When Your Roof Is Leaky

“Frisbeetarianism is the belief that when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck.” ~ George Carlin

Technology is great until you get caught. I have so enjoyed being able to get in touch with my friends and partners in Mali, West Africa, on their inexpensive phones.

However, I realized that seven texts I sent over the last few months never got delivered.  I have to place a 011 in front of them it seems. I was in the Cape Breton Highlands on a motorcycle trip with an Edmonton buddy (We worked together in Ivory Coast many years back) when I  received a  “failed text” code notice. I opened the text to discovered all the other messages I sent over the past few months had failed to send as well. Oh Boy

We had much to catch up on so I called Mali on my cell. Our women’s literacy course was a smashing hit in one village. We had practically every women in a remote camp region sign up for the class, and they did two booklets of the program over three months, under the teaching of my friend. He did it for expenses, not pay. He serves to better his people. He said he could feel and see a palpable difference in the attitude surrounding the remote camp. People are much more upbeat.

I know we could easily expand this work to a half dozen villages, and we should.

I also learned he has 150 new families, benefiting 1500 people,  in the water purification program, so we are ahead of schedule there.

And once again, our Micro SD cards with “educational material” and videos in Bambara, are going semi viral. We put out 1500 more SD cards, and the village people are, again, Bluetoothing the data  to thousands of other phones all over the area. I could not have been happier about that. It was already beamed to eight villages when I left Mali earlier this year. Imagine that!

The sad news is the new life situation with my friend. God I was just so heart broken.

The people he works for can randomly reassign workers to a new place any time they wish. And they did just that.

The good news is that it puts him 30km closer to the new region we are working together in.

However, it also means he is no longer in Sikasso, and a further 30km removed from our literacy group.

  • When I return, this means I will not see my friend every day anymore.
  • It also means he is removed from his three carpentry apprentice shops he has going, to teach young men the trade.
  • What is more, he has spent over 120,000 CFA in transport alone over the last two months, running back and for to Sikasso for the health of his wife, and they have seen no improvement whatsoever.
  • Also, the house they have for him in this village is too small for his large family, They are literally sleeping crammed up to the walls each night.
  • And finally, the roof leaks in rain, and they get wet, and there is no money to fix the roof.

I asked him if he was happy with the move, and he said he was not not happy with the move.

However, the final good news is that my friend will take the struggling work on, and unlike his lazy predecessor, it will thrive and bloom, as everything does in his hands.

Look, we talk about minimal subsidization, and dependency. And I don’t pay salaries, just expenses for volunteers. Certainly my friends have benefited from this arrangement, as there is always a little meat on the bone after working with me. Even though I give him money for motorcycle repairs I will still see a balding motorcycle tire and ask”Why are you driving on that?” I may pay him well for our usage on that balding tire, but his other job does not cover the other 80% of the tires wear very well.  So I just buy him a the $20 tire too. Every member of his family has had doctor visits, and medicine paid for my me.

In the six years I have know this man, he is the only poor African to have never ask me for money. Not even a hint.  I have avoided setting up the mechanism where I send money from Canada.

Therefore, I have never wired money to anyone personally, nor for a work project in Mali.

My policy is that we will support expenses associated with a work getting accomplished, through volunteers. Also, programs are decided, budgeted, and agreed upon only with my presence, input, and agreement. If we are covering the expenses, we have significant input. (Of course we listen to locals, our partners, and seek their perspective)

I have to be there and see the context, and assure that the work begins, and that it is being undertaken in a good manner.  Nothing begins without our presence. It may sound harsh, but this protects supporters.

Anyway, with central Mali destabilizing, and even more people evacuating the last few months, our return this year is delayed.

I would like to do something for my friend, as a friend. But I am sitting here and asking myself, “Do I really want to open that can of worms after six years?” The paradigm where  I begin to send cash, not knowing how to really best respond to the need?

Even the organization I work for has asked about us sending supplies. I pointed out that these guys are so frigging poor, they can’t be running to Bamako to clear things from customs, or from the post office. We would have to begin wiring money to them for travel, and do the customs work and payment. Oh my word, I can’t even begin to imagine. Oh, I know other do that kind of thing. I don’t. I won’t.

I told my agency that we need to do hand delivery only. I need to be there to deliver any funds, or materials to further works we have already undertaken.

Well of course they are reluctant at this time for me to return at all, even for a week or two. But even in a short visit of a week, I can have my volunteers meet in a  safe location and get a read on what is going on, and how easily know how to proceed.

Anyway, this is outside the norm maybe. But I refuse to get into wiring money, or shipping supplies, without a direct involvement. That is the first step to Dependency. People struggle with, “Well, if Andy is not there, why does Man of Peace Development require funds then? As if our ongoing work is hinged only on me. We could be purchasing and loading 5000 educational Mico SD cards, or setting up more women’s Literacy classes. Easy things, yet powerful things that can easily carry on with minimal supervision and funding.

By now you probably realize a lot happens in Mali in a short period of time. This happens because we have some exceptional volunteer partners willing to get outside the box and kick some ass, just like me, for an intensive time. No kidding, I know we can set up a years work in only two weeks on site, looking and deciding, without paying a single salary. Do you know how rare this is? Do you realize how amazing a gift this is? We have an extraordinary thing going here. We have been given an unbelievable opportunity that is diametrically opposite of heavy funding.

The only thing is to watch security for our window to pop back in. And to be honest, my board is more skittish about that than I am. But that is fine. I am waiting and watching for a green light.

It is Lean, simple, economical, and easily repeated by ordinary people. The work is far from over in Mali, with our Malian partners, we can blow your mind in what we could have up an running in just a week or two. No problem at all.  These local men and women blow my mind.

Anyway, my poor (literally) friend’s soul will not go up and get stuck on his roof. As the roof on his house has leaky holes, so his soul will certainly rise higher and higher, passing right through the holes. That is about the only good thing about this situation.

He thanked me for his water purification filters. He informed me that the water is so sickening in this village that it’s even annoying to take a bucket shower, it smells bad as you pour it over your body. WOW.

Gosh, what to do now?  I’ll admit, Sikasso has little draw for me without him being there.

The other sad news is that we are homeless again.

Yep, we had to shut down our comfy little place in the main market of Sikasso. That is a long story I can’t get into. When I return in the future, we are once again homeless.

The Invisible Humanitarian is a Nomad, once a again.

Scary, but it feels kind of freeing again.


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