NEWSLETTER - June 30, 2013

Dear Friends of Caravan to Class,

We are mid-way through 2013 and it is quite unbelievable where Caravan to Class is today compared to the beginning of 2013. I wanted to send an update on the positive political developments that have unfolded in the past week. While many uncertainties remain, regarding the peace agreement signed between the Tuareg leadership and the Malian State, and skeptics (understandably) abound, Caravan to Class believes that we are in as good a place to pursue our mission of Bringing Literacy to Villages in Timbuktu as we have ever been.

Six Months Ago

Less than six months ago we were witnessing the subjugation of a vulnerable population and destruction of an ancient city with historic treasures like ancient manuscripts, the Djungareyber Library and the Sankore University, all UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Islamic militants of Ansar-Dine, closely linked with Al Qaida, closed and ransacked all schools, including the schools that Caravan to Class supports teaching Malian (French) curriculum, and many of the Tuareg people from villages where we operate became refugees.

A ransacked offices of the Timbuktu Ministry of Education in Mali Image of a typical refuge tent for Mali refuges who have fled to Burkina Faso and Mauritania


Today, Caravan to Class, with the help of partner organization TurtleWill, is supporting four schools in the villages of Tourari, Tombouz, Togha and Bokyatt with plans to reopen four additional schools shortly. These schools are staffed with Timbuktu Ministry of Education-trained directors and teachers and are full of students who are able to resume their studies like 12-year-old Chabane Ould Marzouk from the village of Tombouz.

Image of Chabane Ould Marzouk, a student in a Caravan to Class school in the village of Tombouz An image of the letter written by student Chabane Ould Marzouk

Caravan to Class student Chabane Ould Marzouk writes:

"My village is called Tombouz which means termite, situated 13 kilometers South-east of the city of Timbuktu. The first man that was installed in Tombouz is named Rabah Youba and was the first Head of the village. There were about 15 that succeeded him.

The current one is Mattela Ould Boudjouma. He is the one that I very much like in my village. It is the school that gives me the chance to succeed in life and domestic work, driving the animals to the pasture, plastering the houses in mud-brick with our parents, weaving mats with our mothers. Our culture: it is traditional dance at the events like baptisms, marriages and celebrations that I like best."

Teachers and students in Caravan to Class classroom Teachers and students in Caravan to Class classroom

Peace Agreement between Malian State and Tuareg Leadership

On June 18th a "Preliminary Agreement to the Presidential Election and the Inclusive Peace Talks in Mali" were concluded between the Malian authorities and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). The UN Security Council notes that this agreement reaffirms the sovereignty, territorial integrity, national unity and secular nature of the Malian State. The Peace agreement opens the way for elections to be held on July 28th with all parts of the territorial country of Mali participating. Finally, the agreement was also a big coup for African unity, with two African countries, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, brokering the peace accords. This agreement is reinforced by a UN Peace-keeping force of 12,600 UN-lead soldiers.

A classroom with students in Mali engaged in learning A boy engaged in learning in of our schools in Mali

Caravan to Class' own Hamadou Toure wanted to share with friends of Caravan to Class his thoughts translated from French as follows:

"In Timbuktu, the deployment of administration, technical and defense forces and security services is almost complete in the Timbuktu region. Humanitarian agencies are in the process to being at full strength. United Nations organizations such as WFP (World Food Programme), UNICEF (United Nations Organization for Children) and OCHA (Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian agencies) have already opened offices in Timbuktu. NGOs such as Ardil, AMSS, NORDEV / CLC Adenor are also present.

Displaced populations and refugees are even enthusiastically returning. Life, in Timbuktu, slowly returns to normal. Traffic between Bamako and Timbuktu has resumed, both via car/roads and via the Niger.

There are still no commercial flights to the North, but the United Nations through UNHAS (Humanitarian Air Service of the United Nations) organizes weekly three return flights to the regions of Mopti, Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. The dialogue and reconciliation commission has begun its work. But now the most important thing is the preparation of the presidential elections, the first round is scheduled for July 28, 2013. Currently the entire political class is mobilized, creating alliances between political parties. We had already identified more than a dozen candidates, including one woman, a first for Mali."

There are skeptics of the accords, with some justification (see Andy Morgan's article for the less positive side of things).

The major view of the skeptics is that the Tuareg realized they had little choice but to sign the accords, given the country's need to hold elections. The elections themselves, will unlock millions of dollars in foreign aid which the country sorely needs after being close to social-breakdown during much of 2012. This view also sees some payoffs taking place to Tuareg leadership to get the country through the elections. Caravan to Class hopes that those providing the needed aid will continue to exert pressure on the authorities to foster needed peace for the sake of so many in the country.

In the meantime

While Caravan to Class watches the events leading up to the Presidential elections with interest, our focus is on the more than 1,000 children we serve. Once again, there is simply nothing like witnessing a young Tuareg girl, with a smile on her face, in school and reciting the French alphabet, knowing that she is the first generation in her family to realize the dream of literacy.

Tombouz 1st grader reciting the French alphabet

Currently, most of the students are in school and learning and we hope, by September 2013, the rest of our schools will be opened. In fact we have agreed to a request by the Timbuktu Ministry of Education, CAP (Centre d'Animation Pedagogique), to keep our schools open throughout the summer so that the children can make up some of the schooling they missed while schools were closed in 2012 and part of 2013.

How You Can Help!

Please like our Caravan to Class Facebook page and get your friends to like our Facebook page which will help us spread the message of literacy in the Southern Sahara Desert.

Caravan to Clas Founder and Executive Director Barry Hoffner with students in their new school in Mali

Barry Hoffner, Founder and Executive Director of Caravan to Class