Why You Walk -- The Long Road to School

By Merritt Frey, Executive Director

As all our Miles for Mali walkers start their journey to raise funds for a new school in Mali this month, I thought this would be a good time to share a story from students in Mali about their own daily journey to class.

Recently, our staff in Mali passed a group of girls on their way to school. They stopped to ask the girls about their trip.

The girls were in the midst of their daily 8 kilometer (5 mile) one-way walk to school, chaperoned by a female teacher trainee.  Many girls actually complete this trip four times a day, heading home over the lunch break for a snack and chores.  Our staff interviewed 14-year-old Fatoumata about the journey.

 Fatoumata walks 10 to 20 miles a day for the honor of an education.

Fatoumata walks 10 to 20 miles a day for the honor of an education.

“I am 14 years old and come from the village of Soundougouba,” Fatoumata explained. “There is no second cycle [middle school] in my village, so I continue my studies in Baguineda which is 8 kilometers from my village. I am in grade 8. I like subjects like natural sciences, physics, and chemistry. I dream of being a doctor in the future.”

Long trips to school often lead to school dropout. Especially in the case of girls, parents may force girls to dropout over concerns for safety on the long trip.  “We go to school in a group….we usually form groups of sisters or friends to go to school together. Those who are lucky enough to have a bike go to school on their bikes,” said Fatoumata.

Even if students can avoid dropping out, the distance can make them too tired to learn or late for class. “We do housework at home before going to school. Because of this work some arrive late to school,” said Fatoumata. “Those who arrive late to class are punished by teachers…these punishments can either be waiting at the door of the class until the arrival of another teacher, or being put on your knees.”

I am 14 years old and come from the village of Soundougouba,” Fatoumata explained. “There is no second cycle [middle school] in my village, so I continue my studies in Baguineda which is 8 kilometers from my village. I am in grade 8. I like subjects like natural sciences, physics, and chemistry. I dream of being a doctor in the future.

“When we come to school, we cannot play because the path is long,” explains Fatoumata. “We play at school during the [recess].” 

After another long walk home, students help their parents work in the field or in the garden. At night, they squeeze in a few hours to study before going to bed. Then they get up and do it all over again, hitting the road at 6 am.

All in all, these girls are covering 10 to 20 miles a day for the honor of receiving an education. I’m in awe of their determination, and hope you are too.

If you’re walking for Miles for Mali, give Fatoumata and her friends a thought on your next walk. If you’re not yet walking, it isn’t too late to join us – every step you take will help build a middle school in the little village of Sankama, helping hundreds of kids like Fatoumata! (Not wanting to walk? You can also just donate to the new school here.)