NEWSLETTER - April 10, 2015

Dear Friends & Supporters,

Thank you for your interest in Caravan to Class and the important social justice cause of Literacy for one of the world's most fascinating, yet underserved areas. Being the only NGO both building and supporting schools for the wonderful children of villages around Timbuktu, we see our work as vital to a deserving population. I am writing to tell you a little about my recent trip to the region to see both our now completed Teshaq school rehabilitation project (mostly thanks to support of friends of Ms. Irma Turtle) and our Samdiar school near completion.

Image of the United Nations Humanitarian Aid vehicle used to transport us in and around Timbuktu

During the past year, ironically, the name Timbuktu has appeared much more widely due to the multiple award-winning film, Timbuktu which was also nominated for an Oscar. This film takes place during a time roughly three years ago when the Ansar Dine militants took control of Northern Mali, including Timbuktu, and subjugated a peaceful and ethnically diverse population.

Today, I am happy to say that almost two and a half years after the liberation of Timbuktu by French forces, this fabled city is very much on the road to recovery and Caravan to Class' all-volunteer work on the ground, as the only NGO both building and funding the operation of schools, is stronger than ever. While there are still no tourists in the city—it remains heavily fortified by UN Peacekeepers and the French military—there is a feeling that things are returning to normal. Refugees have, for the most part, returned. There is much more life on the streets than one year ago. The people seem to be moving from a period of looking for basic needs to looking towards the future. There is a feeling that if only the MNLA (Tuareg leadership) would sign the peace accord, there could be a noticeable inflow of opportunities.

I was happy to visit the school that Caravan to Class built last year in the village of Tombouz. Though the students were on school break, I loved seeing the finished school, the new well next to the school and the new block of toilets. Most of all, I loved seeing the writing on the blackboard from before the students went on break. In the 6th grade classroom, there was a test on the blackboard with one essay question, "What was the role played by Djenne and Timbuktu in the 16th century?" The head of the village of Tombouz was overjoyed to see me again and asked to send a special thank you to the donors who made the Tombouz school possible.

Image showing the newly constructed well at the Tombouz school

Image of classroom lessons on a blackboard at the Tombouz school

Next, I visited our current school construction project in the village of Samdiar. Samdiar is a very large village right on the Niger river about 20 kilometers from the town of Timbuktu. It is an ethnically mixed village of Songhay, Tuareg (black), Peul and Bozo people who seem to get along well together. There was the usual incredible welcome, the frenzied women dancing, the kids all wanting to shake my hand, the camels, and the traditional chat with the village elders in the tent. The head of the area's commune (a commune is comprised of 15-20 villages) even showed up and told me that the school was the first to be made of cement in his whole commune. The village chief was very happy and said "you came to our village, on behalf of Caravan to Class, one year ago and said you would build us a school. You have done that. No one has ever done anything like that for our village. We will remember you and your donors forever!" The wonderful Florida-based NGO F.A.C.E.S co-funded this school with Caravan to Class.

Image of some of the people from the village of Samdiar gathered to greet Barry Hoffner

Image of villagers gathered at the construction site of the Samdiar school

That same day, I went to scout out two villages for our next school project and as a result, we will already start working on a budget for the Kakondji school in our 2015-2016 budget that begins July 1, 2015. Kakondji is also on the Niger River in the same commune as Samdiar (the commune of Dangha). It is also a large village of children, which you will see from the pictures. It is incredible to think that this village, with so many children, has never had a school. The village elders spoke quite passionately about wanting to see their kids educated...that times have changed, and they realize the need for the children to read and write. Kakondji fits all our criteria for a successful school construction project.

Image of Barry Hoffner and a gathering of children at the future site of the Kakondji school

Image of Kakondji villagers gathered near the Niger River

Image of our NGO partner Mr. Hamadou Toure and Caravan to Class founder and director Barry Hoffner
Finally, I went with Jiddou and Hamadou to visit the Teshaq school. This visit was unannounced, and Jiddou insisted that I wear a turban for security precautions though it was useful with the sandstorm we experienced. Unlike a number of Caravan to Class' other schools, Teshaq lies on the North-West road where most of the problems lie. I was very happy to see the school. It was very well built as you may be able to see from the photos. The day of my visit was the first day back from school break, so there were not as many children as there would likely be the next week. Nevertheless, those in the village quickly assembled to give me a wonderful welcome.

Image of children greeting our entourage visiting the Teshaq school

Image of a blackboard lesson from the Teshaq school

We are now into our 6th year with our partner NGO Nord et Developpement and its founder, Mr. Hamadou Toure. We took a chance on partnering with this small local NGO in early 2010 and the decision has paid off. Hamadou has an incredibly structured process for working with the villages, and the authorities that keep things organized and on track. He has managed to create a network of partners like Caravan to Class that operate in different sectors to help uplift the villages where we work. The principal areas are Education (Caravan to Class), Sanitation, and Food Security.

Finally, we will be launching a new program in our 2015-2016 budget—an adult female literacy class. From our contacts with the villages, we have realized that the more involved we get the parents—particularly mothers—with the schools, the more they support their child's—particularly girls—education. We already have the classrooms, the solar for light, and the teachers. Thus, adding a few evening classes for the mothers, to learn to read and write in their own language(s) in a fun and well-structured way, would be very complementary to our existing work.

It is the time of year when I will be busy research grant opportunities and writing renewal grants. We do have a $10,000 Match Grant opportunity from one of our strongest supporting foundations. Therefore, if you have any connections to any grant-giving organization, please consider making that contact for me. I have found that if Caravan to Class can get its foot in the door with foundations supporting education in Africa, given the compelling nature of people and place, our demonstrated track-record of success, and the low cost of our education, we usually can gain support.

Image of a teacher and student at one of Caravan to Class' schools in Mali

Image of a student at the blackboard in one of Caravan to Class' classrooms in Mali

It should be the fundamental right of every child to be in school—including the children from the fabled town of Timbuktu, Mali.

Please check out this short video of my trip filmed by a Malian News TV crew.

This note turned out to be longer than I expected, so thank you for taking the time to read it. Finally, please consider liking our Facebook page.


Signature of founder
Barry Hoffner, Founder and Executive Director, Caravan to Class


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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Video of our work

Caravan to Class video

Drone footage of the Kokonji school newly-built by Caravan to Class in Mali