March 21, 2012
After traveling to Mali in 2010 to experience this country's incredible music, breathtaking landscapes and welcoming people - as well as taking in the poverty that most Americans may more quickly associate with West Africa - I met and stayed in touch with residents who kept me apprised of local life there. In late 2011 I was sad to hear of a few instances of violence that rattled the perceived safety for tourists, including in the historical town of Timbuktu - violence that was a rarity, a first (although the reactive major media is all too quick to paint danger rather than Mali's strong communities and history of relative peace and stability, if they take notice of Mali at all). Knowing how much this country depends on income from tourism (in Timbuktu about 60% of the economy is derived from tourism), I wanted to help somehow. My friend Haike Spiller, resident in the capital Bamako, wrote wisely on reinforcing the importance of education and employment, in creating a stable, healthy, peaceful society. To this end, she had become involved with Caravan to Class, founded by the highly intelligent and driven Barry Hoffner who likewise traveled to Festival au Desert from California the same year as me. Upon researching Caravan to Class, I promptly made a donation, and also reached out to Barry to share a bit of my experience and express my appreciation for the important work he was doing, and his impressive accomplishments within a short time (including schools built to serve 2 Tuareg villages and rapidly increasing outreach). Later I had the opportunity to meet Barry and discuss common interests (as a writer for several industries and an English major, literacy was a fundamental concern for me as well, and now I had a new love for Mali, the Sahara, West Africa). I joined Caravan to Class as a communications associate and have devoted time to researching grants that serve education and Africa, editing reports and correspondence, and exploring new opportunities for outreach. Barry has gathered a strong and varied team of advisors, with a growing team of core staff. Also, being based in the Bay Area of California, he has ready access to a large number of groundbreaking nonprofit organizations with whom to partner or receive guidance, as well as contacts around the world. He has strong instincts and insight in his outreach, and passion to forge and guide Caravan to Class as an all-volunteer organization with truly expert local partners in Mali. While Caravan to Class in barely 2 full years of existence has made immense strides in enrolling children in school, we now seek to invest in measuring the results of our efforts, to achieve our goal of literacy for the children we serve as intelligently and effectively as possible. I look forward to further defining successful - and flexible- strategies in enabling literacy in this very special and underserved area of the world, along with further defining processes and effective outreach techniques in these early years of Caravan to Class operations. I also look forward to winning some grants for Caravan to Class to advance our efforts in bringing resources for the option-expanding, fundamental ability of literacy to Mali and beyond.
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