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Monica Dispatch

Corps des Volontaires Maliens:
Young People Make a Difference

Do you really think you can make a difference in the world? Does your individual action change things? Will your personal beliefs guide you and inspire others? If you speak out, will your one voice be heard and understood? Or do you think that it isn't really possible to change things, that the world just goes on and on, and you just go along with it?

Mahatma Ghandi has told us that too often, instead of lighting a candle, we curse the darkness. Last week, Kavitha and I had the opportunity to meet with the Corps des Volontaires Maliens (Malian Volunteers' Corps), people committed to providing a light of inspiration in communities throughout Mali. There are four CVM office headquarters: Bamako, Mopti, Gao and Timbuktu. In a suburb close to our friend Dabel's house we visited the main office in Bamako.

Click image for larger view
Berthe Salifou, at CVM
Berthe Salifou
Founded in 1993, CVM's aim is to promote the economic, social and cultural development of Mali by mobilizing youth and allowing them to acquire professional experience and a sound knowledge of grassroots communities. They live and work within those communities. In the United States, a similar program called VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) also mobilizes youth. Young people, rather than committing to a community abroad as in the Peace Corps, instead take time to work with communities in their own country. Here in Mali, 1300 CVM's volunteer for two years, with the option of staying on for a third year, to live and work with the poorest communities in Mali. That's three hundred volunteers that work for development against poverty, and another thousand who act as teachers and educators. They even give their anti-poverty stance a name: Appui a la lutte contre la Pauvrete par le Volontariat National (Assistance to Fight Poverty through National Volunteerism). CVM volunteers develop programs in education, handicrafts, livestock, well digging, health, agriculture, and savings and credit for their communities.

What's a Volunteer?

A Malian volunteer is a person who is animated with the ideal of serving for a given period of his or her life. A Malian Volunteer's concern is to contribute to the improvement of the welfare of their community.

Volunteerism is a sacrifice, a help to others by devoting a few years of life to them, with all the satisfactions and the challenges that might be involved.

The volunteer is above all a partner for the hosting community.

The volunteer is a facilitator in the process of responsible collaboration and partnership between intervening parties.

The volunteer wants to help others. The volunteer has a great skill of adaptation and a creative spirit.

The volunteer is a relay between supporting agencies and grassroots communities.

Berthe Salifou, the Assistant Director of CVM, tells us that not only are volunteers able to offer genuine aid because of their engineering, medicine, educational and science backgrounds, but they also "end up forming bonds with people living there. They grow personally." The whole idea of volunteerism can be confusing. Who is helping whom? Is the volunteer being helped? Is the community being helped? Sometimes, the helping process goes both ways.

In Mali, literally hundreds of non-governmental organizations and grassroots organizations work to better the quality of life for Malians. We World Trekkers often wonder amongst ourselves if these NGO's really do make for a better Mali. You see signs all throughout Bamako for groups, which dozens of countries sponsor, each with a particular focus point, e.g. children, AIDS, nursing mothers, clean water. However, we say out loud to each other, "If there are all these groups, how come Mali is still one of the five poorest countries in the world? Are they really making a difference?"

CVM makes a special effort to pay attention to the volunteer's growth, as well as that of the community for which the individual is working. Mr. Mahamane Baby, CVM's Director explains in the summer newsletter that the combat against poverty is "by the young people, for the young people, with the young people." Assistant Director Salifou points out a statement gracing the CVM national newsletter, "Courage! Willpower! Mobilization! That's your name...You do today the honor of this country, you are the principals in the fight against poverty."

Click image for larger view
At the CVM sign in Bamako
At the CVM office
In the same newsletter, Mr. Baby focuses on the volunteer's growth as an individual through all their stages: recruitment, orientation, and actual service. He writes, "One aspect that often escapes us is something you'll observe in the Malian Volunteer: le changement de mentalite, their change of mentality." He explains further, "recruiters sometimes remark that the youth lack confidence in themselves and are often 'rebels', shying away from discipline or the development of their spirit." However, during orientation, which is done in the spirit of voluntary work, volunteers begin to accept the idea of sacrificing for another.

The volunteers are soon concerning themselves with the people who have less than them. They develop the acceptance to live in difficult conditions, and form a spirit of group solidarity. When volunteers first arrive in the community "the initial shock might make them feel uncertainty and fear, but those things change in very little time." During evaluations "the shy people and the rebels disappear, and instead, one discovers responsible youth who can take care of their lives on their own; who can talk about complex issues, and who have a clear vision of their future. They become youth who won't destroy but who will engage in constructing a country that they know better and that they profoundly love."

Are you interested in learning more about volunteer organizations in America? Here are a few of the national volunteer organizations that work inside and outside of the US:

Teach for America
Peace Corps

While she spent some time in Mopti, Kavitha met Mr. Amadou Cisse, the Mopti Coordinator for the Malian Volunteer Corps. He claims that one of the strengths of the CVM program is that it "builds the volunteers so much to take them out of everything they know." He stresses the growth of the individual volunteer as one of the best parts of the program. It might even be the biggest part of someone's life, as in the case of Mahamadou Haidara, who worked as a Malian Volunteer near Timbuktu. Haidara, who specialized in metal construction, felt animated by the spirit of sacrifice and gave all his support to the fight against poverty. Tragically he fell ill with a fatal malady and died in May of 1999 in Timbuktu. He was only 25 years old.

Like the Peace Corps volunteers that Kavitha met, the Malian Volunteers usually come from big cities like Bamako or Mopti and have gone to college. When they get to a smaller village they have to learn just as much as the Peace Corps volunteers about the different way of life. The Malian Volunteers' Corps shines as an example of how young people can join in the fight against poverty, and in the process challenge themselves as human beings.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at


Abeja - Abeja gets M.A.D. - She's Making a Difference!
Abeja - Water, Water Everywhere, but Not Enough to Drink!
Jasmine - Not-So-Renewable Resources
Kevin - Beam Me Up, Scotty! Life in Mali

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