A Visit from Lynn Curtis

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This week we got to visit with Lynn Curtis as he came into town, and then several days later before he departed.  He’s the Executive Director and founder of Broadweave Solutions, a company that fosters business enterprise in underdeveloped locations and the linguistics skills required to go along with business success.

Lynn went with our friend Anounou to Ouelessebougou for the week where he met with and trained about 20 men and women interested in improving their business skills through literacy training.  He has programs for both French and Bambara, and we were really excited to visit with him about that as we consider ways we can teach literacy here.

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This evening we heard all about his excellent week in Ouelessebougou and he brought some materials to us to try here with our friends and members of the Church who want to improve their literacy.  This is going to be fun!

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The Village Clinic and Maternity at Fajiabougou

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Before leaving Fajiabougou, we stopped to see their proud little clinic.  A former Peace Corps worker helped raise the money for this clinic several years ago.  The family and friends of that volunteer continue to help with a bit of support from time to time.

The matron (above) is young and she manages several rooms in the clinic for treating patients and this maternity.  There are two rooms are where the babies are born and the mothers recover.  The birthing room was occupied– a new mother was on a mat on the floor with her newborn, nursing, and this is the recovery room:

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This may be where the matron stays at this clinic:

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Days for Girls Kits Distributed in Fajiabougou

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Word travels quickly between villages.  By the time we distributed Days for Girls kits in Banakoni, the women in Fadjiaboubou had gathered and we waiting for our arrival.  It was so fun to pull up into this crowd of excited women and girls.

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We divided them into two groups again, and Teningnini and Mariam taught about menstruation and how to use the kits, then traded places.  They also teach an element of self defense and how to keep yourself safe.

Later this week we’ll be training Anounou, our Field Director, how to teach the program for me called “Men Who Know.”  This instruction is given to the men and boys who always feel gypped when the women get special attention!

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Young Mariam and Tenin, our sewing specialists.  They have been sewing for 4 or 5 months now, after the last 2 girls graduated and received their own sewing machines.  These girls are beautiful and they are happy to be learning a new marketable skill.  These girls and older Mariam made all the kits we distributed today and 100s more.

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The excitement in the classrooms grew as the kits were handed to each, individually.

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Bouba, another Alliance helper was distributing mosquito nets while we met with the women.

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Honestly, it just doesn’t get much better than this!

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The village elders sat nearby, enjoying the happy women and the children playing behind them.  It was a good day in Fadjiabougou.

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The heels:

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This is the school bathroom:

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They also had a great cotton harvest here:

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Farewell, friends, until next time!

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Days for Girls Kits Distributed in Bamakoni

Our plan for today was to visit 2 villages– Bamakoni and Fadjiabougou–to distribute Days for Girls kits made by our Ouelessebougou Enterprise.  These two villages have about a half mile between them.  We were excited to visit and teach the women and girls.

Days for Girls is a wonderful international organization that was started by Celeste Mergens in 2008.  We help make and distribute sustainable feminine hygiene kits to girls who would otherwise have to miss school during their monthly periods.

I brought our first 1,700 kits to Mali in 2013, and we’ve been distributing them and now making them here ever since.  This one is a game changer for me.  If we can keep the girls in school, we change the future of the country.  An educated mother will see to it that her children are educated.  A Days for Girls kit can do more for a girl than anything we might give her.  It gives her hope and dignity and opportunity.

Today Teningnini and Mariam taught 2 classes–one of older women (those who had born children) and one of younger.  They looked the same to me.  Teningnini taught about what happens in our bodies when we menstruate and why.  Mariam taught the girls how to actually use and care for the kits.

After that, the girls were all smiles, and so were we!

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You may wonder what the girls use before they have these kits.  Imagine you are camping and you forgot to bring supplies.  What would you use?  Rags?  Corn husks?  Tree bark?  Sand wrapped in a cloth?  Cow dung?  Some girls try to stop the flow by inserting smooth stones or even corn cobs.  Anything to stay in school.

