Recent News From Mali – April 2015
Oumou Coulibaly called Tanti
Bintou–caretaker of Tanti: We are so proud to say to Penda that Tanti now has a birth paper due to her help. As you know, Tanti started classes at Ko-Falen tutoring center when Penda insisted she needed to go to school and paid for her birth paper transcript. At the time, Tanti was very young. But now she is 7 years old and in third grade! Who else can do that except Penda and Ko-Falen? For the last 3 years, Tanti has not dropped below the four best students in her class.
When I asked little Tanti, “How does that feel?” she responded, “I want to be the number one best student in my class at this next exam.”
Tanti is 7. She is an active, dedicated student at Ko-Falen’s tutoring program. She will be in 4th grade next year at the age of 8.
Tanti’s grandma said “She is so dedicated now, thanks to Penda and Ko-Falen. Even her public school teacher said that teachers at Ko-Falen tutoring are doing a great job.
Baba Wague Diakite
Student/Parent Meeting Mango Grove
March 14, 2015 Meeting of Ko-Falen’s Tutored Students: School Sponsorship
At this meeting, parents are given money for School Fees which must be paid to keep their children in Public School. Ko-Falen Head Tutor Modibo Diakite gives his report to parents on the state of the Free Tutoring Program at Ko-Falen. Parents give personal responses to the community.
Message from Head Tutor Modibo to families of tutored students:
As you already know, we have been the reason for many of you parents to understand how important school education is nowadays. So I thank you all for your many years of dedication to collaborate with Ko-Falen, so we can give something special to our children that no one can take away for the rest of their lives. It is true that Ko-Falen has been the root father of our understanding about all of this, but without our own well-coordinated cooperation, we would not have had the opportunity such as the last 10 years with Ko-Falen. Having said that, it does not mean the job is over. We need to work even harder to prevent our children falling into the 0zone of poverty, prevent them from falling off the bridge of knowledge and especially guard against new dangerous substances such as drugs and alcohol that are slowly being discovered more and more in our region. Ko-Falen is giving to the minds of our children a focused vision– so too should we. This is why this moment of gathering is more than just tuition payment for their public school, but personally thanking you for another year of collaborative work. The kids come to the tutoring center regularly and their grades are improving. Many people in the neighborhood notice the difference we have made in our students and simply walk to us to help them. We are now 30 students over our original 32 students. So we no longer have space to accommodate even one more. This place is not for babysitting, it is about our children and their well-being. If you give the end of the rope to someone it means you are holding the other end also. But you cannot drop your end and walk away leaving the other person with the burden. We welcome all parents to continue visiting in the class during the entire school year. Here in Mali there is a blessing that one can directly address to a parent “May the child be better than the father or the mother.” And the proud response is “AAAmenn.” Beyond child and parent, no one will wish anyone else to be better than oneself. So I am asking you in the end to do your part at home as parents; we will do our part as teachers and Ko-Falen will do their part as financial and moral support. For three fingers have a better grip than two.
Mariam Diarra, a parent.
I would just like to thank you and acknowledge Ko-Falen. There is no greater gift than the one of knowledge. It is knowledge that brings light to one’s life while living and still casts light for you as you pass into the night. Our children now are no longer street wanderers. Our deepest appreciation goes to Ko-Falen and their donors. However, the bee hive cannot reach the fork of the tree without a rope. For that we must also thank our 3 teachers and Baba Wague for their work. We used to pay our children’s school tuitions with our laundry soap money and our food money–all that that we earn with great misery. But now thanks to the donors of Ko-Falen and the Ko-Falen board they have been unburdening us. This is more than education; it is the well-being for our entire families. We know that the Americans have children of their own, but yet they are reaching out some 7000 miles away to help other children. This act of kindness teaches us a great deal. Well, if it is true indeed that there is something bigger than man, may they be rewarded for their kindness. May our well-educated children remember the help of the Americans in their future lives. If I have to spill out all I have in my mind, we will be here another day. Wague, I try hard to hold back my praises for you because you are one of us. But it is a son like you that makes me a proud African mother. Your mother was well known for her kindness, respect for all and indeed her philosophical fashion of speaking. You have all that in you also. If you, Wague, had forgotten where you came from, your American friends would not have met any of us. You are really good at bringing people together. You are a leader and I wish you were the president of Mali.
Introducing Dognoume Diarra, Ko-Falen’s Upper School English Tutor
Many Ko-Falen supporters may remember Dognoume Diarra. He was in 2nd grade in the village of Soni Cegni when Ko-Falen began buying books and supplies for their school twenty years ago. Meeting Americans at s young age had a lasting impression on Dognoume. Here are his words:
Upon finishing 9th grade in my village, I moved to Bamako to complete high school. I then attended 4 years of university, focusing on English and journalism. When I graduated in 2008, I was unable to find a job. But I remained courageous and continued to practice English and worked with fellow journalists to maintain a presence in the field. Now I am pleased to be hired by Ko-Falen to work as an English tutor for the Upper School students. Offering free tutoring at the Center for families that have few opportunities, is the first step to educating the entire family.
From Soni Cegni to here, no one walks the steps of Ko-Falen better than me. Ko-Falen is my role model. If I am able, I will do exactly as Ko-Falen has done—give the gift of education to the youth of this country. If you give the gift of money, it will soon vanish; but the gift of education remains with you forever. So this is what I strive to do at the Ko-Falen Tutoring Center today. I think Ko-Falen is the maker of the bone, the flesh and the blood of many children. Together we have had a major hand in forming these students. We are like the aunts, uncles, and parents—not in a hurry like some public teachers here are. We are here with them at every step, and we have planted the seed of education in them. Our students are respectful and courageous; they have the willingness to learn. This is why I love teaching here more than anything. My belief is that all of our Upper School students will pass this year.
Even as we help push our students through 9th grade and on to high school, it is not “Mission Accomplished”. Our hope is to have each student go to university. Nothing is above this idea of holding our students up until they are satisfied.
