Mali begins recovery efforts

By May 20, 2013

Mali (MNN/BGR) — The European Union is getting behind the food crisis in Mali to the tune of about 2 billion euros.

This week, Malian government officials met with world leaders in Brussels and laid out an ambitious 4.3 billion euro plan. It's a recovery effort aimed at turning Mali into a stable democracy while at the same time preventing it from becoming a terrorist haven.

The World Food Program described a dire situation for Malians. 700,000 adults are in immediate need of food assistance, and of those, WFP thinks 660,000 are children under age 5.

There are thought to be 300,000 Internally Displaced People due to the conflict, while another 175,000 sought refuge in neighboring Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.

However, one look at the rescue plans laid out for Somalia and the lackluster funds coming in to meet the pledges, and questions arise about what surety there is. Baptist Global Response isn't waiting around for the answer.

BGR director Jeff Palmer says the crisis is complicated: "First of all, you had the famine and the drought that's been sweeping North Africa. It's very cyclic. It's hitting hard. On top of that, you have the infighting that's going on with some coming in from the North, some being armed from the outside or finding arms."

The BGR team has already been active in the region, helping refugees from Northern Mali fleeing the rebel advance. "It's just creating all kinds of havoc for the average person, so we've got huge groups in the South trying to flee away from the armed conflict that's going on more in the North and the Central areas, and then a few going outside to neighboring countries."

A report from The Guardian indicated the Mali war was exposing religious fault lines in the country. The conflict has destroyed the once peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims. Even after the fighting stops, suspicion remains. However, Palmer thinks the issue is much more simplistic. "It's bad guys wanting power of a country. I mean [it's] the age-old story, and it has very little to do with religion and more to do with people just wanting to get power."

Regardless of who is at fault, the impact is the same. "The Christian population is very much in the middle. It's not just them; I mean, it's everybody that's caught in the middle. But especially for those who are believers, and in the minority, there's always that discrimination; there's always that targeting that goes on for those who are a minority."

BGR partners said the way they mobilized was fast, but there was an added benefit, too. "I wanted to provide these basics so they could use the little money they did have to buy fresh vegetables and meat, which would have been an impossible job to do equitably for 447 people." What was a common sense approach turned out to be the most valuable. The transparent and equitable way BGR and its partners handled the whole project was what made the team trustworthy.

On their most recent trip, the team bought peanuts, beans, and millet. They also put together a pantry kit to restock the basics in their empty cupboards with sugar, milk powder, tomato paste, coffee, traditional tea, oil, spaghetti, peas, soap and an individual cookie pack for each person.

The recipients had been overwhelmed by this generosity that had arrived "just in time," and their demonstration of gratitude shone. One lady said they have not had millet–one of their staple foods–since last April. Palmer notes, "This turned out to be a large group of villagers, who happened to be believers, most of them fleeing from the north, coming down south, relocating. Our team was able to go in and help with food basics, with hygiene kits. We had some medical healthcare teams that went in and provided some immediate needs, in terms of healthcare."

For seven days after the food distribution, the team helped treat over 900 displaced people and their families. The doctor and nurse practitioner treated many ailments that would see an immediate response with the right meds. They also saw many cases of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Another co-worker with a sister organization met with the ladies to do some needle work. She shared this response:

"When I took the guitar and we started singing, they added a verse to one of the songs that says, 'We give thanks to God for his goodness and mercy.' They added: 'We thank God for the milk powder, sugar, oil, and peanuts that we received from Jesus today.' They also started dancing around and were shouting that it has been 6 months since they had had milk powder, sugar, and peanuts! One of the women could not hide her tears, and when I stopped playing the guitar she grabbed my two hands and had me dancing also. After the songs, we took time to thank the Lord with our prayers. They all prayed out loud, in languages I could not understand–beautiful prayers of thanksgiving and joy. Thank you … all the ones who financially helped to make this possible."

Through the team's consistent love, they saw a consistent reaction. As a community, the people they were helping felt God had heard their cry for help, and this pushed them over the hump to prepare them to return back home. Palmer says, "In crisis there's opportunity, and this is a great opportunity to make Christ known."

In the end, it wasn't about the grain or the medicine, but the encouragement and reminder of the message that went with it: "You're not alone, you're not forgotten."

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