2012 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,500 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Sensory Playground Unveiled….


A big thanks goes out to our colleagues at International Service Mali, who have completed the sensory playground at UMAV! Having held an inauguration ceremony, they sent us photos of the blind and partially-sighted children at the school enjoying the facilities.

Having left Mali almost a month ago now, the tangibility of my trip is beginning to fade. I could go as far as to say it doesn’t really feel like I’ve been away at all- the time passed so quickly! To be sent these photos of the playground, the school, the children, and the Malian sunshine, brought nostalgic feelings flooding back. It was so rewarding to see the blind children of UMAV enjoying the equipment that donations from generous family and friends helped fund, that I almost cried. The images are striking. I feel like this provides closure to our trip… we have left a legacy behind in the Malian sunshine.

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This weekend will be our ICS debrief weekend in York. It will give us time to share and reflect on our experiences, and  to plan our UK action. Best of all, in my opinion, I will get to see both my awesomely wonderful life-long Mali friends again, plus my lovely ICS friends who have been elsewhere around the world! To look back to the start of this blog, from the point where I first applied to go away to this point now, reflecting on all I’ve experienced is quite a sentimental process. I would love to go back to Mali one day (and perhaps even visit our playground), and there will always be a place in my heart for the country and its incredibly friendly people.

An unfortunate end…


This entry was published on 04/04/12, but writing began on 22/03/12, when a coup d’etat occurred in Bamako, Mali. This is my account….


I am writing this blog post at a stage when I am not yet able to publish it. We have received advice requesting that we don’t give updates on the political situation incase we draw attention to ourselves or our reports are adversely used in the media.

The situation is as follows:

There have been ongoing troubles in the North of Mali, as previously highlighted here: https://maliandme.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/serene-siby/

On Wednesday, several of the girls went to AMALDEME to run an after-school sports session. A short while later they returned home, explaining that there was turbulence in downtown Bamako, some of the children hadn’t turned up, and they had been advised to return home. We were then informed by JJ that we mustn’t venture out of our area, particularly downtown. We were told that something was happening involving the defence minister, and that there were troubles around the president’s house. We were then plunged into darkness for a while with a daily powercut. Later on, we were told that the Malian National TV Network had been taken off air after being stormed by the military. We were told not to worry about the situation, but that reports were on BBC news, so to inform people at home.

That evening, Fran stayed at the office to sleep on the roof with the others, whilst Hibz and I went back to the apartment. At around midnight, I heard gunshots from my room. This was the first inkling that something big was happening. Throughout the night, machine gun fire was heard at random intervals. Those on the roof reported seeing flares being shot, and also hearing the guns. At about 3am, Hibz received a text from a Malian friend, saying there would be no work or business in the morning, the army had taken over the ministries, and that the president was no longer in Bamako.

In the morning, I woke up to a text requesting that we do not leave the apartment as there was reported gunfire in the area. We checked the news to see that the military had ‘seized control of the country’, which heightened our concern. We were half expecting to be evacuated from this point on, so carried our cash and passports with us. After a while, we were told to come to the office, and that Papa would escort us, which he did, using the backstreets to avoid the threat of bandits due to us being white and the lack of police authority. On arrival at the office, we were told not to leave the building. None of the IS staff came into the office that day, although Dicko the security guard was on duty. We heard little bits of gunfire during the day, and kept up to date with news broadcasts. The summary was that the whereabouts of the former-president was unknown, the army had taken control of the state, and that everything would ‘resume as normal’ on Tuesday (27th). We had a phone-call from IS York to say that staff there would be calling our emergency contacts, so to perhaps give them a heads-up in advance to limit any worry. I kept people back home updated throughout the day. Being kept inside led to a little anxiety and cabin fever. Not knowing what the security situation was was also frustrating, plus we could hear intermittent distant gunfire throughout the day. I became particularly concerned when it was reported that the country’s borders had been closed by the military… Now we couldn’t just fly home. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth updated their travel advice for Mali, writing that UK nationals should avoid all travel to the northern provinces (as was already the case), and to avoid all but essential travel to the rest of the country. It advised nationals in Bamako to stay indoors. The news didn’t update regularly enough for our liking!

Here are some example reports:

1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17462111

2) http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/03/2012321184549658627.html

3) http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/03/22/uk-mali-army-palace-idUKBRE82K1EZ20120322

At around 4pm, Fred, our country director came to the office having been in security meetings during the day. He advised that people were not sure how the scenario would unfold. The leader of the army rebels is unknown to higher powers and thus people do not know whether his intentions are genuine. Fred explained that should we need to be evacuated, it would now have to be done through diplomatic channels due to the airport closure. This would be undertaken by US or French governments. He suggested we could go out to nearby shops for food as all seemed calm outside at present, plus Hibz and I went back to the apartment to pack an overnight bag so we could stay at the office with everyone else. Fred will attend another security briefing tomorrow, and officials hope the situation will be a little clearer. Apparently, we will only be evacuated if a cause for concern grows, such as if the rebel group begins to crack between its members.

Into the evening, the situation seemed quite quiet, and some people were confident that the country would be ‘business as usual’ by Tuesday, after the soldiers declared so. After dark however, the gunfire started up once again. There was some very loud rapid fire close to the office. Several explosions could be heard into the night. By around 11pm however, things quietened down again.

Some news reports are now doubting the army group in control. They say a coup is unjustified when president Toure was due to step-down honourably next month anyway. They report that the soldiers have no plan of action. Soldiers were reported to be driving around the streets in pick-up trucks, beer in one hand, machine guns in the other.

And so here I am. It’s midnight and I decided to write this blog-post for future reference. I intend to update it as things progress. My personal thoughts are that surely it would be difficult for rebels to have a country ‘running as normal’ by Tuesday having just carried out a Coup? The leader of the rebel group is not known to officials, thus neither are his intentions. If the rebels were genuinely concerned for the welfare of military soldiers, why drive the street wasting ammo and causing fear? Why get drunk whilst doing so? Why loot the presidential palace and set it alight? I am not confident that this crisis will blow over. Nobody even knows where the former president is, and government ministers are still being held by the troops. I am concerned for Mali’s stability, and right now it would be quite cool to just go home. But we can’t, so hey-ho. Oh, and the British Consul has finally been in touch with a couple of group members- things are running slowly as he only started in the role on Monday… Poor guy!



I take back the ‘calm’ bit about last night. I feel asleep to the constant sound of gunfire. It was like being in a war zone. I also thought about how I’m actually stranded in Mali- if I wanted to, if there was a family emergency, whatever the reason, I couldn’t actually leave this country to go home. It’s a daunting thought. That said, I slept well last night.

This morning, one of the office staff came in work. He casually declared that the coup is ‘finished’. The take-over is complete, so everything can resume as normal. Once again I am sceptical- as previously stated, there is no president, no government, nobody knows who Sanogo is, the borders are closed, and there is continuous gunfire at night.