Ko-Falen’s Tutoring Program Adds an Upper School Algebra Tutor to the Equation
My name is Adjaratou known as Maama. For many years I worked in a small bank as an accountant in Nara, northeastern Mali. Five years ago, Mali entered a time of struggle that contributed to the decline of the economy of Mali. Our bank was eventually closed and I have been out of work since then. I returned to Bamako to be with my husband who is from the village of Soni Cegni. Knowing of the history of Ko-Falen Cultural Center and also being a mother, I decided to approach Modibo at the Tutoring Center to volunteer. It turned out that he needed someone with my skills. My major in University was mathematics and business and this is how I began teaching algebra to the older students at Ko-Falen who were struggling with math. As a mother, I have made friends with many of the parents and enjoy teaching. I teach algebra three days a week with the Upper School children, and am now volunteering two extra days for the sake of the younger children.
I will do my best for Ko-Falen and the children of our neighborhood.
Adjaratou called Maama
Saturday November 14th
Today we met with parents of Ko-Falen’s sponsored students, whose public school tuition we pay. It was indeed a long and exhausting day, but the goat beard gets stuck in a thorny bush for a good reason. The parents, teacher Modibo and myself were all looking forward to this meeting. About a week ago, Modibo and I sent a call out to all parents whose children attend tutoring at the Center for our annual meeting so they can hear reports about their students and how they are doing. They will also be receiving school sponsorship money for our best 25 consistent students. The parents responded massively, not just for the sponsorship money, but also to show their support for the cause. Modibo the tutoring teacher began by reminding everyone the root of the whole education project and how important that is. “People from many miles away whom we have not seen or met personally are making a difference in our lives and our children’s lives. Here in Mali, ‘Let me help you’ means that you are already doing something. So while they are doing their best for us, we must work hard–all of us–to make sure the children are coming to school as they say when leaving home. In this life, it is said that no one is better than anyone else. But when it comes down to our children’s lives, every parent’s hope is that their child does even better than themself. Our American friends know that very well and this is why they cross borders from far away to help deserving children. We already have the tools to work together to keep our children focused on education. As we say here in Mali ‘Make them sit straight on the back of the donkey.’ We are very luck as any one of us can discipline a child here without having problems with the parents. In many parts of the world, this is not the case. So we all must help them and encourage them to attend classes each day.”
Right after that we called the names of our sponsorship recipients for this year. Everyone–both parents and students–clapped each time. The whole process took us nearly 4 hrs. Then parents began their appreciation speeches.
Amadou Diallo, one of the fathers, said “Bambara is a language of many words, but today I feel the lack of words to thank Americans and the kindness they bestow upon us. I have never seen anything like this before. People so far away materializing what we wish would be done right here at home by our own people. These acts of kindness have definitely planted a seed of hopefulness in my heart and changed my old age heart for the better. God bless them all.”
Assitane Coulibaly remarked, “I am humbled. I have only known westerners from a distance in fancy hotels. But this experience of Ko-Falen brought me closer. Close enough to see their heart, mind and soul. All I can say is, if you help a woman for the cause of her child, you help her for a great big cause. We thank the Americans enormously and may the Creator reward them with something better than what they are already doing.”
So many other parents talked, sending their thanks and blessings. Meanwhile the 61 students were trying to get their parents to stand up along with them for pictures. That really helped me to give my final thoughts on behalf of Ko-Falen and its board members. I made sure we thanked them for giving us the opportunity to be a part of their lives and their children’s lives. But I also supported what Modibo told them earlier. This is not a one-way street, but a two- way street instead. We all have to do our best on each end. The mind is magical; its seed can be as valueless as a stone, but when you plant it and care for it, it will sprout something as valuable as gold. Until then, stay well and take good care.
Baba Wagué Diakite
Below is a translation of a message to Ko-Falen from Baba N’Tchio Diarra, Dugutigi of Soni Cegni:
Baba N’Tchio Diarra
Update on the Scouts and Youth Association December 2013
Here are the words from Madou Diarra the head of the scouts and Fa Diarra school principal who is now retiring.
“We are pleased to say that our work in Soni Cegni and the 6 surrounding villages is going quite well,” Said Madou Diarra, the head of the Scouts and Youth Association. “We continue to build energy saving stoves for anyone that wants us to do it. We also educate the villagers about the importance of such, as its heat efficiency preserves forests, as less wood is chopped. This helps with rainfall, and farmers will harvest more abundantly and the village will thrive. Our projects are going so well that village elders are proud and even help advocate by speaking for our causes.”
“That is absolutely true,” said school principal Fa Diarra. “I am pleased with the stove project, but also with their mission on AIDS education. We do not have any cases in any of our villages, but knowing when to run from a beast is better than a shout of ‘Let go of my leg!’ Our children are not connected to the world like other young people from the city. So the scouts are doing a great job of educating them of such matters.”
“The other great work they are doing is sanitary education which they started when Penda and Paul sent a box of medication and first aid supplies to care for the youth. At that time the local clinic was about to shut down, as there were no supplies. But thanks to the reflection of those two young people we have decided to keep the clinic open. This clinic is important to the school, as it is used by all students from here and 6 outlying villages that go to school here. But it could not also be done without the help of our Youth Association who started a huge cleaning with bleach at the clinic, that had fallen into neglect. Floor, walls, benches and all were scrubbed. Since then, they have been educating the villages about how to take good care of well water to have clean water and getting rid of dirty water spots around town to avoid malaria. ”
“The youth are also working on their organic gardening. Now our most exciting project is a storytelling project that we discussed with Wague. We are hoping to repair a gap between the young people and the elders by collecting these traditional stories. The entire village is very excited about this project of sharing their childhood stories with the Youth Association to document.”
“Kofalen has definitely brought change in our town. We have more girls attending school in high record, and the Youth Association is encouraging girls from many other villages to attend. They even work with older youth that did not have the chance to go to school. We are thankful to you all because it is your presence that motivates our young and old to revive the ancient history of this place, and yet encourage the new education. Please, when things get better in our country, come again. It means a lot to us all,” ended Fa Diarra.
