Tienfala: a shining example

Farmers made a profit of CFA 395,750 (£465) earlier this year, selling food crops grown at the “Jardin des Aveugles” (Garden of the Blind) at Tienfala, Mali. 16 blind farmers were able to take home a share of this profit to their families, sharing a sense of pride and empowerment at being able to provide for their loved ones.

But life in Tienfala wasn’t always like this. Over the years, more than 5,000 people left the village to escape the blinding effects of trachoma and river blindness, leaving it virtually deserted. Even government representatives were unwilling to be posted there because of these diseases.

The importance of collaboration

It was going to be impossible to help the community rebuild itself without collaborating with other agencies with different expertise, and of course the Malian government. Through this project, the Malian Ministries of Health and Social Welfare came together, as well as different disability, development and sanitation organisations.

But let’s start with the garden. It started life as a meagre hectare of land, an old school garden, which was donated to the Association of the Blind in 1986 for farming. Ten years on, with the help of a local and a German NGO, the garden had been fenced and a well was dug. However, irrigation of the garden remained difficult: the well kept drying up, despite efforts to dig it deeper.

A brand new well

This well was eventually abandoned in favour of a swanky new one (financed by Sightsavers and drawing on WaterAid’s expertise for the construction) adapted for people with disabilities such as blindness. This was the result of blind people’s input as to what was needed for the town’s development.

This new well has played a pivotal role in the transformation of community life in Tienfala. As well as supporting the gardening activities (which can now run all year long), it also serves the general population with regard to washing, cooking and drinking, and perhaps most importantly of all, the E (environmental hygiene) element of the SAFE strategy, to prevent trachoma. Sightsavers assumes responsibility for the Surgery and Antibiotics, while WaterAid is responsible for the Face washing and Environmental hygiene components. (The relationship we developed with WaterAid allowed us to advise them to take the needs of disabled people into account, and they soon developed latrines accessible for people with visual and other physical disabilities.)

A total transformation

In 1995, Sightsavers started supporting the distribution of Mectizan® to prevent river blindness in Mali, and today the disease is fully controlled in Tienfala. Trachoma has also virtually been eliminated. Blind people not only have a valuable means of income by way of the garden, but are also actively involved in the community’s sanitation issues. This once deserted village is now full of life as a direct result of this collaborative project.

It is also a great example of what can be achieved through working together effectively, especially given that 2008 is the International Year of Sanitation. We believe that it is in this way that the Millennium Development Goal to cut the number of people without access to basic sanitation in half by the year 2015 will be reached.

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