Sunday, March 25, 2012

{ A coup in Bamako - this is history!!! }

Nothing much to report on around here...
Oh...there was a military coup last Wednesday!
No big deal.
Wait...a COUP? Is that what I said?
(In case you don't know, a coup is an overthrow - it's a French word).
If you haven't heard by now about the military coup in Bamako, Mali, you probably need to start looking at your RSS feeds (or setting them up) and reading the news...
It's a pretty big deal.

Coup d'état: a term I learned and studied over and over in school, particularly in my European History class as we studied the French. Never did I imagine that I would live amidst one. Never did I imagine hearing gunshots through the streets as the military rushed to take control of the government.
Meanwhile, I'm stuck between overwhelmingly excitement to be here and experience history in the making, and then an anxious feeling to get out of Mali as fast as I can, just in case. I like to take precautions. For the record, however, I have felt 100% safe at all times and we have so many people here that are watching out for us and put our safety above their own. Thank you, Marissa and Yeah, you have been so good to Kyle and I during our time here - I think of you as my own family. Love you guys!

Sorry, this post is a little late in the coming but I'm getting there! 
I've been back and forth the last few days trying to ensure my safety...

Long story short 
(let's see if that's possible) - 
I was downtown Bamako Wednesday afternoon, March 21, when I heard news of the military instability and potential coup. We headed home, unconcerned, but little did we know what would happen in the coming's crazy how things can change so quickly.
Here's what happened: 
On Wednesday morning, Malian military troops at their base camp in Kati (just outside of Bamako), were visited by a new Defense Minister. They quickly became upset because they have not received enough weapons, or food, to match the power and control of the nomadic Tuareg rebels in the North. Because of this situation, there are about 180,000 Malian refugees displaced and without food, shelter, and other basic needs. Many have died due to the situation in the north as well.
After the unfriendly visit of the Defense Minister, the military quickly seized the military base and then marched to the presidential palace in Bamako. They looted the place and riddled the cars and building with bullets. The coup was very spontaneous and not very well-planned, in my opinion. For a while, the whereabouts of President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) were unknown but they are now saying they have him and he is safe. Wednesday afternoon, Yeah was actually downtown finishing a meeting when he saw the military, led by Captain Amadou Aya Sanogo, surround the national TV station, ORTM. They shot into the air. Soon after, TV and radio stations were shut down and they took control. The military quickly surrounded the central parts of Bamako, and later the neighboring areas of Bamako as well, making it difficult to go anywhere. They quickly captured several other high-ranking government officials, looted their homes and other government buildings, as well as random local offices. All throughout the evening and throughout the next 2 days, we could hear residential gunfire as the military shot their guns in the air, making their presence known.

Soldiers block access to roads in Bamako
The looting of a local insurance company - it made me think of my mom and I thought of how awful it would be if her business was looted!

Sanogo (in green cap on middle right), leader of the military, giving commands to the other militants
Outrageous lines at the gas pumps - most of the gas stations are completely empty
Malians woke up Thursday morning, ready to go about their day as usual, not having heard the broadcast on national TV earlier that morning, only to find military blocking the streets and in control of Bamako.
Photos courtesy of The Guardian

At 4:00 am on Thursday morning, the military troops, under the name of National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State, or CNRDR, came on ORTM to explain their intentions. They advised that temporary military rule was in place and issued a military curfew between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm (it's all day, every day for American citizens...). At 11:00 am, they issued another statement to reaffirm their intentions and indicated that a temporary government would be put in place on March 27. As they took control, all airports and borders were shut down.  Throughout the last few days, during "down" time, they have been playing movies on national TV - in Bambara (the national language), when everything is usually in French. On Friday evening, the soldiers were ordered to stop shooting and return to their bases. Things have been much more quite since then. One thing that remains promising, noone has been harmed. Saturday, Sanogo appeared on TV to ask that all of the looters return what they have taken. He condemned the military, and other civilians involved, for their actions.

For days, there was talk of a counter-coup by the supporters of the President. Some even claimed that  the loyalists had won and Sanogo was injured, but on Friday night, we saw the Red Berets (like President Obama's Secret Service) on TV with Sanogo and the military saying that they supported the military and the coup.  Was this legit? Eh, I don't know. We still can't be sure.
Right now, as the borders remain closed and the airport shutdown, not only can we not leave, but nothing can get in - that means no fuel or food and there are shortages all over the city. Fuel has risen from 500 CFA per litre a week ago to over 2000 CFA per litre today - crazy!
 Mali has also been suspended from the African Union, France and the EU have suspended all aid and the US has threatened to cut off all aid to Mali.
 Another thing that is disconcerting is the advance of the MNLA leaders and the Tuareg rebels in the north. Since Wednesday, they have since captured two more towns. They are taking advantage of the lack of government at this time. They are dangerous.

