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It all started in May 1985. Seven Utahns traveled to Ouelessebougou, Mali, West Africa in response to the horrific images of drought, starvation and death they saw throughout the sub-Saharan Africa. The volunteers were members of Utah's Service Community Council, and they sought to expand their local services, hoping to get the Utah Community involved locally.
At first the partnership was purely humanitarian, to fulfill critical needs, but eventually those involved changed the focus to more of a long-term sustainable arrangement. The Ouelessebougou-Utah Alliance was formed to fulfill this vision.
Today, Ouelessebougou, a region of 72 small villages in Mali, is one of Utah's sister communities. Laurie Evans, development director, tells me the non-profit alliance seeks to help the Ouelessebougou villages overcome the extreme poverty they live in. This is done through a three-pronged approach focusing on health, education and economic development.
The Alliance administers preventive health measures, such as vaccinations, to halt the spread of disease and builds infrastructure to address current and future health needs. Education assistance involves providing training for teachers and promoting education for girls, a widespread concern in Western Africa. This year the alliance started a sister school program that partnered 11 Utah schools with 11 schools in Mali. Economic development initiatives foster self reliance by offering micro loans and business training.
Next year will be the 25th anniversary of the partnership. Laurie tells me the Ouelessebougou-Utah Alliance will be launching a campaign themed "25 years, 25 villages and 25,000 lives" to encourage Utahns to donate $25 to the non-profit and recruit 25 of their friends to do the same. These funds will help the organization advance its current emphasis on individual empowerment that involves developing a five-year strategic plan.