Guest blog post by Marie-Eve Bertrand, Quebec Director of Development, Communications and Fundraising for CARE Canada. Marie-Eve recently returned from Mali, where families are facing a difficult drought and food crisis.
Mali is an African country, located in a region commonly referred to as the Sahel. The Sahel, or Sahil in Arabic, is the border between the Sahara and more fertile and green lands. It is a dividing zone, a mixture of cultures, people and tastes. Here in Mali, the number of ethnic groups and tribes are too numerous to count, yet they still talk to me about tolerance, love and sharing.
Right now many of the countries in the Sahel are experiencing a food crisis caused by a combination of events: a poor rainy season, chronic poverty, and environmental degradation, all resulting in poor harvests and a sharp increase in the prices of food and resources.
This is the story of my meeting with the inhabitants of the Swala village in the Djenné region of Mali.
Journey Through the Village
There were eight of us in the vehicle on the hour and a half trip to the Swala village. When we turned the corner around the village wall, I heard percussion instruments playing a warm and joyful melody - and then I saw them. There were hundreds of women, men and children waiting for our arrival for the second food distribution in their village in two months. The women were dancing, the men were playing tambourines. It was a party in our honour. A wave of tenderness rose within me, a wave of solidarity… a wave of humility. They are the ones who should be celebrated for their courage and their strength. They surrounded me with their warmth and their joy for life. Behind my sunglasses tears flowed, feeling unworthy of such an honour, and too small for all the love.
They danced all the way through the ancient Swala village to the village chief’s hut. As we all squeezed into the small space, we sat on mats, while our hosts sat directly on the ground. They were all so beautiful, smiling, and proud.
The village chief’s representative spoke, taking the time to greet and thank us. Then Pointou Coulibaly, the president of the women spoke. “We are so happy that you are visiting us. Our storehouses have been empty for a long time, because the rains weren’t good for us last season. Our harvests were insufficient last year, and we are suffering from it. Our people farm the land to live, and we usually sell our products. But last year, there wasn’t even enough to feed our families, so selling was impossible. Our only concern is to feed ourselves. Because without food, our children are sick. They cannot go to school because they don’t have the strength,” she told us while sitting among her loved ones.
“Half of the families couldn’t have food because of criteria and limits set by the World Food Program. But you know, we are people who stick together. Malian solidarity. It is out of the question for us to let our neighbour go hungry and suffer. So we all share what little we have. We prefer to have less, but to have peace of mind, because we helped those around us.”
Generosity, solidarity. That puts the focus back where it should be, when you realize that to share, you don’t need a lot, you just need a big heart. It was the whole village that gathered to thank us, because it is the entire community who benefits from CARE’s assistance.
Resiliency is Key
Then the oldest person in the village, spoke, “Ma’am, I would like to make a request for our survival. Give us efficient tools to farm, seeds that will grow and knowledge to improve our harvest. We are farmers and we want to work to fill our storehouses.”
It was then when I understood that these proud and courageous people in front of me had, themselves, understood the essence of development. They saw that food distribution is only temporary and are aspiring to becoming self-sufficient once again. They are capable of working, and only need the support and resources to prepare for the future and build resiliency plans.
A Rare Gift
As the meeting was ending, the village chief motioned me to come forward so he could give me a packet with nuts. Kola nuts in fact. A gift that is reserved for great occasions, great celebrations. A rare gift.
I left with a heart full of hope, love and pride. I left with my hands full of a gift that touched me. But also with a full stomach. Because from the little they had, the villagers made us a meal. Malian solidarity.