GAIA: An impact so easy to see even a French beginner can understand it

When originally planning for the trip to West Africa I was at first a bit apprehensive of site visits in French. I’ve only studied the language for a year and I feared I might not be able to understand the organization’s work or get a good sense of their impact if the visit was entirely in French.

Meeting with GAIA Foundation however quickly put these fears aside.  Understanding the amazing work of GAIA does not require nuance or subtlety.  Their work is clear, direct and entails the truly praiseworthy work of literally saving lives on a daily basis. Over a number days in Bamako, Mali I had the opportunity to learn about this work both on “official” and “unofficial” site visits with the organization.

Though the “official” site visit occurred on July 12th, I would say the unofficial portion of the visit began when Lorraine and I moved into the GAIA guesthouse and were greeted by two enthusiastic and passionate GAIA volunteers, Tonyu and Emily. I don’t think GAIA could have found two better representatives or endorsements than these two. Not only did they spend long nights explaining the difficult situation of health in Mali, but they also detailed the innovate approach GAIA has undertaken along with providing us an introduction to the inspiring doctor we would meet the following day, the local director of GAIA Dr. Tounkara.  He would not disappoint. We learned that the organization works in the Sinkoro area, a part of Bamako that has been traditionally undeserved by health services with approximately 1 doctor per 40,000 patients.  Devastating diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis have had a profound effect on the community and continue to disrupt the lives of many throughout the area.

As for the “official” site visit Dr. Tounkara, or as many call him “Kara”, walked us through the Hope Clinic, greeting staff and patients alike along the way. He explained how GAIA is working in conjunction with the Malian government to make the clinic into a model that can be replicated throughout the country. The clinic takes a holistic approach to health, but has been greatly aided by GAIA’s support in fighting HIV/AIDS and Tubrcolosis through both treatment and outreach.

Sitting down with the head of the Hope clinic, we learned how GAIA has additionally been instrumental in stepping in where the Malian government funds leave off.  GAIA has been able to raise funds for advanced medical equipment and facilities, when the government of Mali is unable to provide the funding.  What is truly unique is the way GAIA does not direct the improvements but responds to the needs of the community and its leaders.

Donating money can sometimes be a tricky business and it can be difficult to understand the impact of your donation. Furthermore, development models have proven complicated and often produce ambiguous results. These doubts are not necessary with GAIA. Their impact is so clear that even a French beginner can understand them. GAIA’s projects transform lives and represent a glimpse at the future of health in Mali.

…and if you’re still not convinced they also speak English.

If you you would like more information about GAIA please click on one of their four project links:

Facilitating Access to Tuberculosis Care in Mali: www.globalgiving.org/3036

Born Free of HIV in West Africa: www.globalgiving.org/5753

HIV and TB Care at the Village Level in Mali: www.globalgiving.org/2754

Nutrition and Peer Support for HIV+ Patients: www.globalgiving.org/4874

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A Creative Solution to Health Care in Mali

Postcard 7/12: 

As you glance around Bamako, Mali, it is easy to be struck by the numerous ways in which it is

A community health worked documents a child's temperature via text

different  from cities in the United States—the women selling bananas off the tops of their heads, the children running barefoot down the road, chasing tires, and the goats standing lazily in the middle of the street chewing on discarded corn. What is harder, and often much more important, is to be reminded of the ways in which it is similar. The cost of health care, for example, is an issue of similar importance in Bamako, New York, Washington, DC, and other cities throughout the world. And while my country, the United States, was fighting a political battle over health care last year, the organization, Mali Health Organizing Project (MHOP), was developing an innovative, community-based solution to children’s health care in several communities in Bamako, Mali. The program, entitled Action for Health, aims to provide free health care for children in Bamako in exchange for “community action” or days of volunteering on part of children’s parents. 

