Put Families and Trains on Track

Twenty-two and a half years ago I stood at dusk on the train platform in the town of Diamou in Western Mali*, a town without hotels, a town where the majority of the population spoke a language I did not yet speak. I scanned the crowds for the cultural liaison and mentor Peace Corps assured me would be there and yet there was no welcoming mentor in sight. Sambou Dansoko, who worked for the railroads, took me home to his family when he learned I had no place to stay.

 Sambou calmed my hysterics when millions of ants moved through my house, he built me a porch to sleep on when he noticed my severe heat rash, he found me and nursed me back to health when I was too sick to show up for dinner; in many ways, he became my second father. I owe Sambou and his family a debt.

Sambou’s urgent request comes after we spent 2 and a-half years of savings on tickets to visit his family in Mali this summer and so I need your help. The problem? The 600 km of railroad track between Bamako and Diboli (on the Senegal border) was once the life-blood of Western Mali. Trains allowed food and goods to reach families in remote villages, families that could not afford to rent a 4X4 to navigate the very poor roads, roads that flood in rainy season. The trains provided critical income to the women and children that would gather every morning and evening as the trains rolled in, selling their wares to travelers. This extra cash could pay for medicine or school supplies.

 Today the trains run once or twice a week at best, the neglected tracks require a very slow speed and breaks in the track can stop the trains for weeks (see photo below which caused a break in service for 20 days). The new generation of workers in Mali does not have the expertise to repair the tracks (training, once provided by the government, ended years ago, Sambou and his fellow retirees possess this advanced training, knowledge that can get the railroad up and running).  Sambou and his fellow retirees created an organization (they have the necessary paperwork through the government) to: 1. pass on the knowledge necessary to repair the tracks 2. provide much needed work to unemployed young people along the tracks from Bamako to Diboli and 3. get in on the ground floor before international organizations lead this work. A government association that is a partnership between Mali and Senegal works in partnership with Sambou and his fellow retirees and provides the necessary equipment to repair the tracks. The job of Sambou’s organization is to: 1. Provide the much needed expertise to plan, execute and supervise all repairs 2. Provide the labor for all work and 3. Ensure that workers without transportation can get to and from the job site. He has already started work on the railroads and has a contract with the government association. He has provided work to 89 people but cannot continue work successfully without at least one 4X4 truck. In order to regularly inspect and maintain the significant portions of track and provide adequate supervision of projects, the retired railroad workers need a 4X4. Only a 4X4 can navigate the poor roads.   (Can you imagine having to service the Norfolk to Richmond VA train line on FOOT!) Finally, the 4X4 will help move workers to and from the job site. I need to raise $8,000 to pay for a 4X4 so that Sambou can continue to hire local residents and bring rehabilitation to the railroad system. 

Why not a loan?  In the future, the project will expand its scope of work  (rehabilitate longer stretches of railroad and hire more people to do that) and will need another truck for that purpose. The minimum yearly wage in Mali is $1,284; so as you can see, paying off one truck would be unduly burdensome to a start-up project that will eventually require another truck. This project needs the gift of this truck to get rolling immediately and bring income to families now.  The organization will begin saving money so that they can take out a loan/buy additional trucks in the future. Please help me help my Malian dad support many families in Mali and secure the transportation that will bring economic opportunity for all those in Western Mali in a Malian led enterprise.

 *Mali is a land locked country in West Africa. In 2017, 70 out of 1000 infants did not see their first birthday (although in some areas of infant mortality in the first year is close to 100 per 1000 births) and the average life expectancy is 58 years. Mali was listed as the 27th poorest country (economically) in the world.
Picture of broken track. Your funds will help fix bridges like this.
Photo of repair just finished on above break in track. A 4X4 would have cut down repair time (20 days without train service).


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Kathryn Haines 
Bon Air, VA
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