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Kavitha Dispatch

Hey, What About the Girls?!? Bringing Education to ALL the People

Imagine you are an 8 year old Malien girl. Chances are you spend your days helping your mother pound millet or working in the fields. The thought of going to school never crossed yours or your parents. minds. The closest school is over eight miles away, and you have to cross two streams and three villages to get there. A few of the boys in your village make the long journey and come back with little books that they scribble in, but there seems to be no major change and no reason for more children to go. The boys that do go only attend school until the age of twelve, since the school's highest level is the 6th grade. Afterward, they go back to usual daily life in the village, or they leave the village to look for more schooling in one of the big cities.

The friends I made when I visited the "Peace Corps house" in Sevare, told me that in the villages where they live, only 10% of the girls actually go to school. That must be why we've had such difficulty communicating with most of the women we've met in Mali. Most don't know how to read or write, let alone speak in French (the national language).

"Basic education and girls' education are the responsibility of the public, private, and other sectors. Investing in girls' education benefits the individual, the family, the community, and the nation."

These are the premises upon which SAGE (Strategies for Advancing Girls Education) is based. SAGE, a program funded by the US government (US AID), is attempting to form international, national, and local alliances to combat the problems of girls' education. They have started projects all over the world, from Guatemala to Peru to Southern Africa (hey, sounds like the world trek!), and they are now starting to tackle the issue here in Mali.

Best of luck, Kadi! She is the new coordinator for SAGE in Mali.
My new friend Kadi (short for Kadiatou) has agreed to take on the huge challenge of becoming the coordinator for SAGE here in Mali. Kadi got her Ph.D. from the University of Oregon in education policy management. She was very excited to hear about the job offer, since it was an opportunity for her to work on something she believes in and to return to her home!

One of the main problems with development projects we've encountered during our travels is that all too often, despite good intentions, the projects are ineffective . This is often a result of cultural differences and poor planning. Here in Mali, it is very hard not to notice the overwhelming presence of foreign aid groups. The United States, Canada, England, Denmark, and a number of other European countries have aid projects geared towards improving the way of life for people in this poor nation, but they are far from achieving their goals.

Relevant Links

For information about girls' education in America click here:

U.S. Department of Education

Mali has water pollution problems, click here to find out if there are pollution problems in your home town:


"They don't address local needs," remarks Kadi in reference to the foreign development groups. They have their own plan that was developed in their own country. For example, Kadi's program, SAGE, is funded by US AID. One of the many ambitious goals SAGE is hoping to achieve in the next 22 months is to empower female PTA members to be more vocal.

In my opinion, it's going to be really hard to accomplish this. It is a cultural issue. "When women and men are gathered together in a meeting place, the women will not speak up," Kadi explains. "When we went to the villages to develop our topics for the community schools, the women always sat in the back during the meetings. To find out their concerns we had to approach them alone after the meetings."

Some PTA meetings are held in the chief's hut, which women are not even allowed to enter. Kadi's apprehension arises, not because she doesn't believe in empowering women, but because SAGE has already admitted that there is not enough time to cover life skills from a gender perspective, in addition to other goals like female mentoring, girl-friendly classroom practices, female teacher support, and curricular revisions.

Vocabulary Box

ineffective- not doing what you want to happen, not working well
bilateral- coming from two sides, two different groups
model- a plan that others can see and copy
fluke - a small flatworm that can cause diseases

Although Kadi is grateful that foreign aid groups want to help improve Mali, she agrees that development should be more bilateral . "Even when I suggest an improvement or change to the plan, they still don't listen. I told them (the SAGE directors in Washington) that we shouldn't try to tackle the issue of women's empowerment in the little time we have. They didn't listen. They responded positively, 'Oh no, the women just don't know any better yet. When we teach them of their rights and train them as leaders, they will change.' Okay, this I'd like to see!" Kadi laughs.

"This is going to be a very challenging thing to change," says Kadi about the years of work ahead of her. But things are already beginning to evolve. At our community meetings, the girls that have started going to school sit right up front with the boys and are just as vocal as they are. After the model is tested, hopefully it will spread to public schools all over the country.

For more information on SAGE contact:
May Rihani
SAGE Project Director and Senior VP
Academy for Educational Development
1825 Connecticut Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20009-5721

For more information on the project in Mali contact:
Ms Doucoure Kadiatou Coulibaly
SAGE/GEA Project
c/o World Education
B.P. 2137
Bamako, Mali

Lessons on Life - How Many Do You Want?

In just three months, Kadi, along with a group of local and international advisors, has come up with an ambitious plan that will be tested in 60 community schools around the country. Community schools are schools that private volunteer organizations, like "Save the Children" and "World Education," have helped to build in villages with no nearby schools. Each village is required to hire a teacher, who is usually a local villager. Often other villagers will work in the teacher's fields because it is the only form of payment they can offer.

Kadi and her associates visited some of these community schools to develop a list of priorities to improve their education system. On June 1st they had a workshop and invited the Minister of Education of Mali to help develop models for the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. During the three-day workshop the team was able to develop 97 lessons! The lessons are simple and basic so they can be easily understood.

One lesson dealt with water pollution, a big problem in most villages that depend on the streams for all their water needs. When villagers allow their cows, sheep and dogs to graze near or drink from the streams, the animals' excrement is carried off into the water. Many people also use the stream bank as a toilet since they don't have toilets of their own. This is the same water that they use to drink, to bathe, and to wash their laundry and dishes.

The SAGE workshop developed posters illustrating these basic connections people don't normally think of. The lesson they developed simply illustrates these problems and how they are caused. It then suggests simple alternatives people can use. For example, one of the main problems found in water throughout Africa is Bilharzia. (remember that blood fluke I thought I had caught during my trip to Mana Pools in Zimbabwe?) This blood fluke is transmitted by blood in the urine and lives in rivers and lakes all over Africa. Something as simple as using a latrine instead of peeing in a river can help stop the transmission of this disease.

Since these lesson plans are being developed for schools which only go up to 6th grade, SAGE encourages students to share what they learn with their parents and friends who have not attended school. They have also developed color posters to go along with the lessons to help visualize their messages. In September, Kadi is planning to have a workshop to train people to go out to the villages and train the local teachers how to use the lessons. "The lessons are basic tools that everyone, not just the children in the village, can benefit from," explains Kadi. They cover such themes as environment, health, hygiene, nutrition, adolescence, and child development.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Abeja - French Influence Does Not A Paris Make
Team - Why Have the Gods Deserted Me?!? - The Magic of the Book, Segu
Monica - Keeping Up with the Fulani - Jewelry, Parties, and Romps in the Forest
Monica - Not Just a Desk Job: Women, Rice Cultivation, and the Office du Niger
Making a Difference - The Struggle of Women Worldwide

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