Karama: a school for 250 Bozo kids in Mali
In July 2017 the Association acquired a lot of land on Dialongoun Island on the river Niger and, together with the whole community, built a rudimentary structure to start a primary school on the island. In November 2017 the school was informally started and could accommodate up to 40 students. Following a heavy flood, the classroom was badly damaged but and thanks to donations, Karama was able to renovate the classroom. Notwithstanding the success of the organization in involving the community and increasing the number of children eager to go to school, its work would not be effective until the school complex and the educational program gets an official recognition from the Malian Ministries of Education and Urbanism. This is the main focus of Karama's activity at the present moment.
The Bozo people are part of the vibrant plethora of cultures that characterize Mali nowadays. They live in villages along the banks of the Niger River, which is at the heart of their livelihood activities and traditions, and of which they historically are considered guardians and custodians. The Bozo engage in fishing and sand extraction from the Niger, constantly moving along its course, living and knowing it as a member of the community itself rather than a simple natural element. The semi-nomadic nature of the Bozo culture has always allowed them to move along the river at times of flood or drought, so that they never stray from what represents them and to which they are strongly attached, both as a tradition and as a mean of livelihood.
During the last decade, geopolitical tensions around the country and the polarization of activities in the capital Bamako has not spared the Bozo people who, although living mostly in the region of Mopti and in the interior delta, are migrating towards the big city, attracted by the opportunities offered from numerous fish markets.
As the overall population in the capital keeps growing, along with the value of land along the river, the Bozo people have been confined in urban interstices, the only available informal plots of land near open dumps or sewage and chemical dumping, with disastrous consequences for their living conditions. This precarious and unhealthy situation is also cause of strong stigmatization from the Malian society, which leads to the exclusion of the Bozo people from many economic, social and educational activities and opportunities. This condition is also one of the main drivers of youth drop out of school in Bozo communities, fueled by parents' fears that their children will be removed from their neighborhood.
Education is an essential element for socio-economic inclusion, especially in the context of a marginalized community threatened by social isolation and environmental degradation. It is therefore the belief of Karama Mali that the social redemption of the Bozo people must necessarily pass through the education of the younger generation as they will be the future leaders of community.
The KARAMA SO project, from a mixed Bozo and Bamabara "The house of respect", aims to promote primary education of Bozo children between the ages of 6 and 10 living in the Bamako district with the overall objective of increasing the resilience of the community in Mali.
This objective is expected to be achieved through the construction of a school complex that can accommodate 250 children, providing a comfortable and suitable space in which to carry out curricular and extracurricular educational activities. The project's goal is the integration and extension of extracurricular activities aimed at enhancing the Bozo culture and promoting a healthy and environmental sensitive lifestyle.
The project is part of a wider program Karama Mali is presently carrying out to increase the resilience of the Bozo people aiming at poverty alleviation and social redemption of the community with an overall duration of 36 months, after which the Bozo community is expected to be completely empowered to take over the program and self-sustain it.
Direct beneficiaries of the project are 250 Bozo children in the age group 6-10, while the entire Bozo community in Bamako, of about 2000 people, will indirectly benefit from the project's activities since the project will improve the living conditions of the Bozo people and will contribute to increase community's resilience.
In those years of activity the main objective of Karama has been to get the trust of the local community, involve Bozo people in the program and provide children and adults a recognition from the society for the path they are following.
Negotiations have taken place with the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Urbanism to get approvals and certificates to establish a fully operational and recognized school for the Boo people. The proposed school complex and educational program has now received the approval from the ministries which will be providing official title to the Bozo children finishing the educational program.
The construction of a durable and organized school complex with suitable spaces for educational activities is a prerequisite for obtaining the official recognition from the Ministry of Education, as well as approvals from the Ministry of Urbanism thus enabling students to acquire a legally valid qualification on completion of their studies.
The construction of the school, planned to be spread over three years, will also include renovation of the courtyard, modernization and extension of the latrines and the construction of a school canteen where children can consume their meals, thus allowing full-time at school. The building complex has been designed to ensure its sustainability over time, even in adverse weather conditions, with particular attention to the eco-compatibility of the structure. Specifically, it will be possible to use the spaces even in the absence of electricity thanks to the bioclimatic design of the structure, making best use of natural light for lighting and maintaining a comfortable internal temperature in the absence of artificial ventilation system. Photovoltaic panels will be installed in the third year of the project to power household appliances and electronic devices such as computers, printers and video projectors for use during teaching activities. A pirogue is planned to complement the shuttle service that transports the children to the island of Dialongoun where educational activities take place.
Given the precarious and unhealthy conditions in which the members of the Bozo community live, the school aims to be a place where good hygiene and food practices are disseminated, as well as promoting a lifestyle in harmony with nature. In particular, given the community's deep connection with the river, part of the educational activities will focus on the study of the river ecosystem and practices for its protection.
The marginalization of the community is experienced with embarrassment by the younger generation, leading some of them to distance themselves from their roots. This is also the case for adults, who have stopped teaching the Bozo language to children, believing it to be useless or even harmful knowledge. Karama wants to promote access to knowledge and opportunities that exist outside the community but, at the same time, wants to valorize and capitalize on traditional Bozo skills and know-how, which are part of Mali's cultural heritage, to contribute to the resilience and social redemption of the entire community.
For the duration of the project, Karama Mali will continue to guarantee the teaching of school subjects in line with the ministerial program, while carrying out extracurricular training activities such as:
An introductory Bozo language course twice a week;
Philosophical debate sessions in collaboration with the UNESCO Chair in Philosophy;
Hygiene awareness activities for the prevention of communicable diseases;
Fiction workshops: promotion of reading and children's books (Partner Sini association);
Activities to raise children's awareness of respect for animals and their habitat (e.g. visits to the Bamako zoo) in collaboration with the Roots And Shoots association;
River bank cleaning every Friday.
Awareness-raising activities on healthy eating and the creation of a school garden to introduce children to agroecology (many Bozo grow small plots along the river).
Educational activities to raise awareness of respect for the river ecosystem
Activities to disseminate the Bozo culture through the interventions of adults from the community
who will bring their testimony and specific knowledge to the students of Karama So.
Currently, Karama's training center is supported by the students' families, who give an annual contribution to cover expenses. At the end of the project, the school is expected to be economically self-sufficient thanks to:
Establishment of a school garden which, in addition to serving as a teaching tool, will ensure a certain degree of food independence;
Installation of solar panels that make the school energy self-sufficient;
Recognition of the school by the Ministry of Education for access to public funding.