By Merritt Frey, Executive Director
From November 3 to November 18, Mali Rising's U.S. staff joined our Mali staff for a whirlwind tour of 18 of our schools, visits with scholarship students, meetings with potential new villages and so much more. This is the first of a series of blog postings featuring parts of that trip.
On November 14, we did one of the most amazing and most overwhelming things you can do -- we officially opened a new Mali Rising school. The celebratory opening in the tiny village of Sebela was simply incredible, with hundreds of excited children, wonderful dancers, dozens of dignitaries, and much more.
We are so happy that Tim Gibson, winner of our drawing for naming rights to Sebela's school, was there to celebrate with the us and with the village. When we arrived, hundreds of students lined the walk to our seats. They chanted "Gibson, Gibson, Gibson!" and held welcoming signs. Tim seemed determined to shake as many students' hands as possible, stopping for photos or a quick word with every child he could.
When we finally reached our seats the dancing and music began. A stilt-walker and a highly stylized "bird" were the highlights, but both dancers succumbed to the heat at various points during their energetic displays. More somber speeches followed from everyone from the local Ministry of Education official to the regional Mayor to students reading their original poems to Tim himself.
Finally the sign for Tim Gibson Middle School was unveiled and Tim cut the ribbon to the new classrooms. We toured the beautiful, airy new rooms -- a far cry from the fertilizer storage hut where students had previously studied.
With the formalities behind us, everyone settled in for feasting, music, and generally enjoying the party. We were treated to a mysterious snake dancer that was downright spooky, and enjoyed meeting many students and their proud parents.
Just before leaving, Tim was able to grant 180 textbooks to the school thanks to his generous friends who donated to provide school materials. We also left soccer equipment with the students and their teachers -- likely the most popular event of the whole day in the students' minds!
Although our travel plans didn't allow us to stay on, the village celebrated late into the night. Each Mali Rising school is a partnership between the parents and leaders of a village and Mali Rising, and so the village was rightfully celebrating their own amazing contribution to their children's future!
We are so excited to launch this long-term partnership with the village of Sebela and their children. Stay tuned for updates from the school and their students, and thank you to Denik and all 50+ donors who made Tim Gibson Middle School possible!
Want to be part of building our next school? Check out the Builders' Society.