Mali Children Flock to New Library Launched by Sarah Smilkstein ’11
CLAREMONT, Calif. (November 23, 2011) — Scripps College alumna Sarah Smilkstein ’11 recently celebrated the opening of a community education center she worked tirelessly to establish in an impoverished neighborhood in Mali. Smilkstein won a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant for her project in the Niamakoro neighborhood of Bamako, Mali.
“Possibly my favorite moment of the week came in the afternoon when one little girl, Aminata, who is clearly the class ring leader, showed up at the library door with 20 more first-graders behind her and declared, ‘An na na liburu kalan,’ which translates to, ‘We have come to read the books,’” Smilkstein, 22, wrote last week on her blog.
A Scripps College summa cum laude graduate, Smilkstein majored in politics/international relations and French before leaving the United States earlier this year for the African continent. She was selected for the Padelford French Award, which is given annually to a Scripps senior who has distinguished herself in French studies. Mali’s official language is French.
Smilkstein said she originally considered going to Madagascar, but after researching how women are treated in Mali, she decided to go there instead. Newsweek magazine recently rated Mali as the fifth worst country in the world to be a woman.
“Poverty, desperation and, above all, ignorance, fuel the hate and destruction of groups like Al Qaeda and pull at the fissures of Malian society. Education has the power to combat these evils,” wrote Smilkstein in her Davis Projects for Peace proposal. Smilkstein worked closely with community leaders to build enough local support for the education center.