Ibrahim Benoît Traoré au Mali

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It was like hitting a wall. I stepped out from the air-conditioned Air France jet as my neighbour from the flight remarked with glee: “Ça sent l’Afrique!” (Smells like Africa).

The Arrival

Passing through customs was very easy and the challenge lied in grabbing my luggage from the belt and passing through security.  As soon I stepped out of the airport there was an overwhelming crowd of people and I missed my “Benoît Rivard – MFC” sign.  After about 2 seconds of panic, I found a phone booth where I made a few phone calls and found the MFC driver that had come to get me.

The first night was spent at Johanna and Ibrahim’s house (my supervisor and the MFC director, respectively). The next morning I met their 2 gorgeous little daughters Batoma and Sira.  Sira is 4 years old and already speaks 3 languages: Finnish (Johanna is from Finland), Bambara and French.  It becomes quite humbling when a 4 year old is translating what her 2-year-old sister is saying to you because she (the youngest) only speaks Bambara and Finnish.

It did not take long for my colleagues to baptize me and so I am now known here as Ibrahim Benoît Traoré. It is a tradition for Malians to give foreigners a local name in order to be a part of “du cousinage”: a kind of teasing based on family names. I also go by the name of Toubabou, mostly with the kids, because it means “white person” in Bambara.

Mali Folkecenter

The Folkecenter is a quiet little paradise in the urban jungle of Bamako.  It has a staff of about 20, 4 of which work in the office in Sikasso.  Most of its funding comes from Danish and Finnish NGO and governments and the projects fall under 5 main categories: (i) Solar & Wind; (ii) Gender & Environment; (iii) Natural Resource Management; (iv) Enterprise Development; and (v) Technological Development.


The MFC has developed and installed a power plant that runs on jatropha (pourghère) oil. It feeds electricity to the rural commune of Garalo, where over 8,000 people benefit from this new, and renewable, source of energy. Availability of electricity will mean small businesses and workshops can have electric tools like welding equipment and agricultural processing hardware. I will eventually make a field trip to Garolo with some of the staff to take pictures and write about this project so more details will follow in the next few months.

Sigida Nyétaa

I sat down yesterday with Siriki, a consultant working on an MFC program called “Programme Sigida Nyétaa”.  In Bambara, “Sigida” means something local and “Nyétaa” is a very profound word signifying improvement, progress, courage and perspective.  Sigida Nyétaa ensures that a “top to bottom” approach is avoided by consulting with rural villages on their needs, whether through workshops or micro-project support.

Environmental Forum

Last year saw the inauguration of the Environmental Forum for Malian communities where Malian ENGOs, local and provincial governments all shared their experiences in order to find common ground and create a better sense of cooperation, especially for NGOs working on the field. Coming from a place like Canada where forums of this sort exist for anything, from environmental sustainability advocates to Star Trek memorabilia collectors, this idea did not seem very much groundbreaking.  That said, the impact will be seen through improved communication channels between rural communes and innovation in trying to replicate and even top what others are doing.

FYC (For Your Curiosity)

It is always hot, day and night.  People drive with about a 2 inch buffer zone between cars or motorcycles. The local neighbourhood kids have already come to see me about 5 times in 2 days.  I am sharing my living accommodations with a family of lizards; fortunately they are not poisonous. Nobody speaks French in the market, only Bambara.  All the vegetables are miniature compared to what we are used to eating.  Bamako feels like a maze of identical streets and main roads. People will shake your hand about 5 times – with a big smile – when they meet you and ask you “Ça va?” equally as many times. Roosters make pleasant alarm clocks. It seems like every soutrama – local “buses” – is attempting to break the Guinness Book of World Records for fitting the most people in the back of a stripped down VW hippie van. Taxi drivers expect YOU to know where you’re going.


I have posted the pictures I’ve taken so far on my flickr page and a few in the Photo Gallery on the One Sky site but there aren’t many of the city itself because the police will confiscate your camera if they catch you taking pictures. I will take the opportunity once it presents itself.

N taara,
Ibrahim Benoît Traoré


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