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In Mali, Africa, both availability and attitude have an effect on education, a visiting Malian told a group of Utah students.

Only 12 percent of Mali's children attend school. Many stay home because their parents can't afford it; others are kept home because the parents fear education will influence the children to drop the parents' valued cultural traditions, said Modibo Diarra.Diarra, who taught for many years before becoming coordinator for the Ouelessebougou Alliance said the typical Malian class has 70 to 80 students, many of whom share books, pencils and desks. Some bring their own desks from home, he told social studies students at Alta High School.

Although Mali's government has adopted the concept of universal education for children 6 to 15, the country does not have the resources to bring the concept to fruition, said Diarra. Instability in the government, with several major changes in the past few decades, has contributed to slow progress in the country.

"In my country, it is a privilege to go to school," said Diarra, who speaks six languages and has devoted his life to bettering the living standard of his people. He wore native dress when he visited the Jordan District school and explained slides shown by Deseret News reporter Jan Thompson, who visited Mali several years ago and is involved still in the work of the alliance.

Diarra is in Utah promoting activities to help the alliance upgrade health and save lives in his drought-plagued western African country. Thousands of children die every year of diseases that could be easily controlled with simple hygiene, education and minimal resources, he said.

"In the medicine closets (cabinets) of your homes are more medicines than in a typical hospital in Mali," he said. Each Malian doctor serves approximately 300,000 people, and hospital facilities, especially in the villages, are minimal.

Most Malian men have several wives--the law allows up to four--and as many children as possible to ensure survival of the family line.

"Many people do not count their children for fear Allah will believe they have children to spare," he said. Children are important because providing a living is a family effort. Families work together to meet their needs. Women spend a large part of each day preparing food--primarily millet, Diarra said.

Ironically, he said, the women spend many hours beating the millet to get rid of the bran, which is a nutritional part of the grain.

Many Utah schools have contributed to the effort to build wells in Mali's villages--a step to assure access to water in a land that is in its eighth year of drought.

John Jaussi, who was in Diarra's audience made an immediate connection. "I liked it (Diarra's presentation) a lot. My mom is a teacher at Brookwood School and they had a project for Ouelessebougou," said Jaussi. For Kari Baxter, the way Malian people have to work so hard just to survive was impressive. From her view, women in the African country may have it harder than the men.

Next school year, Alta students are expected to raise about $1,000 for two wells in Ouelessebougou, a region of southern Mali that has many villages. Villages also welcome contributions that help them buy fencing to keep cattle out of water supplies, Diarra said.

Cherie Thompson, PTA president, and Amanda Smith, a parent volunteer, will head the effort.