard and will need to be tilled. It may take several times to loosen the soil up deep enough for some of the root vegetables. This is also a great opportunity for the students involvement, parents would be welcome also.
- Training for the students and teachers that will be working in the garden will then be carried out so that they can start the project. Expectations should be set and explained and a plan for follow up should be set up.
The other part of the program that is equally critical is the nutrition classes in the school. The students need to understand the importance of eating the vegetables that they are growing. Aquiring a taste for some of the vegetables may take some focused encouragement.
- The first step in the nutrition program is to do a 24 hour recall study with a significant group of the students. This has the students tell us what they have eaten in the last 24 hours. With this data we can work with Dr. Paul Johnston at BYU to determine the nutrient deficiencies in their diets and put together a plan for increasing their level of nutrition.
- It is not critical but highly recommended that at the same time height and weight measurements are taken, as well as somehow documenting their scholastic performance. The parents and teachers have to be convinced that this program is helping their children at school and will help their children at home also.
- With the help of Dr. Johnston and his students at BYU, we can develop lesson plans for the teacher that will be specific for their needs.
- The lesson plans need to be translated into Bambara? for the teacher to present them to the students.
- It is always helpful if the parents are included in the learning process. Classes could be set up after school or in the evenings for parents to attend so that the teachings are reinforce.
- TO encourage the families to learn and implement the lessons that they are taught, a home garden program with a contest and prizes could be implemented. A successful garden reqires a lot of work. An added incentive or competition can make the work more desirable.
In summary the Tamala school could greatly benefit from a nutrition/gardening program. It would take work but it would yield great results.
This has been a great opportunity to see the work that you are doing in Mali. May lives have been blessed by your service. Thank you for allowing me to visit you operation in Ouelessebougou.
Going forward I recommend that at the next leadership meeting of the Alliance, I have an opportunity to talk with the group and answer any questions they have regarding my evaluation. This would also be a great time for them to ask questions about our program and for me to get a feeling for the direction that the Alliance would like to go with these recommentations.