Mama of the Month: Anna

In a small village in rural Mali, a woman named Kadidia needed to call her husband who was away working in the Ivory Coast. Kadidia had a cell phone and a prepaid phone card. She was also illiterate. She didn’t know how to make the phone call herself, so she walked several hours to the village where her brother lived. She paid a small fee for him to dial the numbers for her. After she talked to her husband, Kadidia walked several hours home.

Through the Tandana Foundation, Somebody’s Mama’s current project partner, Kadidia was able to take a basic literacy course in her own language. She learned numbers, letters, and basic math, and now she no longer needs to spend a whole day walking just to make a phone call.

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Tandana’s founder, Anna Taft, never took the easy path. She was the kid who invented new games for her friends. As a teenager she created a haunted house in her family’s basement. She used her imagination to create experiences and relationships. As part of her adventurous spirit, she spent four months after high school graduation living in Ecuador. She fell in love with the people and community, “I was amazed by how I was welcomed into the community and the family. I wanted to keep in touch and maintain those relationships.” After college she returned to the villages in which she’d lived. Anna says,

“I realized those friendships were still strong. That’s what led me to starting the Tandana Foundation. I realized those relationships I formed with people of a very different culture and very different economic situations were really special and something I wanted to honor. I could then collaborate with those friends on things they wanted to do to improve their communities and to have more opportunities in their lives and their children’s lives.” 

Wanting to learn about a new part of the world, Anna traveled to Mali a few years later. The elders of the village asked her, “What’s your project? What are you here for?” But she didn’t have an answer. Anna had come simply to learn. Through her time there she learned about the community and their true needs, Everything that Anna does through Tandana “is built on a first-person orientation toward other people in relationship” and “leads to a spirit of sharing, based on simple human values like respect and responsibility.”

Since 2006, the Tandana Foundation has partnered with villages in Mali to provide education for women who had to rely on men to help them with basic tasks—making deals in the markets, keeping track of their business dealings—even to buy shoes, they had to ask someone to help find the right size. 

The Tandana Foundation teaches classes of 30 women foundational reading and math in their native languages over the course of six months. After a break that allows them to work the land during the busy season, they come back for another three months of training.

As part of the program, these women also start Saving for Change groups, in which each woman contributes a small amount to a fund that can then be used for loans and business ventures. Their savings groups then create village associations with legal status. Representatives from their groups can be included at village meetings with the mayor. These women have a voice to talk about issues that are important to them. 

Anna says:

“Seeing the way that they express themselves in a mixed gender meeting is amazing to me. In the past when we had village meetings, the men—especially the elder men—would all be to the front and the women would be to the back or side. The [women] wouldn’t talk. We would ask them questions specifically, and it was hard to get them to say anything. Now, seeing men and women in a meeting together, the women are speaking up with so much confidence. They’re making jokes and sharing ideas and raising complaints. It’s really cool to see that new level of confidence.”

With the help of the Tandana Foundation, the associations are creating businesses for indigo dying, spice ball production, raising sheep, and weaving cotton cloth. Together the women can earn much more than they could before.

At a basic level, the women have a new sense of empowerment. Women who realized that for years the traders they had been selling to were cheating them are speaking up. Anna reports that one woman told her she stood up to a trader saying, “Hey! You’ve been stealing from me. You can’t do that anymore because I can read!” Women can shop for items and count their own change. They now understand the importance of making sure their children attend school every day.

When Anna last went to Mali she met with some of the women who have completed the program. To honor their cultural practices, the staff first asked the husbands’ permission. One husband laughingly said, “She does what she wants now!”  This basic education has given the women of these villages new confidence, knowledge, and the ability to make more money to help their families.

Anna adds:

“I really want to see them continue gaining their economic independence, their self-confidence, and their ability to make their voices heard and make a difference and lead local decision making. What some of them have told me is that they want to be mayor of their township...

They’re saying if we can be mayor of this township, we can make a difference. We can make policies that will help all the women.”

Somebody’s Mama is partnering with the Tandana Foundation to raise $15,000 to support literacy education in Mali. Tandana will launch 10 literacy classes of 30 women each. With your contributions, 300 more women will gain literacy and numeracy skills—the first step to being leaders in their community. Here’s where your money goes:

$8 – Supplies for one literacy student (chalk, pencils, erasers, notebook, ruler and slate)

$40 - Pencils for one class

$60 - Chalk for one class

$80 – One chalkboard for a literacy class

$242 – Supplies for one literacy class of 30 women 

$545 – Classroom equipment for one class (includes: chalkboard, mats, and teacher’s equipment)

Thanks, Anna, for sharing your story with our community and for working hard to #empowerwomen and #empowercommunities!