Watching the children in Mali, my heart sometimes catches. For many of our children in Mali, there is no future under the current circumstances. Many of them will never have the opportunity to make something of themselves. Many girls will get married of by the time they are 15. Many boys, having no better option, will farm or follow the family business. Many more will remain without a job and with no opportunity, will join the masses that beg on the street to supplement what they make so they can take care of their family.
Fact of the matter is, this is a dreary picture and a dreadful reality for many Malians. If you were to stay in Mali, you would not be able to tell that most Malians are suffering. Malians are the most happy people I have seen. Maybe it was God’s one blessing to them to help cope with their miserable circumstances. But Malians are certainly not lacking in entrepreneurial spirit. This is evident from the large number of business people ranging from the side of the road seller to the store keeper.
The one thing that can truly help shape Mali into a success story in the long run is education. Today 70% of Mali’s population is in the age group 0-25. Yet only 31% of Mali’s population is literate. This figure is even lower for girls. While the government was able to put a elementary school in most villages, much of Mali’s 80% rural population lacks a middle school. Simply, because the government does not have the resources to build middle schools. So after 6th grade, many children will drop out of school simply because they have no access to one. For many a middle school is several villages and towns away.
I cannot imagine my children walking 5 miles (7km) a day to go to school. Not just once, but 4 times because in Mali, children return home for lunch. Now add in dirty, dusty roads and predators and you have a situation where most parents will keep their children at home.
For the past 10 years we have raised awareness about the one thing that has impacted our own lives. And that is the power of education. Yeah and I have both been blessed with extraordinary circumstances and blessings. And it is our education that has taken us many places and allowed us to make a living. But not just that, it is our education that ensures that our own children will never know the pain of hunger or the lack of opportunity. Our parents by giving us an education helped break the cycle of poverty and the lack of opportunities that spring from illiteracy.
Now we want to give that back to the people of Mali. It seems like an enormous task, but I am always reminded that sometimes all it takes to make change is the power of one. We are not Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi or even Mother Theresa. But we do have an honest desire to see change come to Mali and we do enjoy the support of wonderful friends and family and even unknown supporters that keep our work going. Through our foundation Empower Mali, we are partnering with villages in Mali to take our education back and empower our young children to stay in school and get educated. And not just get an education, but create an opportunity to build a brighter future for themselves.
We currently have two middle schools under construction adding to the 17 others Yeah has already brought to Mali. Two middle schools, one in Katele and one in Ferekoroba, that when completed will be seen as the beacon of hope for the children of that village. We are so grateful to our friends, family and supporters who have invested in these buildings of hope and in all our activities for Mali.It has been a blessing to visit these villages before the school is built and then visit the classrooms after. The classroom is teeming with life and activity and one only has to chat a few minutes with the students to see the immense joy they get from being able to enjoy childhood and the freedom of education for a few more years.
Our fight to educate our children in Mali will not stop with just building schools. Through Empower Mali, we hope to help introduce teacher training and adult literacy classes. We hope to couple the power of education with access to good healthcare, clean water and solar power to light up villages. We all have the chance to help lift Mali from within. Mali’s success will be the success of our children just like Mali’s failure will pull the rest of the world down. We all have the opportunity to become the change we want to see in the world. For Yeah and me, we have been blessed with the chance to share our blessings, one village, one community and one school at a time.