Education as an expression of faith in the future
by Jinny St. Goar, Mali Nyeta
The school in the villages of Djangoula -- in far southwestern Mali -- had its formal inauguration ceremony this past January. The school is located between two villages; people of the Foulani tribe inhabit one village, Malinke in the other. For generations, the villagers have lived peacefully.
Only about a half-mile separates the two villages. This space has now become a town square with two school buildings, teacher housing, latrines, a flag pole, and temporary viewing stands with shade for the officials who attend such events as the inauguration ceremony. In the school's first full academic year that has just ended, 154 children -- roughly equal numbers of girls and boys -- have been learning from four teachers. Each child has two sets of new clothes, their school uniforms, and the students are seated in chairs at desks in the classrooms. The language of instruction is French; and the teachers are getting ready now for their teacher-training seminars in the closest large town, Kita.
In the earliest discussions of planning for the school's inauguration ceremony, the village chiefs insisted they would not be sufficiently prepared by the start of the school year last October. They would need a few more months to raise the cows that would be slaughtered for the inauguration, as well as making other arrangements.
The Malian people have suffered tragic civil strife for the past eighteen months. Northeast Malians -- those from the region of the country that falls squarely in the Sahara, while the rest of this impoverished nation is sub-Saharan -- have had a troubled relationship with the central government in the south. After the fall of Col. Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, a handful of disaffected northern Malians returned from serving as mercenaries in that conflict with additional weapons. What's more, the Sahara around the border between Algeria and Mali has provided refuge and training grounds for the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The resulting conflagration has ravaged northeastern Mali, with the Salafist rebels taking control of an area the size of France, with approximately 500,000 refugees displaced from the region. The central government fell in a coup 15 months ago, and has yet to be reorganized. And when the Salafists threatened southern Mali, French troops arrived in January to help the Malians retake the northeast.
As luck would have it, the arrival of the French troops coincided almost precisely with the long-planned inauguration ceremony for the school in the villages of Djangoula.
In the middle of wartime, the national Malian television ORTM sent a team of four journalists on the arduous trip to the villages of Djangoula to film the proceedings.
A school can be a beacon of hope, an expression of faith in the future.
Here's a link to a lightly edited version of that televised broadcast of the inauguration for Mali Nyeta's first school:
Jinny St. Goar is the U.S. Project Director at Mali Nyeta.