Most of the $400 dollars donated to the Scouts and Youth Association this year will be spent on transportation to facilitate these 6 major projects they are working on. 1) adobe stove project 2) AIDS Awareness 3) Health and Water Cleanliness, Clinic Upkeep 4) Organic Gardening 5) Sustaining Masked Dance and Village traditions 6) Storytelling Documenting.
UPDATE – FEBRUARY 24, 2013
As of today the 15 Families program is still on! Recently, Dana Louis initiated a fundraising event in collaboration with Yoga Union at 2043 SE 50th Ave. This Yoga event raised enough for 6 new families. We cannot thank Yoga Union enough for their positive energies that have touched the lives of people in Mali during these difficult times. Well, I am proud to say Ronna and Dana Louis sent the money last week and I stayed in touch with Mamadou Diakite, Seydou Coulbaly and Moussa Coulibaly to help coordinate the process. These people are Ko-Falen Mali members and our helpers for the continuation of the 15 Families program.
Though I was not present in Mali to personally talk with these families during the delivery of our aid, I was provided with photos and video clips for each process. I will not be able to say enough words of thanks to Mamadou, Seydou, and Moussa for doing absolutely an excellent job on their part. Though this program started with our family selling our art to help out a handful of people we know in Mali, the response from friends and Ko-Falen members was remarkable. When people come together in harmony, it opens the door of communication, understanding, partnership and ultimately peace. The root of all that we started in Mali is Ko-Falen and it will be impossible for me to go on without thanking the KoFalen board members and executive board members, our volunteers and our generous donors.
When Madou, Seydou and Moussa went to Oumar Konare’s home, he was not there. He had traveled to a village seeking help for his family. “When will he return home?” asked Madou. His wife Bintou responded “We don’t know, whenever he finds enough to take care of the children.” So, they presented her the aid package. She was in disbelief. With the help of another person, they were able to contact her husband who was going to be gone at least four months, but confirmed his return sooner now. Regardless, our aid will hopefully give peace of mind to that family for some time. His wife Bintou, with her baby strapped on her back said “I still do not believe this is real. I would like to send my appreciation to the 15 Families program and particularly to those who recently took time to think of us. Americans are always welcome here.”
Next, our aid group went to see Mariam, maker of the neighborhood millet donut call “Furu furu”. Most everyone that has been to KoFalen Center in Bamako knows Mariam’s furu furu. Very early before sunrise every morning, Mariam is the first person up, starting a blade of red-orange flame from scrub wood and grass she finds in her surroundings. Once she starts her few sticks of wood on fire, she places her pan made out of a car door on the 3 cooking stones to heat up the thick shea butter made from local trees. By heating shea oil up to boiling, Mariam reduces the strong scent of the shea nut that changes the taste of her donuts. She has been doing this for so long that her presence is a symbol of all that is right in the neighborhood. People love her millet donuts and come to buy them for breakfast. Even Americans that come to KoFalen have one time or another lined up in front of her little stove for a taste of her delicious little millet donuts.
But recently when I was there in January, Mariam was not often seen at her donut stand. When I ran into her in one day, I asked her why she had abondoned her furu furu making. She answered as a Malian does openly, “ Not only is my father sick but also, time is way too hard. I am assisting in helping my mother to provide food and be there for my sick father. If I could at this time, I would multiply myself to be there for my family and my neighbors, but I am only one human.”
When the committee of our 15 Family aid group came to her last Thursday, they found her absent. She was gone to her village because her sick father had “moved to his new home” as they refer to the passing of someone. But later that evening the committee met up with Babou who is Mariam’s husband. He too had just returned from Mariam’s village. Our representatives presented the aid for Mariam and her family. Babou was a bit surprised as he noted “It seems as if these people miles away understand our problems more than our ownselves here. I will accept her aid with respect on her family’s behalf, and also make sure they know that this honorable package is from the 15 Families program.”
Babou did not forget to thank Ronna, the first American he ever met years before at KoFalen. Babou had worked on building the KoFalen Center as a mason’s assistant from the very first brick to where it stands now. He then ended by saying “I knew that I was doing the right thing helping to build this center. As you can see, it sprouted only good things, connection of communities and friendship.”
Niekoroba Coulibaly was also one of our last 6 recipients. Only the very early visitors to KoFalen Center may recognize her. She came to do our laundry at the Center back then. But Niekoroba’s eye problems prevented her to continue with her profession as the laundry lady. But she never forgot the generosity of those Americans she met back then. During my trip to Mali in January, I ran into her in my evening walks with Jessica and Jon. Seated in front of her small table of spices to sell, she recognized my voice. We were speaking English and she shouted “Wague, are you here now?”
I responded “Yes, but just for a short time.” “Are Ronna and my grandchildren Penda and Amina here?” She added. “May be next year” I said. Despite her bad eyesight, she got up to talk to us and spoke of KoFalen and all the good memories. That day, Jessica and Jon supported her by buying lots of her spices even though they really didn’t need them all.
When receiving her portion of our aid, Niekoroba simply said that for years now, Americans visiting KoFalen have always unburdened her from her problems. She said she is not all that surprised for this aid from them again. Then added “This is the America I know–kind and generous–and greet them all men, women, and children.”
Madou Coulibaly was a welder, but after losing 3 fingers on his right hand, he turned into a kerosene oil salesman for lanterns and lamps. But with the war, all products that are from the source of oil are hard to access. Madou Coulibaly simply turned back to his very own self, which is being the humorous grandfather of the community. He is often seen lying on his wooden armchair in front of his house shouting at young ones passing. He says to the girls “Hey, where are you going dressed such a nice way? I am the most handsome man. Come stay with me.” They reply “You are right. I will be right back.”
And to the boys he would say “Look at you–thinking you look so good like this. I am the handsome one. Let me go put on my outfit.”
Years ago when Thia, a niece of Ronna came to Mali, it was a shock to her to see an old man as Madou teasing her saying she was his wife. But as she began to slowly understand the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren in Mali, she too began teasing him back each time she passes by. Old Madou still teases me about that incident by saying “My in-law, where is Thia? You are her uncle and you are hiding her.” But in the real sense, Old Madou is only a friendly person who helps our children to feel happy and see love from their own community. But at this time when he has no work, our aid package to him is a tremendous help. He sent his many appreciations to you all through a video. As “Mali” means “Hippopotamus”, he notes that the country was already like a wounded hippo; the Malians are bearing extra beatings from this war. “It has only worsened our already bad situation. Your thoughts and help reached us. May you be rewarded, may we continue to be the beings we are for each other and for years to come.”
