Africa in the 1980s

Michelle and her family moved to Mali in West Africa where Michelle helped her husband Robin by backstopping the Acord program in Gao and Timbuktu. While Robin was traveling through the northern deserts helping to restore the economy ravaged by drought, creating cooperatives for farmers, fishermen and herding nomads, Michelle ran the house and family and the Acord office in Bamako, capital of Mali. She soon became involved herself in training women's cooperatives throughout West Africa, as a trainer for the International Cooperative Alliance. This was the beginning of 20 years of work for women and children in West Africa.

Children in Bamako respond joyfully to Michelle

When the family moved to the Gambia, Michelle became program director for Save the Children (USA), working in the North Bank District bordering Senegal. In 1987 she accepted the post of SCF Country Director in Mali, setting up a new program in the south of the country beside the frontier with Ivory Coast. The SCF program in Kolondieba became the most famous rural development program in Mali for health, for education, and for women's credit and economic development. In health the database of births, deaths and sickness kept by women themselves in their villages, and coordinated on the computers in Bamako, provided a unique source of information on health and proved that women can take control of their own circumstances if we let them.

Dr. Fanta Sambou Diabate is an obstetrician who was an inspiration to Michelle and one of her dearest friends. She is now working in Ghana.

In education, Michelle struggled to find an alternative to the non-existant or underperforming government elementary school system. What is the point of universal primary education of such poor quality that only 1% of entrants finish the twelve years of schooling in twelve years? Michelle and her colleagues created village schools using the local language (Bambara) that children do know and understand instead of the French colonial language that the children find alien. Instead of underpaid government teachers with no motivation, these schools were staffed by villagers committed to improving the education and economic prospects of their children. This was the origin of the Nouvelle Ecole Malienne that became one of the platforms of the democratic government that came to power in 1992 after the popular revolution that overthrew the military dictatorship.

Michelle's SCF colleague Solo Kante and his wife Fanta. Solo created the schools program and later ran the whole operation in Kolondieba. He now works for World Education.

As Secretary General of the Civil Society "Club" known as CCA-ONG in Bamako, Michelle made immense contributions to the development of rural and urban West Africa and the strengthening of civil society organizations in Mali. Civil society is one of the pillars of the state in West Africa.

Mary Allen, Madame Ballo, and Bana Diabate, Madame Sidibe, are two of the civil society leaders in Mali who are very close to Michelle and her family. Bana happens to be Fanta's sister, and is married to Robin's friend and colleague Hallassy Sidibe.

In Bamako, Michelle lived beside the river Niger in the private estate of Cheikh Oumar Tall, president of the Chamber of Agriculture, known as "Barou," and his wife Marie. She ran a double extended family with the Talls and the Harts, an Anglo-American neighbor. This garden paradise beside the river was one of the most famous centers for culture and entertainment during the 1980s with theatre, music, puppets, artists, focused around the development of civil society, agricultural development, and campaigns to counter the ever expanding threat of AIDS.

Catherine Leila and Ashby Hart playing under the supervision of Michelle's resident tailor, Mr. Niare before he was murdered by his son.

Breakfast in Magnanbougou - Michelle and her sister Marie Tall having breakfast with Marie's youngest son, Aguibou


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