It wasn’t just the beautiful building with the fresh blue paint- the clean walls- the swept floors and spotless outhouses- but that was part of it. The place literally gleamed. Everything was so new and well kept. It had been in use for a semester but looked as if it had opened yesterday.
I was able to tour Grace School in Koro, Mali a couple of weeks ago with Zachary and Ibrahima Kodio. Zachary is an engineer who works mainly in Bamako but is committed to the school and drew up the plans for the new building. It was built to last and will support two additional floors for a total of nine classrooms. Zachary hadn’t seen the completed project. He took time to examine it in detail and was very pleased with the main building, the four restrooms, and the administrative building.
The school should have electricity soon. School founder Ibrahima is working with the city to determine the best, quickest and least expensive way to bring the wires the final fifty feet from the pole to the school.
Water comes from a well on the neighbor’s property. The plan is to dig a well on Grace’s property at some point but so far the arrangement is working. Most wells in the area are dry from early May until the rain comes in July which works out for the school’s purposes. There is a water filtration system to purify a portion for drinking.
The middle school kids are located in the nearby rented classrooms. They are bright, charming and curious and have big plans for the future. They had many questions about life in the US. Although they already speak at least three languages, they understand the importance of English and work hard at it. While English lessons start in seventh grade in the public schools, they start in third grade at Grace.
The ninth grade class is much larger than the other two. It is a challenge is to capture the children earlier. One year simply isn’t enough to prepare them for high school and for life.
The elementary school is in the new building. The first and second graders share a classroom this year, while the third and fourth graders have their own. The teachers seem inspired and motivated. They are proud of their new school building and of the work they are doing. The children are energetic and excited to be there.
I was able to bring medicine to all of the children and teachers to treat for worms and schistosomiasis. There isn’t a way to know the exact incidence of the two diseases in the school but they are common and a big source of morbidity in all age groups. It is recommended that school age children be treated at least yearly. They all received a toothbrush as well. I talked to them about the importance of dental hygiene. Bad teeth are a major cause of health problems in the area.
The children all drew a picture using the construction paper and crayons that I brought. It was interesting to see what they drew. Many drew their homes. Some drew intricate flowers or the Malian flag. Some of the boys drew motorcycles or cars just like kids back home. Most used their pencils, protractors and rulers to make precise lines.
The elementary kids sang a hymn to me. It was so beautiful. Their loud voices were accentuated with remarkably in time clapping as they reached the final verse. These children and teachers are so thankful for their school. In their small, poor town, they have the opportunity to learn and grow in a safe, loving, modern environment. Their eyes are opening to the wider world and to their place in it. They are learning that life is about giving and not taking, about sharing and working together.
Construction will begin soon on the second floor of the school to add three more classrooms. If donations stay steady and local conditions allow, it should be complete before the next school year starts in the fall.
The students asked for matching soccer jerseys for their school team and for computers. Ibrahima also said there is a need for more textbooks and reference books. We plan to hold small fundraisers this spring to raise money for these items.
Ibrahima, his wife Rachel, the teachers, and all of the students are so thankful for the financial and prayer support that they have received from Peace Church over the past year. It is exciting to see what we have been able to accomplish together in this remote area of West Africa.
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“You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.”