There was a tragedy a few months ago in Kenya.  My dear LDS Days for Girls leader in Bomet posted this news on facebook, reported here: http://dfgeugene.blogspot.com/2019/09/heartbreak-in-kenya.html

Just weeks before, Anita had visited our Days for Girls sewing center in Orem and we loaded her up with a van full of supplies to take back to her village, Bomet.  Gratefully, Anita was right there to help the students and faculty work through the suicide of this young girl who had started her period in class at school, and was shamed.

We can stop this from happening, girl by girl, school by school, village by village.

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The girls and ladies hugged us and cheered with us as they received their kits.  Each kit contains 2 shields (a piece that snaps around their underwear to hold the flannel pads in place), 8 pads or liners, underwear, a washcloth, a small bar of soap and 2 Ziploc bags to use for soaking soiled pads and keeping the clean ones clean.  All of this is in a colorful beautiful drawstring bag.  The shields and liners are made of stain hiding dark or busy prints that can be hung to dry without embarrassment.  These kits easily last 3-4 years or more.

I’ll never forget a distribution we did here last year in a rural Malian village where a lady came up to me after our class and said, “How did the women in your village know exactly what the women in our village needed??”  What a beautiful gift this is!

We had a bit of time afterward to wander through this village and visit with the women here before going to the next village, Fadjiobougou, to share the same gift with the girls there.

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Bamakoni is the village where a family named a newborn son John Lewis several years ago.  When we returned the next year to visit, little John had died.  We continue to visit this family every time we come to Bamakoni.

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Celebrating the Bassa School Garden and Solar Well

2019-12-31 (4)This morning these beautiful ladies came by with bananas for sale.  We had them with our breakfast.  Delicious!  The water here at the compound isn’t running, but Anounou had a good supply saved for us.  Hopefully this will get everyone through the week.

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Today we traveled to the village of Bassa where the Ouelsessebougou Alliance partnered with LDS Charities to help provide a school garden with a well and a solar pump.  Today the village was gathering to celebrate the completion of the project.

The drive to Bassa took about 40 minutes, much of it on dirt roads.  At one point we got stuck behind a donkey cart.  There wasn’t room to get around it, so we enjoyed the bumpy road and the scenery around us.  It’s dry here, and dusty.  The crops have been harvested.  Now we will wait for the rainy season.

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As we came into the village of Bassa, the first thing I noticed was the cotton harvest.  We hear they had a very good harvest this year.  It’s fun to see the white mounds waiting to be taken to the cotton gin in town.

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Here are some harvested corn fields.  Every bit of the work here is done by hand.

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Bassa is one of my favorite villages.  They are industrious here.  They have good farms and some gardens.  They make pottery and they have a sissel industry.  Because of the holiday, the women weren’t making pottery and the sissel harvest is over now.  Maybe next time I can show you how that’s done.

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Our friends here gave us a warm welcome.

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These are ovens where they roast the shea nuts.

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Here is a corn grinder used by the village.

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Beautiful children.

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A donkey corral with feed on top.

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When you go into a village, the first thing you do is pay a visit to the village chief and elders.  They welcomed us and thanked us for coming.  And they presented our Alliance leaders with a gift of 3 chickens.

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It’s always interesting and helpful to hear their main concerns and worries and we work together to try to find ways to help.  Today we were here to celebrate the completion of the garden.  They were grateful.

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The village chief, Anounou, our Ouelessebougou Alliance director, and John:

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I looked in on the kitchen as we left the chief’s compound (you can see some of the Bassa women’s pottery here:

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Mudbrick construction, woven grass mats:

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From the chief’s compound, we walked over by the Koranic school by the mosque for the celebration.

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The villagers were gathering to celebrate with us.  They brought chairs from everyone’s compounds and lined us up for the program of song and dance (and of course, speeches!).

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The dancing began!

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And we joined in!

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Then we all walked over to the garden by the public school.  The Ouelessebougou Alliance and LDS Charities partnered to provide this beautiful garden spot where children will learn farming and gardening skills.  Right now the land is fallow, after a corn crop here was harvested.  Now with water, they will be able to use the land more productively and teach the children.

