On the afternoon of Sunday, February 17th, Hamadou Toure, local partner of Caravan to Class, and I met with the five recipients of the “Bourse Jackie” Scholarship in the courtyard of my B&B. The five women were selected by ranking the highest on our scoring system, which included their school grades, a writing sample, and a test we administered. It was important for us to have an objective determination of the final recipients so as to completely rule out any favoritism. The initial applicant pool was roughly 50 young women, and we administered an exam to the 12 finalists. The average score of the 12 twelve finalists was 70.2, with the lowest at 47.1 and the highest at 98. The average score of the 5 scholarship recipients was 81.2.

I was very impressed with all five of the Bourse Jackie recipients, and with two of them in particular. As they warmed up, the level of engagement was very high and their enthusiasm, motivation, and intelligence definitely made a strong impression on me. Our process seems to have chosen the perfect recipients.

The “Bourse Jackie” Scholarship provides for 4 years to completion of university degree, room, board, and transportation.

Scholarship Recipients Malian Ethnicity
Maimouna Maiga Songhai
Sira Sangare Songhai/Peul
Djeneba O (Zeinab) Maiga Songhai
Bintou Dicko Tamashek
Fatouma Toure Songhai

The young women came from four different public high schools in Timbuktu. They are all incredibly grateful for this opportunity and all made it a point to thank you, the donors. Unfortunately, there is but one major public university in Mali, and it does not seem to be well-organized. For some majors, classes only started recently due to political issues. As a result, a number of the women have chosen to go to private universities, with a few actually attending classes in both. As one of the young women said, the level of education is much higher in the private universities, but they don’t offer classes in all the subjects the public university does. Two of the women speak some English and are very motivated to study the language. Caravan to Class will consider sponsoring them to go to Ghana to study English for three months in the summer, something we did for a staff member based in Timbuktu.

Pictured (L—R): Ms. Sira Sangare, Ms. Djeneba O Maiga, Ms. Maimouna Maiga, Barry Hoffner, Ms. Bintou Dicko, Hamadou Toure, and Ms. Faouma Toure.

I asked each one who was the role model that influenced the decision to continue with her studies, given that only a very small percentage of female high school graduates in the Timbuktu region continue their studies through university. Each young woman responded that it was either her mother, or her older sister in one case, where the student’s mother passed away when she was young . Thus, it struck me that an important factor in girls continuing with their education in Timbuktu, that it is important that the mother has a strong voice in the family, and that she either has been educated herself, or believes in education for her daughter. Aside from the importance of the education itself, young women continuing their studies in countries like Mali where the average age of marriage is early teens, delaying marriage helps in many other important human development areas.

Without exception, all wished that they could attend university in Timbuktu itself, a place they call home, they love, and are familiar with. Life in Bamako, the big city and more than 1,000 kilometers away from Timbuktu, is not easy for them despite their motivation to continue studying. The biggest difficulty is daily transportation. Most of the girls live with relatives, and generally are an hour or more away by public transportation. Taking the local buses in Bamako is not a pleasant experience.

What follows are some notes I took from questions asked of each of the young women mostly just to get the conversation started:

Maimouna Maiga is ethnically Songhai. She is currently studying at a private university in Segou, a large city roughly four hours by bus from Bamako. Maimouna is studying sociology and started her studies in December. The classes do not seem to be difficult though the hours of work are long. She lives with a cousin and often returns home around 9:00 pm. She definitely wants to return to Timbuktu when she finishes her studies but does not yet know what she wants to do.

Sira Sangare is an ethnic mix of both Songhai and Peul. She is very bright and exceptionally engaging. Of the twelve finalists, she had by far the highest score in our ranking system at 98, 18 points higher than the next scholarship recipient. I was incredibly impressed with her. Never having been out of Mali before, she won a national scholarship to spend one month in Indiana a few years ago with an American family and managed to learn a good bit of English which she tried on me. She loved the U.S. She could not believe how much she was cared for by her family, even commenting that she was amazed that the mother of the family brought her a glass of milk each night before bed. That impression stayed with her. She also was very much surprised at how nice Americans, in general, were to her. She is currently studying at two universities in Bamako, a private university IGLAM and the public university. She is studying Logistics and Transportation at the private university because her role model, her mother, works in transportation as a logistics expert, in Timbuktu. At the public university, she is studying Economic Development. She is currently living with her aunt and will definitely return to Timbuktu when she finishes her studies.

Djeneba O (Zeinab) Maiga is Songhai by ethnicity. She started at the public university about one month ago and lives with an uncle about 1 ½ hours away by bus from the university. She is studying to be a doctor, specifically a gynecologist. While her mom is her idol, she was influenced to become a doctor by a Biology professor in high school and a TV show called The Good Doctor. She does not mind the big city but dislikes the long travel distance to and from school each day.

Fatouma Toure is also Songhai by ethnicity. She made a point of coming up to me right away to express her condolences on the passing of my dear wife, Jackie, and told me that she lost her mother when she was only five years old. She asked me to extend my condolences to my sons and my wife’s parents. I was perhaps the most impressed with Ms. Toure, both her sensitivity, as per above, her level of engagement (I liked how she looked me right in the eye when she spoke to me), and her keen intelligence. She knows Ms. Sangare above. They were in school together since childhood and they practice English together occasionally. Despite the fact that Ms. Toure has never been outside of Mali, her English is good and it is clear that she is not shy about trying to speak. In my ten years of travel to Timbuktu, it is unusual to meet youth who actually speak some English. Ms. Toure made a point of telling me that she loves speaking English. She continues to take English classes at the private university she attends, IGLAM, but is majoring in Communications/Journalism. She wants to be a journalist and I clearly see a very promising career there for her. Ms. Toure’s role model is her older sister, 15 years older, who effectively raised her when she lost her mother at a young age.

Bintou Dicko is an ethnic Tamashek (Touareg). She is living in Bamako with her uncle and is only now, given the delays at the public university, starting her studies. She is majoring in English. She is keeping her expenses low and decided to use a portion of the Bourse Jackie to buy a moped to make transport around Bamako easier.

Barry Hoffner
Caravan To Class Founder


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