Fred, Rene and Jean-Pascal came to visit. Rene explained that the hotel opposite our apartment, Residence Bouna, was raided by soldiers last night for food and drink. The manager was injured in the process. Rene explained that the soldiers were raiding many hotels at night. The soldiers have a list of people they are searching for after curfew, including the president, ministers and election candidates. They found and arrested two at a hotel down the road from us yesterday. The gunfire was loud last night- the staff explained that they are moving from area to area and so yesterday it was the turn of Hamdallaye where we live. The borders are also closed to prevent those they are searching for from leaving the country. This behaviour doesn’t seems the type carried out by those looking to quickly restore democracy. There are rumours that officials now have an idea that Sanogo is acting on behalf of somebody else, a former president who may be looking to regain power in a less than democratic manner. We will see….


We’ve just spent half an hour filling up buckets, washing clothes and showering, having heard from Rene that the water supply will be cut. We are charging phones incase the electricity goes too. The US embassy has apparently texted its nationals telling them to prepare for water, electricity and internet outages. (04/04/12- The outages never occurred. In fact, the electricity supply was more stable than usual in Hamdallaye!)


We’ve been told by Peacecorp staff that there’s a rumour the parachute regiment, who are loyal to Toure, are to launch a counter-attack against the rebels tonight. Something I’d like to note is how our Malian friends are rushing around to help us. Yesterday, Abdullaye helped us carry home sacks of water sachets from the shop. Today, Adam the tailor did the same, and Abdoul the tailor called round with some of our clothes and to check we’re OK. Abdullaye also called to see that we were OK and updated us on the fact he still had a water supply (it’s difficult for us to know as we have a tank, so will still have a bit of water before it runs out). Tonight, our friend at the pizza shop will bring us pizzas round after our 6pm curfew. The official curfew is midnight-6am.


A quiet night last night and a quiet day today. Apparently the new leaders allowed a couple of planes in yesterday to evacuate some foreign ministers. We had a Skype session last night with IS York and Martin explained the decision-making process and reassured us he’s in constant talks with DFiD and the FCO etc. When asked about moving out of Bamako, he explained that Bamako is the safest place to be due to communication links, proximity to the airport etc. and that they are constantly reviewing the situation. We asked him to consider, when making decisions, that we would all like to go home now at the soonest opportunity. Today Fred visited and said that as soon as the borders are open we will be evacuated. Today we were allowed to visit nearby Lafiabougou market providing we took taxis there and back.


Hibz’ birthday. A rather uneventful day due to being on lockdown, although as a birthday treat, Rene declared it safe to visit the orphanage. The gunfire has calmed now.


Things calmed rapidly following Hibak’s birthday, hence a lack of updates. The gunfire halted and other areas of town became accessible again. We began completing our project debrief forms in the knowledge that we would soon be departing. Once the airport reopened, IS York booked us flights home for April 2nd. We spent the last week finishing-off projects where possible, although the SEN workshop was unable to go ahead due to the political instability, and the final art and sports sessions couldn’t take place as Amaldeme had closed for the school holidays. Luckily, Fran and I were able to finalise and complete the SEN information booklet which was to compliment the workshop, and this will be handed out by IS staff. The sensory playground equipment was almost ready by the time we left, and will be installed in coming days. We enjoyed a goodbye meal at Chez Fred towards the end of the week, and gave our thanks to the IS Mali staff. Throughout our project they have been welcoming, supportive and hard-working, and we are grateful that they have vowed to complete our projects. We also said goodbye to project partners.

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I do hope Mali can overcome the troubles it faces. As we left, the British FCO had declared the whole of Mali a ‘red zone’ and Brits were advised to leave. According to reports, the country is running low on cash (at the banks), food and fuel. Mali is facing sanctions from ECOWAS, including closure of borders with surrounding countries and the threat of removal from the CFA currency system. The Tuareg rebels in the north took advantage of the political instability and violently took control of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, rendering the northern province almost entirely in their control. I fear this will greatly impact on the livelihood of the wonderful citizens of Mali. The situation Mali faces supports the need for the global community to come together to aid international development. Despite the troublesome end to our project, we had the most amazing adventure and were made to feel so welcome by the Malian people. We carried out rewarding work, and we made life-long friends. The whole experience has been immense. I am writing this final paragraph from the comfort of my living room in (a very very cold 3’C) England. In a couple of weeks from now we will attend a debrief weekend in York, where ICS volunteers from various placement countries will come together and share their experiences. We will also be expected to carry out UK action in relation to our work. I hope to reflect a little more on my time in Mali in future entries.




For those who may be concerned, I am safe and well here in Mali. I will not write about the obvious today.

What I would like to write about, is a trip we made with Sightsavers International on Tuesday. We travelled to a village about an hour outside of Bamako to view the projects that Sightsavers were running there. The village has a high number of blind people on account of ‘river blindness’, a disease caused by a parasite carried by flies by the river, that causes infection and leads to visual impairments and blindness. Fortunately, Sightsavers embarked on a programme to reduce the number of flies by the river, whilst at the same time vaccinating villagers annually, which is cutting the incidence of river blindness in the village.

It is a common sight in downtown Bamako to witness blind individuals begging by the traffic lights. It is upsetting to witness them at the car window, mumbling in Bambara and holding out their hands to request money, eyes glowing white in the centre.

The gentleman from Sightsavers who showed us round explained that in the past, people travelled from the villages into Bamako to beg for food and money to survive. In the village, the NGO has establish an agricultural project that enables blind people and their families to grow crops for self-subsistence and to sell for cash. Each individual is given a small plot of land and equipment to farm with. They are taught farming methods that take their visual impairments into account. For example, sticks and ropes are used to space out rows and seeds correctly. Each family contributes 100CFA per month (about 11p) towards a maintenance fund that is used for up-keep of the site, although during times of hardship people can withdraw cash from the kitty and repay at a low interest rate. The site has a number of wells, including one that has been adapted for use for blind individuals and wheelchair users. If any of the blind farmers pass away at any time, their families may continue to farm the land to continue to provide for the family.

After visiting the agricultural site, we took a walk into the village where we viewed an adapted communal toilet that Sightsavers had put in place.  Usually in Mali, village toilets here are holes in the ground over a cesspit. This meant that visually impaired individuals had to feel around on the ground to find the hole, which is clearly unhygienic. Sightsavers instead fitted raised toilet seats, similar to western toilets, which makes the toilet easier to find.

Finally, we visited a fisherman who had caught river-blindness and lost his sight. Sightsavers taught the gentleman techniques to enable him to continue to fish despite his blindness. We watched him weave his own nets, before he took us down to the river, about 150m away, using his white stick, and we watched him fish. He cast his net into the tranquil waters three or four times, and caught around five fish. He said that in the evening, the best time to fish, he usually catches 4-5kg a day!

Something that struck me during the village tour on Tuesday, was the apparent lack of wealth of the population in comparison to Bamako. People here were dirty, their clothes were dirty, worn and torn, and homes were built from mud. It was a poignant reminder that Mali is the 5th poorest country in the world, a country that is facing an extreme food shortage in the north according to OXFAM, which will lead to famine if not addressed immediately by the international community.

It was wonderful to see the Sightsavers project giving people back their independence and livelihoods. In the UK, we often see adverts by charities such as Sightsavers asking for donations. To come out here to a developing West African country and see exactly how donations are being spent lifted my spirits. Given that Sightsavers also fund child places at UMAV, I am reassured that it is an NGO who spends its supporters’ money in great ways. I so admire the work undertaken by the Sightsavers, that I would like to set-up a monthly payment to on my return.

