Why Timbuktu, Mali?

"Providing an education to the children of villages like
Tedeini, outside of Timbuktu, costs less than 1% of what
it costs to educate a child in the United States."

Image of Tuareg people in the village of Tedeini near Timbuktu, Mali According to the United Nations Human Development index, Mali ranks right at the bottom of a number of indicators including literacy. Nevertheless, Mali is a country rich in historical significance, has some of the world's most interesting cultures, is one of Africa's more politically stable democracies, and boasts some very engaging and hospitable people.

The Camel Caravans

For hundreds of years the camel caravans traversed the Sahara Desert to earn their living through trade. As the caravan trade diminished due to more modern means of transport, and after years of drought and the loss of their herds of cattle and goats, the Tuareg, the nomadic people of the Sahara Desert, were forced to settle down in the villages near Timbuktu in the 1990s. Their children had never known formal school nor has the Malian government invested in building schools in their villages. As a result, Mali is one of the world most illiterate countries (according to the UN Human Development index) with literacy at around 26% and the literacy rate in the villages around Timbuktu is less than 10%.

Timbuktu, both Fabled and Historically Significant

The name Timbuktu is a widely used name and word in the lexicon of millions of people around the world. It symbolizes the middle of nowhere. However, in the 12th century, it was one of the world’s most strategically well-located places at the confluence of the Southern Sahara Desert (the world’s largest) and the Niger River (Africa’s third longest river) where all trade between Asia/Europe/the Middle East and Africa passed through Timbuktu. Moreover, in an age where salt was as important, if not more important, than slaves and gold, Timbuktu was not far from the famous salt mines of Taoudenni, where salt is still mined today and transported by camel caravans.

In the 12th century, Timbuktu was recognized as the Islamic world’s third most important center of learning, featuring a university with over 25,000 students. Indeed, Timbuktu, represents the gilded age of education and scholarship for all of Africa. In addition to a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites of libraries and the old university, Timbuktu is responsible for one of the world’s most ancient and important collections of manuscripts which chronicles the high level of education in science, math, poetry and art. The important to Africa of the legacy of scholarship in Timbuktu cannot be underestimated. Caravan to Class is doing its part in bring this legacy back to the present by creating the first generation of literate children in many of the villages where we work.

Education in the Villages around Timbuktu

Caravan to Class, with your help, brings education to these villages. Providing an education to the children of villages like Tedeini, outside of Timbuktu, costs less than 1% of what it costs to educate a child in the United States. For Fadimata and Ataher, this means the difference between spending a full day in school learning with their village mates or toiling in the hot sun doing the chores of the village.

By educating a child in one of the villages where Caravan to Class operates, you not only bring the gift of literacy directly to a child in a village in Africa, but break the cycle of illiteracy in the child’s family and bring hope for the future to the entire village.


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"Education is the movement from darkness to light…"

~Alan Bloom

Audio Feature

trigger image that opens NPR audio program about Mali's Tuareg people

NPR audio feature about Mali's Tuareg people


Read the interview with CTC founder Barry Hoffner, catch up with progress on literacy programs and Caravan-to-Class press releases.

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