Magan is somewhat young amongst all these people, but has the soul of an ancestor. He is afflicted with an illness that would not leave him alone. Some years are better than others for him, but he strongly hung in there, even though people did not expect it. This is how he became like the son of his surroundings. Mangan can do little, but with the grace of the community, he and his wife live on. On the video, Magan said “Thanks to the 15 Families program; you will always be in our thoughts as friends. Poverty is its own a disease–much less for the additional burden of a senseless war. Thank you for your generous and thoughtful aid.”
Gandie Diarra is also a mason. The hardship of the time has crippled his possibility of work. As he is waiting for things to do right now, our aid representatives in Mali thought he deserved a hand. I have heard his message on video; he is a calm low toned man–very humble. “This is an unbelievable gift to me and my family. I thank the 15 families program and all the other good people that are thinking of us.”
Though some of these people have been chosen by our Bamako-Mali KoFalen group, I fully trusted them as they are on the same path as our original mission.
Baba Wague Diakite
KoFalen Cultural Center
MESSAGE ABOUT MALI – FEBRUARY 4, 2013
I am back in Portland, and have brought news along with me. Reports have been a bit hopeful to the mind of Malian people, with the liberation of a couple major cities in the North—Gao and Timbuktu. The report from Ko-Falen Mali today (2/4/2013) is that there has been heavy bombardment in Kidal against the MNLA by the troops from Mali, Nigeria and France. That city too is likely to be fully in the hand of Malian soldiers soon. But this soothing news to my mind is not the end of everything. In fact, I think this war is going to go on for quite some time. At least from what I gather from everyday discussions from people around me. The fact is that some of the insurgents that fled from those cities to neighboring villages and countries remain unidentifiable among people that look very much alike. Not only does this make things unstable, but it brings much suspicion and prevents people speaking from their heart about their feelings. The other question is whether these people may be able to reunite again and start things over. An elder told me this version of how things are in Mali at this moment:
A hardworking farmer worked in his millet field daily from early dawn up until the middle of the afternoon. He returned home exhausted to take a warm bath and to spend the remainder of the afternoon resting. But when his field of millet became pregnant with grain, he came home one afternoon, and looked at his young son. “Father, what is it?” The farmer replied, “My son, I feel something strange is happening in nature. I feel that my millet stalks are being threatened. I hear the sound of locust far away, and I fear that my hard work will go to waste.” The young son replied, “Father, I can watch over the millet in the afternoon while you rest.” The first day, armed with his slingshot, the seven-year-old went to the fields and right away noticed a large grasshopper flying pdddddddddddddddddddd and landing on a large millet stalk. The little boy grabbed onto the millet stalk and shook it violently, causing the grasshopper to fly out of the field. The boy took chase, running after the grasshopper. As it landed, the boy pounced, trying to capture it. Pdddddddddddd the grasshopper flew off once more. Again, it landed, and again the boy pounced, only to watch the grasshopper fly off once more. Eventually, the boy tired, and took note of where he was, far from his father’s field. He turned to see the grasshopper fly once more, disappearing into the landscape. As he trudged back to the millet field, he was relieved that he had driven the grasshopper from his father’s field. But the question remained in his mind: Was the grasshopper gone for good, or would he simply gather with others of his kind to return? And are there others already hiding in the field like the one he has seen? Now it is these questions in the little boy’s mind that drives him to watch over his father’s field day in and day out.
This present day in Mali is like this tale. We are not sure if the end of this war is truly the end.
Baba Wagué Diakité
MESSAGE ABOUT MALI – FEBRUARY 1, 2013
Francois Hollande has now gained political ground in Europe over this war in Mali, as in a mere 20 days of fighting, things are slowly merging back to a so called “normal”. The French leader’s popularity in Mali itself has gone through the roof. Francois Hollande is expected to meet with the interim president of Mali, Djonkounda Traore, this coming Saturday in Bamako. Then he will pay a visit to the French troops in Timbuktu as well. So one can imagine how crazy streets in Bko and other cities will be on Saturday. This is also in conjunction with the soccer match of Mali against South Africa. I hope they take it easy over there……
Well folks, as I am writing this latest news to you at 5:30 am Portland time, I was interrupted with a phone call from Kofalen-Mali members Seydou and Dognoume, both warning not to go too fast with celebrations, as the mood of many people in the streets of Mali is taking a sudden turn. This is because after the Malian troops led the fight into Kidal, a stronghold of the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Awad islamic group), the French ordered the Malian troops to hold their fire and took control of the airport. Now there is some sort of meeting or negotiation going on over a couple of French hostages that have not yet been found. But the real problem was not even a single Malian soldier was allowed to be near their meeting place. To the ordinary Malians that was already suspicious–this strong dictation by the French; they see this as a warning sign especially when MNLA is still holding onto their guns, intending to keep Kidal region as their own country of Azawad. I am not sure if you knew this but this whole fuss by the West is partly due to the discovery of oil in this particular Kidal region; as Malian people put it, “Kidal is the head of the goat, without it, the goat is no longer.”
It is now believed the MNLA will try to negotiate a settlement with France in an attempt to avoid having Kidal taken back by the Malian Army. And is the MNLA also brokering deals with the Islamic groups to keep them at bay, but functioning? This exclusive negotiation with France is wholeheartedly unacceptable to the Malian citizenship, which is being kept in the dark for the most part. But the West will most likely use its influence over the Mali government to dictate their terms.
Dognoume Diarra, writer for Ciwara and Le Flambeau newspapers in Bko and nephew Seydou Coulibaly, computer businessman (both Kofalen-Mali board members) are sure to keep us up to date with current news. In fact, Dognoume wrote a great article about Kofalen Oregon/Mali. Now Stephen Wooten a Professor at the University of Oregon was the first to see it on internet and let me know. I am really proud of Dognoume Diarra–and Kofalen in helping guarantee his schooling in Soni Cegni as a boy–and now he is a journalist, writing articles for newspapers. There are many young people like Dognoume who started their education under our care in Soni Cegni and are now finishing their college education.
