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May 24, 2018

Saving Lives One Vaccine at a Time

Recently, I have been reading critiques on international NGOS written by anthropologists, development experts, academics and other individuals intimately familiar with the field. I strongly believe that no individual or organization is above criticism, and for this reason I've been introspectively analyzing not only the Ouelessebougou Alliance, but the organizations that we partner with as well.

The strongest critique that I have consistently found in these papers, both academic and editorial, is the lack of sustainability in programs implemented by certain international non-profit organizations. Sometimes, programs have been designed by individuals that, while knowledgeable, are far removed from the daily struggles affecting their target populations.

Although the Alliance, like any other organization, certainly has room for improvement, we continue to pride ourselves in our model of development which emphasizes sustainability and villager involvement above all else. Unfortunately, countless stories exist of well-intentioned initiatives failing due to a lack of buy-in from the local populace. While we have problems like any other organization, this is not one of them. All Alliance programs are villager-initiated and emphasize sustainability - a fact we are very proud of.

Lastly, nearly all of the papers I read emphasized vaccinations as a simple but effective way to change lives. I know this to be true because I have heard of it first-hand from our field director. For the villagers of Ouelessebougou, vaccinations represent several additional years of life, as opposed to a routine visit to the doctor like it may be for many of us. Thank you for supporting our vaccination program. Thank you for caring about the people of Mali. Most importantly, thank you for saving lives.

Mar 6, 2018

Working in Partnership to Foster Self-Sufficiency

A woman shows the results of her gardening effort.
A woman shows the results of her gardening effort.

Our nutrition program does not utilize a unique approach or methodology that is different from our other programs. However, it is perhaps the best and most tangible demonstration of our approach to sustainable development that we strongly believe functions most efficiently. 

We don't suscribe to the aid model of development. We reject the notion that the villagers in Ouelessebougou are helpless people who need our assistance in order to survive. Rather, we recognize that they are a smart and capable people who have been economically disenfranchised. In recognition of this fact, the way that we approach the malnutirtion and hunger problem in Mali is to empower villagers and not to give them large amounts of food aid. 

The best way to execute such a plan is to ask the counsel of village elders, matrons and chiefs through their various councils. These councils decided that enhancing self-sufficient food production and education surrounding proper nutrition were the best ways to combat the Malian malnutrition problem, which is one that is quite acute. 

Unfortunately, there is not as much progress to report with this project due to the limited funding that has been received. However, there have been significant advances in other nutrition-related areas in the 11 villagers near Ouelessebougou. New garden wells have been constructed, and more children are learning about the importance of proper nutrition each day. However, the women's garden is not developing or growing as quickly as we had hoped. To those who have donated to this program, thank you so much. Please know that you're making a tangible difference and for that, we cannot thank you enough. 

Feb 28, 2018

Educational Opportunities Today=Brighter Tomorrow

Schoolgirls take a break and pose for a photo.
Schoolgirls take a break and pose for a photo.

It's a simple formula, one that has been repackaged and redelivered countless times. Individuals from all backgrounds, classes, schools of thought and religious or political persuasions have emphasized the importance of education throughout history.

W.E.B. Du Bois called education the "development of power and ideal". Maria Montessori called early childhood education the "key to the betterment of society".Victor Hugo said that "he who opens a school door, closes a prison". Malcolm X recognized education as the "passport to the future" and also somewhat controversially uttered that "without education, you are not going anywhere in this world".  Michelle Obama emphasized education as important to develop both the "ability to learn", but more importantly, "confidence". 

While education has been almost universally recognized as important, the importance of female education is a more recent development. The United Nations Development Program ranks Mali number 176 out of 187 listed countries in its Education Index. While this may sound discouraging and lead some to believe that we're having minimal impact, the data demonstrates that each year the country has significantly improved.

This is largely due to the inclusion of girls in school, which crucially imparts the confidence referenced earlier to a new generation of rural Malian youth. The Alliance has roughly 50 percent female enrollment in its elementary schools, which is approximately 20 percent higher than the national average. Statistics such as these are particularly important in communitarian societies like Mali, where macro-level efforts gather far more momentum than individual ones. As the African proverb states, "if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." 

This is why the Alliance takes a collaborative approach, and has recently partnered with local schools in the Salt Lake area to ensure that more girls are educated in Mali. We've partnered with Brookwood Elementary, Highland High, Viewmont Elementary, Redeemer Lutheran School and are currently initiating a partnership with the Salt Lake Arts Academy. We have worked in partnership with local schools and villagers to educate nearly 1,000 girls this school year, and we truly believe that we can continue to go farther, together.

 
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