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Humanitarian Aid for AFRICA

A Retrospective View on a Private NGO Project in Mali

Since our start in Germany we have travelled nine weeks overland through Western Europe, Moroc and Mauretania to TIMBUKTU (Tombouctou), the legendary town at the river Niger in northeast Mali.

For this trip we used two 4x4-trucks, formerly German firefighter-vehicles, which we modified for their future use in our private humanitarian aid project in Mali. My truck was built under the assistance of my son Constantin to be a four-wheel-school bus in Timbuktu area. The second truck of my son Christian was carrying most of the medical equipment and medicins which was devoted to remote hospitals in North Mauretanian desert areas, Timbuktu (Mali) and three hospitals in Ghana.

4x4-trucks are a MUST in the area of the so-called inland delta of the river Niger in Mali south of Timbuktu. From north and south theire are some dead-end roads built by humanitarian aid organizations into the centre of the delta of the river Niger. As a result you can find a traffic sign: "To Mopti 130 kms". There is a ferry boat crossing a tributary of the river Niger and then you can find for 10 to 15 miles a paved road or beaten track. But this connection to Mopti ends in a small village of nowhere or in a road construction camp filled with trucks out of order by technical defects, missing spare parts and infrastructure and the non-availability of repair shops. Especially brand new high tech equipment has a very short lifetime in this region. Most of the local people are not able to help even in solving simple problems because it seems to me that most of them never travelled to the next village in the neighbourhood all their life.

Some villages are totally different to all others. The reason is not very clear: But they have radio-communication systems for cellular phones, they have got in the past some truck loads of house painting colours and they are possessing some development elements like school-buildings, hospitals, pharmacies and police stations...but sometimes out of order...or so-called ruins of former humanitarian aid projects. Other villages seem to me to stay in the Middle Ages.

A German owner of a hotel in Mali described the situation that Mali is - following UN statistics - one of the most underdeveloped countries in our world because of its very low GNP. But on the other hand Mali has the largest number of millionaires in relation to its number of inhabitants. And this may be caused by supports of numerous international, mostly governmental organizations pumping money into Mali, but reaching less the common people. A significant sign for me was the fact that in Timbuktu nearly each second moving vehicle showed a batch of a humanitarian aid organization on its doors from German "Welthungerhilfe" to "USAID". And the vehicles are mostly brand new Toyota Landcruisers.

If you find a collection of these Landcruisers in front of a good hotel - mainly in Segou, Mopti, Timbuktu or other points of touristic interest - you can be sure that a convention which costs multimillion of CFAs is held by one of the humanitarian aid organizations.

These sentences are a very critical comment on the efficiency of governmental supports to the third world countries not to the goals of this support.

At the moment of writing this report I am sitting in my room in a small hotel in a suburb of Bamako, the capital of Mali. The electricity is cut off because the hotel owned generator has a break down. I am writing in the light of my torch. The very small ventilator which moves the very hot and awfully sultry air in the room a littlebit is powered by a 12 volts car battery.

On one side the common workers are owning approx. US$ 1.50 per day (!!) for their hard work, the local transport is done by old Japanese Toyota minivans, officially registered for up to 24 persons (in Germany it would be allowed to transport a maximum of seven persons in the bus version of this minivan). These "minibusses" have to fight in the battle on the roads of Bamako, which is converting mainly by investments from Saudi-Arabia and Libya from a small village to a real capital with the necessary sky-line, against RAVs and 4x4 vehicles of BMW, GMC,Toyota.

Even a blind person has to recognize shadows in the development of the society in the beginning of the capitalisme. But also in the ten years of the socialist development of Mali the situation was similar. It is possible that more or less the system-undependent human problem of the egoisme is the main reason for this misdevelopment.

As a result you can see a strong movement of poor people from the country side, especially from Dogon country, into the larger cities following the "rich" magnets of a so-called better life.

Foreign members of humanitarian aid organizations try to build dams against the moving flood of poor people into the cities. Members especially of the American Peace Corps, which I have met many years ago in Afghanistan in the area of Bamyan for the first time, are working hard under local conditions sometimes for years to correct the results of missleaded goals of education based on an antique French school system into a help to selfsupport. Nevertheless the visible results are nearly microscopic because of the small numbers of APC-members compared to the huge number of problems which must be solved.