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The garden gate:

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This is a large piece of land that is hard and dry now.  I can’t wait to see it after the rainy season when it’s planted and starts producing!  The entire garden is fenced in to keep the animals out.  Right now, the animals are enjoying the cornstalks.

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The solar panel for the well:

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The solar pump:

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Hoses will be hooked up to the pump to send the water to the furrows.  Today everyone important took a drink!

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These villagers and these children’s lives will change for good because of this well.

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Djiba Soumaoro (right) is one of our Alliance stars.  He is from Ouelessebougou and he recently graduated from Notre Dame.  He came with the expedition and will return to Ouelessebougou in July to work on site.

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Very happy village elders.

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Finally the children got at turn!

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The garden:

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Then the celebrations continued!

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There was more dancing and singing and drumming.  This is a grand day of celebrating for this wonderful village!

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This woman is the village matron.  I first met her in 2012.  I had a life-altering experience that day.  You can read about it here:  https://annlaemmlenlewis.com/2012/12/04/love-went-out-of-me/ .

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It neared lunch time.  The women had prepared food. We were given a huge headpan of white rice and a big pot of chicken in a peanut sauce with a few vegetables in one of the class rooms. First they brought in hand washing stations. These are colorful plastic buckets with a lid that has indentations for a plastic tea pot of water for washing and for the soap. There are holes in the lid to catch the water from the tea pot, when you soap your hands. This can be used again later. Everyone washed their hands, then the feasting began.

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Our staff–Anounou, Teningnini and Boubou ate the local food out of a common big platter tray–rice with the chicken in sauce spooned over it.

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Then the village elders came in and they took a large platter for themselves. What was left was loaded onto a platter and taken outside the classroom for a bunch of men out there who inhaled it. They eat every bit, bones and all.

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Then the celebrations continued.  All of the women (including all who had worked hard to prepare the food) were sitting under the mango trees over by the school waiting for the celebration to continue. They were not offered a bite. Only the men ate. I told the women we Loved their food and next time, when they come to Our place, we will feed THEM. They cackled at the thought of that.

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More speeches.  Elder Lewis thanked the village on behalf of LDS Charities, for their partnership with us and he encouraged them to use the garden to teach the children well.

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Grateful village elders:

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As part of the celebration, the Ouelessebougou Alliance brought a nice supply of corn–12 huge bags–to distribute among the “Internally Displaced Persons” who have found refuge in the village of Bassa.  These refugee families are fleeing from the unrest in northern Mali and many have been welcomed here in Bassa by these wonderful villagers.  They are sharing their land and their food.  The Alliance wanted to help with that effort.  We met with several of the refugee families and they are grateful to be here.

What a great day we had here in Bassa!  This is a progressive village, industrious and kind.  It’s always a joy to be here with them.  We look forward to visiting again when the garden is planted and producing.

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Days for Girls in Ouelessebougou

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My friends in our Yakima Washington Mission made these Days for Girls shields and liners and this week the Ouelessebougou Alliance team brought them to us here in Mali.   They will be distributed to the women in the Ouelessebougou main town on Friday as a part of a big training and awareness event we’ve been planning.  Teningnini, our Program Manager, has been working hard, inviting women to come and learn about women’s health and how to manage feminine hygiene more effectively.  She works with village health workers and matrons in 25 rural villages in the Ouelessebougou region.

We have a Days for Girls sewing Enterprise in Ouelessebougou.  It started in 2017, when Celeste Mergens, founder of Days for Girls International, visited and trained our women how to make the kits and how to teach the girls and women who receive them.

We hope this awareness will help more women know about our sewing center and where they can purchase additional kits or pods (half kits).

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The local women who come on Friday will each receive one shield and 3 liners.  They’ll also get a washcloth and some soap.  We’ll introduce them to our sewing team and let them know that they can purchase more shields or liners here.  We want them to tell their friends and family members about what we do and how they can support these local women’s enterprise as they care for their own hygiene needs.

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They work on treadle sewing machines.

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You can learn more about Days for Girls here:  https://www.daysforgirls.org/

Here are some photos that came from the Friday event in the compound.  Two hundred women came to learn!

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