For French readers, you may link to D Diarra’s article on KoFalen here:
Thank you all,
Baba Wague Diakite
MESSAGE FROM MALI BY WAGUÉ – JANUARY 26, 2013
I would like to let all of you know that the 15 Family program has been extended. Dana Louis (Ko-Falen executive board member) was inspired to continue the project to make sure more people in difficulties here can be helped. Of course we can’t help all Mali, but there are a handful of people we all may know that were not on our original list of people. I am extremely happy to announce that now 22 families have been served. By January 19th, I had already delivered aid to 18 different Families. Thanks to the most recent effort of Dana with her generous donors, we were able to serve a few more families.
Tiemogo Kamissogo from Soni Cegni known as Djeliba was the very first recipient of this new group. Djeliba’s position in the village is most outstanding; not only because he is an elder, but he is from the line of one of the most important families in the village. His family is the master in the art of speeches, as they are griots/oral historians. Although his real name is Tiemogo Kamissogo, everyone calls him Djeliba in respect of his knowledge of the historical background in the village of Soni Cegni and its surroundings. Djeliba is known to all who have come to Soni Cegni through KoFalen. During the last 20 years, Djeliba made sure all of Kofalen’s messages were well scaffolded before passing them on to the village people, and vice versa. The memory of the way Djeliba has always welcomed us to Soni Cegni and spoke on our behalf is etched in my mind. His memory to some Kofalen people may be from his famous saying “Only this has enough to pay you back for your kindness . Only this!!”– he says these words pointing his index finger skyward.
When I visited Djeliba in his family compound, he was seated with his younger brother Diemory Kamissogo discussing what to do for his eye problems and poor vision. At first he did not recognize me because of his poor eyesight, but his quick memory jumped in as he heard my voice. He indeed was a bit surprised as I had not visited his home all the years I’ve been coming to Soni Cegni. However, Djeliba had no lack of words to praise me. “Heeee Wague!!” he beamed. Turning to face his brother he continued, “In the name of the Mighty Creator, the son of people has arrived! All of the 4 original ancestors were only given a fist name and they earned their own last name. They are Diallo, Diakite, Sidibe and Sangare.” He turned to face me again, “You are the son of the entire Africa. He-who-will-never-forget-where-he-came-from. You are the small tree that produces a large shade. You are the one who is expanding the name of Mali across the Atlantic Ocean. Make yourself welcome at your own house.” Though Djeliba is now a bit older and less energetic, his spirit is fully present. Both he and his brother were in shock when I explained to them that I had come to share of the 15 Family program, and handed him the money. Though his eyes were the primary issue at the time, Djeliba’s real concern was lack of food in his family. He noted to me that this horrible time Mali is going through is a so-called “lighting the already dry grass.” “It is hard to survive old age unless you have a faithful helper,” he added.
Djeliba has been a friend of KoFalen from the beginning, and I am so glad we were able to help him. Once again as Djeliba said goodbye, he also sent gratitude to all Kofalen members but particularly to his “wives”–my daughters– Penda and Amina. In the end, he said “Only this will pay you back, only this!!”
We have a saying here in Mali, “Even if you have nothing to feed to your new guest, being a good and pleasant host is plenty enough.” Djeliba has been such a person.
Only love from Mali,
Baba Wague Diakite
MESSAGE FROM MALI BY WAGUÉ – JANUARY 25, 2013
Dear KoFalen members and friends,
Things are much calmer in the Capital of Bamako. French and Malian troops have taken back the city of Gao in the North, and they are heading to Timbuktu as I write. We hope that this important historical city is returned to Mali without tragedy. Despite the return to calm, life is still not back to normal. The struggles to place an interim government in motion has made daily life a difficult task. Food and fuel prices have soared, making it hard for businesses and families. After ten months of this, peoples’ resources are exhausted. I am so thankful we can help in our small way, with our 15 Families food and medical aid, one neighborhood at a time. But today, I will continue my story of visiting the village of Soni Tieni to deliver school supplies raised by donors to Ko-Falen Cultural Center.
As I mentioned in my previous letter, my decision to travel to Soni Cegni was a sudden decision. But I am so glad I went to see the headmaster Fah Diarra and his school administration, as they had much to say. They had wanted to come see me in Bamako when they found out that I may not make it to Soni Cegni earlier on, as they felt it was important to keep up the relationship we have developed. After the Youth Association sang their songs of welcoming, Fah Diarra–now with completely gray hair– turned and shook my hand. Since Fah Diarra the headmaster is getting past his retirement age, he is bringing new talents to the school of Soni Cegni. He introduced to me 3 young teachers that will be teaching in Soni Cegni’s school. One of the young teachers is an English teacher (male), another one is a biology and chemistry teacher (female), the last one is a math teacher (male). They were all present when I brought Ko-Falen’s school supplies raised by donations. After that, Fah Diarra walked me to his office and chatted with me for a bit about the complexity of life and its many goods and troubles. He said he was not sure whether or not their hardships are created from the effects of war or whether it was there sleeping on them all along. Nonetheless, it has not been a pleasant couple years now. As we proceeded to open the boxes of school supplies, instantly, his mood changed and one could see his smiling teeth delivering a message of happiness. He called the three young new teachers to witness the kindness of Americans once again. “Though these people from the US live countless miles away, they have by all means proven a sense of humanity to us. Just because one drinks from the same breast is not the only proof of brotherhood. These people–these Americans–are our true brothers, for they understand that we humans share the same blood in humanity. They are kind, thoughtful, and generous and above all, they care about children.” Upon opening the supplies, the young English teacher burst into laughter; he was so happy to see 36 books for each class from 7th grade, 8th grade and 9th grade. It was at the request of the students through Fah Diarra the head master that I spent $400 out of the $1000 dollars I was given for them, on English books. “The students want to learn more English so they can communicate with their American friends.” The English teacher was still standing on the side, smiling with happiness. In the middle of this happiness came a question: “We purchased only 5 of these books for a school in Kaye, and it cost 100,000 cfa. How did you buy 108 books for 200,000 cfa total?” I smiled also and replied, “This is thanks to my nephew Seydou and his business sense and bargaining skills.” The rest of the supplies I brought were sponges to erase the boards, paint for resurfacing the chalkboards, buckets to mix paints, chalk and other small things for the classes. The repainting of the blackboards is for the entire 18 classrooms. Fah Diarra and the entire school of Soni Cegni send their grateful appreciation to the KoFalen advisory and executive boards, and all those that donated to Kofalen. The young biology teacher quickly added to Fah Diarra’s message, “My biology and science classes are in desperate need of books also.” “Let us hope for health, long life, and the possibility that we will be able help you all.” said the head master.
