A week ago I moved from a village with a population of 1,000 to Bamako - a city with a population of over 1,000,000. I moved from a mud hut where branches reinforced my roof and I used an outdoor latrine to a cement house with indoor plumbing, ceiling fans and electricity. Instead of working with farmers and a women's group, I work with the Programme Harmonisé d'Appui au Renforcement de l'Education (PHARE), the Ministry of Education and USAID employees. Instead of biking 15 miles to get fresh food, I hop on a Sotrama (the public mini-bus system where you pay 125 CFA/ride - about 12 cents) to pick up fresh vegetable and household supplies from open markets and shops on the way home from work.
PHARE is a $30 million program funded through USAID that coordinates with the Ministry of Education to improve the quality of teacher training in Mali through direct teacher training, radio broadcasts, smart phones and virtual training centers. I will not be teaching students but rather assisting in the development of lesson plans, teacher training manuals and communication/public relation materials.
This past week I took part in a number of meetings. One of them was with the 17 directors of the teaching academies of Mali where I listened to one of my bosses, Rebecca Rhodes (an RPCV from Guinea), report on the work PHARE completed during the 2009-10 school year and what the program hopes to accomplish (in coordination with the directors) in 2010-11. Later in the week I sat in on training-schedule development meetings and made a visit to a village 70 km from Bamako where PHARE is monitoring the success of the one-room schools the ministry is promoting throughout Mali (it was a long and bumpy ride that my stomach couldn't handle!) One-room schools are implemented in villages where the child population is under 40 and one teacher teaches grades 1-6. It has been applied to schools around the world with great success.
In Mali, public school begins in early October. The interactive radio programs PHARE has produced, the primary tool for reinforcing French literacy skills, are 30 minute lesson plans and will begin to broadcast in mid-November. The interactive radio programs provide teachers with learning tools on how to teach (over 1/2 of teachers receive NO formal training) while simultaneously helping students to learn French which they need if they want to be competitive in either the national or international job market later on and also for their own educational development.
See and hear what interactive radio programs are like in Somalia
Statistics show that by the end of grade 4 in Mali, only 23% of boys and 10% of girls can read a simple sentence in French. Mali ranks at the bottom of the United Nation's literacy rankings. Can you imagine sending your child to school and them not learning the alphabet until the third grade? That's what happens in Mali. Can you imagine sending your child to school to share a classroom with 100 other students and one teacher? That's what happens in Mali. Can you imagine sacrificing an extra pair of able hands on your farm and paying for your child's education only to have them come home having learned nothing? That's what happens in Mali. After witnessing the fervor with which Annie and Esayi pursued their own children's education in village, having received limited education themselves, I feel the pressing need for an improved education system in Mali. Quality education produces people who are able to inform themselves on civil issues and creates an informed voter base who can then elect quality, non-corrupt leaders which in turn leads to an improved economy and internal infrastructure which then overflows into all aspects of social and economic development.
I feel blessed to have spent 2 years living in a rural village where Annie, Esayi and my neighbors taught me about life in Mali (and also for the public education I received in Virginia!). I am looking forward to applying the cultural lessons learned in village to an office setting in Bamako and towards work I truly believe in. I have engaging and interesting bosses and colleagues, stimulating work and a beautiful National Museum to visit during my lunch breaks. While my job description has changed and I will play in a lot less dirt than I did in village (with 999,000 more people around), my reasons for being here are the same. I live in a beautiful country with warm, welcoming people and I have work that challenges and inspires me. Allah k'a i deme!