Dear Supporters of our Kakondji school construction project on Global Giving:
I wanted to send you an update on recently completed school in the village of Kakondji and the planning for our, soon to begin, next construction project in the village of Bantam.
As I mentioned in my last update, Timbuktu, which was once one of the world’s most literate places, and more recently an important travel destination for the intrepid traveler (it is hard to believe now that Bono was in Timbuktu only 4 years ago) is, today, a surreal place of ancient UNESCO World Heritage sites, pastoral scenes of camels and donkeys transporting agriculture and more than 3,000 UN Peacekeepers. There are military checkpoints everywhere in a heavily militarized environment void of tourists and non-UN foreigners.
Despite Timbuktu being on the front lines of the world’s fight against global extremist violence, residents are adjusting to life in this fabled place. There is still much work to be done by the Malian government, the UN, and NGOs to create more opportunities, particularly for young men, which will lead to a more secure situation.
It is the concrete projects which aid the population in very basic things, like education, that sustain hope for a better future in Timbuktu. Thus, I thank you so much for your generosity in supporting the Kakondji school construction project. I was grateful to be on hand myself, for the inauguration of the Kakondji school, in February. I was told stories about how excited the village was about the school, something they had petitioned the government for more than fifteen years ago, that many of them worked day and night to see the school completed as soon as possible.
There is little like the feeling of seeing a school come out from the sandy ground of the desert, particularly the Kakondji school. It represents a clear sign of hope for the village with the children able to attend school for the first time in the village’s history. Today, the Kakondji school is full of students who are able to have a more normal life as a child, going to school. I thank you for making this dream for them possible!
I wanted to include in this letter, a short note on the passing of a dear friend of Timbuktu, Ms. Irma Turtle.
Timbuktu has lost a dear friend! Irma worked tirelessly, for so many years,
through TurtleWill.org, to create better living conditions for so many
in Timbuktu (and elsewhere in Africa). Even in her final days, though I
did not know it then, she called me to ask me to send her close friend in
Timbuktu, Jiddou, some money and she then sent Caravan to Class a check to
cover that. I could tell that she was not in the best health, though she
was very interested in hearing about the recent developments with Caravan to
Class. Even though she had not been to Timbuktu for well over seven years,
she still carried an infectious enthusiasm for this place I have come to
The loss of Irma definitely touched me personally. Irma was a huge personal
motivation force for me that gave me the confidence to move strongly
forward with Caravan to Class, even with the difficulties of 2012. She
combined such passion, interest, and humanity for those who have been
underserved in very basic needs by their governments. But she also left
an imprint on me with the dignity that she showed for African, particularly
Tuareg, cultures. I remember a particular email I sent her from Timbuktu,
on March 14, 2012, exactly two weeks before Ansar Dine (the group linked
to Al Qaida) took over Timbuktu and all of Northern Mali. After describing
what an uplifting experience I had in visiting, some of the then,
TurtleWill-supported schools I ended with this....
"You should be very proud of what you have done with TurtleWill,
and, as I have told you before, I hope to 'walk in your shoes
some day'." I am still working to fulfill this hope!
In her quest for social justice for so many cultures so far away,
Irma embodied the famous Tuareg saying "It is better to walk without
knowing than to sit doing nothing."
Finally, as the people from Timbuktu (maybe all of Mali) say in French,
"Que la terre lui soit legere et que son ame repose en paix" (may the
earth be soft for her and may her heart rest in peace).
Caravan to Class will name our upcoming school construction project,
in the village of Bantam, after Ms. Irma Turtle...more on that in
a few months.
Founder and Executive Director, Caravan to Class
I wanted to send you an update on my February 2016 trip to Timbuktu about both the security situation in Timbuktu and Northern Mali and, most importantly, our just-completed school in the village of Kakondji.
Once one of the world’s most literate places, and more recently an important travel destination for the intrepid traveler (it is hard to believe now that Bono was in Timbuktu only 4 years ago), today Timbuktu is a surreal place of ancient UNESCO World Heritage sites, pastoral scenes of camels and donkeys transporting agriculture and more than 3,000 UN Peacekeepers. There are military checkpoints everywhere in a heavily militarized environment void of tourists and non-UN foreigners.
Timbuktu is really on the front lines of the world’s fight against global extremist violence. While we, in the west, experience the occasional terrorist incident, it is in places like Timbuktu that the true battle for tolerance is taking place almost every day. It brings the point home that this is not a war between Islam and the West, as the vast majority of extremely peace-loving moderate Muslims in Timbuktu are victimized by the extremist violence more than we can imagine.
The above fact makes the work of organizations like Caravan to Class more important than ever. It is the concrete actions of NGOs on the ground that help the local population maintain hope that the forces of tolerance can overcome the darkness that the extremist forces of groups like Al Qaida and ISIS bring.
For those of you interested in the security situation, please see below or else you can skip to the information on our Kakondji School.
