Wren Miller, reports on her visits to Kirina, MaliWren Miller
Wren Miller, the Director of UK based charity, Send a Book to Mali, reports on her visits to Kirina Music School, Mali.
Mali is deeply troubled at the moment, the country divided in two, the lucrative tourism trade dead, the Government shaky, as well as the prospect of protracted war. Everyone in Mali has been affected in some way - it’s been hit hard, north and south - and yet I find myself welcomed with open arms and hearts during my recent visits to the Music School at Kirina.
The school grounds are wide, open and grassy. It’s the rainy season, and the track to the school is deeply rutted and full of stinking water (there will be more about that). Groups of children are clustered under shade giving trees. The sun beats down. Seydou Dembelé receives us – I am here with Ben Sangaré, a Film maker and one of Send a Book to Mali’s Goodwill Ambassadors.
After all the conversations Seydou and I have had on Facebook, it's like meeting an old friend. He introduces us to the inquisitive children, and Mamadou Diabaté, the Head, who is giving an outdoor Djembé lesson to a group of boys. Mamadou and Seydou are confident, warm people, who inspire easy manners and respect from those around them.There is going to be a dance class, so Seydou takes us over to the beautiful new open sided, thatched, dance hall where we meet Oumou, the dance teacher and a group of Griots, who will play the Djembé drums. When they start to play, the sound reverberates across the land and very soon the low dance hall walls are packed with seated figures; sitting upright like a closely packed shelf of books. Many more people are pressing to peep through the gaps or clustered at the open entrances. It is evident that this is a social event as well as a village spectacle; parents, younger and older siblings flock to see it and well as those passing by carrying their work tools.
An intricate dance lesson which involves all skill levels then unfolds before us. The children are snaking their way around the edge of the hall and over every inch of the floor. I watch as the children and teenagers; some with beaming confident smiles, some with looks of intense concentration; move in unison, or do break out solo’s, displaying their stamina, agility and beauty.
I am reminded of birds in flight and happily snap away with my camera, capturing this scene, heart in mouth, the drums vibrations raising a fury of excitement in me. My eyes are drawn too, to the physical beauty and the evidence of these people working so hard - they are running with perspiration, multiple rivers of sweat course down.
Deep admiration is what I feel. I can see pride and love in the faces of the audience.
Seydou and I have planned to co-teach using materials I have collected and brought from the UK, donated by supporters of Send a Book to Mali, the charity I run. Ben Sangaré, has been so taken and impressed by the Kirina School during our previous visit, he has agreed to return to film the lesson. The classroom for the 2 hour English lesson is packed, we have so many children we make two lessons, before and after lunch. We work on greetings; listening and repeating back after hearing the words in my English accent (a rarity in Mali). We cover ages, nouns and action words enabling them to describe themselves and what they like. We also spend time looking for familiar words and ones we have just learnt, in the many English picture reading books we have brought for the school. Using what they have learned, they write to children in the UK on Pen Pal Postcards, the reverse sides hold greeting from British Children, in both English and Bambara languages. These are postcards which have been sold in the UK to help fund the shipping of books to Mali.
Our pupils have other lessons to attend, so after they have departed, we take tea and say our goodbyes, slowly, reluctantly.
As we leave, our car slithers on mud and then halts in a flood on the track out to the main road. We are stuck, really stuck. The chassis sits firmly on what remains of the hard road and the free wheel spins, spraying muddy water like a devious fountain. Within ten minutes a collection of around 30 men of all ages, are helping, time after time trying their hardest, everyone and everything getting deeply covered in mud. Eventually, wonderfully, the car is released and we can relax. Water is run for, and brought to clean off all the splattered helpers and to drink. Quite unexpectedly, children start to clean the car and within a few minutes practically all the evidence of the muddy experience passed is washed away. As cleansed as we may be, memories of this unique place are deeply etched. Back in England, I’m reviewing the images I took during my visits to Kirina, I have a huge smile on my face and an overwhelming feeling of having been blessed. The community spirit and warmth here and elsewhere in Mali, leaves me with a profound happiness and hope - and a longing to return.
Wren Miller is an Eco Artist, builds large sculptures from donated recyclable materials, paints with earth, teaches eco building, and collects and delivers a large amount of English Books each year to Mali.
Photos by Ben Sangaré and Seydou Dembelé.