Living

Helping mothers in Mali

Sydney Loney travels to Mali and witnesses the severe malnutrition that exists there. Here's how you can help those struggling with the food crisis

woman resting under papaya tree in garden, Mali, West Africa

A woman rests in the shade of a papaya tree in this garden, created with the help of foreign aid. One mother told us the garden saved the life of her severely malnourished child.

shoe store in Bamako, Mali, West Africa

Most “stores” in Bamako, Mali’s capital city, are just a jumble of items for sale at the side of the road.

women saving collective

This group of woman banded together to create a savings group to help feed their children, but the failed harvest and rising food prices are making it hard for them to earn any money.

little boy playing with tire, Mali, West Africa

This little guy was trying to keep up with his older brothers. Children are resourceful and make their own toys out of garbage, including soccer balls made of rolled up plastic bags.

Mali kitchen, West Africa

Cooking is done outside over small fires – this is a typical kitchen in a village in Mali.

West African singer and storyteller, griot

In many villages, we were entertained by a griot, a traditional West African singer and storyteller. Women and children would gather and dance around him as he sang and played the drums.

mud huts, Mali, West Africa

Villages in Mali are compounds of mud huts surrounded by high mud walls, but this year there hasn’t been enough water for the people to make the mud bricks they need for their homes.

Mali people, women and children, West Africa

We were greeted warmly in every village we visited and everyone, young and old, would gather to welcome us.

calabash bowls, Mali, West Africa

We often saw people digging the tough, bitter innards out of calabash gourds to make bowls to sell at the side of the road.

baobab tree, Mali, West Africa

Majestic baobab trees dot the desert landscape throughout Mali. We saw many that had been stripped of their bark by hungry donkeys, a sign of severe drought.

Mali health clinic, pregnant women waiting for midwives, West Africa

Pregnant women wait to see the midwife at this tiny health clinic. The midwife told us that because of the food crisis, many mothers are too weak to deliver their babies.

When you hear about a crisis in another part of the world, it can seem so remote or insurmountable that you feel there’s no way you could possibly make a difference. That’s the way I used to feel, until I was in West Africa a few weeks ago.

In drought-stricken Mali, I saw firsthand the obstacles faced by mothers trying to feed their families in the middle of a food crisis. “During food shortages, women generally eat last and least to preserve food for others,” says Robert Fox, executive director of Oxfam Canada.

But even small contributions make a big difference: a dollar can protect a child from malnutrition, a pen can keep her in school. And in Mali, I saw long-term solutions, like vegetable gardens, schools and nutrition programs, that only existed because of charitable donations.

“We don’t just go in and impose our way of thinking on a community,” says Justin Douglass, public engagement director for World Vision Mali. “We talk to local leaders and learn from them so we can help them achieve their goals. It takes time, but the hope is that eventually they will no longer need us.”

Many aid agencies have programs that let you feel connected to the person you’re helping – you can sponsor a child, loan money to a fledgling business or simply buy a family a chicken for, as I discovered, less than what you might spend on coffee in a week.

“Canadians can help most by giving to reputable organizations working in the region,” says Patricia Erb, president and ceo of Save the Children. Some of these include: World Vision, Save the Children, Oxfam, Plan Canada, Kiva, UNICEF and Care.

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