Bijoux, Babies, Byblos and Business…


I’m going to keep things short today as I’m tired and lacking creativity and enthusiasm lol, although that said, I’m actually in a fantastic mood today, as this afternoon my university project supervisor suggested we discuss getting my dissertation published when I get back 😀 It’s a wonderful feeling to know that the work I carried out independently, honestly and thoroughly has paid dividend with a good grade!


The working week since Thursday….

Complex Needs

Planning for the complex needs conference is going well. Fran has now added to our written document and run through the French translation, and we’ve handed it over to the SEN teacher at UMAV to add anything he would like to include based on his knowledge and experience.

We have come across some strange practices here in Mali whilst planning our event.

  • Tea and pastries should be provided as refreshments. Providing biscuits instead of pastries suggests an immature audience;
  • We cannot call our event a workshop, otherwise people will expect lunch to be provided even though it is only a half-day event;
  • People expect to be paid by the organisers to attend training events. This is called a ‘Per Diem’. Jean-Pascal at the office said this has come about because in the past, NGOs paid people as encouragement to attend training, but the practise has become so mainstream that people often won’t attend unless they’re paid to. Unfortunately our budget won’t allow for Per Diems, so we can only hope our guests wish to take part in our information-sharing event;
  • People also prefer free transport to be provided by the organisers. Again, this isn’t possible due to budget constraints.

We discussed our project with staff at the National School of Social Workers here, and they are very keen to take part in the project. They say there is a gap in services in Mali for individuals with complex needs, and it would be great to raise awareness amongst professionals and ministers. Furthermore, their students will be able to learn from the presentations, then take the advice with them into the community. They have agreed to provide the venue free of charge for us, as they have a central location in Hippodrome. Following the conference, the Malian national radio station will provide a 30 minute slot for us on a Sunday morning to discuss complex needs and the outcomes of our event.


So, as previously discussed, we have been really pushed budget-wise over the sensory playground (and garden). At the minute, we cannot afford to build the garden, but are ready to go with the playground. We had contacted another NGO (who has an interest in sport and play for children) in the hope of gaining support for our project from them. On hearing our ideas, they stated that they had never seen such a concept, as in the sensory playground, in Mali before. They liked the idea and hoped to get involved, co-funding the project. They are considering creating a partnership with IS to work on more projects of this kind. The implications of forming a partnership however, are that we must wait for the NGO to agree to the plans, draw up an agreement, organise funds, then we can begin work. This has made our tight deadline even tighter. We aimed to order playground equipment last Friday, but we are still waiting for the partners to act. We really do hope that we will have a playground in place before we leave, otherwise, given our hard-work carrying out research and fund-raising, I think there would be tears all round! The long-term partnership agreement would be a huge achievement however.


The social week since Thursday…

On Saturday morning we visited a little jewellery and souvenir market called Marche Ngolina in Quinzabougou that our friend Vikki told us about. It was very much like the Souks of Egypt and Turkey, lacking the smells, sights and air of poverty that the local markets here have, instead hosting only merchants and tourists, with vendors speaking English and offering you a ‘good price’. We’ve found that we can usually haggle down somebody’s starting price down to about a fifth, e.g. an ‘8,000CFA’ necklace actually costing 1,500CFA, a ‘10,000CFA’ painting costing 2000CFA, or a ‘20,000CFA’ statue costing 5,000CFA. The shops were very samey, but there were some nice buys.

In the afternoon, we visited an orphanage, ASE Orphelinat Naiber in Bamako. This is a place that the other girls go to quite frequently to play with, wash, change and feed the many babies. The orphanage is a small facility, but averages one new baby a week. Children are left at ASE for a variety of reasons, for example if parents cannot afford to look after them (64% of people in Mali live below the global poverty line of less than £1 a day, so children can become sick and malnourished), if the parent or child has disabilities so keeping the baby becomes difficult,  if parents become sick or deceased etc. The orphanage also provides financial support to struggling families. The orphanage strives to provide children with a loving and positive environment in which they can thrive, but needs financial resources to do this. Whilst the babies appeared to be well looked-after during my visit, the facilities were lacking somewhat, with toys being worn, the walls and carpets lack-lustre, and beds missing mosquito nets. It was quite saddening for me, and unlike the other girls, I found it daunting being there. I think some of the group have plans to try to support the orphanage once back home.

On Friday night we went clubbing at Byblos, and on Sunday some of the group went to a little wedding reception down the road, but being incredibly tired, I lazed-about all day. A few of the girls visited us at the apartment for a change which was nice.

Monday saw a hot and sunny day, as did today. Given it was cloudy all weekend (from dust and smog) so we never visited the pool, this was a little frustrating! And so a new working week (and 5 more early get-ups begin)…..

J x

Bancoumana… A haven in the Niger


On Sunday we visited a village called Bancoumana.

Rene had told us it was a place outside of Bamako near to Siby where we could go island-hopping or do watersports. He told us that travel-wise, our options were to take a sutrama to and from Bamako which would take an hour or so and cost 1000CFA for all of us, take taxis at 8,000 Francs per taxi each way which would take about half an hour, or hire a sutrama for around 40,000CFA. Seven of us went and we decided that the most efficient method would be to take taxis there and the sutrama back. Fran, Fliss, Bridie and I took one cab, and the other girls took another. Our taxi left first and quoted us 8,000, which we accepted. The other car quoted 9,000. Our taxi then stopped at the petrol station to fill up. It seemed after discussion with some locals that he suddenly realised where he was taking us to, having been mistaken initially. He upped his price to 20,000CFA which we declined and left the vehicle,  knowing that the other group were paying 9,000. The next car quoted 30,000CFA, then the third car 10,000, which we accepted, and we continued with our journey. This little VW was the scrappy car pictured in the previous post. It was rattly, falling to bits, and didn’t even have a communal window-winder… In this car the windows merely fell open! We set of driving, then the driver stopped at the roadside to buy petrol, but there was none. We stopped again at another pump further down the road. We travelled a bit further and stopped again whilst he bought some water. On the country roads, we stopped again as he bought cigarettes. It became amusing to guess what we would stop for next. After driving for about 45 minutes, we stopped to fill up the bonnet with previously purchased water, then we stopped later again for a young man to come running over to request a ride, but of course our car was full (people commonly share taxis here). After driving along the country roads for about an hour and a half, the wind blowing our hair and dust pummelling our faces on account of the permanently open windows, we started to question if we were going the right way; the driver asked a man on a scooter and it seemed we were. So much for a half hour drive! Shortly after this we pulled-up in the village of Bamcoumana, but the river was nowhere in sight. We called the other girls, and it turned out they had temporarily stopped because their car had a blow-out; not surprising given the number of speed-bumps on the already bumpy road. After again asking for directions, we found a sign pointing towards the ‘Fleuve Base Nautique’, so we followed it. And followed it. And followed it. It was a very loose dusty road, and we felt incredibly guilty that the taxi driver had been driving for an unexpected two hours, and was now subjecting his already dodgy car to a dirt track that was seemingly passable only by 4×4. After driving down this road for about 15 minutes more, we arrived at a secluded riverside village. Luckily a guy scooted over on a moped and knew the centre we were looking for, so finally we arrived, hungry, hot and sweaty after a long journey. There was no food here however. We were also a long way from the road, so a sutrama back wasn’t a viable option, and there would be no way of flagging down a taxi here. We resorted to asking the taxi-drivers to wait all day, at a pricey 30,000CFA per car= a transport total of around £90 for the day!