Next we walked to the compound of Ntjo Diarra the chief (Dougoutigui) of the town. The compound was crowded with the town elders waiting for us. They guided me to the room of the Dougoutigui Ntjo Diarra. He is blind and elderly, but he raised his arm up to the level of his forehead and I shook his hand and sat next to him on his homemade bamboo bed. He asked about all the members of KoFalen and sent his condolences for the passing of Ronna’s mother. Then he asked me to join the elders in the compound, as they already had words he had transmitted to them. Outside, I introduced myself and explained my purpose of coming on behalf of KoFalen. The elders began by acknowledging the Youth Association and the great job KoFalen is doing to help them. They also praised me as a great example of “he who never forgets where he came from” as they shouted out to the young ones standing, “If one forgets where he comes from, trouble will follow them to where they’re going.” There was a great deal of conversation after that. But the long and neverending compliments about the greatness of American people ended with several large bowls of foods. After eating, Blanki–our Kofalen Mali member, handed the elders the portion of money for their mask and cultural preservation project. They said that the cultural preservation program has been a great inspiration to all of the surrounding villages. The traditional dances, masks, and ceremonies are being handed down to the younger generations. They said that they are looking forward to seeing the Kofalen Oregon members come to witness some new things. “The bucket alone cannot bring fresh water to thirsty men without the help of the rope. Great thanks to Wague and KoFalen.”
We discussed the successes and needs of their village. They are so pleased with the continued support of school supplies and the success of the students. They also see a need to supply their school Clinique with little medical necessities for open cuts (band aids), headaches, and other small first aid kits for the students. In addition, they have been talking of building a small water tower for potable drinking water. I promised to transmit these messages to Kofalen. Thanks to you all.
Only love from Mali,
Baba Wague Diakite
MESSAGE FROM MALI BY WAGUÉ – JANUARY 24, 2013
Today is the 13th day of the French attacks against the insurgents in the north of Mali and it is estimated to cost 30 million Euro. Not only is this raising the eyebrows of the poor Malian, but they also question how it will be paid back. Many are now thinking regardless the outcome of this war, the north of Mali will be controlled by others rather than Malians themselves.
The CDAO or ECOWAS are still waiting for a ransom 387 million Euros in order to show up in Mali. This makes me wonder if human rights issues and concern for democracy are all secondary to the interests of some African and Western countries. But for now cities like Diabaly near the border with Mauritania, Kona beyond Sevare/Mopti, and Douentza are fully freed. Gao is somewhat in our hands but not confirmed. The fight is climbing up toward Timbuktu and Kidal at this point. Here the current wisdom is that the same being that creates the elephant also creates the small ant, for he knows the survival of both is important.
As for good news, today January 24th 2013 was a big day for me. Earlier in January, I put on hold my travel to the village of Sony Cegni because things were way too dangerous to roam around the country–especially having visitors from Portland with me at the time. But as things have quieted, I decided to deliver our school supplies to Soni Cegni in person, thanks to the help from a gentleman named Bablen Diabate, native of Soni Cegni. He is also a Policeman, who decided that Kofalen’s aid to students in Soni Cegni affected even his own family in the village and took permission from work to escort me there. He said my physical presence is very significant to the village elders. So I called some few members of Kofalen’s Bamako Branch (Mamadou Diakite, Blanki Diarra, Dognoune Diarra and now Bablen the police officer who wants be a new member of Kofalen Bamako). They were all great help for me today. The security was extremely high moving outside the city, but Bablen made sure things ran normally.
When we arrived in Soni Cegni, there were no drummers, hunters, or masked dancers there to welcome us. But the youth association was at its best to welcome us with songs about the importance of education. They also sang a song about hope and Kofalen, because the hope we have given them is now sending the village children to high schools and colleges across Mali. They compared us to the old Dubalen tree in their village that has sheltered people from their great grandfathers’ time to their generation with its shade. When I interviewed them on what they wanted to be in life, many girls wanted to be either doctors or teachers. But almost half, including boys, answered with mixed feelings, because they are really happy with what they are doing in their own village, educating rural Mali about ending female excision, helping preserve the forest with their stove program, child malnutrition and health, and organic gardening. So this last group found it important to continue the youth association in their village, and they would like to grow up and become instructors for the next generation. They said all of these programs are working so well because of their songs and plays that pierce people’s hearts and minds, giving them respect for their messages.
After receiving the money from me, they are traveling to a village that they have been holding off because of a lack of bus fare. The other thing our youth association does is to help farmers in their fields toencourage them, and water gardens for the villagers. I did not have the chance to visit their new garden for organic food. Understandably, they were very disappointed but that is the way it is. The sweetest moment with the youth association was when a young man asked me to turn my camera toward him for a message to Kofalen and when I did so, he said “I first met the Americans here when I was in third grade; now I am in my last year in college and I owe them my life for that. They impressed me because they were the first westerners I ever held hands with and that was the whole world to me. In 6th grade, I realized how far America was for them to come help us. While the problem between universities and the government is being sorted out, I have also come back to help the youth association–just like the Americans.” The youth association thanks Kofalen and its donors for sending $ 500 for them. When one plants the seed of goodness, the fruit is nothing short of sweetness itself.