Today, 4 days after the initial events of the coup, things seem very calm and stable in Bamako. People are going about with their lives, and I even heard rumors of a local wedding - a military coup certainly can't stop a bride on her wedding day, eh? But, large stores are still closed and people are still hesitant to play outside on the soccer fields.

One of the best, most accurate, analysis articles I have read:
Mayhem in Mali: Implications of the Military Coup in Bamako

Why did they remove the president from power? Elections were only a month away...Why didn't they simply protest to be sure that elections would be held on April 29, as planned? (There had been talk of postponing the elections until July so the president could make some constitutional changes)...It was much too spontaneous. Sanogo claims that he does not want leadership and will hand everything over to the temporary government once it is in place. How are they going to setup this temporary government? They are saying they will involve the leadership and opinions of every political parties and create a temporary, unified government. Will that work? I am concerned that there will be tension between the loyalists of ATT and the other political parties. Everyone will want to do it their way - the "right" way! Right now, there is talk of postponing the presidential elections by 6 months to a year - what?! That's a long time! It will be interesting to see how things play out here in Mali.

I am discouraged to see the "fall of democracy" in Mali, after 20 years of hard work and stability. It is almost as if the time tables have turned and we are back to 1991. 
But I have high hopes for the future of Mali.

I'm not going to lie, it has been pretty cool to see the military on TV, to see and hear everything unfold in Bamako. This is historic. Well, pretty cool, aside from the residential gunfire that I have heard outside my window that first night, all night, and during the proceeding days (for now, they have ceased all residential gunfire, for the most part). And aside from the loud gunshots at 1:30 am Thursday morning as they took Modibo Sidibé, the former Prime Minister of Mali who resigned after stealing government funds, and looted his house, located just down the street from our home.

It was almost comical to watch as one of the regular reporters for ORTM, very frazzled, reported on TV on Thursday evening, in an attempt to preserve a sense of normalcy. It was fascinating to see the state of the Malian Presidential palace on TV. It is a mess! Empty bullet shells clutter the ground, windows are shattered, papers everywhere. Yikes, but still kind of cool. And I enjoy watching the military on national TV - they look like a bunch of thugs :)

Not that I haven't been scared or anxious at moments, but I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be and I am safe so I'm making the most of it. But it hasn't been easy. And mom, don't worry, I do understand just how serious the situation is.

I admire Yeah Samaké's determination to serve his country and to lead his country out of ignorance and poverty towards sustained development, good governance, and proper resource management (including human resources). He has the ability to change the lives of millions - I am excited to see what he can do for Mali in the coming months. Watch his most recent interviews on Al Jazeera - you can also see some great footage of the events in Bamako the last few days:

Al-Jazeera: Current Situation in Mali - reaction of a Political Leader

Al-Jazeera Mali Coup d'Etat: Going Forward

This next video is a little longer, and the Skype connection is a little slow at first but Yeah makes some incredible statements about going forward and the potential future of Mali...Check it out!

Vive la démocratie! (Long Live Democracy)

Vive le Mali! (Long Live Mali)

Divisés nous perdons tous! Unis nous gagnons tous! (Divided we all lose! United we all win!)

To read more about what Yeah Samaké is doing in response to the military coup, and how things will continue with the Samake 2012 campaign (we're still going strong), read Marissa's blog: 
And if you want to help the refugees in the North of Mali, Yeah and his team are raising funds to provide basic necessities to the people. Those interested in doing so through the Samake 2012 campaign may make anonymous donations to a trust that has been set up: Friends of Mali Trust, 472 East 4380 North, Provo, UT 84604.
A planned peaceful march for tomorrow morning to the "Hommage aux martyrs," a local monument in honor of the lives lost in the uprisings of 1992, to establish democracy. On Tuesday, the temporary government should announced, hopefully they will reinstate the constitution, and everything should reopen as "normal." All government employees are required to be at work on Tuesday or they will lose their jobs. We'll watch as things unfold - as history unfolds!

I hope and pray that democracy will prevail and Mali can quickly bounce back from the coup.

