Do you remember the first time you saw an asphalt road? Or the first time you saw a multiple story building? Probably not, since you were raised in an environment where these were so common that you have known them all of your life. Imagine that day you visited something quite different from what you were used too – maybe a rural area with lots of farming, cows walking in the streets, long-drop toilets and dust roads – and what it meant to you.
Last month a group of 21 children – group 5 of Fanga School* – had the honor to set out on a school trip (their very first ever!) to Ségou. It may not sound very appealing to kids in many a place to go to a city and to visit handicraft workshops on a school trip. The kids in Fintiguila however were beyond eager to step out of their comfort zones and into that whole new world.
One Sunday afternoon in April a minibus arrived in the village to pick up the children and the accompanying teachers and mothers. I wasn’t there to witness it, but I can imagine the kids pushing one another aside to get into the bus, all excited and probably not having much attention anymore for their parents and siblings waving them goodbye.
Their first night out quickly turned into a real adventure. Not even halfway the village and the city a flat tire occurred. The driver quickly replaced it and they were back on the road. Not for long though. Another flat tire and no more spare one to replace it. Night started falling and they were in an area without cell phone reach. Trying to stop one of the rare passing motorcyclists turned out to be a real challenge, but finally one did stop and they negotiated a ride for one of the adults to the nearest village, where they were able to contact someone in Ségou. A spare tire was arranged and brought to the minibus.
Finally at 10:30pm the minibus arrived in Ségou and the kids had a first chance to see a city by night. They were blown away by all the lights. When arriving at Centre Soroblé – where they spend the nights – they were very ready for their dinner. Still a bit modest – and maybe overwhelmed by all the experiences – they didn’t eat that much. Yet in the morning all the food was gone, so we guess there were a few nightly ‘snack tours’ 😉
When daylight arrived they were finally able to see more of their new surroundings. They didn’t stop taking it all in. Their heads turned from left to right and back when walking along the river to the town centre, where the week market was in full swing. Stops were made to greet people from the pottery villages, and at Archinard’s statue and the Faboulon Tunnel to explain about the history of Ségou. The kids were invited to visit souvenir shops, corner stores and one of the rare supermarkets in town. The afternoon was spent visiting mud-cloth workshop N’Domo, two carpentry workshops, a metal workshop, a carpet knotting women’s association and last but not least the soccer stadium.
On top of that they set out on a Ségou by night tour. That night they slept like babies!
Their last day in Ségou arrived all too soon. The kids couldn’t get enough of it. They were munching away the tasty rice and spaghetti meals (something they rarely eat in the village) and the bread and milk breakfasts. They were taking in every visit, some of them even taking notes.
Many of the villagers from Fintiguila have their family roots in the historical village of Segoukoro – in former times the capital of the Bambara Kingdom – so they visited the village and met the chief. Ibrahim guided them and explained about the history of their great-great-grandfathers.
Once more into town to visit our office and some of the nearby hotels, before time arrived to return to the village. A smooth ride got them back home before dinner time. They were warmly welcomed by their families. That night it took a long time before it was finally quiet in the village. The children just couldn’t stop talking about all that they had seen and done and answering all the questions of their parents, brothers, sisters and friends.
About a week later I visited them in the village and was of course very curious to hear, what had most impressed them. Asphalt roads, multi story buildings, electricity, the soccer stadium, Segoukoro, the supermarket (who treated them on drinks!), the hotel’s swimming pool and the Niger river were mentioned. All of the kids’ eyes lightened up when talking about their school trip.
Even though only one of them mentioned the workshops they had visited, I’m sure that part of the trip will surface sooner or later and the stories of the workshop owners – who make a good living working with their hands – will definitely inspire some of them at some point.
Also for one of the accompanying mom’s it was the first time in the village. She was truly inspired by the workshops – especially the bogolan – and asked Souleymane if she could learn it too.
‘Monique, Ibrahim promised us we can come back next year!’, some of the kids happily told me.
He may have been a bit over enthusiastic when promising that, but we’ll see… Next year it’ll be the next group 5’s turn. There’s much more to see and do, like visiting Comatex, the textile plant and setting out on a boat trip to visit one of the pottery villages and what to think about the rice fields or the calabash hamlet… So yes, if there’s enough money in the funds, we may invite this year’s group 5 back to Ségou too.
* Fanga School is being supported by the Papillon Project Fund. The school – which was founded by our good friend Souleymane Coulibaly, owner of mud-cloth Centre Soroblé – combines theoretical and practical classes, which is a rare combination in Mali. Also children are invited to think for themselves rather than to just copy the teacher.