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Odyssey Service Work


6 Weeks of Service Work

The Odyssey team members will live and work with grassroots organizations in or near each of the ten destination cities for six weeks at a time. The work of the organizations and the volunteers will be captured on video, audio and text and shared with the students via the Student Site on the World Wide Web. By doing so, The Odyssey will also bring to the local organizations an unprecedented avenue for educating people about the issues important to them and for seeking support for their work. By opening this channel of communication, The Odyssey will lend great power to the voices of local organizations and peoples and afford them the chance to directly share their own perspectives, which so often are otherwise lost.


Connecting with Community Organizations Abroad: A Case Study

Bamako, Mali

Since the popular overthrow of the Moussa Traore dictatorship in 1991, the Malian government has demonstrated a number of ways in which it is committed to democratic accountability. A dynamic NGO sector and a vibrant independent press ensure that organizations in civil society are able to play a significant watchdog role and to promote popular participation in development at a variety of levels. Although economic problems persist, the indigenous, culture-based development practices that are taking place in Mali make it an example of hope to the rest of the region--an example the Odyssey will share with the rest of the world.

The Institute for Popular Education (IEP) is at the forefront of innovative and powerful work in the area of popular education and social transformation. The institute's founder Maria Keita, a former Ashoka fellow, had worked with Malian and Canadian NGO's for 11 years, working on the village level doing credit programs and home gardens. One day the women of the village approached her and told her that the gardens had supplied them with more food and more work, but they still weren't better off. They wanted to be educated and to learn of the world. The NGO's had done their job giving people food and greater access to health care, but the people were still poor, they were discontent with their lives and didn't know how to change them. Maria realized that lack of access to services isn't the real problem of poverty and that NGO's needed to evolve into more activist roles.

She started out on her own, by creating literacy materials in the local language, using local reality, and today the Ministry of Education in Bamako uses her institute as a primary model for national literacy. More important to Maria than the government's response is the people's response to IEP. Today the center has evolved into an integral part of the communities it serves, offering literacy programs, support groups, youth camps, daycare, and informal internships based on community requests.

The Odyssey team would arrive to work with IEP in Kati, 17 km outside of Bamako, one of the institute's four centers in the country. Arriving in mid-August, 1999, gives the team the prime opportunity to catch the institute in the middle of their training programs. In addition to the literacy programs underway, women trek members could take part in the women only discussion circles where issues ranging from health to domestic violence are intimately discussed. Some Odyssey team members will undoubtedly work with one or more of the youth camps the institute organizes for both student committees and for youth not in school. A primary goal of the institute in this dynamic time in Malian history is to channel student unrest towards a positive means. The Odyssey could provide an unprecedented link for students thousands of miles apart sharing their goals, their accomplishments, and their dreams.

IEP is a perfect example of how much can be accomplished with very little resources, emphasizing the crucial role of volunteerism. IEP is not an NGO, it is much more community based. The Odyssey looks forward to working with the Institute for Popular Education--a committed group that deserves highlighting as a critical example in the development paradigm, emphasizing the culture first and the solutions emerging from them.

Similarly, other trek members will be working with different service groups in the vicinity of Bamako to highlight a broad range of the work of grassroots movements in the country. Some trek members will work with the Association Jeunesse Action (AJA)-Mali and its founder Souleymane Sare, also a former Ashoka fellow. In an effort to help reduce extreme youth unemployment and hopelessness, Souleymane created AJA-Mali to help young artisans and unemployed school-graduates combine skills to develop and launch successful income earning projects. Still other trek members will highlight the Association Radio Libre Bamakan and the National Federation of Malian Artisans, groups that have successfully used the newly created democratic space to put forward their own agenda for change.

During the 6 weeks in and around Bamako, the Odyssey will be teaching thousands of students about Malian culture and current issues. But perhaps more important will be sharing the works of these worthwhile groups and individuals who are doing so much to not only change their own communities, but to inspire the world as to what small grassroots movements can do.


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