As for now,
I'm safe. Kyle's safe. We're doing well! 
We are in a safe location, indoors at all times.
Very secure.
Once the airport is reopened (rumor says Tuesday or Wednesday), Kyle and I will be evacuated home, just to ensure safety.
Thank you everyone for all of your love and prayers! I have received countless emails, Facebook messages, and other communication the last few days from loving family and friends. Keep praying that we will return home safely.

Friday, March 9, 2012

{ Happy International Women's Day! }

I am proud to be a woman.

(had to choose a feminine color :))
"Connecting Girls, Inspring Futures"

Young Indian girl
A H'mong hill tribe girl in Vietnam
Dogon women in Mali
Women from the Pacific Islands
From album 'Southeast Asia' by David Terrazas

I write this post in honor of the millions of women who have no opportunity, no resources, and untapped potential. I write this for the women who have had such a profound influence on my life and have helped me to reach for my dreams and see my full potential. I write this for my sweet mom, my greatest example, for my dear little sisters, for my friends, and every other woman.

Let me jump on my soapbox for a minute. 

Women are oppressed. Many of the more developed nations have come a long way in fighting for women's rights and protection; but all over the world, particularly in developing countries, women and girls are fighting violence, rape, female genital mutilation (FGM), bride burning, child marriage, sex slavery and forced prostitution, and many other abuses...maternal mortality rates are disturbingly low...Where is justice? Less than 1% of US aid is targeted at women and girls. Want to know a frightening statistic? "It appears that more girls have been killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the 20th century." Women are more likely than boys to die of preventable diseases like malaria or pneumonia because boys are considered more superior. Boys are more likely to receive an education. But do we realize what education can do for women? Yes, it's empowering.

 We need to protect women's rights, protect their health, help them to get an education, and pursue their dreams. 

"Women's empowerment helps raise economic productivity and reduce infant mortality. It contributes to improved health and nutrition. It increases the chances of education for the next generation." -UNDP - Not only do women face oppression but they are an untapped resource in many communities around the world. Investing in women will improve our global economy. It will stimulate international development. This is why I am such a strong advocate for micro-financing for women. Women will invest about 90% of their income into their family (for children's education, food, health needs, etc.) while men will only invest about 30-40% into their family...10 things that stand in the way of a woman: illiteracy, HIV, lack of ID, pregnancy, safe and decent work, no aid support for women, girls must be distinguished as their own category and addressed separately, little organization reports on girls' statistics, lack of support, and law and policy (girl effect).

When a woman is educated, she stays health and HIV negative, she marries when she chooses, raises and healthy family, and sends her children to school. When she starts a business, she is not only improving her own quality of life but contributing to the economy and life of her community.

Women are not the problem, they are the solution. 

As a woman, I feel like it's my social responsibility to stand up for other women, to inspire them. To help them change the world and pursue their dreams.

Here are a few articles and links I wanted to share that I came across today for International Women's day:
What if YOU were one of the 6 MILLION girls living in the developing world???

"Rina Begum is a real person -- but she's also a statistic. When CARE met her, Rina and other women in her remote village in Bangladesh lived under virtual house arrest. Local tradition forbade women from leaving home without male escorts. Women who dared do so were subjected to public sexual harassment and even violence. 

Many women and girls around the world face similar limits to their freedom. For example, in parts of Nepal, women are confined to sheds while they menstruate. Adolescent girls, who cannot go out in public, are denied the opportunity to go to school. With restricted movement, women are less likely to earn income and less able to access health care. Furthermore, in too many places such rules often go hand-in-hand with forced child marriage."

So, the more important question is, what can YOU do? What are you doing to empower women and inspire futures? What are you doing to #makeadifference?

Find just one way that you can help women. Do you realize how blessed you have been? You have the resources and the opportunity...

I have so many personal examples that I look up to. Marissa Samake is empowering women by donating food to the villages. She is not only feeding the children but giving women an opportunity, EMPOWERING them, to earn money for themselves by selling the food, read more about what she is doing at: Like my mom, Cindee Leavitt Jessop, you can empower women through financial education and inspire women to recognize their own self-worth - find a way to relate to woman. My mom empowered many woman to stand up against abuse and domestic violence because she herself, is a survivor of abuse. How can you help?

Need a few ideas?

I feel so blessed to work with women around the world - from my young girls who have been rescued from sex trafficking living in a safe home in Nepal (check out The Red Thread Movement!) - to the sweet, destitute widows in India (see what Maitri is doing for them) - to inspiring the potential of my own friends and family - to empowering Malian women to become self-sufficient through micro-financing and community activism with Team Samake...
What are you doing?