With this resolved, we opted to take a boat for the afternoon (which, rather than island-hopping, would take us to an island, leave us there, then pick us up) and paid one of the men to travel into the village on his scooter to buy us lunch (bread, bananas, oranges and mangos). The boat ride in a traditional wooden canoe was short and sweet, and we arrived at a little island in the River Niger, comprising sand, rock and trees, and it was really quite tranquil. We stayed for the day, sunbathing, chatting, eating our picnic and swimming in the River (well, those who were willing to risk Bilharzia and possible crocodiles- me included!)

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On Tuesday, a few of us went to the salon de coiffure to have our hair done, and it was so tranquil! The salon, Chez Dominique, is run by a tubabu who has lived in Mali all her life, but the salon had such an air of Paris, with western amenities, air-con, chill-out music and a wide range of teas to drink! It was a very peaceful afternoon.

The rest of the week has been a continuation of the usual work, planning and delivering various projects, meeting with partners and complaining about the heat. There have also been a few hurdles to overcome playground-wise, but all should become clearer next week. On Wednesday I left the cool office for around twenty minutes to price-up some goods at a nearby shop, and ended up sick with heatstroke for the rest of the day- we really mustn’t underestimate how powerful the heat can be.

Today, 8th March 2012, is International Women’s Day, and in Mali those women who work have the day off. It is important to remember however, that many women don’t work in an employed capacity here, and gender inequality is still widespread. In Mali, 40% of women are married before the age of 20, and polygamy is practised, so Muslim men here can have many wives. By law, men control the household. 83% of young people here believe it is justified for a husband to beat his wife. 92% of women experience female genital mutilation/cutting (which is recognised globally as a breach of human rights and can lead to complications including infection and difficulties at childbirth). The literacy rates for women are half that of men. Only 1% of men can cook. This website is full of information if anybody is interested: http://genderindex.org/country/mali. Having been given ‘International Women’s Day’ fabric from the men in the office as a gift this week, we all had outfits made to wear today (although I simply went for pyjamas and wore the bottoms today).

Work, Play and General Musings


(Saturday 3rd March)

Bonjour from a hot and sweaty Bamako!

It’s growing hotter here each day now, and next week the first high of 40°C is expected. This week has passed really quickly and the clock definitely feels like it’s ticking now. We have lots to do and only 5 weeks left, and when you disregard the final de-brief week, it leaves just 4.

In preparation for my complex needs workshop, I’ve written a document entitled ‘Supporting Children with Complex Needs in School’ which is packed with information and strategies on providing for children with complex disability needs, such as being deaf and blind or having severe learning disabilities. The hope is that it will be useful to the teaching staff at the special schools here that support such students, but will also help government ministers, public sector staff and mainstream school teachers to understand that all children with disabilities can and should have access to education, in-line with the Millennium Development Goal for universal primary education. The booklet currently stands at 40 pages and has now been handed over to Fran to incorporate her knowledge too. We will use this to create our presentation next week. We have a date for the event, and now need to create a guest-list and hand-deliver invitations.

The English lessons at UMAV have now finished and all children had a test at the teacher’s request- I believe they performed quite well!

Teaching English at UMAV

The first of the arts and craft sessions has taken place at Amaldeme, and the children and volunteers created a wonderful ‘Bienvenue á L’Amaldeme’ sign for the front entrance. On Friday, whilst most of my colleagues were at Amaldeme crafting, Fran, JJ and I went to FEMAPH, laptops in hand, ready to start a database project. Being computer-literate, FEMAPH wants us to help set-up a database containing information on all of the disability organisations in Mali. On arrival, to my horror, what followed was a 3 HOUR, VERBAL presentation, complete with diagrams, abbreviations and jargon, on the THEORY of databases, using a diary as an example throughout. It was also in FRENCH. Whilst my colleague’s translations meant I understood the French, I did not understand the ICT guy’s theory at all, it was mind-numbing stuff, and I wondered if we actually needed this information to work on the database (and if so, I would be no good at all on the project since j’ai ne pas compris! I expressed my concerns for myself and the rest of the non-Francophone team, and we decided that we would look carefully at the project and see what is needed and what we can offer. FEMAPH also wanted us to contribute 3 days a week to the project, which is a large amount of time. I think it would be best to leave the data-base creation to Mr ICT and for us to work on inputting the data, which we are all happy to do. Fran and I bought delicious Hippodrome ice-cream following the session as a reward for our endurance!

Whilst at FEMAPH, we heard a daunting story. A gentleman casually mentioned that he missed the wedding we’d attended when we first arrived in Mali because he’d had trouble at home when a thief broke into their house. Fran asked if everything was resolved, to which the man casually explained that the thief was now dead as the community tied him up and burned him. Earlier in our trip, René had explained that people view the police here as ineffective and so communities take it upon themselves to punish criminals. He said it was commonplace to burn thieves. He gave an example of a time he tried to stop this from happening when a thief stole a bike, but the crowds were too large and he was forced to leave the scene. I thought perhaps this was a rare happening, but given the story told at FEMAPH it seems it is indeed common that if caught, thieves are burnt to death by crowds of people. René explained that the police cannot prosecute in these cases as it is impossible to find out who was responsible for the execution.

We had a stressful period mid-week when we found out we were way over-budget with the projects since ideas had expanded and costs rose. We had to sit down and take a serious look at budgets. Unfortunately, the playground and garden plans were consuming most of our funds. We started with a total budget for all of the projects over 3 months of £1000. We raised a further £500 for the playground and garden. This isn’t very much in the grand scheme of things, and with only £830 allocated to UMAV (a split of the total budget plus the fundraising, to be used for all the UMAV projects) and a potential bill of £1300 for the playground and garden, we’ve had to get rid of the garden and change some of the playground equipment. We decided that the other projects were cheap to run and meaningful, and the playground and garden were already over-budget, so with the playground being more sustainable we cut the garden. We do hope however that we can find the funds to re-instate the garden on a smaller scale. If you’d like to, you can donate online at http://www.justgiving.com/littlemissmali. We have had a couple of newspaper articles published this week: Megan in her local paper, and the group in The Observer on Saturday.

A little section about our work in The Observer, 03 March 2012

We’ve had several social activities this week, as always. On Tuesday night we ate at a delicious Ethiopian restaurant, which was quite expensive but very classy! On Thursday we visited Adama and Mohammed Dolo’s house (IS staff) for drinks. They live in a large house on the other side of town, and we sat outside in the spacious garden listening to music and chatting under the mango trees. On Friday evening we drove up to Point G, a mountainous viewpoint over Bamako, to watch the sunset, but the dust/smog above the city prevented the picturesque African sunset from taking place. It was very peaceful at Point G, although standing atop the hill, we could hear the sounds of Bamako bouncing across the valley- beeping horns, the sound of wood pummeling, clashing noises (one of which keeps me up at night but I don’t know what it is), shouting voices and music. On Friday night we all napped til 11pm-ish then headed out to Byblos and Ibiza nightclubs at The Hippodrome. We spent Saturday (today) by the huge pool at a local hotel complex, and tomorrow we are travelling to a place called Bamcoumana to go island hopping by boat on the Niger.

