As of today the 15 Families program is still on! Recently, Dana Louis initiated a fundraising event in collaboration with Yoga Union at 2043 SE 50th Ave. This Yoga event raised enough for 6 new families. We cannot thank Yoga Union enough for their positive energies that have touched the lives of people in Mali during these difficult times. Well, I am proud to say Ronna and Dana Louis sent the money last week and I stayed in touch with Mamadou Diakite, Seydou Coulbaly and Moussa Coulibaly to help coordinate the process. These people are Ko-Falen Mali members and our helpers for the continuation of the 15 Families program.
Though I was not present in Mali to personally talk with these families during the delivery of our aid, I was provided with photos and video clips for each process. I will not be able to say enough words of thanks to Mamadou, Seydou, and Moussa for doing absolutely an excellent job on their part. Though this program started with our family selling our art to help out a handful of people we know in Mali, the response from friends and Ko-Falen members was remarkable. When people come together in harmony, it opens the door of communication, understanding, partnership and ultimately peace. The root of all that we started in Mali is Ko-Falen and it will be impossible for me to go on without thanking the KoFalen board members and executive board members, our volunteers and our generous donors.
When Madou, Seydou and Moussa went to Oumar Konare’s home, he was not there. He had traveled to a village seeking help for his family. “When will he return home?” asked Madou. His wife Bintou responded “We don’t know, whenever he finds enough to take care of the children.” So, they presented her the aid package. She was in disbelief. With the help of another person, they were able to contact her husband who was going to be gone at least four months, but confirmed his return sooner now. Regardless, our aid will hopefully give peace of mind to that family for some time. His wife Bintou, with her baby strapped on her back said “I still do not believe this is real. I would like to send my appreciation to the 15 Families program and particularly to those who recently took time to think of us. Americans are always welcome here.”
Next, our aid group went to see Mariam, maker of the neighborhood millet donut call “Furu furu”. Most everyone that has been to KoFalen Center in Bamako knows Mariam’s furu furu. Very early before sunrise every morning, Mariam is the first person up, starting a blade of red-orange flame from scrub wood and grass she finds in her surroundings. Once she starts her few sticks of wood on fire, she places her pan made out of a car door on the 3 cooking stones to heat up the thick shea butter made from local trees. By heating shea oil up to boiling, Mariam reduces the strong scent of the shea nut that changes the taste of her donuts. She has been doing this for so long that her presence is a symbol of all that is right in the neighborhood. People love her millet donuts and come to buy them for breakfast. Even Americans that come to KoFalen have one time or another lined up in front of her little stove for a taste of her delicious little millet donuts.
But recently when I was there in January, Mariam was not often seen at her donut stand. When I ran into her in one day, I asked her why she had abondoned her furu furu making. She answered as a Malian does openly, “ Not only is my father sick but also, time is way too hard. I am assisting in helping my mother to provide food and be there for my sick father. If I could at this time, I would multiply myself to be there for my family and my neighbors, but I am only one human.”
When the committee of our 15 Family aid group came to her last Thursday, they found her absent. She was gone to her village because her sick father had “moved to his new home” as they refer to the passing of someone. But later that evening the committee met up with Babou who is Mariam’s husband. He too had just returned from Mariam’s village. Our representatives presented the aid for Mariam and her family. Babou was a bit surprised as he noted “It seems as if these people miles away understand our problems more than our ownselves here. I will accept her aid with respect on her family’s behalf, and also make sure they know that this honorable package is from the 15 Families program.”
Babou did not forget to thank Ronna, the first American he ever met years before at KoFalen. Babou had worked on building the KoFalen Center as a mason’s assistant from the very first brick to where it stands now. He then ended by saying “I knew that I was doing the right thing helping to build this center. As you can see, it sprouted only good things, connection of communities and friendship.”
Niekoroba Coulibaly was also one of our last 6 recipients. Only the very early visitors to KoFalen Center may recognize her. She came to do our laundry at the Center back then. But Niekoroba’s eye problems prevented her to continue with her profession as the laundry lady. But she never forgot the generosity of those Americans she met back then. During my trip to Mali in January, I ran into her in my evening walks with Jessica and Jon. Seated in front of her small table of spices to sell, she recognized my voice. We were speaking English and she shouted “Wague, are you here now?”
I responded “Yes, but just for a short time.” “Are Ronna and my grandchildren Penda and Amina here?” She added. “May be next year” I said. Despite her bad eyesight, she got up to talk to us and spoke of KoFalen and all the good memories. That day, Jessica and Jon supported her by buying lots of her spices even though they really didn’t need them all.
When receiving her portion of our aid, Niekoroba simply said that for years now, Americans visiting KoFalen have always unburdened her from her problems. She said she is not all that surprised for this aid from them again. Then added “This is the America I know–kind and generous–and greet them all men, women, and children.”
Madou Coulibaly was a welder, but after losing 3 fingers on his right hand, he turned into a kerosene oil salesman for lanterns and lamps. But with the war, all products that are from the source of oil are hard to access. Madou Coulibaly simply turned back to his very own self, which is being the humorous grandfather of the community. He is often seen lying on his wooden armchair in front of his house shouting at young ones passing. He says to the girls “Hey, where are you going dressed such a nice way? I am the most handsome man. Come stay with me.” They reply “You are right. I will be right back.”
And to the boys he would say “Look at you–thinking you look so good like this. I am the handsome one. Let me go put on my outfit.”
Years ago when Thia, a niece of Ronna came to Mali, it was a shock to her to see an old man as Madou teasing her saying she was his wife. But as she began to slowly understand the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren in Mali, she too began teasing him back each time she passes by. Old Madou still teases me about that incident by saying “My in-law, where is Thia? You are her uncle and you are hiding her.” But in the real sense, Old Madou is only a friendly person who helps our children to feel happy and see love from their own community. But at this time when he has no work, our aid package to him is a tremendous help. He sent his many appreciations to you all through a video. As “Mali” means “Hippopotamus”, he notes that the country was already like a wounded hippo; the Malians are bearing extra beatings from this war. “It has only worsened our already bad situation. Your thoughts and help reached us. May you be rewarded, may we continue to be the beings we are for each other and for years to come.”
Magan is somewhat young amongst all these people, but has the soul of an ancestor. He is afflicted with an illness that would not leave him alone. Some years are better than others for him, but he strongly hung in there, even though people did not expect it. This is how he became like the son of his surroundings. Mangan can do little, but with the grace of the community, he and his wife live on. On the video, Magan said “Thanks to the 15 Families program; you will always be in our thoughts as friends. Poverty is its own a disease–much less for the additional burden of a senseless war. Thank you for your generous and thoughtful aid.”
Gandie Diarra is also a mason. The hardship of the time has crippled his possibility of work. As he is waiting for things to do right now, our aid representatives in Mali thought he deserved a hand. I have heard his message on video; he is a calm low toned man–very humble. “This is an unbelievable gift to me and my family. I thank the 15 families program and all the other good people that are thinking of us.”
Though some of these people have been chosen by our Bamako-Mali KoFalen group, I fully trusted them as they are on the same path as our original mission.
Baba Wague Diakite
KoFalen Cultural Center