I ni ce!  I’m currently in Sevare, where a group of friends and I are stopping over after an incredible three-day hike in Dogon Country, where we celebrated Christmas, Mali-style.

Before heading to this part of the country, I was fully engaged in a two-week in-service training at Tubaniso, which was focused on providing us with additional needs assessment and project development skills, lessons learned from second-year volunteers, and issue-specific sessions that dove into some of the obstacles that may prove to be barriers to our success at site.

Also, during the training weeks, we held elections for the Gender and Development committee.  I care deeply about this issue, and believe it has an incredible impact on development and progress worldwide (for greater perspective read Nick Kristof’s recent release, “Half the Sky”.  During the meeting I was elected to serve as the research coordinator for the committee.  This ambiguous title means that over the next year, I will be compiling a comprehensive resource of material related to gender and development that all Peace Corps Mali volunteers will receive during their training.  The manual will include project ideas, lessons learned, available resources and research, contact information for NGOs and businesses worldwide that focus on gender and development, and resources available via Peace Corps in other countries.  I’m really excited to take on this project and to be a part of creating a resource that I think will be invaluable to Peace Corps development agents in Mali as they plan and execute all of their projects keeping gender in mind.

Since I’ve been away from site a bit in the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on several issues that I’ve been exposed to at site, and learned about further during training – 1) the Malian education system and 2) the extensive web of corruption that exists in Mali.  Although the education system in the United States is far from perfect, and a complex system of corruption exists there as well, the problems I’ve seen here are far grander both in scale and complexity.  I’ve chosen to write about these issues to share information from my firsthand experience, to express my personal opinion about the current situation and how I think these fundamental issues can hinder development, and to juxtapose the system that many of you know well to the system that I’m witnessing here in Mali.

I hope you enjoy these posts!  I’m interested to hear reactions from folks in the developed world.  Before coming to Mali, I had no idea that the situation could be so starkly different.  I now know that I can never be grateful enough for the education I received in the United States, and for the rule of law that exists in the developed world.

I look forward to writing similar posts in the future, as I feel best able to provide ample information and well-thought-out opinion.