More will come soon about the responses of the headmaster of the school Fah Diarra and the dougoutigi chief of the town.
Only love From Mali,
Baba Wagué Diakite
MALI IS STILL HERE BY WAGUÉ – JANUARY 19, 2013
Don’t be sad for Malian people and the circumstance in Mali at this time. Mali is here and will remain here. Don’t cry yet–for you are the hope and the hope is the root and the root is the strongest part of anything. So don’t cry, for you are to be the one that cries last. Turn around to witness the task that is well done. Recognize we have been blessed by your positive human spirit and never ending friendship that you have given us. We are grateful for the empathy of other countries. If you feel angry, drop the anger and sadness and recognize all the great things you have done through Ko-Falen over the last 15 years. One village — 2 classrooms of 30 students — is now 7 villages — 18 classrooms with 1700 students. Some are going to high school; others are going to college. At the Ko-Falen Center, our tutoring program gives hope to the kids of artisans and gardeners that otherwise would not have had the chance of an education. We help sustain a group of young scouts that are taking leadership roles of their own.
My mother once said, “Never close your eyes because of one bad incident, as you may miss seeing all the good things around you.” Make sure you also appreciate yourselves for the 15 Families Program that ended up helping 20 families for food and medical expenses. You have no idea how blessed and grateful everyone here feels about that. I am already a believer of human inspiration and yet this is the most positive one.
There was a night that I did not really sleep, thinking about how respectfully people responded when Ronna and I called for help for my fellow Malians. I had desert tea with friends and my brother Madou. We chatted all afternoon into the night. I am sure all the caffeine did not help me.
Here is what I felt that night. The head of my bed faces a window open to the neighborhood’s little creek. Already at 6 pm the frogs begin croaking; by 10 pm crickets and other insects join in creating the sound of harmony. Then a donkey brays to announce 12 am to the dogs, so they can begin barking. By 1 am, an occasional rooster pitches in with their “Kokoriko” until 2:40 am. The donkey brays again and soon after, the night is filled with harmonious chanting. The donkey brays again around 4:30 am — the same time I can hear the mosque calling and the noise fades into a different type of noise. Faithful rousing to perform ablutions before prayer. Crying sounds of babies, and their mothers comforting them; then occasional passers by holding conversations, their sandals crunching small grains of red sand. Dawn comes. By 6 am I hear the pumping sounds at the well, and cars passing by. By 7 am you can see women walking to the market with their little girls holding onto their pagna skirts, youngsters trying to keep up. School girls walking in groups, with littler sisters crying to their older sibling to wait for them! And the boys come along, looking up at the height of my mango trees, hoping one mango will fall. But the mangoes have not yet ripened so I say, “Hey, don’t even think about it!” The Boys will turn their faces toward me, respectfully greeting, “Ini sogoma, Tonton Wague.” I respond, “Good morning,” back to them as they continue their walk around the corner, kicking up the dust of the dirt streets. Then I realize at this time that Mali is still here and well. I renew my world citizenship and say “No matter where you are in the world, hearing these sounds of nature and babies and watching children just as they have always been, gives me a great deal of hope.”
So the greatness of Mali and Malian people are still here and hopefully you will witness this when you come one day. If you are the hope for someone, you are the spiritual guidance. In Mali the djelibaw/griots/oral historians often sing, “When you are the hope to others, do not start crying, no matter how difficult things seem: simply because you are the root that holds everything together. This makes you the strongest part of the event. So your time to cry is after all of the others.”
I structured this writing from the words I hear from my elders, and if I might have used them wrongly, may their souls forgive me, because I am just Malian.
May love be our tying vines,
Baba Wague Diakite
GREETINGS FROM MALI BY WAGUÉ – JANUARY 19, 2013
Thank you so much for sending me all the great remarks from our friends and families. These notes are uplifting and I am sure will help the morale of those I will share them with soon. Today Sunday was a quiet day in the city of Bamako, but the talk about extremist muslims is everywhere–market places, in super markets, government offices and even in airline travel agencies. Everyone talks about the bad guys and how to conquer them. But most everyone is also saying that without the presence of the French, the state of Mali would have fallen in the hand of insurgents two Fridays ago. For this reason, people have been decorating their cars, motorcycles, bikes and even push carts with Mali flags one side and French flags on the other side. Underneath all that other worry is the catch that France is spending 110 million Euro a day on this war.
Today I heard that Tessali, one of the northern towns where oil was found (One of the reasons for all these problems) has been liberated by French troops. Others however care less about the oil and only care about freeing the country. Also there are small rumors about American aid arriving soon. These are things being heard and said in the street in Bamako daily for the last 4 or 5 days.
Bamako, the city of millions, seems to now have no signs of a western presence–only Lebanese that run the supermarkets. But numbers of Chinese are present even in the remote countryside as they are singlemindedly working on roads, overpasses and in other private sectors. The absence of western tourists has definitely scarred the bottom of the pot of the economy that has already been scraped by a broken and corrupt political system. Now the insurgents–some as black as southerners– make things even worse, as one finds it difficult to differentiate. You may agree with me “It takes great expertise to separate two dark things that shine differently.” The next big problem in the news here is how to secure the 1500 kilometer long border between Mali and Mauritania. I can’t wait to see how that will be done. But I am optimistic, as many of you know Malian people, “They may be poor, but they have hope; it is that hope that makes them closer to each other in society and makes them all the happiest people living.”
From the ancient Mali there is a saying, “Sending your good thoughts is equally soothing as your physical presence, because a good spirit never misses its target.”
Only love from Mali,
GREETINGS FROM MALI BY WAGUÉ – JANUARY 12, 2013
Regarding my program of preserving folk tales and oral histories, I met with Moctar Kone and Bakoroba Diabate today. I have to say that it was a fruitful meeting. We all agreed that there is an urgent need to rescue and preserve these important tools of our cultural heritage before they disappear for good. Bakoro noted “as a historian, I’ve never seen the world as it is today, our cultures and our tools of education are all disappearing before our eyes.” Then he agreed to be the one who would start doing research here in Mali to help me with the concrete foundation recruiting the tales for children education. We should be meeting again soon.
