NEWSLETTER – January 1, 2013

Dear Friends of Caravan to Class,

First, I wish you, friend of Caravan to Class, a healthy and happy 2013. More than anything, in 2013, I wish my friends from the seven villages where Caravan to Class now has schools, a restoration of their liberty and a speedy return to their villages from their current status as refugees in camps in Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

It was the events of 2011 which set about enormous changes in the Middle East and Northern Africa that have reverberated into the Sahara Desert and finally to Mali in 2012. Who would have known that when a poor street vendor in Tunisia decided to light himself on fire in protest of the Tunisian regime, a chain events leading to revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Syria, would create a vacuum of security across the Sahara Desert. The impact was the joining of forces of former Tuareg fighters for the Ghadafi regime with Ansar Dine, an Al Qaida-affiliated group, to take over all of Northern Mali, including Timbuktu, with minimal resistance. These fanatics have created an Islamic Republic that has very negatively impacted those who have remained.

Northern Malians are still suffering through this tragedy with more than 400,00 forced to flee into neighboring Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Niger as refugees and they are the lucky ones who were able to leave. I, myself, was lucky enough to get out of Timbuktu only about ten days before its takeover by Ansar Dine. During my visit, I was able to spend one week in a place I had grown quite attached to visiting not only our second school

Mora school corridor

we built in the village of Mora, but also the other schools that Caravan to Class has recently assumed responsibility for from TurtleWill, an Arizona-based charitable organization run by Ms. Irma Turtle that has closed its doors. It is still hard to comprehend the world of difference between the wonder of a lovely first grade girl in one of our schools against the evil that has come to takeover the area, something Caravan to Class, unfortunately experienced in a few short weeks during 2012.

Tombouz 1st grader reciting the French alphabet

Caravan to Class is grateful to have played a small role in publicizing the tragedy that befell Timbuktu. It was many months before the situation in Northern Mali was even on the back pages of the world press. Today, it has been highlighted as a feature story of every major news outlet. All of this publicity has led to Northern Mali becoming a strategic concern to both the US and to France, particularly after the killing of the US Ambassador to Benghazi who was very likely killed by a group with links to Ansar Dine. On December 21, 2012, the UN finally approved resolution 2085 which authorizes the use of force in Northern Mali.

The evil of Ansar Dine

We are hoping that 2013 does bring about a restoration of freedom in Northern Mali particularly in Timbuktu. This would allow Caravan to Class to resume operating our seven schools, the literacy lifeline for more than 1,500 elementary age children. Should this occur, we will quickly need to mobilize our organization and donor support. As events unfold, we will let our supporters know.

In the meantime, we are still discussing the possibility of setting up a temporary school in the Djibo refugee camp in Burkina Faso. Our local-NGO partner and valued and loyal Caravan to Class employee, Mr. Hamadou Toure, recently took a trip to the Djibo refugee camp. I was pleased to learn that the refugees are relatively well taken care of (relative to their life in the villages near Timbuktu). We were worried about the conditions there but after Hamadou's visit, we no longer have a major concern about their welfare.

Djibo camp Northern Mali refugees in Djibo

In 2013, we do plan to actively pursue our mission of educating the children of the villages outside of Timbuktu. We hope this can be in the Caravan to Class schools in their own villages. However, if we decide that this is unlikely to happen in 2013, we will move ahead with plans to help with education of these children in the refugee camps.

I wish you healthy and happy 2013 and appreciate your past support for the deserving but forgotten children of the Sahara desert.


Barry Hoffner, Founder and Executive Director