Sharing pictures with Dolo.

The view of Bamako from Point G. Bamako is 95 square miles in size... it's huge! It's the fastest growing city in Africa, 6th fastest in the world. The River Niger runs through the city.

I’m starting to worry that the unique sights and sounds of Mali are becoming so typical to me that I’ll forget to document them and then I’ll forget the little things that make Bamako what it is. I think I’ll create a little list of general musings:

• Toilets here don’t contain toilet roll. Instead there is a little plastic kettle which is filled with water and used to clean ones-self. Our houses, bars and restaurants have western flushing toilets, but most other places, e.g. schools, homes, have squatting toilets.

The toilet teapot. No matter where you go, they all have the same multi-coloured plastic design!

• People don’t smile on photos. Having looked at many photos of people pulling serious faces: wedding pics, graduation, and even a group of 3 year-olds at a children’s party, we realized people don’t smile for the camera. They also pull very serious faces when video cameras are around (which we noticed at the wedding). One time, when we were being filmed for Malian TV at the ambulance ceremony, Rachel was laughing and joking when a camera appeared. Much to our amusement, she stopped in her tracks and pulled THE MOST serious face. The camera filmed her for about a minute whilst the camera-man laughed- she knows how it works in Mali!

• At the side of the road today, I witnessed a group of men undertaking one of the world’s worst jobs (in my opinion). They were stood in the sewer trenches digging-up the content and putting it into piles at the side of the road. I don’t know where it goes from there!

• Some people also have the futile job of dusting sand from the tarmac roads. I can see why it’s done, since otherwise the expensive roads would be buried beneath sand in a matter of months, but it must be frustrating to watch more sand fall as the bulk is brushed away. #

• It’s now mango season, so I get to eat the delicious juicy fruit every day. Mangos are 4 for 200CFA (about 22p)! That’s about 20 mangos for the price of 1 in the UK!

• Bamako is full of yellow taxis, á la New York. They tend to be 1980s Mercedes that are on their last legs. They clonk noisily along the road, have no seatbelts, are decorated with football flags and stickers, pictures of Gaddafi and Obama and other tack, and often there is one detached window-winder that we have to pass around to be able to wind-down the windows. The door of one once opened beside me while we were driving, and had I been leaning I would have fallen out!

A tatty little yellow taxi (granted, this isn't a Merc)

The communal window winder! This taxi IS a Merc.

• In Mali, there is a range of about 7 first names per gender, and a handful of surnames. We have all been given Malian names, mine being Oumou Cisse. Rachel is called Bintu Kamara, and at the end of our road is a lady called Bintu Tungara. This lady only speaks Bambara, so we can’t chat to her in French. To keep things friendly however, every single time we go past, she calls out in a fit of giggles, ROFL-ing, ‘Bintu Kamara!’ (and points to Rachel), then ‘Bintu Tungara!’ (and point to herself). She does this again and again for as long as we are in hearing distance, and she finds the similarity of the names as highly amusing today as she did when she first heard several weeks ago!

• People here have a weird sense of humour. I’ve explained the bean joke in the past, but we’ve also seen people in hysterics over jokes like [paraphrasing] ‘there was a woman with really bad teeth and she tried to eat some chicken but she couldn’t because her teeth were so bad’; and ‘(with role-play) there was a man driving a scooter and he was going too fast and he nearly crashed into a sutrama but he didn’t!’ What!? (Both examples from a stand-up comedian)!

• Rubbish is put into metal bins in the street which are burned of a night-time whilst groups of men sit around them chatting until the early hours.

• If we have left-over food at lunchtime, there are sometimes beggars around who will eat what’s left. These are often women with children, or street-kids.

• There is a culture here that everyone shares, and people just ask for things they want from you. For example, Hibak has given away countless water sachets on request. I was once in the market and wanted a banana but had no change, so some random bloke bought me a bunch!

• There is a serious lack of small change in Mali. It can be a hassle finding the change to pay for things, so there’s always someone who owes something to someone else.

• Bamako is fumy and smoggy and smells of sewage and is full of rats. It’s also incredibly expensive.

Anyway, that’s enough for now, I’m sure.

Follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/International-Citizen-Service-ICS-Mali/340082972681994 and please donate to our JustGiving if you can!

Jemma x

Squirmin at the vermin… (and other (more) important stuff)…


I’m now 6 weeks into my stay in Bamako, and despite being incredibly busy, the past week has dragged a little. I hope things speed up a bit more next week.

Mike and Steve our American friends spent the last week with us. On Monday night we cooked dinner for them as a thank-you for the ride home from Segou. The evening involved an exciting game of articulate, Taboo, singing, ukulele playing, and lots of beer. As a result of being hardcore and staying up til 5am, Hibz and I were rewarded with an immensely valuable ‘Last Responders’ t-shirt each (I had been eying these up with no ounce of secrecy since Segou). This made Megan bitterly sour the next day, having “stayed up til 4 [insert vicious bitter face here]”! On dropping us home, the boys cleared out the ambulance, providing us with cups, bowls, cutlery, a tin-opener (well-needed), a frying pan (for pancakes), pasta, generic tomato sauce, super noodles, mug-shots, chocolate, salt, olive oil, muesli, dried fruit, suncream (all factors, including 100 for Alvarez lol), insect repellent, hand sanitizer (tons of it), a hammock and a disco-ball (I’m sure I’ve missed bits). All was greatly appreciated. On Tuesday it was pancake day, and the many foreigners we’ve encountered here (Malian, Burkinabe and American) found the concept of a national day dedicated to pancakes amusing, despite the religious underpinnings. We intended to toss up some pancakes for the boys, but the idea was ditched in exchange for a trip to their hotel to use the pool on the Tuesday. Much to the rest of our group’s delight and in the interest of equity, all remaining members of Team ADYMCMFTW (our group) were given a t-shirt that night, which were to be worn the following day.

Having a sing-song with the Uke.

On Wednesday, it was Team Last Responders’ ambulance hand-over ceremony, to which we were of course invited being bosom buddies and all. The ambulance was being donated to the Salif Keita Global Foundation for use as a mobile clinic. It will treat 5000 people per year for skin conditions such as Albinism and Leprosy, and will save 1000 lives each year too! The ceremony was attended by Mr Keita himself, who was incredibly down to earth, coming over to say hello to us, and even inviting us to stay on his private island whilst in Bamako, which is (quote) ‘paradise in the city’. I think the boys themselves would admit they were a little bit jealous 😉 I believe Steve tried to convince him to perform, to which Salif responded with a jokey head-butt disguised as a hug! The Foundation was incredibly grateful for the ambulance, and it was wonderful to hear of the good work that will come of it.

The ambulance hand-over ceremony, Mike and Steve giving their speeches.

Ste handing over the keys to Mr Keita.

Meeting Salif Keita at the Global Foundation.

