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