A community health worker measuring the width of a child's arm

 

As one MHOP volunteer explained, “people want to invest in their children’s health care; they just don’t have the cash.” So MHOP has given them a free alternative. By enrolling in MHOP’s health care program, children are insured against the five leading causes of children’s death in Mali including malnutrition, malaria, and measles. The organization has even gone so far as to develop a monitoring system in which community health workers conduct monthly house visits for children enrolled in the program, using innovative mobile phone technology to track the growth and health of children ages 5 and under.   

By working closely with the Ghanaian government’s health services, and collaborating directly with the local community, MHOP has developed an exciting and impactful program that already serves 385 children and 245 women! Although the organization has hopes of expansion, they are grounded in a desire for sustainability that is refreshing and important. The success that the program has experienced after just 4 ½ months of operations can only be seen as a predictor of even greater accomplishments to come!

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A Day of Corn and Legos

Sarah learning about casava from Kadiatou's father

A Child for All takes a sustainable approach to helping Malian orphans. The orphanage just opened in the middle of June and by the end of this month will have at least 8 orphans living there. Zoumana, the director of the orphanage, took us on a full day’s tour of the varying facets of the organization. We went to one of the farms which is used to support the children. The father of Kadiatou (the founder of A Child for All) owns the farm and oversees the production as well as working the land himself to help his daughter’s endeavor. The farm grows everything from peanuts to mangos and corn, the sprouts of which were just coming up as we were given a tour of the plot.

                After seeing the farm, we went to the orphanage. The children, thus far all boys, were dressed in nice clean soccer uniforms, sitting outside playing with Legos, some of the first toys I’d seen on in the past month. Isha, the live-in head of the

The four boys in their soccer uniforms

orphanage took us for a walk with the boys. They were well behaved and amazingly enough, their nice white jerseys stayed white- not an easy feat for boys of their age. While Isha cared for the children, there was another woman who cooks for the children and cleans.

We were welcomed to spend a night at the orphanage for the full experience. Unlike many places we visited, the home was equipped with electricity and running water which will help the children stay healthy. the way they cared for us is certainly a reflection of how they cared for the children, and they are doing an amazing job! A Child for All is providing the children with the a nourishing environment needed to allow them to learn and thrive.

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What’s in store?

So far…we have visited 27 GlobalGiving partner organizations, hosted 5 workshops (for over 150 organizations), and traveled through 4 countries. We’ve been to Lome’s Fetish Market, seen the Wli Falls in Eastern Ghana, hung out at the beaches on the Ghanaian coast, and banged on “bongo” rocks in Bongo, Ghana. But the adventure is not over yet! More is yet to come. Just this week we will be posting about our site visits to Mali Health Organizing Project and GAIA.

And, as the whirlwind GlobalGiving trip begins to come to a close the team has begun to disperse! Here’s what each team member will be up to in the coming weeks:

Denise left Bamako Monday afternoon to spent a relaxing week in Accra after which she will be heading to Mombasa, Kenya for an internship with a microfinance institution there.

Sarah and Andrew are making their way back to Accra by land, first by making the long trip back to Ouagadougou and then stopping at Mole National Park (to see some elephants) and later one of Ghana’s stilt villages (that’s right, it’s a village built on stilts). After Andrew leaves, Sarah will be spending a few weeks working with an organization on the coast of Ghana!

Alexis and Lorraine are heading for Dogon Country at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning (with Alexis’ boyfriend Brian who just arrived in Mali for the week). They’re also hoping to visit the big mosque in Djené! After her brief vacation Alexis is heading back to the States to pick up where she left off at GlobalGiving whereas Lorraine has been offered an exciting internship opportunity in Mali, where she will be for the next two to three weeks!

Stay tuned as team members to continue to blog about their summer adventures!