Stephen flew back to NYC on Wednesday night, so we had food and drinks at ours then gave him a truly epic send-off (including speeches, group hugs and a tunnel of awesomeness). Mike stayed for a few days more, and on Thursday we took him for a ride of the sutrama to Le Grand Marche so he could experience the real Bamako! After the successful shopping trip, four of us visited Espace Bouna for a bite to eat. The following day we introduced the local Togolese restaurant to Mike for lunch, before he took his afternoon flight to Senegal (followed by Istanbul, followed by Rome).

On Thursday, Fran, Megan, Rachel and I went to Amaldeme to discuss more plans we’ve drawn up. They were very enthusiastic about us organizing weekly arts & crafts sessions for a group of children, as well as an awareness-raising sports day. The design teacher explained that due to complications in the government paying Amaldeme’s (and UMAV’s) water and electricity bills, the school’s supplies have been cut. This means the special school at Amaldeme had to be closed in November as they cannot provide a clean and safe environment for the children so they are not attending at the minute. Some pupils do come to school every day however and merely play around the premises. The teacher suggested that these children could be the ones who take part in the arts and crafts sessions, providing them with an enjoyable and educational activity. The sports day will hopefully involve activities for pupils from both Amaldeme and the mainstream secondary schools to support integration. Children at Amaldeme are often not catered-for in secondary school, which prevents them from achieving so they drop-out of the system. We hope to raise awareness about learning disabilities amongst mainstream staff, students and the general public. We will also run promotional stalls and other activities at the event.

On Friday, JJ and I attended a community event in Lafiabougou run by FEMAPH and Handicap International on the rights of disabled people in line with the disability act. The gentleman from FEMAPH explained that Mali accepted the convention on the rights of people living with disability before France did, but the government has not implemented it and so changes are not coming about.  FEMAPH employs community outreach workers to go into communities and make people aware of the rights of disabled people in order that locals can work together to bring about change in their community. Friday’s session took place in a health centre with a largely professional audience and focused on disabled people’s physical access to services. As a result of FEMAPH and Handicap International’s work, the health centre agreed to put access ramps in place for its service-users.

I feel like my French is improving significantly of late. Both the Amaldeme and FEMAPH sessions were conducted in French and I felt I got the general gist of what was being discussed most of the time (although translation definitely clarified things and I would struggle to express myself in meetings in French). We are still having weekly French lessons, and people here are keen to help us learn. I visited Rene in his office earlier in the week, and on walking through the door he declared that as of now only French will be spoken in his office. We had an hour long meeting in French, which involved lots of ‘pardon?’ ‘Lentment, sil vous plait’, gesture and repetition, but it was a successful meeting and I got the answers I needed. He also advised that if we email him in English, he will hit delete from now on, and instead we must email in French. I didn’t mention the existence of Google Translate.

Several conversations in French I’m proud of to date include:

  • Directing a taxi driver to the alcohol shop and asking him to wait then take us back, followed by Hibz and I telling him his price of 1500CFA was ‘pas un bon prix’ despite the fact he had waited, on account of us getting to the other side of the huge city for that price, and that he had had a cig-break while he waited! Hibs threw in a ‘parce-que nous somme tubabus’, and I told him we would not use his taxi again. The fact we only had a 5000CFA note rendered us useless on the negotiating front. Silly man in his silly ‘Hello-Kitty’ knitted hat!
  • Telling the man in the corner shop that I would not take him to a party with me, nor marry him, on account of my ‘Mari’ back home. Furthermore I did not need a Malian husband for my short stay in Bamako, and no, he could not come back to the UK with me.
  • Asking the water by the pool at Café Bretton to change Megan’s fizzy apple juice to a fresh apple juice. At face value this was less successful, because my attempt at ‘fresh’, or ‘frais’ in French was interpreted as ‘fraises’, or ‘strawberry’, so she ended up with freshly-squeezed strawberry juice. Considering this was not on the menu but was conjured-up anyhow, much to Megan’s delight, I considered this a success.

JJ's Angels... ready to go out and celebrate his birthday!

Saturday was JJ’s birthday, so we went clubbing at Byblos on Friday night. Sadly that evening, after dropping me off at the apartment in a taxi then making the 5-minute walk home to the office, two of the girls were mugged. Fortunately nobody was harmed, although disappointingly both cameras were taken, as well as the famous blue young money cash money (kitty) pencil case. What a shame that one low-life person (a taxi driver) could damage the reputation of the lovely people of Mali. The girls were fine the next day thankfully, and we all went to the pool while JJ went to watch the rugby. We had pizza and drinks with the office staff at Rene’s on Saturday night, and Bridie’s speech was of note because she almost made me cry with it, never-mind birthday boy JJ! I don’t think I can hack going to Rene’s apartment any more though. Bamako is full of rats- daytime, night-time, they don’t care. Initially I was quite tolerant of the rats, until one passed very close to my feet one time. Outside Rene’s block it’s very dark, so much so that you can’t see the ground. But you can hear the rats… squeaking and scuffling. A couple of weeks ago by Rene’s, one passed beside my feet in the dark. Then, on Saturday, Hibz and I shone some light into the area to check it was clear, then ran quickly through the dark patch, which obviously alerted the rats, and one flew past Hibz, just about showing in a glimmer of light. Being terrified, she screamed and screamed, scaring me in turn. It’s a frightening experience. I grew tired early that night so was going to go home alone, but being scared of the rats I waited until Dolo was leaving so I could walk with him. This was a poor decision as he was in no rush, dawdling through the prime rat area, holding me up terrified behind him, listening to them scurry. It was hell.

Finally, last night we heard a rumour (via an ex-pat ‘what’s on in Bamako’ email) that Amadou and Mariam were performing a free concert that night in Hippodrome. Though slightly sceptical (you don’t get owt for nowt these days), we saw they had been interviewed by The Guardian at their Bamako home that weekend so we figured they were around. True enough, they gave a fantastic performance at Exodus, an intimate open-aired venue. I really enjoyed the music and the atmosphere and it was a lovely finish to the week. It was also tubabalicious!

Amadou and Mariam performing at Exodus.

