Thursday, July 14, 2011

Time to make something happen : Impact Nice Kids and education in Mali

“We wanted to do something beyond our families. We wanted to work for a cause that reaches out to those in need who we don't necessarily see everyday,” said Toussaint Kasongo, President and founding member of Impact Nice Kids, when asked what sparked him to establish Impact Nice Kids, one of Mali's newest NGOs.

Raised in the Congo, Mr. Kasongo studied Economics in his native country before relocating to the Ivory Coast and then, 6 years ago, to Mali where he married and laid the foundation for Nice Kids, a private school operating in Titibougou, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Bamako.

Mr. Toussaint Kasongo with his children in front of Nice Kids

For three years Nice Kids has provided instruction for pre-school through 6th grade (adding a grade each year) and offers an alternative to the public schools in the community to parents willing and able to pay (150,000 CFA/year ~ $320USD). With small class sizes and individual student attention, students at Nice Kids receive quality bi-lingual instruction in both Mali's official language, French, and the language of the 21st century – technology – through sessions where children learn to manipulate instructional computer games and programs.

But when students leave Nice Kid's courtyard at the end of the school day they don't leave with just the abilities to read and write with confidence and manipulate computers – skills the majority of Malian students and most Malians regrettably do not possess – they leave with much more.

“When students leave my school I want them to leave feeling like leaders. I want them to leave with a sense of morality and obligation to their community. While parents often come to me and marvel at the level their children have achieved in French I am still waiting for them to come to me and marvel at their child's sense of community and service,” Mr. Kasongo recently said at a board meeting in Titibougou.

Something else makes Nice Kids stand alone. “What sets our school apart from others in Mali is the way we engage our parents. We don't want them to be passive actors in their child's education but rather active members of the Nice Kids community. We encourage them to attend parent-teacher meetings and fund raise for school supplies,” continued Mr. Kasongo.

But as enrollment increased at Nice Kids, Mr. Toussaint began to notice a disturbing disparity. “I would ask parents to purchase uniforms for their children and some would buy one or two uniforms, all that their child needs, and others were buying up to 6 uniforms, bordering on the excessive.  Even among my students and their families I was noticing this great inequality in wealth and I asked myself 'If this inequality exists in Bamako, what's it like in the villages of Mali?'”

Thus was born Impact Nice Kids, the humanitarian branch of Mr. Kasongo's private school, Nice Kids. “When we started this school I sat down with my teachers, as I do every year, and we talked about what kind of school we wanted to be. We talked about the desire for the school to be one that leads by example. For instance, if we want our children to have a high-level of literacy and ability to communicate in French then we need to be speaking to one another in French [rather than Bambara, Mali's dominant African dialect]. If we want our students to be conscious of their communities then we need to be role models who are actively engaged in the well-being of our community,” explained Mr. Kasongo.

With Impact Nice Kids board members in front of the Nice Kids school
Mr. Kasongo and Impact Nice Kids' board members recently honored me by inviting me to a meeting at their office in Titibougou. We spent the morning talking about the school's mission statement, their newly formed NGO, and touring both the school grounds and newly rented office next door. I learned more about the mission of both their school and their NGO, two independent structures that happen to share a similar name and interested board members. I didn't know what to expect when I received the invitation to attend their meeting but I left feeling motivated to continue to encourage the proliferation of primary education in Mali.

While Nice Kids is in the process of seeking financial backing from the international community through organizations like UNICEF and the EU, they are also looking to mobilize the immediate Malian community by looking locally for funding sources. While Mali may officially be one of the poorest countries in the world, a quick tour around Bamako will show you that there is indeed money pouring into this country – and it's not going towards development in infrastructure, education or health as evidenced by the ravaged roads and the country's regrettable rates in both literacy and mortality – it's going into multi-level mansions and villas in the capital.

Impact Nice Kids is hoping to make a difference in that vast disparity by being a catalyst for change to make a difference today that will undoubtedly result in improvements in Mali tomorrow: education.

“When teachers from our school and members from our board go out to village to visit family we are constantly getting asked by community members to help bring schools to their isolated villages, places the Ministry of Education doesn't even know exist!” said Mr. Ngolo Coulibaly, vice-President of Impact Nice Kids. “We wanted to come together and do something to help these communities since it just isn't fair that some kids have access to education and others don't.”

Impact Nice Kids' goals are simple. They want to bring schools to communities in Mali where the Ministry of Education lacks the resources to do so and where the community is committed to education. They want to provide school supplies and instructional materials to villages with rudimentary school structures (i.e. mud schools without benches or chalkboards) to encourage education for all.

“Villages do exist where the chiefs and community members aren't interested in education for their children. While we don't currently possess the resources to conduct sensitization campaigns about the benefits of education, it's definitely on the horizon for our NGO,” said Mr. Coulibaly.

 At the close of the meeting Mr. Kasongo continued to explain Impact Nice Kids' purpose when he said “with Impact Nice Kids we are trying to expand the mission of our school, Nice Kids. We want to set an example for our students because a child learns more from what we do than what we say.”

Mr. Kasongo what you and your organization are attempting to do is incredible and if your students decide to follow in your footsteps Mali's future is sure to be a bright one full of leaders committed to doing rather than saying.  As Abdoulaye often says, 'Le moment du discours est fini - c'est le moment de passer à l'action.'  - The time for talk is over, it's time to make something happen. 



Readers! What do you think about all this? Are you interested in helping Impact Nice Kids build schools in Mali? Do you know of organizations interested in contributing to this cause? Please email me at jennifermorgandavis@gmail.com and cc Mr. Kasongo at tskasongo@gmail.com for more information and details.

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