I also met with the head of Girl Scout of Soni Cegni (now Youth Assoc). He said that one of the girls had died this year. They were hurt, but motivated by her contribution in their club. Because of that, they engaged into several great projects this year including the renewal of their education about girl circumcision. They particularly wanted to thank Ronna; it’s because of her that the program began. Now they are focusing on growing food organically. Their hope is to work on their own garden chemical free for a year before teaching others the technique.
I also met with Blanki and Dognoume last night regarding our Soni Cegni school programs and the preservation of their cultural heritages. We agreed on any date between Jan 20th though 23rd. Blanki will be heading to Soni Cegni soon to discuss with the elders and announce the date agreed upon. We also agreed that this year will not be a big event due to reasons known to us all. But the respectful process of courtesy toward the elders will be done as usual. I am planning to be their during school hrs to meet some teachers and students as I deliver their supplies. My whole time there will be roughly 4 to6 hrs.
Today I delivered a bag of rice to Hawa Ballo the blacksmith potter woman, and the remainder in money. She has lost her only son, who is her hope, in the North. She called on her two granddaughters who are now under her care to her side. She was shocked with American’s kindness and humanity toward her, but very pleased with our help to her. She held her jaw in her hand in deep thought and recited many words of blessing.
Our old friend Modibo Traore (who has been our cultural seeing eyes by using his ancient hunter Ngoni instrument to speak on our behalf to the elders of Soni Cegni), also received help from us. Modibo always takes the lead of our American visitors, and presents them with meaningful words in song to prove to the elders of Soni Cegni of our respectful purpose of visiting the village. Not enough dollars can reward Modibo for his ambassadorship. Just a couple of days ago, his father died from a long illness. Modibo himself is a father of 4. This financial help will serve him beyond expectation. I talked to Modibo today; he sent his appreciations to Ko-falen and all that are thinking of Malians at this time.
Abdou Karim the well digger is meeting with me tonight and will receive his grain and money. So I will tell you about him soon. In Mali we say you are the true beneficiary of what you do for others. Therefore, I do not want to spoil your kindness with the word “ thanks”. According to the oral historian of Soni Cegni, as he points a finger skyward… “only this will pay you back.” Love,
GREETINGS TO ALL OF YOU WHO HELPED MAKE THIS POSSIBLE – JANUARY 8TH 2013
The 15 Families aid program that Ronna and I put together is still in process as of today. It is going well, but I must say that it has been very difficult and emotional to be seen delivering food and money to a few among the many numbers of people that are in need at this time. Sometimes I get watery eyes, other times I feel proud. Although 10 out of the 15 families have already been helped, it has not been easy to find or locate others. People are going far afield to gain the daily bread for their families, so they are gone all day until late at night.
Mariam Doumbia was the very first recipient of the 15 families. After meeting with her, I suddenly realized that our plan of buying bags of rice and millet for every family may not be the most urgent for them all. Mariam has high blood pressure, she is diabetic, and has eye problems. The doctor had advised her to rather miss a meal than her daily medicine. So she had preferred to receive a portion in money for her medicine.
Chebba Diarra is someone that most people who have come to Mali through Kofalen have met or know her. She and her husband spent many years welcoming our group in the neighborhood with the sweet sound of the Balafon of the Beledougou region. But her husband could no longer make money to care for them and after 2 of their children died this year, the husband had a mental breakdown and abandoned her and the remainder small 5 kids. So, Chebba fit perfectly for the need of food. We brought her one bag of rice, one bag of millet and the other half in cash to buy groceries and children necessities.
Today, I met Hawa Ballo the blacksmith woman who is a potter. Her story is even more heartbreaking. She lost her only son who is her hope, in the North. I did some interview with her and took a few photos but forgot to ask her permission to use the images. Her story will be in the next edition.
I cannot and will not be able to have pictures and videos of all my recipients, because they feel embarrassed to portray their poor condition to the world, and I respect that as it is.
Yesterday, Moctar Kone–one of the greatest oral historians in Mali at this time, told Jessica and Jon (visiting Ko-Falen) that “all Americans that had the chance to come to this country with Wague are very lucky. Because he has good things to say about Americans, he helps give us Malians peace of mind and makes U.S. look to us as a wonderful place. But we also know he is like that with you. Wague is so proud of Mali that he brings you Americans to meet and know his people, and that is why you come over and over again. But if he was a fool person, we wouldn’t even respect the people that followed him.”
He is very kind to say this.
Love to all,
THIS YEAR KO-FALEN IS PROUD TO SHARE OUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS BOTH IN MALI AND THE US:
- Despite disruption in the government that closed public schools for some time in 2012, our Tutoring Center at Ko-Falen remained open, giving students and their families security and continuity in education.
- Students in Soni Tieni received boxes of school supplies that support the children of Soni Tieni and 7 surrounding villages that attend this remarkable school.
- The Youth Association of Soni Tieni learned to build wood efficient adobe cooking stoves, and worked with Ko-Falen participants making shea butter. We now sell this shea butter in Portland!
- 14 Americans attended art workshops at our Center in Mali and saw firsthand the success of our tutoring program. They also participated in excursions, dance ceremonies, and daily life in the neighborhood.
- Over 150 people attended our annual Mango Madness African Dance Party, helping to raise over $7000!
Greetings friends, We thank all of you for your concern over the ongoing struggles in Mali. Throughout uncertainty this Spring, our tutoring center at Ko-Falen remained open, and students ended school on a high note. We received great news from our teacher Modibo in June that students we sponsored all received high marks in their classes. These students and their parents asked us to send their deepest respects for your donations. You may read more from them directly at http://www.kofalen.org. Just click on “Education Projects”, then “Tutoring”, in the top bar.
Although Mali is facing a difficult future, Malians are resilient and resolute. We remain optimistic for a return to normalcy and peaceful elections.
If you have not yet done so, please consider giving to one of our programs for youth in Mali. We can help provide continuity for Malians during these uncertain times. Simply go to http://www.kofalen.org and click on donations.
Thank you, Baba Wague Diakite and the Ko-Falen Cutlural Center Board