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Association La Voute Nubienne

7/8

By Sarah and Lorraine

Villagers commissioned AVN trained masons to build this community church

We arrived in Boromo and were picked up by Seri, the Co-Founder of the   Association la Voute Nubienne (AVN), and were given our first taste what the project does when we arrived at our hotel. The hotel, owned by Seri, was created as practice buildings when Association la Voute Nubienne was working with its first group of master masons. We were later taken to see a school, church, and house, which were built in a nearby community. The organization takes a very organic approach. They have several cultural coordinators whose job it is go into villages and work with the communities to sensitize citizens to the benefits of the Nubian style houses with earthen roofs, which include minimizing deforestation for wood roofs, saving money from importing tin roofs, and the temperature control Nubian roofs provide. After some time, if at least 5 families show interest in having a house constructed, a team of five masons will be assembled. The masons are ranked by skill level, four being a master mason. There are always two, level-one masons on the team and they are people from the village where the house is being constructed whom are interested in learning the trade. Over time they work their way up the ranking, themselves becoming master masons and potentially starting work in a new village.

Irene, the Assistant Director of AVN, told us that the end goal is for there to no longer be a need for AVN, because as more people realize the benefits of these

One of the first houses built by AVN

houses and demand grows, the number of masons will be expanding as well. This model is not only meant to spread more sustainable houses, but also create jobs for those interested in learning masonry. The organization has taken a sustainable approach to introducing a new style of superior architecture to help protect the environment and improve lives of citizens of Burkina Faso.

To learn more about the organization or to donate to AVN please visit:http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/help-build-sustainable-africa-houses/

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Another traveler’s perspective of Ghana….

http://www.cafebabel.co.uk/article/32875/advice-visiting-ghana-hotels-music-accra.html

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Longest Bus Ride Ever to Life of Luxury!

So it all began Wednesday night when Alexis and I went to the bus station to buy tickets for the overnight bus from Ouaga to Bamako on TVC. Unfortunately we were 30 minutes late and they were sold out for that night. We were determined though and found another bus service “Africa Tours” that was leaving the next day at 12pm and would arrive in Bamako at 1am Friday. The bus ride sounded too good to be true, the expectations were an air conditioned bus, comfortable seats, and an only 12 hour journey. Nonetheless we went forward and placed our faith in Africa Tours, taking a relaxing Wednesday night and arriving at the bus station at 12pm Thursday to wait for the bus.

We waited, and waited, and waited, and around 2:30 someone from the bus service came to us and explained that the bus had already been filled up when it departed from Benin and there were no longer seats available. After a bit of talking, we were promised passage to Bobo, Burkina Faso without seats and then seats from Bobo to Bamako. By 3:30 or so we boarded the bus and we were off- on our butts.

Africa Tour Bus

By the time we arrived in Bobo it was clear that not all the seats were going to materialize and that arriving by 1am Friday was only a dream.  Denise was able to get a seat and after some creative legwork and contortion Alexis and I made due and arrived at the Mali border at around 12am. We stopped, did passport check, and went on. Then stopped, did bag check at customs and went on. Then stopped again, and we did not go on. Without a police escort, the bus was not allowed to travel at night, which meant a night under the Malian stars outside the bus.

Nighttime at the Border

Denise laid her blanket out and we all huddled together trying to get at least a bit of shuteye.  Luckily our slumber party was cut short after only an hour, a police escort arrived and the bus headed on, direct to Bamako! This meant back to the contortion, fortunately a man offered me his mini-cooler and I found a wonderful forward fold position that put me right to sleep.

Alexis Forward Bend Sleeping

After another six hours, we arrived in Bamako! By this point nothing could stop us, not even the poorly functioning cab that stalled at least forty times in the middle of traffic on our way to the Radisson Hotel!!!!!

When we arrived, the hotel was like a mirage in the desert. Everything seemed too good to be true. We walked into the air conditioned building and opened the door to a beautiful business class room complements of Alexis’s amazing parents.

Hotel Room

Although beaten and battered, we have tried to make the most of the hotel experience i.e. Denise/Andrew/Lorraine enjoying some hotel food services and Sarah going for a work out at 11pm.  Alexis sadly was too tired to figure out the shower and could not find the hot water, but was able to find the bath robe and bath slippers.  Today, though is move out day and back to work.

We are holding a workshop this morning and hope to catch the world cup soccer games the rest of the weekend! It’s hard to believe there are only 4 days left in our adventure!

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