When originally planning for the trip to West Africa I was at first a bit apprehensive of site visits in French. I've only studied the language for a year and I feared I might not be able to understand the organization's work or get a good sense of their impact if the visit was entirely in French.
Meeting with GAIA Foundation however quickly put these fears aside. Understanding the amazing work of GAIA does not require nuisance or subtlety. Their work is clear, direct and entails the truly praiseworthy work of literally saving lives on a daily basis. Over a number days in Bamako, Mali I had the opportunity to learn about this work both on "official" and "unofficial" site visits with the organization.
Though the "official" site visit occurred on July 12th, I would say the unofficial portion of the visit began when Lorraine and I moved into the GAIA guesthouse and were greeted by two enthusiastic and passionate GAIA volunteers, Tonyu and Emily. I don't think GAIA could have found two better representatives or endorsements than these two. Not only did they spend long nights explaining the difficult situation of health in Mali, but they also detailed the innovate approach GAIA has undertaken and gave us an introduction the inspiring doctor we would meet the following day, the local director of GAIA Dr. Tounkara. He would not disappoint. We learned that the organization works in the Sinkoro area, a part of Bamako that has been traditionally undeserved by health services with approximately 1 doctor per 40,000 patients. Devastating diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis has had a profound effect on the community and continue to disrupt the lives of many throughout the area.
As for the "official" site visit Dr. Tounkara, or as many call him "Kara", walked us through the Hope Clinic, greeting staff and patients alike along the way. He explained how GAIA is working in conjunction with the Malian government to make the clinic into a model that can be replicated throughout the country. The clinic takes a holistic approach to health, but has been greatly aided by GAIA's support in fighting HIV/AIDS and Tubrcolosis through both treatment and outreach.
Sitting down with the head of the Hope clinic, we learned how GAIA has additionally been instrumental in stepping in where the Malian government funds leave off. GAIA has been able to raise funds for advanced medical equipment and facilities, when the government of Mali is unable to provide the funding. What is truly unique is the way GAIA does not direct the improvements but responds to the needs of the community and its leaders.
Donating money can sometimes be a tricky business and it can be difficult to understand the impact of your donation. Furthermore, development models have proven complicated with ambiguous results. These doubts are not necessary with GAIA. Their impact is so clear that even a French beginner can understand them. GAIA's projects transform lives and represent a glimpse at the future of health in Mali.
...and if you're still not convinced they also speak English.
Andrew is an in-the-field traveler visiting numerous GlobalGiving projects. Follow his and his fellow travelers' adventures at www.itfwa.wordpress.com!