Some of my girls in the safe home in Nepal. I pray for them and think of them daily.

Love these young Malian girls. 

Dancing with Malian women in the village of Dialakoroba.
Dancing among Malian women.

Sweet widows in India

I'll never forget this woman.
Women on the beach in India - they need a woman's co-op for beach workers in Goa

Sangita - a woman selling products on the beach in Goa. Trying to organize a co-op for beach workers in India...think we can do it? 
My own sweet "mother" and "auntie" in India. Love these women.
Step in and do your part. Inspire and empower women around the world. Together, we can make a difference and make a change in our global community. Are you in? 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

{ YEAH SAMAKÉ is the man! }

WOW. Last Wednesday, on March 1, my blog had 111 views...
I'm feeling the love! 

What do you want to hear more of on my blog? 
Am I doing alright?

I would love some feedback! 

Well, this post isn't about me or my blog.
It's about something far more important...


Please take a few minutes and watch this video...

See that 5 star rating on this video?
It's because...there's no better way to say...he's the man.
The bomb. 

Yeah is currently the mayor in his hometown of Ouélessébougou, Mali, West Africa.
He is also a 2012 Malian presidential candidate.
He's the man for the job.  

You can read and see all about Yeah and his accomplishments all over the web in news articleswikipedia, and numerous can read about the changes he plans to make for Mali...
Economic Development.
National Security.

Be sure to read more about him and his issues at:

But I want to take this time to tell you a little bit more about his character.

Those who meet Yeah love him immediately. He has a glowing smile that radiates through the room. He is full of energy, life, and passion. He is PASSIONATE about serving his country and his people. He is just a genuinely good man working to truly make a difference. I want to be like him. He has the strength to overcome anything. He lived in the United States for about 10 years before returning to Mali to become mayor of his many people leave their home country, come to America, and return? Very few...honestly, I don't know if I would return to Mali after being in the states. I love the people, I love the culture, but for one, it's SO dang hot! It's a sacrifice. But Yeah will sacrifice anything to help his people. He's dedicated to a cause. He is truly concerned about his country. He amazes me. 

He isn't like other politicians...
For one, he's honest. Always. He's transparent. I can ask him anything and everything and he will give me the facts. He is not corrupt. In fact, he is doing all of his fundraising in the US to avoid corrupting influences...he doesn't have any foreign interests or large donors there, he is merely targeting the general population. He has a big heart and a big head...he is not in any way egotistical but he is very intelligent. He thoroughly thinks through the issues at hand before suggesting a long-term solution. He's very sympathetic and compassionate towards everyone. He never acts like he's better than others. He is so genuine. He never gives up and he is full of optimism and excitement. Oh and did I mention that he never even makes fun of my bad French? He only encourages me to keep doing my best.  Yeah never wastes an opportunity. One of the most valuable things he has taught me:

"Have you ever been opportunity knocking? Explore - you don't know what's out there waiting for." 

I am ambitious but this incredible man has encouraged me to reach above and beyond the stars in places I didn't even know existed.

He has achieved so much. Like I said, you can read it all over the web, but let me just say that as mayor, within 3 years, he increased the tax collection rate from the initial 10% to 86%. The people trust him. He has brought lots of water pumps and electricity to villages in Ouélessébougou. He has built many schools. As mayor, he governs over 44,000 people. Look at what he has done in 2 and 1/2 years! What could he do for the 14 million Malians during his 5 years as President? I can't wait to find out!!! 

Not only is Yeah a talented, genuine, big-hearted politician, but he is an incredible father and husband. He is always looking out for his wife and children. He's a family man - and I admire that. I have nothing but good words to say about the Samaké family. They are incredible and they are working together to help change the future of Mali - a quick shout out to his wife, Marissa! She's amazing. 

When I first was offered the opportunity to come to Mali, I felt unsure. I had already spent a semester abroad and the opportunity to work on a presidential campaign was not appealing to me. But, after talking to a few friends who had met Yeah Samake, and had nothing but good things to say about him, I decided to dive right in. It has been one of the best decisions I made. My life has been changed because I know Yeah. He inspires me. 

Now, I'm here in Mali, and we're ready to knock 'em dead! 
We're working hard on the ground.
But, we still need all the support we can get! 
I'm ready to win this, are you? Think about the change we will bring not only for Mali, but for Africa, and for the rest of the World! 
Let's make a difference.
Support Yeah Samake for President of Mali! 

"United, we win all. Divided, we lose all."
"Unis, nous gagnons tous. Divisés, nous perdons tous."