I'm Jim Cave, I'm in Mali and these are my notes

I'm Jim Cave, I'm in Mali and these are my notes

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Building Bridges

I come from a line of growers and builders. My Grandpa Kuntz has made an honest living farming in North Dakota for the entirety of his life, his father was a farmer and I bet his grandfather was a farmer. My grandfather on my dad's side was a contractor based out of Montana. I've heard stories about my dad working on bridges, or my mom's tales of the farm for as long as I remember. If someone would have told me that I would be following in the steps of my forefathers a few years ago I would have hidden a scoff. However, I currently find myself a sorghum farmer researching seed varieties and companion planting possibilities. Now, the time has come to emulate the Cave side of my family, but I need your help. To put it simply there is bridge that needs to be built and I'm the only person in a position to facilitate its completion.

This next paragraph will be a basic summary of the problem that needs correction, and what steps need to be taken in order to alleviate the issue. I will give further information on how the project came about, implementation and exactly what you can do to help in following paragraphs. My site consists of a collection of four villages lumped together and given the name Zana. These four villages are Sobala, Zanso, Dangaso and Dombala. Most of the resources of the villages are located centrally in either Zanso or Sobala. These resources include a grinding mill and cereal bank which were built by Peace Corps. Additionally, the school, womens cooperative headquarters (main shea processing area), major meeting places and the market are all located in either Zanso or Sobala. Resources like a school, grinding mill and a market increase incomes and impart skills. Unfortunately, the citizens of Dombala don't have access to these important resources for a good portion of the year. During the rainy season (starting in June). a stream appears between Dombala and Sobala rendering the road impassible to cars and wagons and dangerous to pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles. Consequently, Dombala is isolated from the rest Zana; Dombala's ability to use valuable community resources located in Zanso and Sobala is cut off. The road also poses a health risk due to motorcycle accidents. Labor to repair the road somewhat usable is not available until there is a lull in farming, this lull often doesn't come occur until December.                                              


Map of the area highlighting the problem

This project will improve the most dangerous section of the Dombala road by evening out the road and reinforcing it with concrete and rebar. Villagers will also take erosion prevention measures upstream from the improved section of road by planting trees and placing larger rocks. The community will provide all of the labor and locally available materials. Partners will provide concrete and rebar for construction. The number of Dombala citizens using Zana's resources will be used to measure success.

To give a bit of background on the project, I'll recount how the project came to be at the state it is currently in. I remember walking around village during my first week at site and running into a man who was excited to meet me, this man was a farmer from Domabala named Bakari Sogoba. Bakari took me over to the road that connects his village, Dombala, to my home, Sobala. Both of these villages are part of my site and the road that connects them does not so much resemble a road, it's more of a gorge. The road was definitely a problem, but it did not fit in with my ideas about what I wanted to do at site. As the months turned into a year, people of all sorts told me that fixing the Dombala road was a priority of their's. All four of Zana's village chiefs, the imam, pastor, dozens of mothers and farmers showed enthusiasm toward the idea. Support for improving the road was widespread and deeply held. It came as no surprise that during Participatory Analysis for Community Action (a meeting designed help establish reasonable priorities for development) that improving the road came out as the number one priority for both men and women. After witnessing the road further erode during rainy season and seeing a young man seriously injure himself trying to cross the road on a motorcycle, I decided to do what the community wanted/needed and focus on the road.

Upon expressing more interest into looking into the issue of the Dombala road, one of the masons in village came to me with a design for the road that would solve the problems and be relatively low cost. Peace Corps had built these type of road improvements in the past in a village about fifteen kilometers away (see picture below). In further meetings, two of the village masons volunteered their services and the village chiefs arranged other labor for the road improvement. Additionally, the village chiefs made it clear that maintenance of the bridge and erosion control would be a priority for the group of villages that currently works on road repairs biannually. For the most part this project was conceived, designed and will be executed by the people of Zana; I have just been a facilitator.


My counterpart Esayi inspecting a “bridge” similar to what we are looking to build

In order to construct the bridge the community will follow the implementation plan presented in the next few paragraphs. Construction will start as soon as funds are available, but we would like to start by mid-March. To begin with, community members will gather the required locally available materials (rocks, gravel and sand). Given the amount of these resources needed collection will take a week. Once the locally gathered materials are gathered, the concrete and rebar will be bought in San. Transportation of all of the cement and rebar could take three days. Once all of the materials are gathered and arranged to the mason's liking, excavation will begin.

Currently the stretch of road that we are going to work on is uneven and features some impressive drops. Before any work is done with the cement and rebar the road will have to be evened out. The road will be worked into an elongated U with consideration given to water drainage. Along with the leveling, three holes for the piers need to be dug to the depth of a meter. All of this excavation is estimated to take nine days. Once excavation is complete concrete will begin to be poured and rebar will begin to be laid. The rebar will intersect with another piece of rebar at a perpendicular angle every 20cm. Once the concrete is poured and finished, construction work is complete. Construction is estimated to take ten days. During the concrete laying/drying process great care has to be taken to ensure that no one/thing ruins the concrete before it dries.


1.) State of the road currently 2.)Post excavation 3.)Post Construction

Maintenance and upkeep of the road will be passed onto those members of the village that are chiefly in charge of road maintenance currently. The masons already possess the skills needed to keep the road running well. The road that Peace Corps repaired in a neighboring village is functioning under a very similar arrangement and is currently in great shape. Monitoring and evaluation of the project will be ongoing and primarily done by myself. I will get the different associations to keep track of the number of people whom are new participants from Dombala. Additionally, I will track the number of buyers/sellers using the Zana market that arrive on the improved road. Now that you know the work that the people of Zana are going to do, you probably want to know what you can do to help.

The people of Zana need a good road in order access available resources and have already invested a lot of time and planning into the project. However, we need your help in order to purchase the cement and rebar used in the repair of the road. Construction of the road requires three tons of cement at 125000CFA per ton for a total of 375000CFA in cement. Additionally, 45 bars of rebar #8 need to be purchased at 2000 CFA a bar for a total of 90000CFA. All together, partners need to supply 465000CFA in order to buy all the needed supplies. Using the current exchange rate of 501.73CFAs per dollar, the sum comes to $926.80. However, rumor is that the CFA will be devalued at the beginning on 2012 (which could lead to higher cement prices) and I've been advised to wait till early January to submit the final application for bureaucratic approval. If you are feeling the Christmas spirit and want to help some of the world's poorest people out, I'd ask you to set aside a little bit of money to donate to the project once it is up for donations. One hundred percent of whatever you donate will go to the construction of the bridge. There is no administrative costs and I will give regular updates as to the progress of the project. Oftentimes when you donate money to a charity and do not know what happens with your money after you give. With this you'll have an amazing and competent person that you know (me!) managing a project that will do lasting and concrete good to an entire community whom are willing to work for it! Additionally, the donation is tax deducible. I bet you're just salivating at the prospect of donating, but you'll have to wait to early January :( Once the project is cleared to receive funding I will post a link on this blog to where you can donate.

In summarization, some people in Mali need your help to improve a road that is dangerous and impassible. Improving the road will improve access to markets, make it easier for kids to go to school, improve food security by improving access to a cereal bank and grinding mill and reduce risk of injury. Once the funding is in we can start work.