Noah Diall is the father of four. His home is a mud hut he built in a village of a few dozen families, most of whom are related to him.
Diall earns his living by raising a small herd of cattle. He and his wife also grow crops to feed their family. It is a simple life, but that life was nearly wiped away.
Diall’s village of Doungel is in the Kumari region of Mali, West Africa. In 2005, Doungel was selected along with 20 other Kumari villages to be the site of a U.S-funded irrigation project that would create rice fields—but also displace the villagers from their land.
Mary Crickmore works with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee. She and her husband, Scott, lived in Doungel for four months of the year during the 1990s and still visit regularly.
When Crickmore heard about the proposed irrigation project, she knew the impact it would have.
“I was concerned, because the project was being managed by an organization called the Office du Niger,” which manages dams, canals, and other aspects of irrigation in Mali, she explained.
“At the time, I was working with two other villages whose land was being taken away by the Office du Niger for similar irrigation projects.”
“When the Office du Niger claimed that it was now going to receive U.S.-backed Millennium Challenge funding to take over a lot more villages, including Doungel, I knew we needed to get involved,” Crickmore said.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation is run by the U.S. government and is intended to help people overcome poverty by funding large projects in developing countries that are considered to be well-governed.
Because the Office du Niger said it was going to receive millions of dollars from the Millennium Challenge Account, Crickmore worried that its plans to bulldoze 20 villages in the Kumari region would move forward quickly.
She encouraged villagers to write letters to the Malian government and arranged to have the messages translated into French (the official language) and photocopied. She also translated their message into English and sent it in a letter to the U.S. embassy.
“That letter to the embassy sparked Millennium Challenge Account officials in Washington, D.C., to want to see the villages for themselves,” Crickmore said.
Staff from the Millennium Challenge and from Mali’s Ministry of the Economy visited Doungel and neighboring villages. They talked with Diall, who showed them a copy of the letter Doungel had sent to the Office du Niger . They also talked to people with similar stories in other villages.
Help from North America
Meanwhile, Christians in North America were also getting involved. In the spring of 2005, Scott and Mary Crickmore were in the United States visiting churches to talk about their work in Mali. They told of the situation in Doungel and encouraged people to take action.
Jim Miller, editor of Vision Magazine and a member of Our Lord’s Community Church (RCA) in Norman, Okla., was touched by what Mary said and wrote a letter to his senator and congressmen.
“I did a little homework by first getting as many specific details from Mary as I could,” explained Jim. “The Millennium Challenge Corporation was set up as a completely different way to do foreign aid.” In the past, the U.S. government would give money to other governments, he explained. He said this works in some countries, but in others the money ends up in the pockets of corrupt leaders.
Hope for Doungel
As a result of the pressure, the Malian government asked Mary Crickmore and the people of Doungel to join them in putting together a new proposal for funding. With input from the villagers and CRWRC, the government created a proposal that would bring irrigation to the Kumari area but allow residents to keep their land.
“We are encouraged beyond words,” said Crickmore. “The women and men in our villages should be able to feed their families and have a secure future.”
“The best part of the story,” Miller concluded, “is that Mary has been working with these people for 20 years, and she told us that this is one of the best opportunities they’ve ever had to build trust for sharing the gospel.”