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March 17, 2013

Following from afar: Students want to give back to Mali

TRAVERSE CITY — Next week will mark the one-year anniversary of the overthrow of Mali, once a democratic model in Africa that’s been rocked by violence.

Northwestern Michigan College students Fatima Hanne and Bako Mariko closely follow the events and are eager to return to their West African nation and share what they’ve learned here.

“I have learned a lot of things in my journey,” said Mariko, 29, who came to Traverse City five years ago. “When I came here, it (was) natural to me for helping people.”

Mariko, a business student at NMC’s University Center, said his “big dream” was and still is to earn a lot of money, but now thinks anyone can help the poor, no matter their wealth.

“You can teach people how to do things differently,” he said.

Hanne, 23, came to the U.S. about three and a half years ago and to NMC in August 2011. She wants to guide Malian women and girls, who are considered equal to men “on paper,” but not exactly in the home or workplace.

“Your country already passed that part, and we’re going to get there,” she said.

Hanne, an accounting student with a quick wit, wants to ensure that aid money indeed reaches the African poor, instead of the corrupt pockets of politicians as it’s prone to do.

Mali’s politicians and military clashed last year, leading to the government’s sudden overthrow, said Robert Gribben, a former Rwandan ambassador who will speak in Traverse City on March 21.

At the time of the coup d’etat, Mali endured a festering problem in the north, where the Tuaregs, an ethnic group, had long sought independence, he said.

“They took advantage of the turbulence in the capital following the coup d’etat to declare their own state, and they did,” he said.

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