Wikipedia via SMS for the developing world

This looks like an initiative to keep an eye on, since many people in West Africa have mobile phones and text messages are an inexpensive way to transmit text. What do you think? Can you imagine reading Where There is No Doctor 140 characters at a time?

photo by Victor Grigas

“Even as we all love to debate the scholarly merits of Wikipedia, there’s no denying that it’s an immensely powerful research and learning tool. That goes doubly so in poor nations, where access to education materials can be limited to nonexistent. To that end, Wikimedia started the Wikipedia Zero project, which aims to partner with mobile service providers to bring Wikipedia to poor regions free of charge. It’s a killer strategy, because while computer and internet access is still fleeting for much of the world, cell phones are far more ubiquitous. Wikimedia claims that four mobile partnerships signed since 2012 brings free Wiki service to 330 million cell subscribers in 35 countries, a huge boon for folks whose phones have web capability but who can’t afford data charges.”

Via slashdot and boingboing.

Friends of Mali Newsletter

Special Edition, February 2013

From the editor

The Friends of Mali organization has been in hibernation for the last several years, but there are efforts afoot to rejuvenate the organization (on Facebook here, or read more below). Given recent events, I think you’ll agree: Mali needs more friends in the international community, now more than ever. The old Friends of Mali website is still online thanks to Jeff Spivack (Mopti Region, 1996–98), and while it is no longer actively updated, it still contains a few interesting items. Our purpose in writing now is to reconnect the community, and to invite you to help us re-launch the organization, either as an organizer, member, or supporter.

Marlow Schindler, Sikasso Region 2011–12

In this edition:

Re-Invigorating Friends of Mali

Dozens of country-of service groups help connect Peace Corps alumni and help carry out the Third Goal of Peace Corps: “to help Americans understand the people and cultures of other countries.”

The Friends of Mali group has come and gone at least twice over the years, and was last active about 8 or 9 years ago. In 2003, the Friends of Mali sent dozens of volunteers to participate in Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival, which highlighted the art, music, and culture of Mali. At the time, the organization was quite official: we had bylaws, elections, dues-paying members, a printed newsletter, and a state-of-the-art (for the time) website. A new incarnation for Friends of Mali could look similar, or it could be something simpler, like a Facebook page where people can share photos, links, and information.

Friends of Mali on Facebook

If you are interested in re-launching Friends of Mali, or just want to stay in touch, click “like” on the new Facebook page. If you’re not on Facebook, you can contact Jumana Qamruddin (Segou region, 1998–2000).

Most “Friends of” groups are member groups of the National Peace Corps Association. The NPCA welcomes new member groups at any time. Read more about resources and member group benefits at NPCA’s website.

Translating Where There Is No Doctor into Bambara

Where There Is No Doctor

Who can forget the book Where There Is No Doctor? I inherited a tattered copy at my site, which was a frequent source of amusement and horror. Of course, no one in my village could read or understand English, but its illustrations were occasionally useful to communicate health-related subjects. And unfortunately, I sometimes needed it for self-diagnosis (Yikes, what’s that rash?).

Illustration from West African edition of Where There Is No Doctor

In April 2012, a group of volunteers – most of us Mali RPCVs – started the Dokotoro Project, to adapt and translate Where There Is No Doctor into Bambara. We are working closely with the book’s publisher, Hesperian Health Guides, based in Berkeley, California. Our goal is to make the book available in Bambara, as well as to create bilingual editions in French-Bambara and English-Bambara.

Dokotoro Project volunteer Michelle Chan observed, “We all believe that everyone deserves adequate health care, no matter where they live. In Mali, a woman is 25 times as likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth as a woman in the United States, and that needs to change.”

The translation work is being done in Bamako by a dedicated team of professional translators, all former PC Mali language instructors. We have finished two chapters, and they have been expertly laid out by professional medical illustrator and designer Ruth McDonald (Mali, 2003–04) and are posted on the Dokotoro website for feedback.

Illustration from West African edition of Where There Is No Doctor

We need your help! We could particularly use additional tubabukan experts for French translation, or anyone with a medical background or recent experience with medicine in Mali. To volunteer, contact Jenna Lohmann (Koulikoro region 2011–12) at

And of course, we need more money. We’ve already raised over $9,000, but we need about $30,000 total for translation, editing, and field-testing. Please consider making an online donation through First Giving, or send a check to the address here.

We’d love to hear from you! How did you use Where There is No Doctor? What would you do to make it better suited for Mali? Drop us a line and stay in touch at our website, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Matthew Heberger, Segou Region 1996–1998

Other Ways to Help

Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in January 2012, thousands of northern Malians have been forced to flee from their homes. The situation is only getting worse with the recent escalation of hostilities. Estimates of the number of refugees vary, but Doctors without Borders estimated that 260,000 had fled their homes as of April 2012.

Refugee camps in Niger and Mauritania are crowded, and the living conditions are difficult. Much of the region suffered from drought over the last two years, increasing the difficulty of providing food and water for refugees.

