Thursday, June 25, 2008, six intrepid Earth Institute supporters – Joy Tartar of the Lenfest Foundation and her husband George Hall, Nancy Best, Diane Troderman and Harold Grinspoon, and Bonnie Potter – joined Earth Institute Funding Initiatives staff and 200 project staff for the third annual Millennium Villages retreat in Bamako, Mali. The group participated in the concluding sessions of the 5-day retreat, which included impressive analyses of the project’s success across the African continent, including queries from numerous governments asking to start Millennium Villages in their own countries.
Jeff Sachs closed the conference urging our teams forward. “You are effecting extraordinary change in people’s lives and at regional, national and international policy levels. I cannot fully enough express my gratitude to all with whom we partner to make this transformative work possible.”
With that, we parted for Segou, Mali, a small city about three hours from Bamako and one hour from our Millennium Village in Tiby. A scenic afternoon along the Niger River as the sun set and a visit to the local artisans market were the prelude to an evening dinner to prepare for the next day’s journey.
We arrived in Tiby expectantly. Nancy, Joy, and George had visited the site two years earlier and were eager to see the changes. Despite the fact that it was Sunday, we were greeted by school children whose bright eyes and spirited singing – from their new desks in their new classroom in their new school building – told the whole story.
Agricultural progress was remarkable – as the village garden overflowed with squash and greens – and the new health center – still a work in progress and replacing the former two-room shed – was comprised of three buildings, including a maternity center, a waiting annex and a treatment facility.
We then returned to Bamako for a flight to Dakar, Senegal and our visit to the Potou Millennium Village on the northern coast of the country. We were astounded upon our arrival to see the progress over the last two years. A center for onion production, the local market had more than tripled in size thanks to agricultural inputs introduced by the project. And piping, contributed by JM Eagle pipe manufacturing was being prepared across the 18 square kilometer site to increase water availability from 15 to more than 65 percent of the population.
We departed with enough time to arrive home for Independence Day celebrations – a fitting closure to blessings we had both given and received during the trip.