Since I was last in Timbuktu, in April 2015, the government has signed a peace agreement although some of the rebels groups did not participate in the signing. The agreement did open up the way for many refugees to return to Timbuktu both for perceived economic opportunities and because in previous host countries, like Mauritania, the refugees are no longer welcomed. Thus, Timbuktu’s population has grown both due to the large increase in UN peacekeepers (more than 3,000 now from many different countries, Holland, Germany, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Nepal, even El Salvador + the French have their own separate military base) and returning refugees. This has created two particular problems of unintended consequences: 1) the inflows of cash particularly from UN peacekeepers has driven up prices of basic goods from 20-50% from prices observed last year which has not helped the local population. 2) some of the returning refugees have little allegiance to the government and country at best and at worst may be tacitly, if not outright, supporting some of the rebels/jihadists. This is evidenced by the suicide truck bomb that blew up a military checkpoint just at the entrance to Timbuktu last Friday only a few hundred feet from Caravan to Class’ local NGOs partner Nord et Developpment. This was the first actual suicide bomb experienced within the city limits since the conflict began in 2012.
Being objective, it is not at all clear how the situation will sort itself out with none of the important actors paying a helpful role: some of the returning refugees' loyalties are unclear, the rebel groups are content to play the spoiler role for both political and economic reasons, the government continues to promise but does not deliver on practical help to aid the local population, the UN peacekeepers are a large contingent that is both driving up local prices and is seen as doing very little practically. While their visible presence does help the security situation they have no mandate to engage the enemy unless fired on. I met two British mine-sweepers who are working for the UN in another Northern Mali town, Kidal. They told me that their job is to clear IEDs but unlike in Iraq, they are doing no forensic work on the bombs they clear…ie. The UN is pursuing a “stabilization” policy rather than aggressively pursuing the perpetrators of violence. We will have to see if this strategy works, but I am skeptical.
Despite little practical development help for Timbuktu from the government, there is a political movement in the works which may be the true hope for resolving the challenges in Timbuktu and other parts of Northern Mali. I call it the carrot and stick approach. It is a negociation with all factions in the works called “Integration” which would incentivize both rebels and government sanctioned armed groups to turn in their arms and commit to peace. If they do so, they have the option to be integrated either into the government army or the political/development wing of the government, bringing economic and career opportunity. If they do not, the army will be mobilized to aggressively pursue the bad actors, something they are not doing enough of now. Lets hope that this takes fold. Even with the unclear loyalty of some of the returning refugees, the vast majority of Timbuktu citizens are peace-loving and simply want to have hope for their future.
It is the concrete projects which aid the population in very basic things, like education, that sustain hope for a better future in Timbuktu. Thus, I thank you so much for your generosity in supporting the Kakondji school construction project. I was grateful to be on hand myself, for the inauguration of the Kakondji school and was handed the key to the school. In addition, the Head of the Village gave a blessing to the donors of Caravan to Class for realizing this project which began only about 4 months ago. I was told stories about how excited the village was about the school, something they had petitioned the government for more than fifteen years ago, that many of them worked day and night to see the school completed as soon as possible.
As I arrived by boat (traveling the Niger river, the third longest river in Africa, after the Congo and Nile), an auspicious sign came before up when a large Hippo popped out of the water just in front of the village. I was lead through the village to the new school and awaiting me were roughly 200 children (many more than we had forecast) in their new school uniforms thanks to your support. There is little like the feeling of seeing a school come out from the sandy ground of the desert, particularly the Kakondji school. It represents a clear sign of hope for the village with the children able to attend school for the first time in the village’s history. The village Chief told me “Mr. Barry, one cannot be President of Mali without an education. Now, with our new school, thanks to you and your donors, maybe one of our children will be President of Mali one day.”
Finally, we scouted out our next school project in the village of Koura. Koura is the largest village that Caravan to Class has intervened in. It already has a reasonable 3-classroom school. However, with more than 300 school-age children, the classrooms are over-flowing (with grades 1- 6 having to double up) and thus we have committed to building a new 3-classroom school in our next calendar budget. I will make sure to share this project with you towards the end of 2016 in hope that you may consider supporting it.
Dear Friends of Caravan to Class:
Happy New Year. I wish you and your families a healthy, happy and successful 2016.
On behalf of the roughly 120 children in the village of Kakondji, which I visited this past May 2015, I thank you for your support for our yearend campaign to fund the Kakondji school. I realize how many important causes there are to support both in the U.S. and overseas and I am grateful that you have chosen to support Caravan to Class this past year.
A recent report from the United Nations Children's Fund highlighted that more than 380,000 children remain out of school in some of Mali's more insecure regions which includes Timbuktu. In addition, ore than 1 in 6 schools remain closed. I am happy to say that with your support and the work of our team in place in Timbuktu, all nine schools that Caravan to Class has built and supports remain open and attendance remains strong. In addition, as a supplementary program to support the prioritization of education within the family, we have launched a pilot Female Adult Literacy Program in the village of Tourari funded with a grant from the Circle of Sisterhood Foundation. By spreading the joy that comes with literacy to the mothers, we feel strongly that the children in those families, particularly the girls, have a much greater chance of staying in school.
Construction of our Kakondji school is now well underway. I plan to travel to Timbuktu next month to see the progress on the school and also to see our new Female Adult LIteracy in action and will send a note in early Spring to provide information on the progress of our projects.
Thank you again for your support. With your support, we not only achieved the second spot on Global Giving list of over 200 projects trying to raise funds on their platform during the yearend, but we also secured a $20,000 match grant from the Meier Family Foundation. https://www.globalgiving.org/leaderboards/year-end-2015/
Founder/Executive Director, Caravan to Class