The American Friends Service Committee, a U.S.-based NGO, began work with Tamacheq refugees near Goundam in the region of Timbuctou in 1982. In contrast to many agencies, they were concerned not only with the delivery of food and project assistance, but with increasing local participation and training personnel who could eventually assume direction of the program. In 1991, a national NGO was formed - the Malian Association for Survival in the Sahel (AMSS) - which has since assumed total responsibility for management and program contents. Through a transition from foreign to indigenous control, Tamacheq staff were given enough time to acquire the skills and experience necessary to manage an agency required to interest with local and international partners.

In Goundam, local participation extends to women and men alike. No other agency addressing Tamacheq needs has so effectively incorporated women as active, vocal and influential participants. One of AFSC's development workers, Nancy Benson, describes the situation:

"In the seven communities north of Goundam, women followed the example of the wife of a local leader and began to grow vegetables, working with the earth as they had never done. They requested a literacy program and center as the men had, and this was implemented. Around these two activities they organized themselves with the help of the leader's wife and began meeting regularly. As a result of these beginnings and with the additional help AFSC's field representative, they initiated other activities, notably consumer cooperatives and small animal husbandry. Now they also meet with the men of the community, although they sometimes prefer to sit separately from them, out of their sight.

"All of this was new for the Tamacheq women, not part of the traditional roles they played before the droughts of the 1970's and 1980's. Their traditional activities included producing milk, harvesting millet and sorghum , as well as gathering fruits and nuts and preparing food. Although they had previously done artisanry, such as basked weaving, for domestic and local use, they needed the money and they had confidence in their local leaders.

"The attitude of male family heads was also a crucial factor in bringing about the change. instead of resisting, the men have actually encouraged the women to participate in the community development process. At community meetings, the necessity of involving everyone in their development activities-women and young people as well as men - has been discussed. Women obviously enjoy the meetings and their new collective tasks. They see it as a chance to alter the routine nature of their lives and to socialize, as well as to do something beneficial for the larger community."

Now that the rebellion in Mali has halted, efforts to integrate women into development projects are becoming more feasible. As Benson observes, "Two major obstacles to greater participation of women in development are the lack of security in the region, which limits the travel of women, and their timidity in expressing themselves in front of men due to a long-held value in their society they women should be self-effacing if not subservient. That has now begun to change significantly in the Goundam communities."


Tassaght-a Tamacheq word signifying "the link" - began in 1985 when its Tamacheq founders obtained a grant to provide voluntary assistance to Malian and foreign relief agencies ministering to the drought stricken population. Translating, coordinating logistics and conducing research, the staff gained credibility within the NGO community and eventually obtained funding from several international partners. In 1988 Tassaght became the first indigenous NGO operating in the district of Gao.

Tassaght developed a reputation for the use of action research methods. The staff would first speak with settlement residents and the displaced populations around the city of Gao to better understand the dilemmas and possible solutions. Information from these meetings determinated the direction of development projects to improve literacy, agriculture, cereal storage, and herd management.

Even before submitting proposals or obtaining funds, Tassaght sponsored meetings with clan leaders to discuss priorities for development. The leaders all agreed that rebuilding herds would take agreed that rebuilding herds would take precedence over any other form of assistance. Grain is eaten, they said, then it us gone. Goats, on the other hand, provide milk and offspring. It was agreed that should assistance arrive, the poorest members would be the first to benefit in what would become a revolving loan system touching more and more herders as the animals reproduced.

The African Development Foundation in Washington, D.C. funded a Tassaght-sponsored project launched by such a meeting with Tamacheq clan leaders. Since its inception Tassaght has benefited most from a partnership with OXFAMUK, receiving support for institutional and project assistance.

lacking resources - including the intensive management training international partner NGO's provided to agencies like the Goundam community - Tassaght became proficient at interagency collaboration. It is in part this strategy which has enabled Tassaght to be respected locally and internationally as an effective Malian NGO.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

CSQ Disclaimer

Our website houses close to five decades of content and publishing. Any content older than 10 years is archival and Cultural Survival does not necessarily agree with the content and word choice today.

CSQ Issue: