BELLBROOK — The decade-long friendship between Bellbrook United Methodist Church congregants and villagers in Mali, through the Spring Valley-headquartered Tandana Foundation, continues.
Moussa Tembiné and Housseyni Pamateck, alongside Tandana’s founding director Anna Taft, brought good news to the church Oct. 27 from their communities in Mali — a landlocked country in West Africa.
“As we were looking back on the many, many projects you’ve supported as a church, we were just completely overcome with gratitude in realizing how many would not have been possible without you,” Taft told parishioners gathered for the Sunday morning service.
Over the years, the church’s monetary contributions have boosted a dozen-or-so projects — like helping build a grain bank in Sal-Dimi and a latrine for a cotton bank in Kansongho, creating soap-making training for Kansongho women, planting a school garden in Yarou Plateau and restoring a Kansongho well, which was in danger of collapsing.
“If it hadn’t been for your support, we would’ve lost this well and we would not have drinking water,” Tembiné said, with Taft translating.
Through the long-distance, cross-cultural partnership, villagers have worked to develop their communities agriculturally.
According to Pamateck, one main problem in the region is lack of water. But thanks to stock ponds, communities are now saving water from the rainy season and farmers can keep their animals nearby, rather than traveling long distances to try to find water.
A garden in Kansongho has changed daily life for its villagers, too. Accustomed to a traditional diet based on grains, the people there are now growing fruit.
“Thanks to this garden, the people of Kansongho are able to eat fruits that had never grown in our area before,” Tembiné explained. “And recently we were able to do a training session in grafting techniques so that we can even further improve the variety of fruits that we produce.”
Meanwhile, in Sal-Dimi and Ondougou Township, women are becoming socially and economically independent.
The Sal-Dimi cotton bank gives women access to cotton, which they turn into cloth and sell. Similarly, at the Ondougou Township indigo bank, women are dying cloth with indigo.
“You’re really supporting income generation for women in many different villages,” Taft said.
But the three explained that one project has really impacted all of the projects in place — a literacy program.
“There are now booklets for reading and writing in the Tommo So language which did not exist before. It’s really thanks to this program that we even have a system of writing in our language,” Tembiné said. “All of the management committees that we’ve put in place to manage the grain banks, the cotton banks, and all the different projects have committees. Now they have reading and writing skills that improve their ability to manage the committees, to keep their records, and to make sure that all the projects keep functioning sustainably.”
The purchasing of a motor-tricycle has been another aid to local workers. The new form of transportation means carpenters can get to town to buy materials, and deliver finished products to sites, Pamateck said — including to a Sal Ogol school, which still didn’t have furniture two years after it was built.
Now they do, thanks to a little support from Greene County.
“The kids were sitting on the ground trying to take notes. Some kids didn’t even show up because it was discouraging. It wasn’t a good learning environment,” Pamateck said. “Now everything is much better because we have desks and tables.”
This year, the trio hopes the congregation will help provide furniture for another school, this one built three years ago in Andjine.
“The government of Mali creates schools just on paper. There’s no classrooms, there’s no furniture, and it’s the community that has to figure out how they’re going to create a classroom to get started,” Tembiné said.
Funding for the project would allow carpenters in Kansongho to make the furniture for the classrooms.
To read more about The Tandana Foundation’s work in Mali and Ecuador or to help support projects, visit www.tandanafoundation.org.
“It’s a sign of love,” Tembiné said, of their relationship with the Bellbrook church. “We’ve understood that in this church, it doesn’t make a difference whether people are different religions — they’re showing love to everyone.”