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As a supporter of USC Canada’s work, I’m sure you may wondered whether or not your support has made a lasting difference in the lives of people overseas. What’s been the long term impact of your contributions?
|Friederike visits with USC staff in Douentza, Mali. (December 2011)|
As a long-time donor, current volunteer, and former USC staff member, these questions were very much on my mind when I purchased my plane ticket to Mali last Fall.
During my ten years working for USC (1991-2001), I visited Douentza, Mali twice, and I was always impressed with the progress I saw. Returning in 2011, I was very curious to experience the changes that more than a decade might bring to those same communities.
Imagine my surprise – as we drove northeast from the capital towards the road to the village of Gono – when I almost missed the village for the trees!
When I first visited Gono, there were very few trees, the village exposed to the burning sun – and now there were tall trees of different varieties on both sides of the road!
Back then, the villagers approached USC to help them, quite literally, put a roof on their new school. USC agreed, but in exchange, we insisted the community establish an arboretum in the school yard.
I’m sure there was skepticism at the time, but the teacher, Mr Coulibaly, was on our side and insisted that each of the 58 different trees that were planted be designated the personal responsibility of an individual child. Each child was responsible for learning how to care for their own species of tree. And a local nursery was established to ensure enough trees were available for the children’s families to plant in their fields.
These two photos – the first I took in 1994, the second in 2011 – speak more than a thousand words. I was elated when I walked into this beautiful, small forest that now covers the formerly empty school yard. Looking at villagers, some of whom I remembered from earlier visits, I could see confidence and pride in their faces: their village is thriving in part thanks to the arboretum initiative, their own hard work.
A Change of Attitude
In the early ‘90s, for the villagers of Gono, trees were merely sources of firewood, sold by women along the roadside. But not anymore! Talking to the villagers now, they treasure their trees and have developed a profound understanding of their vital economic and environmental importance.
For example, the “ronier” palm tree (of the Borassus variety) is very popular now. It has many uses: the fruit is edible, as are the new shoots. The leaves are used for fibre and in construction, and the wood is termite-proof. Fruit trees (“jujube”), called “pommes de Sahel” locally, provide vitamin-rich nutrition and good economic value.
The village of Gono, and the other villages I visited in Mali on this trip, are good illustrations for the success of USC’s methodology. Some of the villages don’t need much financial support these days, while others require none. However, the villages continue to be committed to sharing what they learned with other villages in the Seed of Survival (SoS) network, a network that is growing every year. Villagers travel and share their knowledge, motivating others to participate in the SoS program.
Despite the recent upheaval in Mali, the positive work of the farmers continues. With the support of USC’s Mali staff, change is palpable in the region of Douentza!
Renew your support of farmers in Mali and around the world by donating today!