January 10, 2020

Dear friends,

As Caravan to Class starts our 2nd decade of investing in literacy through our work in education in one of the world’s most interesting yet underserved places, (Timbuktu, Mali), I reiterate my gratitude to you for joining me on this important journey! With your support, over the years, we have been able to provide the opportunity for thousands of children to attend French-based schools through our main “school construction and support program.” More recently we have added a Female Adult Literacy program for mothers in the villages where we work, to teach basic literacy in the local language. Last year, we launched our “Bourse Jackie” program that very selectively provides scholarships to female high school graduates, from Timbuktu, to attend university in Mali's capital of Bamako. I personally met with these incredibly bright young women in Mali in February 2019. I was so impressed with the enthusiasm and dedication of three of these women towards learning English, that Caravan to Class funded an intensive English language course for them this summer in Accra, Ghana. Caravan to Class is currently working on our 14th school construction project, in the village of Bokoi-Koiria near Timbuktu.

I recently read, with great interest, the Gates Foundation’s report on global inequality entitled “Goalkeepers.” Reading it made me reflect on the decade of work of Caravan to Class—both our focus on education and in the region where we work, the Sahel of Sub-Saharan Africa. As Gates notes, “This narrow band near the top of Africa is the Sahel where human development indicators are worse than everywhere else on the planet.” The charts in the report show clearly that, “Where you are born is more predictive of your future than any other factor,” and that “gender inequality stacks the deck against half of humanity.”

The report also notes that, "It was not long ago that conventional wisdom held that poor children didn’t really need to be educated. That idea has been discredited in every region of the world in the past 50 years, and in many parts of the world countries are approaching universal primary school enrollment.”

While the area and country where Caravan to Class operates, Timbuktu, Mali, is still a good way from universal primary school enrollment, we at Caravan to Class know that we are on the right path. Our model, as a small but focused and efficient charitable organization, is to concentrate in creating access to and supporting French-based primary education in just one important place, Timbuktu. Additionally, within this region, we concentrate our work in one specific area at a time. This creates a critical mass of schools which gets us closer to our “Theory of Change” where “going to school becomes a routine part of life” for young children. I personally observed this during my February 2019 visit when the head of the village where we built our last school, in the village of Nanga, met me and my Caravan to Class colleagues in front of the village along the banks of the Niger River. Surprisingly, there was a large plaque right along the river which prominently announced the new school in Nanga bearing the Caravan to Class logo. I say surprising, because we usually install a plaque in front of the actual school as a small token of appreciation to our donors. I asked why that plaque was on the banks of the river, and the village head said proudly, “because we want everyone who travels by boat to and from Timbuktu (the major mode of travel) to know that our village prioritizes education.”

As we start our 2nd decade of work at Caravan to Class, we are still guided by the same principles of focusing our investment in villages around Timbuktu where we have high confidence in a school’s successful outcome. We supplement that with supporting the schools’ operations for a period of time to ensure we can closely monitor our investment and influence the direction of the school. Caravan to Class continues, since our founding, to work with the same partners: The Timbuktu Ministry of Education, Marhouf Construction and Nord et Developpement (which administers our work in the region).

The Gates Foundation report shows a picture of a girl climbing mountains (see below) as a symbol for the difficulties faced by, particularly girls, to overcome geographical, gender, race, religious and age challenges in the Sahel, the area where Caravan to Class operates. The report adds, “She deserves a better life. And we believe she can have one, as long as the world understands the many challenges she faces and gets to work on addressing them.”

chart showing obstacles girls from the Sahel region face - copyright © The Gates Foundation

For Caravan to Class, we have been addressing the above challenge in one of Africa’s most historical places by, as Gates notes, “…guaranteeing that every single child [in the villages where Caravan to Class operates] has access to education.” The Gates Foundation report ends with what we firmly believe: ”This is not just a moral aspiration; we believe it to be an achievable goal.”

Thank you again for your support during this past year and we hope to continue to earn your support in the future.

Sincerely and with gratitude,
Barry Hoffner