Since we last checked in with my friends in Mali at the beginning of September, a lot has happened. The news on the national front had generally been getting worse, but fortunately the situation took a turn for the better last week when France intervened to assist the Malian military in combatting rebel advances threatening the southern part of the country. And a good thing, too. The Islamic rebels were actually threatening to advance through Mopti and into Ségou region, my region!
But within my village of Makili, the past few months have been very promising, particularly regarding my work:
Water and Sanitation Committee
I have been in regular contact with my friends on our Water and Sanitation Committee, and throughout this time, the committee has continued to hold regular meetings and treat the village drinking water wells with bleach monthly.
I also know that they have been continuing to enforce rules at the pumps. While chatting with a friend of mine over the phone last week, he actually told me that as we were talking, Daoudani had caught someone slamming the handle and was enforcing the fine.
The one problem has been money collection. As villagers began the millet and rice harvests, money collection had to stop. Not only were people too busy, but also people were generally short of money until they were able to begin selling some of their new crop. There were three months of monthly dues backlogged, plus the money for well construction.
Dramani, the president of the committee, continued to assure me that they wouldn't leave the work. They just needed to wait until after the harvest to proceed. I wanted to believe him, that everything would pick back up after the harvest, but with how difficult development work can be, I had my doubts. Its not that I don't trust him, I do fully. His intentions are true. But actions and behavior change are difficult, and I certainly saw my share of setbacks while working there.
Dramani gave me a call yesterday, with Daoudani, the treasurer, by his side. They both told me excitedly, 'Maliki, an ye bara ceman ke! (Maliki, we have done alot of work!)' They have begun to collect money again. Both monthly dues for pump usage, and more significantly, the money from each household to construct a new well within the village! They told me they aren't close to completion, but they have informed everyone who still owes money, have begun making rounds to collect, and will be making a strong effort to complete it soon.
Although they are a long ways to actually building the new well we had planned, taking the initiative on their own to restart the project after the setback of the harvest season is a huge step. Possibly the biggest, especially when it involves giving of their own money. While I was in village, I felt more confident that they would make the effort. But the fact that, without me, they are carrying on with our work really makes me feel good about what we accomplished in our short time together.
Fish Farm Committee
I had previously advised the committee on a new way to feed the fish. This method involved needing to compost materials outside of the pond for at least a month, at which time they would cast the feed across the pond surface several times a week.
When I called Youssoufu towards the end of October, he reported to me that they had just reconstructed the ‘jɛgɛ dumuni yɔrɔ' (fish feed area) after it broke. In our new plan, this was no longer to be used. So I again gave him the instructions, and they went to work in preparing the compost piles.
Youssoufu flashed me on November 25th to ask me if it is okay if they give the food to the fish now. My enthusiastic response, after confirming that they had followed my instructions properly, 'of course you can!!'
I have spoken with Youssoufu a couple time since then, and have confirmed that they are maintaining the compost materials properly, casting food across the pond surface three times a week, and that the fish are surfacing to eat the food. The committee is also continuing to meet regularly, once a month.
Again, the fact that this work has happened without me there to drive them means so much to me.
Well Treatment in the Nearby Village of Denmugu
I was also pleased to hear from Youssoufu, who is also a volunteer community health worker, about Denmugu, the nearby village we had visited together and advised in starting their own committee and monthly well treatment activity. They had apparently missed the month of October when they ran out of bleach, but following that misstep, they effectively collected money, bought additional supplies, and are now treating the wells again. Youssoufu told me that they asked him to thank me and tell me that they’ve been treating their wells with bleach every month, and the health problems in the village have been greatly reduced.
Women’s Garden Committee
I have had much trouble getting a picture of how this committee has been functioning. I've been trying weekly to call Aissetta, the committee's secretary and the one member with a cellphone. I got through only once, and was rewarded by yelling, in that feisty bambaran way, 'Ne be wɔtɔrɔ kɔnɔ! Ne bena i wele!(I'm in a donkey cart! I'll call you later!)' But I never heard back from her, and I've tried repeatedly since.
This committee has been the most concerning for me. Not only is it the newest, and thus the least established. But the fact that its members are all women have made it the most difficult to establish. Women are responsible for basically all of the daily housework required to maintain their family, thus providing them with very little time free to do much else. Plus, they are generally uneducated. Only Aissetta knew how to read and write, and she was only just learning as her husband had offered to teach her 'dɔɔni dɔɔni' (little-by-little) at night.
I hope that this committee is still ongoing, and will continue to try and confirm, but I fear that it has ended.