March 26, 2003: Headlines: COS - Mali: World Wise Schools: Third Goal: Contra Costa News: Students talk with PCV Chris Odyniec in Mali

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mali: Peace Corps Mali : The Peace Corps in Mali: March 26, 2003: Headlines: COS - Mali: World Wise Schools: Third Goal: Contra Costa News: Students talk with PCV Chris Odyniec in Mali

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Students talk with PCV Chris Odyniec in Mali

Students talk with PCV Chris Odyniec in Mali

Africa is just a phone call away
By Jackie Burrell

It took several satellite bounces and a goat truck, but when the phone rang in Ellen Georgi's classroom recently, several classes' worth of Joaquin Moraga Intermediate students grew instantly quiet. The long awaited phone call was a Peace Corps prize, connecting Moraga students with Peace Corps volunteer Chris Odyniec in Mali.

This call was the second in as many years for Georgi's students. Last winter, they chatted with Orinda native David Hoppock in Cote d'Ivoire, their 2002 "prize" through the Peace Corps' World Wise Schools contest. This year, they asked for Odyniec, a Kensington Eagle Scout who visited the JM classroom several months ago to talk about his experiences in West Africa.

Once the land of legends, Mali flourished for more than a thousand years. By the 14th century, the Mandinka empire of Mali controlled the trans-Saharan gold trade, and encompassed almost all of West Africa. Its great cities, Timbuktu and Djenne, were centers of wealth, culture and learning.

Today, the West African nation is one of the poorest on the planet. Its butterfly-shaped borders surround land roughly twice the size of Texas, but arable land is limited to the Niger River's flood plain and the country is heavily dependent upon foreign aid. The Peace Corps sends volunteers to teach, help with agriculture and provide assistance where needed.

For Odyniec, life in a remote African village offers a rich variety of experiences. He was anxious to share the details with the Moraga students, but the nearest telephone is a goat truck, a cotton truck and a bus ride away. Odyniec hit the road two days before the appointed call.

In Moraga, children perched on tables and sat on the floor waiting for the phone to ring. Grazyna Odyniec had driven in from Kensington to hear her son's voice. "He's not a person who sits at home. He wanted to make a difference, (be) an ambassador of civilization," she explained.

Georgi's phone rang right on cue. She hit the speaker button and Odyniec's voice came through from half a world away. He answered questions, described his village and the people, and marveled at the peace of the countryside, far from the commercial world. "It's very easy to get quiet inside," he said.

Odyniec misses the fogs and winter chill of the Bay Area. In Mali, the days routinely top 100 degrees. Village school schedules bypass the heat of the day with a three-hour siesta, resuming class in the late afternoon. Evenings are spent playing soccer or hanging out with friends.

"We sit in the shade, drink very strong, very sweet tea, and listen to the radio," he said. "They love to watch TV, soccer games and a Portuguese soap opera."

Odyniec was sent to Mali to work on agriculture development, but instead finds himself playing the role of grant conduit, writing grant proposals and meeting with non-government agencies to get assistance for the villagers. "I type, write letters, help move money. Today, I'm visiting Unicef," he said.

But the big question concerned a very large care package sent by the JM students. They were anxious to hear how the Beanie Babies, notebooks and atlases were received. The soft stuffed animals were a major hit, Odyniec assured the children with a laugh.

The package contents were dispersed among all the neighboring villages to make sure everyone got a share of the treats -- maps, soccer balls, baseball caps and school supplies. But the object that drew the most wonderment was a whistling rocket football. The JM kids grin at each other as they listen. Georgi smiles and pulls out an empty box.

Right about now, Mali children are crowding around another 50-pound box, covered in United States air mail stickers, and laden with books, star charts and brightly hued frogs and teddy bears.

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Contra Costa News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Mali; World Wise Schools; Third Goal



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