By Nicoletta Richardson.
In 2004, African Sky was born out of love for and the desire to spread awareness of the people and cultures of Mali. Since then, African Sky has developed a wide array of unique collaborations with individuals and groups who share a passion for Mali. So just over a year ago when African Sky founder Scott Lacy heard about two retired Peace Corps volunteers wanting to reconnect individuals like themselves with their original host families, he scheduled a web conference—and that day a new project was born, Kini Fe.
The idea came to Lukas Baldrige and Max Diaz years after they finished their service in Mali, where they first met during their two-month homestay as Peace Corps trainees in 2010. Lukas and Max developed strong connections to their host families as well as to each other during that time. But just two years later, their worlds were turned upside down when they were forced to evacuate Mali due to safety concerns, and they were unable to share proper goodbyes to their beloved host families.
This abrupt departure made Lukas and Max realize their time in Mali wasn’t quite finished. “The evacuation left us with these unresolved emotions—that closure that other volunteers get when they finished their time and they’re able to say goodbyes,” Max says. ”It wasn’t so much of a choice of if we wanted to go back but when we wanted to go back, just because we had to get those hellos and hugs and all of the things that we didn’t really have time to do.”
And their next trip resulted in so much more than that. After reconnecting with old friends and their homestays in Mali, Lukas and Max wondered if they could coordinate with those on the ground to connect other retired volunteers with their former host families to make staying in touch possible. So Lukas and Max started reaching out to their old volunteer friends to see if there was any interest, and one particular friend Colleen Naughton—the Associate Director at African Sky—immediately thought to put them in touch with Scott.
“For us, the biggest hurdle was just the logistical stuff,” Lukas says. “We had to set up a bank account and a non-profit status. African Sky took us in to join what they already established, and it put us so far ahead for what we had hoped for our goals and timeline—it just made our lives a whole lot easier.”
And so, after being taken under African Sky’s wing, the Kini Fe project was born and began to take action in the beginning of 2016. Lukas and Max began to reach out to retired volunteers who had been stationed in the same homestay villages as them, which was a great place. They actively worked with volunteers to collect the donations—50 kilos of rice, three personal photos, and a phone number and message exchange—that they decided to gift 5 to 6 homestay families per village.
After two months of planning and coordination, the first donation to Max’s homestay village was ready for delivery. At the time, Lukas and Max had a friend stationed in Bamako who agreed to take photos of the families receiving the gifts while keeping them in the loop of how everything went. And when that phone call came to tell them of the first successful delivery and the overwhelming emotions that it aroused, they were absolutely speechless.
“That was the day we were like, this is going to be something that we want to keep doing,” Lukas recalls. “It’s going to be real and we’re going to keep chasing it. It was awesome.”
And so Lukas and Max did just that, completing seven successful shipments last year alone. Of course, they faced challenges with communication and locating former Peace Corps Mali volunteers, but the connections African Sky put them in touch helped execute the whole process—and continues to do so, but to another degree.
Lukas and Max want to expand to other parts of Mali. First, they reconnected volunteers with their host villages from their Peace Corps training hosts, but now they are ready to reconnect volunteers with the communities in which they served. They just went back to Mali in February, where Scott connected them to one of our newest Malian partners, Baba, who has been assisting African Sky with expanding our programs into new areas in Mali.
“We’re planning on collaborating with all the different people within African Sky and their connections and all the resources on the ground to see if we can help them and they can help us and have our projects have mutually benefit both sides,” says Lukas. “We are energized by their enthusiasm and that’s been really great for us.”
Looking toward the future, Lukas and Max are keeping as busy as ever with Kinife. And as the project grows and reaches into different parts of Mali, African Sky is here to support this initiative to keep returned volunteers connected with their host families.
For more information on Kini Fe: www.kinife.org