NEWSLETTER - May 1, 2013
Dear Friends of Caravan to Class,
As a result of the French liberation of Timbuktu on January 28, 2013, Caravan to Class has put in place a plan to reopen our schools, or at least the ones that are ready to reopen...and we have some great news to share with you. As of the second week of April, we have resumed classes at three Caravan to Class schools in the villages of Tourrari, Tombouz and Togha and have begun supporting an additional school in the village of Bokyatt. Before I tell you about that, I wanted to give you an idea of how we got to this point.
Mission to Timbuktu
Less then one month after the liberation of Timbuktu by French forces, Caravan to Class's Hamadou Toure, my friend, colleague and local NGO partner, embarked on a mission to Timbuktu, from Bamako, the capital of Mali. Hamadou met with the newly arrived authorities from the Timbuktu Ministry of Education, C.A.P. (Centre d'Animation Pedagogique), visited the seven villages where Caravan to Class is responsible for schools, checked out the infrastructure, met with parents and the Heads of villages, and assessed Caravan to Class's readiness to resume educational operations in the villages.
In a number of cases, at least three, villages were completely full (ie. no refugees). Schools were reasonably well taken care of, though unused for the previous year, when the Al Qaida backed Ansar Dine Islamic Militants had closed all schools and destroyed the offices of the Timbuktu Ministry of Education (see picture below). Other villages were still relatively empty due to the residents continued apprehension about ethnic conflict. The villages in which we operate are predominantly Tuareg, both what are called "White" Tuareg and "Black' Tuareg, or Bella. The Bella used to be the slaves of the "White" Tuareg. Some villages are completely Bella or Black Arab, others are mixed, "White" Tuareg and Bella. In general, the predominantly Bella villages were full or refugees had returned, while the "White" Tuareg are still refugees in Burkina Faso and Mauritania, although there are some signs that they are ready to return.
A ransacked office of the Timbuktu Ministry of Education
Hamadou spent three weeks in Timbuktu and wrote a long, well-documented report, with pictures, on the state of the schools and villages and the readiness to resume operations. The schools looked lonely and ready to have kids in the them
Back to School
As a result of Hamadou's report, the Caravan to Class team in Mali, including Director of Programming Male Dioum, put in place a plan, in cooperation with the Timbuktu Ministry of Education, to reopen three of the schools (in Tourrari, Togha, and Tombouz) and begin supporting an additional school in Bokyatt, as soon as possible. With our last remaining funds, we put together a budget to fund the remainder of the 2012-13 school year, finishing the end of June 2013. This included purchasing school supplies, paying teachers, and providing school lunches. We hired Mr. Abdoulaye Bouba Toure to be our point person on the ground (Hamadou will remain in Bamako) in Timbuktu managing our programs, relations with the authorities in Timbuktu, and working with the parents and village leaders to strengthen the schools. Abdoulaye is a French professor by training. We still face challenges in receiving regular information from Timbuktu via internet due to the frequent cuts in electricity and internet services. However, we do have some concrete information on the schools, including pictures.
Due to the short time remaining until the end of the school year for 2012-13, we put together a very tight budget which includes only direct costs of education. Infrastructure repairs, which will be needed for the 2013-14 school year, were excluded from this year's budget.
We are putting the finishing touches on our plan for the 2013-14 school year. We are happy to say that we have received approval notification for our first grant from a Bay Area-based foundation, to whom we are very grateful. In addition, we are starting to work on launching a funding campaign, including a short 3-4 minute video on our activities. Finally, we are working away on additional grant-funding opportunities. Ms. Aekta Desai, who graduated last year from the Monterey Institute of International Studies with a Masters degree in Development, and is now working for a large Washington D.C.-based development organization, is still volunteering her time with Caravan to Class, as is Michelle White, and will manage our campaign.
In the next few months, when our video is ready, and our 2013-14 plan and budget finalized, we hope to share them with you as inspiration to support one of the world's most deserving but neglected group of children either by making a donation or by connecting us with individuals or organizations who want to support our cause for literacy in Timbuktu.
After a full year of dormancy, Caravan to Class is working very hard to set up the structure of our organization in Mali, in order to create sustainable change. This includes providing our supporters with regular and concrete information about our operations and finding the best way to demonstrate impact.
While most of the heavy fighting between the Islamic Militants of Ansar Dine, a group very closely aligned and even managed by Al Qaida, has taken place in the far northern areas of Northern Mali, Algerian border, Timbuktu has not been without its own problems. There was at least one terrorist suicide bomber who blew himself up at the airport, as well as one important fight between the French forces and militants who had infiltrated Timbuktu at night. However, for the most part, Timbuktu, though still challenged in a number of ways, has remained relatively calm. We have been asked how we can recommence operations with the security situation still posing a major concern. Our answer is that if we are allowed to resume our mission of bringing education to the children of Timbuktu, can provide equal access to girls and boys, have French taught in our schools, and can monitor and strengthen the schools, in the long-term we can ensure literacy and lifelong security for the children we serve. There will clearly be challenges from time to time, but we will deal with them as we go along.
As I am writing this note, the French are drawing down their forces. Chadian soldiers in Timbuktu are being replaced by peace-keeping soldiers from Timbuktu. The best news, which has just come out, is that the UN has voted to send a 12,600 peace-keeping force to Mali. If you have not done so already, I kindly ask you to "like" Caravan to Class on Facebook so you can follow the progress of our schools and the wonderful children we serve. Please share this page with your friends and family and help increase support for our cause.
Thank you again for your interest in and support for Caravan to Class.
Barry Hoffner, Founder and Executive Director of Caravan to Class