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Mark's Mali Blog - arrival at the project site

Week 2 - Gifford's Mark Richardson and Rebecca Mulley have arrived in Mafèlè, to begin work on a barrage across the Woni River, which will give the local people a more reliable water supply.

Arrival in Mafèlè

We waved goodbye to Bamoko, the capital of Mali with running water, electricity, smog and noise and headed towards Mafèlè, a small village seven hours to the south and the site of the mini barrage project. The bus rattled its way from asphalt to gravel, to rutted dusty tracks, through the African savannah. We were greeted by village elders and many children, shouting and waving.

The buildings are primarily round, thatched and adobe with a few concrete and tin ones here and there. There is a school, health centre and mosque. The first evening unfolded lit by a full moon. Drumming and dancing with plumes of dust rising from the disturbed ground, the traditional music captured the moment and gave us a festive welcome.

The barrage site is a kilometre from the village and work to date is ahead of schedule. Villagers form work groups mixing concrete, moving stones and building. The most important job, it would appear, is boiling kettles for tea on stoves made from termite mounds.

The sweet, strong shot of caffeine is always a welcome break. The site engineer, a professional from Bamoko, praised the zero accident rate on the site saying that workers are very careful. They have to be – there is no PPE safety equipment.

Both of us joining in the manual work is a cause of much amusement. Traditional work practices by gender is one barrier that will take time to break down. Women in Mali are responsible for family, food and housekeeping – a large burden with extended families and up to eight children. Men, who have it easier, are responsible for farming and building.

The barrage, when built, will mean more water available to the women who manage market gardens. They will be able to grow more food for the family and sell a little for personal income. This will bring them independence from the traditional financial structures of the family and increase female power within this community, a primary aim for Jeunesse et Développment, the Malian NGO that commissioned this project.

I have never seen a queue for water before – a real queue – firsthand. There are four manual pumps for 2,000 people in this village. They bring drinkable water from 40 metres below ground level. Throughout the day and into the night people queue to collect water for drinking, washing, surviving.

The barrage will provide readily available irrigation water, easing the pressure in this area. Our eventual assessment of the project will find what balance has been struck between environmental, social and economic considerations. But for us this afternoon, after the burning midday heat, it's back to hand-mixing concrete and lifting rocks.

Read part one of Mark's blog here.

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