Being Peace Corps Volunteers in Mali from 2010-2012 was an experience that forever changed our lives. We are Lukas, an environment volunteer in Kati Falaje, and Max, a small enterprise volunteer in Bla, came to Mali with a desire to make a difference and push the boundaries of their comfort zones. After almost two years of going through one of the most rigorous and rewarding experiences of our lives, we were evacuated in 2012 due to the coup d'état and instability in the country. The sudden and abrupt ending to a journey that was unparalleled in terms of fulfillment, left us with a void that could not be easily filled. Coincidentally, a few years later we both found ourselves living in different parts of Switzerland at the same time, and after a few nights spent catching up and swapping stories, decided that there were few things more important than going back to Mali. We booked our flights, and the excitement and emotions began to build with each passing day.
Before arriving, we were both nervous that we wouldn’t recognize Mali anymore. That somehow, the old feelings of comfort and familiarity would be gone after four years away. The first few days in Bamako quickly showed us that our fears could not have been more wrong. Castel still tasted good (but not as good as Beaufort), toh was still terrible, and after exchanging a few joking-cousin jokes, strangers on transport still acted like old friends with these odd Bambara-speaking Toubabs. However, the thing we were most anxious about was reuniting with our old host families and communities. Would they still be as warm and welcoming after four years of virtually no communication? Would we still feel like members of the family and community? Once again, the power of Mali and the warmest people we have ever known proved our hesitations foolish. Crying, laughing, hugging, and tea drinking were all shared once again.
During our trip it became apparent to us that our ties to Mali, and our desire to stay involved with the people there, are for life. But what was going to stop us from falling back into our old lazy habits once we returned to our daily lives? How would we overcome the small logistical and emotional hurdles that had prevented us from staying in contact after we left the last time? The solution presented itself in the same way that Peace Corps problems always get answered, in the form of an LCF. Why not form a team with people who live in Mali, have access to Internet and reliable phone numbers, and are sensitive to both Malian and American cultures? After speaking with Labass Gnono, another benefit also emerged. Since Peace Corps suspended its program again in 2015, many of the LCFs found themselves unemployed or underemployed. That was when the light bulb went off, we should start a project that utilizes LCFs to help volunteers stay connected with their friends and families in Mali!
After hearing about our story and our vision, Scott Lacy and the wonderful people at African Sky welcomed us into their family. It is with African Sky that Kini Fe has been made possible and we are thrilled to be part of the team!
Our vision for this project is to eventually expand it to every part of Mali, but in order to do that we first have to answer some logistical questions and develop a larger network of ex Peace Corps staff and homologues. We also would like to bring a Peace Corps project-esque element in the future that has a sustainable and effective impact on communities. As we know with all things in Mali, we need to go dooni dooni (slowly) and build off of the relationships and networks in place to further expand the project.