Saturday, 28 October 2017

Celebrating Ten Years of Hay Being Twinned with Timbuktu!

I looked back through my blog - and the first post I ever wrote about Timbuktu was on 7th January, 2007!
Back then, Ann Brichto had entered Hay in a competition to become twinned with Timbuktu - the other finalists were York and Glastonbury - and the Malians were preparing to come to the UK to visit each town and decide who they liked the best.
So that was the start of it, and things were very different in 2007. Mali was a poor country, but mostly stable, and Timbuktu was encouraging tourism for its history (it was a great centre of learning in the middle ages, with thousands of manuscripts), interesting mud architecture, and the Festival in the Desert. The idea of the twinning originally was that the people of Timbuktu had a lot to offer the outside world, and Hay could support them in that.
And then came 2012, and civil war, and everything changed. A lot of the aid agencies moved out because it was too dangerous to continue. The Islamist insurgents attempted to destroy the priceless manuscripts - some were saved by local people, who took them out to the desert to hide them.

Charlie English has written a book about this, called The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu, and he'll be talking about it at Booths Bookshop on 7th November at 7pm. There will also be a three course dinner, costing £20, with the proceeds going to Hay2Timbuktu's new project sponsoring two young women through their midwife training in Timbuktu. Tickets are available from Eighteen Rabbit.

Alongside Hay2Timbuktu, HayMedics4Timbuktu became involved early on in the twinning relationship, with some medics going to Timbuktu to discuss projects they could help with. One of those projects was for antenatal health, so there's been a long relationship with the midwives there. At one point, a group of midwives came to Hay, to look at midwifery practice in the local area - and all the time they were here, not a single baby was born!
Money was also raised for a motorbike ambulance - fortunately, when it was sent over, it was held up in customs, so when the trouble started in Timbuktu, it was safe - and was eventually delivered to the clinic about two years later.
At the same time, Jump4Timbuktu began as a group mainly concerned with the artisans of Timbuktu. The Hay Makers Gallery is still selling Tuareg silver work and leather work, in a direct relationship with the artisans in Timbuktu.

There's also been a long relationship with three schools in Timbuktu, especially focussing on the education of girls. This was disrupted by the troubles there, but in 2011 a Girls Bursary Pilot project was launched, supporting 50 girls from poor families to go to school. This scheme is drawing to a close now, and seems to have been a great success. Short videos were shown of the mayor, and some of the teachers in the schools talking about the project and how it had helped, and there was one interview with one of the girls, now married with a small child, who said she was now a "very happy wife" thanks to the project. One of the trustees of Hay2Timbuktu is in weekly contact with one of the English teachers, who was seen on one of the videos. The sound wasn't great, but they are going to do what they can with the videos, which were taken on a phone and then emailed - internet access is very difficult from Mali - and will put them up on the Hay2Timbuktu website shortly.
Someone asked how the girls were chosen for the project, and it seems there was a committee of mothers who made the choice, along with teachers who knew which girls were likely to benefit most. The girls also had to come from a family where they had lost one or both parents - and some of them belonged to families where there were 18 children - so the parents were unlikely to be able to afford to educate all of them.
Most of the girls have gone on to college or the local lycee, and some have done nursing training, so the project really has made a big difference to their lives.

There have been other projects, too - three girls from the top class in Hay School decided they wanted to raise money to provide electricity for a school in Timbuktu - and they did it! Sadly, the insurgents destroyed all that good work.
Hay2Timbuktu has also sent out equipment for schools, and laptops (with the aid of Computers4Africa) and, in the worst times when Hay was one of the few links with the outside world that Timbuktu had, food aid.

Hay's Mayor Trudi Stedman also stood up to say a few words. She wasn't in Hay at the beginning of the twinning process, but she had been reading up about it, and listening to Ann Brichto relating her memories of the beginnings of Hay2Timbuktu, and she looked forward to the Town Council supporting Hay2Timbuktu in the future.
One idea was that short videos should be sent back to Timbuktu, including one from Hay's mayor to Timbuktu's mayor.

So that's the story so far - what about the future?
Well, it's Toilets for Timbuktu!
One of the problems with keeping girls in education is the difficulty of going to the loo. The toilet blocks at the schools are ancient, and mostly girls go home to go to the toilet, which means they miss classes (the boys can always manage somehow!). Girls having periods also have difficulties and many have to stay at home while they are bleeding, which means they miss 2 to 5 days of schooling every month. Also, the girls don't want to use the same toilets as the boys. New toilets with separate areas for boys, girls and the teachers, would help enormously.
Hay2Timbuktu are already involved with three schools in Timbuktu, and the plans are to build two toilet blocks, and refurbish a third. One of the problems with this scheme is that two of the major water aid agencies no longer operate in the north of Mali because it is still very dangerous there.
Donations to Toilets4Timbuktu can be made by visiting the hay2Timbuktu website or texting TMBK02 followed by the donation sum to 70070 - local donors can pop into Eighteen Rabbit.

As part of the AGM portion of the evening, three new trustees were brought onto the committee, one of whom was Louise Davies of Eighteen Rabbit. She's been a trustee before, so she knows what it's all about.

And finally, the Co-op provided the wine and crisps. A lady called Barbara is the new liason from the Co-op, and she said that her job was to link up with local charities and groups, as the Co-op wanted to get back to their original ethos of helping local communities. They have a scheme on their members card where the member can donate to a local cause. Members get 5% back on all Co-op products they buy, and can then give 1% of that to the local cause.

No comments: