By Fily Coulibaly (YES 2011-2012, Mali, placed by Greenheart Exchange in Stratham, NH)
It’s Ramadan! Every year, Muslims around the world mark Ramadan, a month of fasting during the daylight hours from the early hours before dawn right through to sunset. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with faith, prayer, charity, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Fasting allows worshippers to concentrate their minds on devotion to their faith through prayers, expressing gratitude, seeking forgiveness, and helping the needy. Mali has a 95% Muslim community, so the holy month of Ramadan is very meaningful.
Operation Ramadan, or OPR as we like to call it, is a project that the YES Alumni Association of Mali has been organizing every year since 2015, in partnership with up to ten of the leading youth associations in Mali. This project helps the most disadvantaged families in the city break their fast with substantial meals. Since its inception, and for three consecutive years, the project involved a collective Iftar (breaking fast) that consisted of distributing about 100 meals cooked and packed by volunteers every Saturday at “Tour d’Afrique.” This is a place in the city center where one meets the neediest, such as homeless people, orphans, and beggars, as well as travelers, drivers, and transporters because of its proximity to busy bus stations.
Beginning in May 2019, we innovated the activities of the project by including foodstuff distribution. Every week during Ramadan, groups of volunteers visit 25-50 pre-selected families in disadvantaged areas of Bamako to distribute bags of rice, millet, sugar, milk, pasta, and oil cans. They are always welcomed with joy from the families and usually leave with teary smiles and blessings. OPR gives us a sense of belonging because all of us from different backgrounds, origins, and religions are able to share meals, prayers, and blessings.
Such events are now common in Mali thanks to our initiative but our operation is special. A year in the U.S. and the training that we have had as YES alumni have allowed us to hold the activity under special themes, such as youth advocacy for the community (edition 4) and social justice, peace, and cohesion (edition 5). We also held an action against COVID-19 (edition 6), which incited youth to do community service, promote social cohesion and interfaith harmony, and raise awareness about COVID-19.
Additionally, most of our volunteers are members of associations, and therefore, they usually inspire others to join us. Since the impact of the action is immediate, word spreads fast through social media and, for each session, the number of volunteers increases. We are then able to reach more beneficiaries and aim for higher goals. I’m very proud to say that, up until today, more than 5000 individuals and families have directly benefited from our activities.