I think I’ve written more than enough for one day,

Jemma x

Festival Sur Le Niger


Over the weekend we attended the Festival Sur Le Niger, a large, open-aired music festival by the river in Segou. Our plans were actually a little sketchy until the actual point of departure. Having called up to book, one of the girls simply told somebody on the phone how many people wanted to come, was given a meeting point, and was told we would stay with a host family in Segou. No booking confirmation, no cash upfront, nothing. Friday lunchtime came and we left for the pick-up point in Bamako- a Total petrol station forecourt. Pick-up was supposed to be at 2, so in true British style we arrived nice and early at 1.30. Then we waited. And waited. Then questioned if we were in the right place. Then we saw a little minibus loaded with luggage and instruments and figured it might be en-route to the festival. It certainly was, but it wasn’t our bus. We waited some more in the mid-day heat- being 36’C on Friday, we had to shade ourselves right in the middle of the petrol station forecourt as 4x4s, trucks and buses filled-up. Spotting a gentleman wearing official attire, we checked with him that we hadn’t missed the bus. He assured us one was coming, a ’30-seater, air-conditioned coach’. At about 4pm, another group of musicians who had been waiting with us at Total jumped on board a little minibus. Conveniently there was space for the 8 of us on board the world’s hottest bus too, so we loaded up our bags. Then the bus drove off. To go and get petrol. Without us. Luckily Hibz (a person who  can’t tolerate much heat), and Rachel (who isn’t a big fan of crowded vehicles) had the foresight to remain on board the stuffy bus-oven with our bags, so they went for a little surprise ride. After about 10 minutes, we got a phonecall to say they had pulled-up outside a ‘random house’, and that the driver had disembarked. About 20 minutes later they arrived back, all filled up with fuel… phew! We jumped on board, hot and sweaty with lots of water and home-made fans and waited to depart. Then waited some more. This is Africa guys! At about 4.40pm we finally set-off to Segou. The 3.5 hour journey was long and hot, but somewhat entertaining. Between reading my book, napping and playing trivial pursuit, a few amusing things happened. The musicians we were on board with were from Senegal and Sweden, and were a husband and wife group with their band and entourage. The guys from the band pulled out a chora and played some music during the ride, then Rachel and Hibz had a little lesson. Each time we stopped, street sellers came up to the window, so I bought myself some new sunglasses for 500CFA (60p), and at one point, someone from the band bought some carrots for everybody to snack on. There was also a point where we stopped at a toll booth and some of the girls wanted to nip to the loo, but because the bus was so jam-packed (it was indeed a 30-seater, but was just little minibus, without air-con), they had to jump out of the window (or be lifted out by a laughing local man in Bridie’s case)! We arrived in Segou in the evening and said goodbye to the band. We watched them perform the next day, caught-up with them a few times, and were invited to an after-party following the concerts on Saturday. Between us we got to know several of the artists over the weekend. It felt a little bit like as Tubabus, we got lots of chat and attention from people at the festival.

On arrival in Segou we were told we could all stay together in our homestay. For some reason, I got a little bit excited thinking we would be going to a huge Malian house. We weren’t…. We stayed with Awa, a lovely single-mum and her three children in a two-roomed house. Some of the girls slept in one of the rooms, whilst the rest of us chose to sleep outside under mosquito nets where it was cool. Homes here don’t typically have a kitchen indoors, instead people cook outside with fire and pots. Whilst pleasant enough, Awa’s home was a little dark and tatty, and it was clear that Awa did not have much money to live on. I imagine the cash we paid to stay will have been significant for her and her family. The toilet was a hole outdoors and we washed with a bucket of cold water outside.

The festival was somewhat quiet in the day, but there were performances going on and lots of shopping to be done. I finally got myself a lovely patchwork quilt from a nice Mauritanian chap called Moussa. At one point I was buying some postcards from two boys when a huge fight erupted as one opted not to give the other some of the cash I paid. All the people around them got involved, giving both boys a (hard!) crack round the head. Here in Mali adults are quick to give a child a smack if they ‘deserve’ it, whether a known child or not, as it is the responsibility of society as a whole to raise children. At night things definitely livened up, with performances from Salif Keita, Rokia Traure and Habib Koita, amongst others, on a huge floating stage on the river. The festival lasted until around 3am, followed by an after-party at a nearby open-aired nightclub by the river which was lovely. Whilst at the festival we met several people, including Mahmood, a Traureg lad who spoke really good English. He told us he learnt when he was younger both at school, and by pestering tourists to give him ‘cadeau’ (gifts) of pens and paper, then giving him vocab to learn. He now takes private lessons and works as a tour guide in Timbuktu. Mahmood also told us about the culture behind Tuareg head-scarves. He said out of respect for their parents, Tuareg children should cover their faces with their turbans so that only their eyes are on show and their parents do not see their faces. The headscarves also keep them cool in the desert in summer and warm in winter.

At the festival, Rachel, Fliss and I met a couple of American guys, Mike and Stephen. They said they were completing the Timbuktu Rally, and had shipped over an ambulance from America to Liverpool, then drove from the UK to Mali. This was a journey that was supposed to take 3 weeks, but due to a number of difficulties, actually took 10! Cheekily at the end of the night we asked them for a ride back to Bamako in the ambulance. As it happens, this materialised, and the next day we drove back in the cool, funky but incredibly hot 1989 US ambulance for 5 hours to Bamako. It was clear we were back in Bamako when we screeched to a halt in chaotic traffic whilst immersed in a cloud of fumes, dust and pollution. Bamako has dirty air, it’s clear. Mike and Steve will hand the ambulance over to the Salif Keita Global Foundation on Wednesday at a ceremony that we’ve been invited to, which Mr Keita himself will be in attendance at. The ambulance will by used out in rural places as a mobile clinic to treat people with Albinism and Leprosy. This was their journey: http://www.lastresponders.org/.

All in all, a great weekend was had by all. Except JJ. Who stayed home!

One month in…


… One epic post!

We’re 1 month in to our 3 month stay already, which is quite surreal- it’s gone so quick! On Friday, the group of UK volunteers from The Children’s Society returned home after their 3 week stay. This made us think about our return flights and how quickly the time will fly.


The sensory playground and garden project is going well. Hibz and Bridie have been plant shopping and we believe we can create the garden for £150 including plants, trees and raised flowerbeds. The man at the garden shop gave good advice on which plants will and won’t survive in the sandy environment, and the level of maintenance required. UMAV have said that they’ll manage the garden once we’ve left, which we figure will be a good project for the older vocational students. Bridie also went to meet with artisans who would be able to make equipment and got several prices. Our budget to spend at UMAV is a total of £330 for the playground and all other activities. Fliss has raised a further £330 on her JustGiving page, and I’ve gathered £150, which gives us around £500 for the playground. We are also liaising with NGO ‘Right to Play’ about construction and labour etc. On Friday we visited the Parc National Du Mali, the large park in the centre of Bamako, to have a look at the playground facilities. From what we have seen, playgrounds do not exist in Bamako other than at the national park, which is lush, green, and there is a charge to enter- £1.70ish for foreigners, 50p for Malians- cheap enough, but still unaffordable to many families.

Parc National Du Mali

Furthermore at UMAV, today we went to the official opening of their new Cisse-foot pitch, which was built by a French NGO. We watched a game in the sunshine with music and juice. Cisse-foot is football for the blind- the ball makes a noise, the pitch is fenced, and the rules vary slightly. One thing that struck me is that the players are so supportive of one another whilst playing. Some of our team donned shirts and blindfolds and had a turn, and Rachel’s skills were complimented by the spectators since she was incredibly good (although she does play for Reading ladies)!

Cisse-foot at UMAV

Felicity has created a marketing strategy for UMAV’s chalk stockpile. She’s generated a booklet and presentation which have been translated into French. She is going to organise an event in which invited guests attend UMAV to listen to her presentation then see the school and chalk warehouse in the hope of securing contracts. Next week Fliss and JJ are meeting with OXFAM to discuss the chalk project and possible retail options, as well as to consider micro-finance to solve UMAV and Amaldeme’s electricity debts. JJ is still working on meeting with the Chinese embassy to discuss the possibility of receiving affordable solar-panels as a gift from China (they previously supplied UMAV with a chalk press).

We have decided not to paint the classrooms at UMAV because the staff didn’t seem to be fully on-board. Furthermore, they suggested painting an outdoor area so that visitors could appreciate it whereas we wanted to create a more stimulating environment for the partially-sighted children indoors. We also have a lot on our hands with many other projects.