The Mentao Nord refugee camp in Burkina Faso. Photo by Pablo Tosco/Oxfam
The Mentao Nord refugee camp in Burkina Faso. Photo by Pablo Tosco/Oxfam.

The needs in Mali are great. Please consider donating to an organization you believe in. Here are several reputable organizations active in providing aid and relief to refugees in Mali and neighboring countries. Agencies working in the region include, but are certainly not limited to:

News & Information from Mali (in English)

The Facebook group “All Mali, All the Time” is an active community, whose 900+ members post links, news announcements, etc. The 1,000-member group Americans and Friends in Mali has a similar makeup.

Bridges from Bamako is a blog by Mali RPCV (1997-1999) Bruce Whitehouse, professor of anthropology at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. Bruce was on a Fulbright Fellowship in 2012 and living with his family in Bamako when the coup took place and violence broke out. During the coup Bruce posted frequent updates to his blog, including excerpts from the Malian media and “man on the street” viewpoints. He continues to post occasional essays and insightful analysis.

Gregory Mann — A historian of francophone West Africa at Columbia University, Dr. Mann occasionally posts articles at the news and opinion blog “Africa Is a Country.”

Peter Tinti — Another Mali RPCV and a freelance journalist who splits his time between Bamako and Dakar, and reports for the Associated Press, Christian Science Monitor, and others. His articles are compiled at

Children playing in the water outside of Hombori, Mali
Children playing in the water outside of Hombori, Mali. Photo courtesy of Rafael Jariod Franco/CC ONG.

News & Information from Mali en français

Of course, there are plenty of online sources to read news from Mali in French. is a rich, frequently updated news site. It is a clipping service that links to articles from many French-language sites in France, Mali, and elsewhere.

Radio France Internationale’s Africa coverage — For up to the minute coverage of the hostilities, RFI has published “Mali: suivez les événements en direct” which is updated constantly throughout the day.

Update from Peace Corps Mali

Activities suspended in April 2012

More than 2,600 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Mali since the program was established in 1971. However, the program has undergone and is continuing to experience dramatic changes since the military coup in March 2012, which prompted Peace Corps to evacuate all 186 volunteers in country and suspend any admission of new volunteers until the political situation is stabilized.

The loss of all volunteers and related activities has resulted in corresponding scaling-back of Peace Corps Mali staff, infrastructure, and programming.

Peace Corps Mali Staff at Tubani So in June 2011
Peace Corps Mali Staff at Tubani So in June 2011.

The Kayes, Segou, and Mopti regional houses have closed, leaving the Kita, Sikasso, Bamako, and Dioila houses open. Peace Corps is maintaining these houses in the hopes of bringing in a new stage as soon as is safe and reasonable.

Training staff have re-organized the programs and plan to move forward with four sectors: Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene; Community Economic Development; Agro-forestry; and Education. They have decided to suspend the Health Education program for the time being.

As for future volunteers, the current Director for Programming and Training, Jolie Dennis, says that, “The date of Peace Corps Response Volunteers return to Mali is still an unknown given this country is a complete mess in the north and the south these days. If we are lucky, by the end of 2013 or early 2014, but right now we are trying to get through each day and pray the rebels don’t take more government-held territory and that these fools demonstrating en masse knock it off so we can have one stable portion of the country.”

Former Country Director Mike Simsik visiting volunteer sites in Dogon country
Former Country Director Mike Simsik visiting volunteer sites in Dogon country.

Malian Musicians on Tour in 2013

Despite the troubles at home, many Malian musicians continue to tour all around the globe. Get out to an upcoming concert if you can. What better way is there to celebrate Malian culture and support world-class musicians? Below is a selection of Malian artists with North American tour dates scheduled in 2013. Want to stay tuned for more? Check out Afropop Worldwide. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, visit the African Music Calendar at

Fatoumata Diawara—The actor and singer-songwriter behind the recent Mali-Ko project which brought together a who’s who of Malian musicians to call for unity and peace.

Cover of Fatoumata Diawara's album Fatou

Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal—Malian Kora virtuoso Ballaké Sissoko joins French Cellist Vincent Segal are touring to support their new album Chamber Music, hailed by NPR as the “most beautiful world music record of the decade.”

Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal performing 'Chamber Music'

Vieux Farka Touré—The son of the late great Ali Farka Touré, who has become an international star in his own right. His 2012 album the Tel Aviv Sessions with Israeli pianist and composer Idan Raichel was unforgettable.

Vieux Farka Touré and Idan Raichel in the studio

Habib Koité—A perrennial favorite. In 2013, he appears with American blues musician Eric Bibb on the “Brothers in Bamako” tour, in a stripped-down acoustic show without his regular band Bamada.

Habib Koité and Eric Bibb - Brothers in Bamako

Tinariwen—The Tuareg super-group of desert rockers won the world music Grammy in 2012 for their album Tassili.


