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Part two of a multi-part journal that first appeared on Friday, Dec. 30, depicts the author’s experiences while in Dialakoroba as part of the Build A School in Africa collaboration.

Monday, Nov. 14: The “Build A School in Africa” collaboration with Save the Children for a middle school for Dialakoroba is proceeding at what seems like warp speed. Abou told me today that the ceremony for laying the cornerstone of the new school has been moved up a day, from Thursday to Wednesday, the day after tomorrow!

Immediately after breakfast today, I returned to the regional school board office (C.A.P.) with my supervisor, Abou Coulibaly, Save the Children’s sponsorship programs coordinator, and Mamadou Camara from the Bamako office. Mamadou interviewed Souleymane Kouyaté, the director, about the impact Save the Children (STC) has had in the Kolondieba District. Even with my rudimentary understanding of French, it was very clear from Mr. Kouyate’s replies to Mamadou’s questions that STC has helped bring significant changes to the district.

When STC first came here in 1987, there were only a handful of schools in the entire district of 205 villages. Currently, every village has access to a school, with 145 of these villages having the older style mud-brick community schools, and the others having the newer cement block schools that meet the new government standards.

Mr. Kouyaté, by the way, gets high praise from Abou — he is impressed by Kouyaté’s dedication, and told us that he doesn’t even request reimbursement for the gasoline he uses in the course of his job, which involves many visits to far-flung communities over unpaved roads. With gasoline at about $6 a gallon here, this is no small expense on a Malian salary.

We returned to the STC office for the weekly staff meeting, with the CDAs (community development assistants) giving reports on the schools and health programs in their respective communes, and bringing up any problems that they have encountered.

Abou spent part of the rest of the day meeting with the suppliers and building contractors to bargain on prices for labor and materials. The cement supplier agreed to give a 30,000 CFA discount on the bags of cement, and M’Pé Dembele, the building contractor, dropped the price of the construction by 50,000 CFA — a savings of about $160. That’s not much by American standards, but when you consider that most people in this region live on a dollar a day or even less, $160 represents almost half a year’s pay.

Tuesday, November 15: First thing this morning, we went to look at the iron materials that will be used as supports for the walls and the metal louvers for ventilation. We also saw prototypes for the classroom desks and cabinets that will furnish the new school. Abou just informed me that the carpenter, Mamadou Koné, expects to have all the desks and cabinets completed within the next 20 days. The pace at which this whole building project is progressing is nothing short of phenomenal.

Excitement is building rapidly. Abou said that seven villages located near Dialakoroba are already requesting places for their students, and there are even people in nearby Bougouni, which isn’t even part of the Kolondieba District, who want to enroll children when the school is completed.

In the U.S., free public education up through high school is taken for granted, so it is difficult for Americans to imagine that in many parts of the world, especially in rural areas, education is not easy to come by, especially education that goes beyond the elementary level. It is also astonishing, in these days of multi-million-dollar school projects in the U.S., that a school can be built for under $23,000. True, there is no electricity (because there is no power grid in the entire district) and no indoor plumbing. There is no carpeting, gyms, cafeterias, computer rooms, special needs programs or after-school programs, though most schools have soccer and track teams. But in spite of this, students who are willing to persevere can get an excellent education, and tuition at the University in Bamako is free.

Tomorrow is the day we lay the cornerstone for the new school. I can’t wait!

To be continued …

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