As fun as it is to see photos of donkeys and women carrying produce on their heads, a few of you have mentioned that you don't exactly understand what we are actually doing in Mali as it relates to work and community development.
Past: Just finished our first 2 months of cultural integration at site. Main goal was to improve language skills, get to know members of the community and identify needs in the community. Bintu had a report to complete inquiring about various aspects of the community. Salim had to complete a door-to-door sample survey of families' knowledge of diseases and prevention strategies.
Present: We are in Bamako for a 2 weeks of technical training. Our Malian work counterparts come for the 2nd week of training.
Future: July 2011 forward, Salim will work in Health Education, Bintu will work on Small Enterprise Development. The work we do in these fields is known as our "service." We are also able to take on secondary projects as needed (the most effective and happy volunteers here usually have their hands in many types of work including stuff that is unrelated to their formally assigned area).
Working with a group of 51 rice farmers who have received monetary and equipment loans from a Malian agency that promotes business development and entrepreneurship among "youth" (anyone under 40). Here is a link to the agency's website. The farmers themselves are interested in learning about different distribution channels to sell their rice, improved farming techniques, and/or working to acquire larger machinery in order to farm more efficiently. The "off season" for rice farming is Feb-June and the farmers have also expressed interest in finding other business ventures to generate supplemental income during the off season. My work counterpart is the president of this group of 51. As secondary activities I will be working with women's associations. These are typically a group of 15-25 women who meet to save and borrow money weekly. The associations essentially function as a mini credit union/microfinance institution. Sometimes the women also pool their savings in order to start business ventures together.
Working with the local clinic (CSCOM or Centre de Sante Communautaire) to assess the community's main health issues and and work to provide education on prevention. The goal areas for Mali in general are: maternal and child survival, disease prevention, and organizational and institutional development. Some of the common activities that volunteers have done in this sector are: animations (an interactive demonstration on a health topic, such as making improved porridge or how to prevent malaria), doing a radio show on health topics, partaking in vaccination campaigns (ex. polio), doing baby weighing to monitor malnutrition, and doing prenatal consultations at the health center.
This health center is actually quite well staffed by Malian standards (one doctor, one resident, one nurse, one formally trained midwife, two trained-on-the-job midwives, one technician, one pharmacist, and many nurses in training), there is also a regional hospital in our town where complex problems can be referred. As opposed to the tiny villages where many other health volunteers work with NO health centers, there is fairly good access to care here. My challenge will be deciding where I can be impactful. I work with a retired school teacher who is a community Relais (volunteer, trained-position providing basic community health information and care).