Thursday, June 3, 2010

Balimaya - it's all in the family

The hollow, snapping noise of cracking peanut shells fills my ears while the agricultural technician from our arrondisement* capital arranges his papers at the front of the room.  I am sitting in the back of the World Vision literacy classroom on the outskirts of our village waiting for the fourth and final day of the training for the newly formed women's cooperative, Balimaya (meaning of the same family), to begin.  The 16 officers of the cooperative are sitting two by two on benches connected to desks in front of me.  The majority of the women's notebooks sit unopened and their pens unused next to growing piles of shelled peanuts since Anne, my host mom and the cooperative secretary, is the only woman who can read and write.  We have spent the last four days learning what a cooperative is according to Malian law,  officer roles and responsibilities, the work a cooperative can do and how to do bookkeeping and record the ins and outs of cooperative money and members.

My work as a Peace Corps Volunteer has largely been that of enabling people in my community to do things they already know how to do better by organizing technical trainings and applying for funds in the form of Small Project Assistance (SPA) grants to pay for those trainings.  The women's group in my village was loosely formed before I arrived but due to Anne's persistent and patient encouragement 112 women have committed to the association by paying a 1,000 CFA ($2USD) membership fee and agreeing to put another 100 CFA (20 cents USD) per month into the cooperative funds.  Anne also asked the women to commit another 5,000 CFA ($10) over the next year to beef up their coffers and prepare the cooperative for future projects.

Procuring cooperative papers confers legal recognition on the women's organization and will facilitate future relationships with work partners.  The women will also possess a heightened sense of duty and commitment to the cooperative due to the relatively steep financial commitment.  In order for the social worker in San to draw up their legal documents 8 of the 16 women needed to produce birth certificates, proof of residencies and judicial papers proving they have never been in prison or committed a felony.  I hope writing all that in one sentence does not lead you to believe it was an easy or quick process. No one had any of the papers required which meant starting from scratch.  The women used the money from membership fees to pay the administrative costs associated with securing the cooperative papers**.  I used my leg muscles and saucy attitude to bike back and forth from our commune capital and San to hound elected officials and government employees for our requested papers***.  Don't worry, I threw a few bean jokes in the mix for good measure and to calm flustered nerves.      

The four-day training taught me a lot about my work and role as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I learned I should be more with whom I ask to deliver trainings.  The trainer selected was chosen because of his proximity to the village geographically but also work-wise since he is the agricultural technician for the arrondisement and the cooperative's work will involve agriculture.  Unfortunately, the trainer had an abrasive, disparaging teaching method.  Fortunately, I think the women took a good deal from the sessions and acquired that fired up feeling we all get after a workshop or retreat.  Another lesson learned is that Anne is an incredible shopper and stretched the money for lunch over the four days (onion sauce- jaba-ji, peanut sauce - tigadega-na (2 days) and my favorite - zamé) like a pro.  I was also reminded throughout the training of the power of teamwork and what people can accomplish when they pool their mental and financial resources.  Hearing the women speak passionately about work they could undertake as a cooperative like peanut commerce, soap making, gardening, shea butter and spinning cotton inspired me to want to be with like minded people where I too could speak passionately about my work (preferably also in my native language :)

 At the conclusion of our training I stood up and walked to the front of the classroom, sleeping babies sprawled on grass mats and baskets of sweet, sticky smelling mangoes lining my path.  I thanked the trainer for filling our minds and putting us on the right path (ka an ka hakili fa ani ka'an bila sira kan) and asked for blessings for Balimaya's work.  The women's hands, for once, rested stationary on their desks; their piles of shelled peanuts collected in one big bucket in the back of the room.  While I presented certificates to the women to thank them for their participation in the training and their commitment to the cooperative, my heart felt heavy thinking of the work that lies ahead of them and all the obstacles in their path.  Illiteracy.  Being a woman in a patriarchal society.  Bureaucracy and exhausting trips to government offices.  But then I saw Anne taking notes in her cahier and the eager smile on Miriam's (coop president) face and the weight lifted.   I thought of the cooperative name, Balimaya, and crossed my fingers the women will take the name of the cooperative to heart.  Because when it comes to work here, peanut or otherwise, it is all in the family.
Mali is divided into 8 regions (Kayes, Koulikoro, Sikasso, Segou, Mopti, Timbuctou, Gao, Kidal) 41 Circles, Arrondisements, Communes and Villages
8 birth certificates = 40,000
gas for the mayor's motorcycle to get papers stamped = 1500
8 proof of residency papers = 1600
8 judicial papers = 6000
Social worker fees in San and cooperative papers admin. fees = 35000
Total = 84100 ($210 USD)

When I wear a head wrap I mean business!

1 comment:

kate shellnutt said...

reading this post was like a hint of the bigger reflections to come. you have learned and accomplished so much.

i am genuinely and completely proud of you every day and happy for annie and the women's group! great things are happening through you!

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