Spotlight on ENDA, Mali
July, 2005. According to ILO estimates, 51.1% of children between the ages of 10 – 14 in Mali were working in 2002. These boys and girls are working in the agricultural sector, in mines, as domestics servants (in urban areas), and as street beggars for their marabout (religious leader) as part of their education in Koranic schools.

CIRCLE partner NGO Environnement et Développement du Tiers-monde is implementing a 2-year CIRCLE project in Markala, in the Ségou region of Mali. In this area – the “rice belt” of Mali – many children work in the fields. Others, sent by their parents for a religious education, are asked by the marabout to beg on the streets when there is not enough food. In other cases children work in the rice field and turn their profits over to the marabout. In order to reduce child labor and increase access to education, ENDA is supporting five community-based schools and 10 functional literacy centers. These learning centers are mostly populated with children who’ve never had the chance to go to school, or who have only had Koranic instruction.

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ENDA uses a true community approach to achieve its objectives in a sustainable way. Some target communities have never had a school at all, so acceptance can be slow in coming. Once the community is “on board,” the ENDA-CIRCLE centers provide teacher training and support and physical rehabilitation and equipment, in order to breathe new life into the schools and generate new faith in the relevance of education – among both children and parents.

Children attending these community schools for primary grades through sixth grade (ages 6-13) follow the same curricula as those in government-run public schools. The functional literacy centers run 5-month programs for older children (aged 9-18). For these five months, the children continue to help their parents in the fields in between sessions. After five months the child graduates to become a “neo-alphabete.” The second stage is called “post-alphabetisation,” when children ideally will enter formal schools on a full-time schedule. This system allows for transitions both into education and away from child work, making the changes easier for both children and parents. Many children will continue to assist their families with age-appropriate light gardening activities before and after school. ENDA-CIRCLE is aware that during the dry season parents who do not have the means to make ends meet will again take their children to the rice fields to contribute to the family’s survival: this presents both a fact-of-life and a continuing challenge to the fight against child labor.
When ENDA began implementation its CIRCLE project back in April 2004, they encountered particular difficulty in the village of Chiakawèrè, which is very religious and traditional. It took ENDA staff a long time to persuade the community that child labor and education are universal concerns, and that the concept and purpose of the project is relevant to their own families. After several meetings, the community finally became enthusiastic about the CIRCLE mission, especially when they spoke with people from neighboring communities where ENDA was intervening.

Soon their motivation was at the utmost. With the efforts of a local management committee, the Chiakawèrè literacy center began with 42 learners – well beyond the initial goal of 25. The classes take place in the hut of a villager. A year later – given the success of the centre and enthusiasm of learners – the community has decided to build a separate classroom to serve as a larger educational center. They will provide the manpower and the bricks to build the center, and ENDA will contribute construction and roofing materials.

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When others learned about Chiakawèrè’s initiative to build its own functional literacy center, additional communities solicited ENDA to help them do the same in their villages. The village of Kodjirédaga is now following the model and will be followed by Thio and Dougabougou in September, at the end of the rainy season.
In spring 2005, two of the ENDA-CIRCLE functional literacy centers (Sibila and Gomakoro) set up a savings-and-investment fund to ensure the centers’ sustainability. Participants – adults and children alike - contribute 25-100 CFA (US $0.25 -$1.00) into a petty cash box each month. They obtain their funds from small-scale gardening activities they undertake in the village.

When asked about the reason for this good practice,
the children replied that the resources they generate allow them to contribute
to their own education while helping their parents support the cost for the fuel
in the lamps which light the rooms during their evening classes.