Because these words are very general I will give a simple example: Not only in Mauretania but also in Mali a tyre-service was unable to change a tyre of one of our trucks-wheels (with tyre locking rings) without our advise. How should the local people be able to master the simpliest demands of a technical orientated daily life?

Therefore it is understandable that the visitor of Bamako may collect the same impressions like me: The fresh water of my hotel is delivered by small cans in a small hand-cart from a well at the bank of the river Niger. This water is used not only for showers. You can become a littlebit anxious if you see that this water is also used as drinking water. And the story will not sound better if you know that every week a bottle of desinfection solution with 8% chlorine is added to the well.

I hope that in the future most of the humanitarian help projects will be started by the main idea how to show the local people a way to survive first of all. This way must strongly differ from the main wish of the people in West Africa, who welcomes mostly foreigners with "Donnez moi un cadeau" (Give me a gift!). Anti-AIDS-signs (in French "SIDA") are not able to lower the deathly HIV infection rate. Knowledge and Know-How on a large scale is necessary, not the idealistic and humanistic goals of educations of former colonial countries. Not the ability to recitate poems but to fight efficiently against Malaria, Aids and for good drinking water are the goals for the next step into the future of these countries.

But at the moment in many regions they are missing this support from abroad.

Therefore doors are opened for radical movements in a short term view in these countries. Not only the German ministry of foreign affairs but also intellectuals of Timbuktu are warning visitors heavily not to travel in the areas north of Timbuktu. But on the other side the same people are telling you that they themselves have no problem to travel. Is there a development for foreigners in Northern Mauretania and Northern Mali which is comparable to Afghanistan, Somalia and other difficult zones in our world? An increasing engagement of (official) foreigners in these areas seems to support my own feelings.

But nevertheless: my critical reflections on one side and the own experiences are giving the following conclusion: everybody can help to change our world and to move it a littlebit to a better future.

Maybe that only one young reader of this page will follow the ideas of the American Peace Corps members and decides to collect a part of his experience of life by helping others to make their life better.

For me it is sure that I will come back to Mali next year. And the destination will not be a city with the well known name of Timbuktu but a unknown small village in the delta of the river Niger. The head of this village called me not a "friend" but "his elder brother" after some days. I am sure that I can do my best here and I will come back with man powered water purification devices...but not only with this equipment.

For this private NGO-project I am looking for sponsors. For a support of some hundred of US-Dollars we would be able to donate a water purification system good for some families to get drinking water of good quality.

If YOU want to support this project please don't hesitate to contact me.

Dr. Rolf A. Schettler, Germany
Fax (+49)-5584-999765




A second step of a humanitarian aid project (winter 2008/2009)

Based on the general political situation in Northern Africa there was no other choice to take the same route as last time, to cross France, Spain and Morocco to travel to West Africa.

For this tour of approximately four months we had prepared in a 3-years-job a Mercedes Benz 911 ("short-nose-type), 4x4 powered.

This old-fashioned truck, but for this job one of the best ones in the world, included a long type driver's cabin, also good for sleeping. As a so-called "camper-box" or better transport-box we used a small version of an Aluminum shelter formerly used as a radio-communication shelter by the army. Therefore it was enough space on the right side of this shelter to fix an additional large size diesel tank, a spare tyre and 12 boxes for the transport of hand-powered water purification systems.

The reflections by the recipients of the humanitarian aid goods and the positive response of the donors and all the people, who supported us, strengthened our desire and intention to continue our work and to start new preparations for further actions.


Many thanx to all who supported us:

W. Westphal for preparing and maintaining our trucks in the past for this special goal.

Two persons should stand for all others: Mr. Ritter and his wife collected át their wedding celebration money for water purification systems. But many other people which don't want to be named in Germany, France, Holland and Morocco gave us their support and therefore the feeling that we are not alone in our work to make at one spot the world and the life of a little group of poor people a littlebit better.

A special pleasure is to communicate with Barry from the U.S., who after a trip to Timbuktu to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his birthday decided to built and to run an elementary school in a small village nearby. We are in discussions and are open to cooperate in this project in the future.

R + M + C