Timbuktu is actually a real city in the West African country of Mali on the southern edge of the Sahara desert. YWCA Greater Cleveland President and CEO traveled there years ago and is now heading there for a return visit. Follow this blog space in the coming weeks as Margaret shares her personal insights on raising up #strongGIRLS.
Have You Been to Timbuctu (Timbuktu)? Yes, I Have!
By Margaret Mitchell, President and CEO, YWCA Greater Cleveland
I was 37 years old the first time I traveled to the continent of Africa – visiting several countries over a three-week period. My best friend from college was the travel editor for Essence Magazine at the time and I tagged along with her on a press junket across West Africa. The trip was eye-opening and life-changing.
We went to Timbuctu (in Mali, West Africa—that’s me in the photo giving pencils to kids.) I marveled that Timbuctu – the mythical place my mother threatened to send me – actually existed. But as we toured the city and its many historic sites, I remember asking why we saw so few girls. It was our local guide who provided the answer – they were all working.
In Mali, many girls are child domestic workers, often working for relatives. The practice is socially and culturally accepted as appropriate work for children.
To me, this was heartbreaking. I have never forgotten how helpless I felt.
Now, nearly 18 years after that first enlightening first trip, I am heading back to West Africa – with purpose. This time, I am travelling with my dear friend Yvonne Pointer, a 1999 YWCA Woman of Achievement. I am going to be a witness. A witness to the Power of Grace.
Join me on this trip via this blog as Yvonne opens a preschool she built in Ghana, West Africa. The school, named in the honor of her daughter Gloria, who was tragically murdered in Cleveland decades ago, will bring Hope, Truth and Love in a country where hope, truth and love are often absent.
How does a mother heal from the senseless murder of her child? How does a mother turn tragedy to testimony? I can’t wait to tell you more; this is not even half of the amazing story! What I will tell you is I no longer feel helpless. I am motivated by my faith, encouraged through my friendship, and empowered to act.