I’m now getting into my complex needs work. We’ve decided it would be best to hold a half-day workshop on supporting children with special educational needs, with a large focus on complex needs, in school. We will invite staff from the special schools (deaf, blind and learning disabilities), as well as secondary school staff and government ministers. Fran, who is a social worker, also has experience working with adults with learning disabilities, and so together we will create and deliver the workshop. I am currently writing-up an information booklet in English and French (courtesy of Google translate and my French-speaking colleagues), which we will then use to create a shorter Powerpoint for use on the day (with me speaking in English, Fran in French). We are hoping to establish a working-group following the workshop to enable continuing research and skill-sharing on supporting children with SEN in school. We are also incorporating some background information on disability to help raise awareness, as many people here, including professionals, still believe physical and learning disabilities occur as a punishment/witch-craft/devils etc.

Some of the group are teaching English at UMAV at the minute, and there are plans to perhaps set-up a sports project at Amaldeme. JJ is working with FEMAPH on raising-awareness of disability and encouraging disabled people to vote in the upcoming elections. Rachel has been setting-up the partners with Wikipedia pages and other online presences, and I’ve continued to send fundraising letters in English and French to individuals and corporations. Fliss was successful in having an article printed in the Bournemouth echo, although the MEN/Advertiser never responded, despite both Hibz and I being Manc.

We have spent a week or so observing the therapies at Amaldeme. The manager of occupational therapy advised that the only team who studied at university were the physiotherapists, so she would love to train in the UK or France a little, for 3-6 months. We’re looking into this via other NGOs.

Before they left, The Children’s Society group produced a radio broadcast about their time spent here, as well as what it’s like to live with disability in the UK, including support, benefits, work and education etc. It was broadcast on Sunday morning on Malian national radio at 10am. While they were here they spent time learning about the partner organisations and what it’s like to live with disability in Mali.


This section is going to contain lots of dribs and drabs of stuff I want to write about. Firstly, hi to Fran’s dad. She passed on the message that you’re enjoying my blog because it keeps you fully up to date with Fran’s activities where her own communication skills are slipping. Hi Fran’s dad 🙂

Secondly, men and marriage. I keep being told I should be married. If I don’t say I’m married, people politely and enthusiastically inform me that they will find me a Malian husband before my time is up. Apart from Mohommed, who has an Italian friend call Mattheio he believes is the one for me. He’s coming over tomorrow from Italy to take me to Venice or Rome for a date… apparently. I’ve also acquired a stalker, but I’ll leave the gossip about him to facebook. Tuesday is of course Valentine’s day, so we’ve come up with a game of  ‘Secret Valentine’. It’s just like secret santa but cupid-focused, so we have to do nice things for our valentine during the day but they’re not supposed to find out their ‘admirer’ is. We’ll see how that goes. There’s also a four-course dinner-dance at the Parc National which we may or may not go to.

Friday was a public holiday and was also the day Fran’s group left, so Rene threw a party for us and IS staff at his place. The drinks were flowing, P-square playing (the soundtrack to Mali), and we had lots of salad (yay) plus rice and goat to eat. We also went clubbing that night with Ali, the African dance instructor. Ali is leaving for a while to tour Europe, but is thankfully back before we leave to go home. He’s also become (gradually, given the first ever encounter at the contemporary dance show) the fittest person we’ve ever laid eyes on! There’s just something about his stature and charisma that has ladies falling at his feet! He’s a lovely person too, always greeting us with two kisses, buying rounds, and escorting us around Bamako by night (with no intentions- a rare trait here). Three of us shameless girls (who shall remain anonymous) follow him round like giggling school girls. Despite our tiredness on Friday night, we stayed out as long as Ali did, ha. The other girls just don’t see it. The clubs here are just like Western clubs, but playing a mix of African and western music (mostly RnB). We are always the only white people there. Friday night came to an amusing end when we finished off in a bar by the dance studio that was full of male dancers showing-off their ‘moves’. One guy took a shine to us and gave a full-on performance for around 15 minutes. It was absolutely hilarious!

Bridie getting an unwanted face-full...


... much to Fliss' amusement!

They say homosexuality doesn’t really exist in Mali, and especially isn’t tolerated, but at one point when three guys walked in in cowboy outfits, we definitely questioned whether or not we were in a gay bar. The jury’s out. Men here sometimes have more ‘feminine’ practises than back home, enjoying dance for example, and male friends holding hands in the street. On Saturday night we went to a Bob Marley tribute night at Espace Bouna, which is an outdoor venue. It was really atmospheric and was a good night. One of the things I’m having to come to terms with here is the availability of (nice) alcohol. The big clubs have most spirits for around £5 for a spirit and mixer (ouch), but when we’re in bars they only sell lager or red wine, meaning on the rare occasion I’ve fancied a drink, I’ve opted for beer. I’ve now drank two whole bottles of lager, which is a mean feat for somebody who previously couldn’t drink beer. They have a mild one called Flag which is quite nice.

A few days ago we went to have some henna painted. My appreciation for my design has since deteriorated, but the locals still compliment it with ‘C’est belle’, ‘C’est jolie’ and children kiss my hands which is sweet. Fatim from work took us to find a salon nearby, but the henna lady was off having a baby. In true Malian style however, they escorted us to a house a few blocks away where women were gathered in the garden washing and socialising. Fatim translated for us, and the ladies found it hysterical when Megan asked to have one hand and one foot painted, like it was the most ridiculous thing ever (she went for two hands instead, hardly by choice). One of the women offered to do our henna for 2000CFA each and Fatim left us to it. Arriving at 5pm, we were shocked when we didn’t leave until 8.30! It turns out henna takes a long time! Some of us had our hands painted and some decorated their feet. It was quite a cultural experience. Several houses shared the little courtyard in which we sat. We watched the women clean, then wash the children, then they put dinner on the open fire in the courtyard. After a couple of hours the men began to arrive home and everybody showered and changed. We definitely felt like we were interrupting their dinner plans, but every time we tried to leave they insisted we stay until all our henna was dry. When we were finally finished they invited us to eat with them, but we politely declined. As a side-note, one thing we’ve noticed here is that people’s belly-buttons are different to ours. Here, many belly-buttons stick out, some even dangling a little like an elephant’s trunk. How surprising that such a small thing is so different between countries!

A couple of final notes- yesterday some of the girls went with Rene to a church service, partly as they are religious, and partly to see what an African service was like. Little did they know it was a special day of celebration, and they ended up at the service for 4 hours!!! We thought they’d snuck off to the river for a sneaky drink, but if only! The service was in French, with some Bambara and English translation, and was described as involving singing, prayer, readings, and lots of people shouting (some aggressively). They were the only Tubabus at the service and were sat near the front- they couldn’t leave. Much as they went with good intentions, on their return (mid-afternoon) morale was at a low! On a brighter note, next week we are going to The Festival Sur Le Niger in Segou, which is a huge West-African music festival by the river, with Salif Keita head-lining. We will travel to Segou on Friday, visit the festival on Saturday, then explore Segou on Sunday, staying in home-stays overnight (which I’m sceptical about, given the language barrier). I’ll update on that next week.

The bar by the river, where the girls could have been...

Well done for reading this far, I’m off to make some secret valentine preparations.

Jemma x