It seems like just yesterday that I was 20 years old and a law student at the University of Laval in Québec. I had just been selected by Canadian Crossroads International to go to Africa – Mali to be precise. I was leaving North America for the first time. In fact, it was the first time that I was travelling by plane! Was I excited? I can still remember singing with the nuns next to me on the Alitalia flight! They were on their way to visit Rome, which for me was just stopover on my way to Bamako. In Mali, I stayed six months in the village of Negala, living with the family of Zoumana Dumbia and his two wives, Tuguba et Fanta. This experience, whether it was a calling, love, or perhaps even faith, indelibly shaped the direction of my life.
At the time, I had the opportunity to witness the presidential elections, where the family chief went to vote in his name and that of two wives for… the only candidate on the ballot!
Over the following two decades, Mali had become an example of democracy in Africa. Yet, on March 22nd, the President Amadou Toumani Toure – ATT – was overthrown in a coup. He was criticized for his inability to deal with Tuareg rebel independence movements in the North of the country, rebels who were strengthened by the return from Libya of pro-Gaddafi mercenaries.
This, in a context of an unfolding humanitarian crisis in the region. More than 15.6 million people are touched by a growing food crisis, including 3.5 million Malians. Development and Peace, with financing from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, is supporting emergency appeals for Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali (for a total of close to $5 million). I am travelling to Mali to meet with our partner Caritas Mali, participate in a training session with Diocesan representatives and help launch the food distribution program that we will be supporting. My colleague, Geneviève Talbot, will be joining me and will then be travelling to Burkina Faso to meet with Caritas Burkina.
But, I will also be in Mali to visit Moctar, today director of Kilabo, Symbaly, who had initiated me to Africa, and, I hope, my foster family. I will find my Malian brothers and sisters in this difficult period that the country is now passing through. I am returning to a place that is also my home.