Passing of Ms. Irma Turtle, Friend of Timbuktu!

May 5, 2016

Dear Friends:

Some of you will be aware by now, but I wanted to make sure to send you this sad note...

I learned earlier this week that Irma passed away a few weeks ago. She had been battling Parkinson's Disease for a few years now and finally decided to end her suffering. As a friend of hers wrote to me, Irma told her "I have happily and gratefully released myself from the confines of this physical body which has gotten too difficult to endure due to stage 4 Parkinson's and extreme, chronic sciatica."

Timbuktu has lost a dear friend! Irma worked tirelessly, for so many years, through, to create better living conditions for so many in Timbuktu (and elsewhere in Africa). Even in her final days, though I did not know it then, she called me to ask me to send her close friend in Timbuktu, Jiddou, some money and she then sent Caravan to Class a check to cover that. I could tell that she was not in the best health, though she was very interested in hearing about the recent developments with Caravan to Class. Even though she had not been to Timbuktu for well over seven years, she still carried an infectious enthusiasm for this place I have come to care for.

The loss of Irma definitely touched me personally. Irma was a huge personal motivation force for me that gave me the confidence to move strongly forward with Caravan to Class, even with the difficulties of 2012. She combined such passion, interest, and humanity for those who have been underserved in very basic needs by their governments. But she also left an imprint on me with the dignity that she showed for African, particularly Tuareg, cultures. I remember a particular email I sent her from Timbuktu, on March 14, 2012, exactly two weeks before Ansar Dine (the group linked to Al Qaida) took over Timbuktu and all of Northern Mali. After describing what an uplifting experience I had in visiting, some of the then, TurtleWill-supported schools I ended with this....

"You should be very proud of what you have done with TurtleWill, and, as I have told you before, I hope to 'walk in your shoes some day'." I am still working to fulfill this hope!

In her quest for social justice for so many cultures so far away, Irma embodied the famous Tuareg saying "It is better to walk without knowing than to sit doing nothing."

Finally, as the people from Timbuktu (maybe all of Mali) say in French, "Que la terre lui soit legere et que son ame repose en paix" (may the earth be soft for her and may her heart rest in peace).

Caravan to Class will name our upcoming school construction project, in the village of Bantam, after Ms. Irma Turtle...more to come on that in a few months. The picture below is of Irma at the Togha school, which Caravan to Class rehabilitated this past year.

Image of Irma Turtle seated in a classroom surrounded by students at Caravan to Class' Togha school

Please feel free to share the URL for this page with those who knew Irma but may not know of her passing and of the impact she had on so many people in Timbuktu. R.I.P. Irma!

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