This year, like past years, the Mayor’s office held a New Year’s celebration in Ouelessebougou. This celebration is a great way to get the people of Ouelessebougou together as a community at least once a year. The celebration began with a welcome speech by Yeah. He welcomed all the residents. He talked about how the people of Ouelessebougou should be extremely proud of their community. Ouelessebougou is one of the more prosperous communities in the southern region of Mali. Here you can definitely see a difference between it and its neighbors in terms of lifestyle, stores and properties. In addition, its ability to progress itself has gained the attention of organizations like USAID whose director, Rebecca Black, made it a point to come see the progress in Ouelessebougou herself. This time of year also sees an influx of urologists, gynecologists, dentists and nurses that come from the United States to offer free health care to the people in the region. People from as far as Sikasso have come to take advantage of this opportunity.
As the New Year rang in, 200 people celebrated with fireworks and music. This past year has held great changes for the community of Ouelessebougou. The chiefs of the 44 villages under the direction of Yeah have seen many changes for good. Some of these include a higher tax payment rate, a solar field that provides electricity to the residents of Ouelessebougou and also running water. This next year, the first high school and the largest hospital will go into service.
The year of 2012 promises to be a year of change for the people of Mali. As Malians prepare themselves for a new president, the important question remains, “What do Malians want most from their new President?” Malians have enjoyed 10 years of stability under current president Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT). While Mali has not prospered financially, its democracy has held strong as countries around it fell like dominoes.
As I look around Mali, the one thing that stands out to me is the number of children that take care of children. The thought that crosses my mind is why are these kids not in school. Then I look a little further and see teachers on strike at the University level and at the high school level. They are not on strike for their own personal gain. Rather they strike so that the government cannot impose a health insurance policy that would not work. Also some have not been paid in a while and don’t have the basic means to feed their family. The education system when it is working is inadequate. Most children will not go to school past the sixth grade. Most children do not have a middle school in their own village. The closest high school is in Bamako, an hours’ drive away. Circumstances have made it impossible for children here to catch a break. What needs to happen is for the current education system to be revamped. When education is made mandatory, ways will be found to educate the children of Mali. Malian girls should have the same rights as Malian boys. In Yeah’s plan, there will be universities in every region.
The second thing that distresses me is the poverty level here. Here poor takes on a new meaning. Something needs to be done to raise the bar of living. Many people barely get three meals a day. With unemployment sitting high, Malians cannot earn enough to pay basic bills let alone food. It is not that Malians are lazy. The lack of opportunity has made their circumstance more destitute than it needs to be.
I am blessed to be blessed with circumstances that are not as unfortunate. I am blessed that I can provide food on my table for my two children. I am blessed that they have toys to play with and that their biggest concern is why the other has something they don’t. I am blessed that I have a roof over my head.
So you may ask how I can understand the circumstances of Malians when I am not suffering. It does not take much to understand pain when one sees it. This is our opportunity to create change. Change is what the Malian people need. Change of an older leader to one that is young and can drive opportunities. In 2 years Yeah could change a commune of 44000 people. What could he do if people gave him the chance to lead Mali? Mali needs a stable education system. It needs a better employment system where incentives are given to companies that hire graduates. Transparency in the government needs to become the norm so that corruption doesn’t stamp on the middle man who is just trying to earn his daily bread. Mali has many exports that have been mishandled. If the focus is put on these exports to increase their value on the world market then the Malian economy will benefit. If the Western countries got rid of the subsidies on cotton, the $35 million that Mali gets in aid would not be needed. This amount is less than the money that Mali would be pulling in if they sold the cotton they produced at regular rates. More important, Mali needs to process and add values to its natural resources and create jobs in the process.
This year, I hope that as April 29th 2012 approaches, Malian people will realize the hope that Yeah can bring to Mali. The vision of this man is amazing. And I do not say this only because he is my husband. There are many leaders that want to be President only because of the fame, wealth and opportunity it presents. There are very few people that want to become President so they can affect change. There are fewer still that become President because of unadulterated love they have for their people and the pain that goes through them each time they see their people suffer. The people of Mali are suffering. They suffer not only from physical incapacities like hunger, unemployment and a bad health care system, but they also suffer from the humiliation of being unable to take care of their own.
Yeah is the answer that many in Mali have dreamed. This year let’s make it our year and may a new day be born in Mali as the elections happen on April 29th 2012. Spread the word if you can. We need all the financial support we can get. This is not a one man journey. You have the opportunity to affect a country’s future. Are you in?