NEWSLETTER - October 25, 2012
First, I again thank you so much for your interest in and support for Caravan to Class and our mission of bringing literacy to the children of the one of the world's most illiterate areas, the Sahara Desert region of West Africa.
I would also like to apologize for the length of time since my last update. Ironically on April Fool's Day—just ten days after I departed Timbuktu, this fabled city was the last in Northern Mali to fall to the Islamic militants of Ansar Dine, a group linked to Al Qaeda. I was in Mali to see the progress of our schools, the new school we built in the village of Mora and to visit the additional schools that Caravan to Class was about to take responsibility for. On this trip, I was very inspired by the learning taking place in many of schools in the villages around Timbuktu and at the only Deaf School in Northern Mali, all funded by Caravan to Class. In fact, on this trip Mr. Male Dioum joined Caravan to Class to sharpen our educational focus on literacy measurement and improvement.
Unfortunately, after April 1, 2012, these schools have all been closed and the vast majority of their villages' inhabitants displaced following these tragic events. Many of our Caravan to Class friends were fortunate to get out alive.
Initially, we thought it possible that the Malian military would regroup and force out Ansar Dine so that we could resume our work in the seven villages where Caravan to Class is responsible for schools, bring education to more than 1,500 children ages 6 - 12. We were initially dismayed to see events, similar to what happened in Afghanistan, unfold in Northern Mali with little attention from the Press. However, since July, and particularly since the tragic events in Benghazi, Libya, where the US ambassador was killed, the world has realized that events in the Middle East and Northern Africa are all linked and that areas of lawlessness, infiltrated by Al Qaeda and other militant groups, can destroy many lives and subjugate local populations. In fact, very recently, the situation in Northern Mali was the headline feature on Reuters with the title Special Report: In the Land of Gangster-Jihadists.
As Hilary Clinton said recently, about the situation in the area, "This is not only a humanitarian crisis; it is a powder keg that the international community cannot afford to ignore."
Despite this, Caravan to Class recognizes that we can no longer wait until Mali, West Africa, France and the UN take action so that families can return from refugee status in neighboring countries to their own villages. We can no longer wait to reopen our schools which were shut down both by Ansar Dine denying access to education and in response to our partners, the UN World Food Program, the Timbuktu Ministry of Education and the villages themselves leaving the area.
While our dream is for Caravan to Class to be in a position to reopen our seven schools, our mission is that "no matter where a child lives, the fundamental right of education is assured." As such, our attention will temporarily shift to educating populations of refugees populations in their refugee camps/areas. We are currently in discussion with the UN World Food Program, UNICEF and other local NGOs about starting a pilot education program in the Djibo refugee camp in Burkina Faso, Mali's southern neighbor to where many refugees have fled. Caravan to Class' Hamadou Toure will be traveling to the Djibo refugee camp next week, along with a local Burkina Faso partner NGO, to work on a plan to set up a temporary refugee school. I hope to be in a position to tell you more specifically about this project before year end.
There has been a lot of progress in bringing attention to the world stage of the events that unfolded in Timbuktu and Caravan to Class is proud to have played a small role in this. In fact, the situation in Mali was even mentioned two times in the last Presidential debate between Obama and Romney. This makes us hopeful that the horrific events that have unfolded in Mali's Northern areas are temporary. I also wanted to report on the following:
Takeover of TurtleWill schools
As I mentioned in a note at yearend, Caravan to Class had been asked to takeover five additional schools in villages outside of Timbuktu from TurtleWill, an Arizona - based foundation that is closing its doors and had been operating in Northern Mali for two decades (see attached letter from TurtleWill's founder). We will assume responsibility for these five schools and the two that Caravan to Class built once the refugees are able to return to their villages.
Caravan to Class in Mali
Caravan to Class' NGO partner and administrator, Mr. Hamadou Toure, moved his family to Bamako, Mali (Mali's capital) shortly after they were robbed and held at gunpoint in Timbuktu. He has helped get Caravan to Class connected to the UN-sponsored Education Cluster where we have submitted a few projects to educate Northern Mali refugee students in Bamako and Mopti into the OCHA (Organization for Cooperation of Humanitarian Affairs) database. We are thankful for Hamadou's continued work on behalf of Caravan to Class in Mali.
Thank you for taking the time to read this update on Caravan to Class and the situation in Northern Mali. We are hopeful that one day, we can return to running the seven schools we are responsible for outside of Timbuktu. There is simply nothing like seeing a 1st grade Tuareg girl reciting the French alphabet with a smile on her face and knowing that she is the first of her generation to possess the gift of literacy.
Literacy is our long-term mission and we will continue to pursue this dream. In the meantime, I will update you when Caravan to Class has moved further along with plans for a temporary refugee school for Northern Mali children in Burkina Faso. I am so grateful for the support you have given Caravan to Class. We simply cannot let a small group of fanatics squash the long-term hopes of so many children to realize the gifts of literacy.
If you have a few extra minutes, please take the time to watch some of the following videos on the Caravan to Class Youtube channel posted below.
Barry Hoffner, Founder and Executive Director of Caravan to Class
1. Caravan to Class students in their school before April 2012
School for the Deaf, Timbuktu, Mali
Student in Tedeini Village, Timbuktu, Mali
2. Traditional village dances welcoming Caravan to Class
Village of Tombouz, Timbuktu, Mali
Village of Teshaq, Timbuktu, Mali
3. Talk with chief of village of Mora, Timbuktu, Mali with new school building in the background
Caravan to Class Founder Barry Hoffner with Mora village head, Timbuktu, Mali
4. Ansar Dine (Al Qaeda-linked group from Southern Algeria) Islamic militant takeover
Ansar Dine leader in Timbuktu pledges to take on Americans and French