Support from Author of “Monique and the Mango Rains”

We were delighted to receive an endorsement of the Dokotoro Project from Kris Holloway, author of Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali.

During my Peace Corps experience in Mali, Where There is No Doctor was one of the few practical, life-saving books I used in my work in a small clinic. How useful it would have been to have a copy in Bambara so that health workers in my village could read it!

Monique and the Mango Rains - book coverWhen talking to friends about the Dokotoro Project, I tell them that to really understand the health challenges in Mali, they should read Monique and the Mango Rains.

In this extraordinary work of non-fiction, Ms. Holloway describes her time as a Peace Corps health worker and the extraordinary friendship she develops with a young village midwife, Monique Dembelé. I am not exaggerating when I say, “you will laugh and you will cry” while reading this book.

It’s particularly great to have Kris’s support, just as we launch our six-week fundraising campaign, Have a Heart for Mali.” This is our effort to raise $20,000 (two-thirds of our translation budget) by March 31.

Monique and the Mango Rains is now available on Kindle from All sales of the book support Clinique Monique, the rural health clinic established in Monique’s honor.

Have a Heart for Mali!

logo3_hThis Valentine’s Day, the Dokotoro Project is launching a six-week fundraising campaign to inspire people around the world to “Have a Heart for Mali” and contribute to the long-term health of Malians. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, and it is currently in the midst of an acute humanitarian crisis. Because of the disruption of basic services – including health care – the needs of ordinary Malians are greater than ever.

This short 3-minute video (edited by volunteer Scott Saraceno) explains why our project, to adapt and translate the book Where There is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Manual into Bambara, is so critical, and why we need your help.

Here’s the deal: It will cost about $30,000 to translate, proofread, and edit this 600-page health guide. Why so expensive? We pay our Mali-based translation team 10 cents per word for translation, and an additional 10 cents for a double-round of proofreading. We then pay a separate editor for a final quality check.

We also have a team of volunteers who provide thousands of dollars worth of in-kind contributions through French-English translations, professional design and layout, and medical review. But if we don’t have the basic funds to pay our translators, we can’t unlock the additional value of all these volunteers.

Our goal for the “Have A Heart for Mali” campaign is to raise a total of $20,000 for the project (we have already raised over $8,500). This amounts to two-thirds of our total translation budget, so we need your help.

Every dollar we raise is fully tax deductible and will pay for our direct translation costs.

  • $250 can pay for printing and binding about 16 books
  • $150 will pay for translating, proofreading, editing, testing, and printing one page
  • $100 can help us pay for a one-day workshop in Mali for partners to review the book
  • $50 will allow us to translate and proofread 1 ½ pages

Please consider joining the Dokotoro community, and thanks for having a heart!

February Project Update

The Dokotoro Project Steering Committee held its monthly meeting in the beginning of February. It’s been a busy month! Much of the discussion revolved around the soon-to-be-launched fundraising campaign.

Present: Matt, Michelle, Jenna, Zach, Marlow, Aaron, Ruth



The group welcomed Aaron Goldblatt to the steering committee. Aaron was in the Butterknife stage (2003–2004) in Sevaré, and now is a medical resident in Santa Rosa, California. We are delighted to have someone with expertise in international medicine on the steering committee.
Continue reading

The Best Malian Music Clip on the Web?

In the last few weeks, as major media outlets scrambled to explain to readers why they should care about Mali, many took note of the country’s magnificent musical heritage. There have been expertly-curated online listening tours, a few top 10 lists, conjecture about where Mali’s Tuareg musicians’ loyalties lie, and consternation over the future of Mali’s music festivals. In January, a who’s-who of Malian musical stars came together to record “Mali ko.” But was it “voices united for peace,” or a call to rise up and violently repel northern aggressors?

I’ve been an avid collector, listener, and concertgoer of Malian music for over a decade. For what it’s worth, here is my favorite Malian music clip on the web, a fireside session with the griots of Kela, from the collection of Tout Pouissant Africa.

Hackathon a success!


Thanks to all the great volunteers who turned out this past weekend to dedicate their afternoon to the first-ever Dokotoro Hackathon. We had a dozen dedicated folks turn out to merge (French-English) several new chapters, do formatting, and make some serious inroads into thinking about how to best review the outdated medical information from the old French version. We all learned first hand how much preparation needs to be done before sending our text to our Mali-based translation team.

The atmosphere was one of industriousness and intense concentration. The scene was one of pizza boxes, snack wrappers, and laptops. In the middle of the table was one our our prized possessions: two volumes of the latest French-Bambara dictionary (by Father Bailleul), which had just arrived in the mail, slightly battered and smelling of soap.

It was a productive afternoon, and it was fun to meet up with friends who share a love for Mali. If you would like to volunteer, please email Jenna at; we will be having more hackathons in the future and would love for you to join. And you don’t have to live in the San Francisco bay area or speak French to get involved — we have volunteers from Minnesota to New York, from Bamako (Mali) to Bobojulaso (Burkina Faso) pitching in.  Please join our team!