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Malians and Americans Connect Through African Sky's Education Programs
October 17, 2016
by Jenny Rulon

When Eliza Swedenborg returned to the United States after serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali from 2010 to 2012, she felt a desire to remain connected to the people of Mali.

"I learned so much from my experience, and I can never repay the generosity I was shown by the community I lived in," she said. "I joined African Sky because I love the long-term relationships with Malian communities, the two-way nature of the programming, and generally the values of the organization—including ingenuity, friendship and compassion."

Now beginning her third year as Education Program Director for African Sky, Eliza has worked on a number of projects centered on improving academic performance, future employability, and global citizenship of high school students. The first program equips Malian teachers with technology skills. The teacher training program provides teachers with instruction for using Information Communication Technologies (ICT), including how to more effectively use Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and e-mail. Twenty-six teachers have participated in the teacher trainings—including one who had just given birth. Those teachers are now able to pass those skills on to their students for many years to come.

In addition, Eliza and her team designed an African Sky Cultural Ambassador's Exchange, a pen pal program involving almost 100 students, created to support, engage and inspire students to push themselves and apply their English language and ICT skills. The pen pal exchange connects students in the United States with students in Mali.

"I think the exchange of favorite musical artists is a great way to get the conversation started and to get to know each others' cultures," Eliza said. Mali has a rich musical history and many famous artists. "Students on both ends of the exchange also start asking some pretty deep questions really quick. 'What is the education system like in Mali?' 'Is there sexism in the United States?' Many of the students want to continue these relationships and connections after the school-facilitated pen pal exchange is over."

Eliza works with African Sky's Malian partners, including Tamba Traore in Markala, to develop education program initiatives. "African Sky is really only as strong as the relationships we build in Mali and the community leaders we support," Eliza said. "Tamba is incredibly talented at organizing people around a vision and making things happen."

Eliza is excited to continue developing projects with the African Sky team, including assisting Health Program Director Alaric Babej with the development of solar engineer training materials tailored to Malian markets. She recently won the African Sky Chiwara Award at the Annual Silent Auction.