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Celebrating Failures in Mali!

First FailFair a big success…..

Written by Kadida Tangara, Communications Officer, Accountability Lab, Linking and Learning Facilitator, Mali

So many emotions, shifting between joy, frustration, sadness, happiness and even some dancing. All these elements turned an ordinary day into an extraordinary FailFair day. The Fair was the first of its kind in Mali for Voice. and the conference spaces of la Maison de la Femme et de la Famille were very lively on Saturday, April 27, 2019.

Six panellists: three women and three men. With one thing in common, living with a handicap. We present to you Niama Koné, Amadou Dembele, Kadiatou Coulibaly also called Katoucha, Sidiki said Latiki Kouma, Filifing Sidibe and Dr Abdoulaye Diallo. Through testimonies filled with emotion, courage and perseverance, the public understood that failure is an integral part of success.

“We present you six moving portraits!”

Living with albinism, Niama Kone comes from a large family in which two other people live with albinism as well. Niama always had a dream of working for the post office. She joined the École Nationale des Postes, where she obtained a diploma as a general controller in 1989, and in the same year she won the competitive entry exam to join civil service. Currently, she is the Head of Quality as part of the senior management of the General Post Office as well as chair of the Board of Directors of Accountability Lab Mali.

A woman of integrity and above all devoted to serving her country, Niama says her father always told her not to isolate herself because of her disability. So she grew up with this philosophy in her head, and albinism is not a hindrance to her. Several times she was a victim of sabotage by her colleagues, but Mrs. Koné always managed to be a survivor. Failure is not about falling down but it is not getting up again. She passed the inspectors ‘ exam twice, she even came in first, but unfortunately because of the falsifications of the results her name never appeared on the list. Despite the fact that she was a victim of malfeasance, very determined, in 2008, she passed the competition in Senegal and this time it worked out!.

Very honest and a trade unionist (because she likes to defend workers ‘ rights), Niama thinks that only excellent work enhances a person’s value. For her, patience always ends up being a virtue. A very serene woman. She was often told that she would never be an inspector (making a professional promotion). Despite the discouragement and sabotage, this did not stop her. Today she’s chief of staff at the post office.

Before you see his size, it’s his smile that has already captured you. Amadou Dembele is a little person. At the age of 27, he measures 84 centimetres and weighs 35 kilos. Born in Zantiguila, in the Sikasso region, Amadou did not have an easy childhood. His life changed forever with the death of his parents when he was still a child. For years he was a beggar. His marabout encouraged him to beg because he could not work, yet his situation did not allow him to walk long distances. Later, he stayed in the home of the marabout to study the Koran.

Discriminated by his size, people didn’t give him much. For them, he was not a normal person. Some even called him a monster. Thanks to the assistance of the NGO GADEC, Voice partner in Ségou, Amadou is now a great musician. He plays and dances on the rhythms of balafon, a percussion instrument from Mali.

Commonly known as Katoucha, Kadiatou Coulibaly is a woman’s activist who happens to have a disability. Katoucha was born in Bamako in 1977. Currently she is an entrepreneur, poet and Deputy Secretary General of the Executive Board of the Malian Union of Associations and Committees of Women with Disabilties (UMAPH), also a Voice partner. Coming from a poor family, at the age of 3, she became infected with poliomyelitis, a highly contagious viral infection affecting mainly children which led to irreversible paralysis. Her parents did everything they could to get her into school. Only at the age of 8 did she make her first steps there, as her father was afraid that she would be made a victim or a scapegoat.

The year she graduated from high school in 1999, she became pregnant and gave birth just before her exams. She even showed up for her exams with the fresh scars from her C-section. After her exam, she decided to drop out. Several discouraging factors made her make this tough decision, such as the fact that she was the mother of a young child, the distance from school and the abandonment of the child’s father. Fed up with life, Katoucha had once strongly thought of suicide to put an end to all this suffering. But her love for her parents and for her son helped her to survive. With the help and advice of a brave lady, Kadiatou returned to school to study Human Resources Management in evening classes, after 19 years of absence.

According to her, the first sign of success is to believe in yourself.

Currently Katoucha has set up her own business and she runs several projects including the production of poems to encourage marginalised people to move forward. Surviving, struggling, brave, courageous and hard-working…. For Katoucha, failure is an integral part of success.

Very intelligent from a young age, Sidiki Latiki Kouma’s father died in April 2018, instilled values in Latiki that will remain engraved. Born in 1989 in Bamako, Sidiki is originally from Sizani in the Ségou region. At the age of 4, he was sent to the village to learn the Koran. Going back to his roots allowed him to learn more about his culture and to have a stronger start

Sidiki feels comfortable with his handicap, he accepts it fully he says with a smile. Know that a man is his head! That’s what his father told him, something he’ll never forget. Sidiki’s life changed after her parents split up. For him it was his first failure and which made him fail his exams in sciences.

“Although my classmates and teachers looked at me strangely as if I were an animal, I was always first in the class. And my father never had to ask me to revise my homework.”

An extremely intelligent man, who has experienced many academic failures, but persisted and never gave up. Today he is a fourth-year student in Finances and Accounting at the Centre of Industry and Management (C. I. GES), Latiki is part of several associations, including the Mouvement Jeunesse Avenir (M. J. A-Mali); AJCAD-Mali (Association of young people for Active Citizenship and democracy); ANJLM (National Association of young readers in Mali) for the promotion of writers, etc. A lover of poetry, his dream was to belong to the world of writers. He’s living his dream !

In September 2015, he came third in the national competition “capturing the memory of our society”, organised by the PEN-Mali Centre and the Mali-Values Movement, at the end of which his very first book entitled “La culture de chez nous” was awarded the Bakari KAMIAN Prize from the publishing house ” La Sahélienne “.

Filyfing Sidibé had her handicap in childhood when she was staying with her aunt in Côte d’ivoire. Very marginalised by her aunt and family, she did not have the chance to be treated in time. Still hiding in her room, Filyfing was especially afraid of men. She fell pregnant while still young and the child’s father died in the third month of her pregnancy. After his death, his family refused to acknowledge her pregnancy stating that their son had no interest in being with a disabled person.

After returning to Mali, Filyfing’s sister was a great support who always told her that she could do anything. These words of encouragement enabled her to open her own restaurant in Kati. Today Filyfing carries out several income-generating activities to provide for her needs.

“We are all the same, certainly God has taken something away from me but he has not taken everything, I can see, I hear and I am able to use my arms”. Her disability is not a hindrance to Filyfing and especially not synonymous with begging. For her, only work pays ! Her experience is a real hope for all of those looking for a job, regardless of a disability, because the world is full of possibilities.

An elderly man with an exceptional memory, Dr Abdoulaye Diallo tells his story with a keen sense of detail ! Often referred to as an overachiever, Dr. Diallo’s vision fades in adolescence. Unable to study any more, he preferred to hide his illness from his parents for fear that they would be defeated when they heard the news. With 1500 FCFA in his pocket, he decided to go on an adventure in Senegal. After accumulating several odd jobs in Senegal and The Gambia, he returned to Mali in 1977 to complete his baccalaureate, having heard that an organisation was helping blind people. Being the first blind Bachelor, Dr. Abdoulaye Diallo could not attend university to continue his studies. Blocked for 3 years for nebulous reasons, he was forced to convert into a secondary school teacher.

For Dr. Diallo, his failures never discouraged him, for his inner strength always told him that he was able to achieve his goals. Through this attitude, he managed to obtain a scholarship to study medicine in Tunisia. On his return, he built a medical care hospital within UMAV (Union Malienne des Aveugles), a Voice partner. His physiotherapy practice is currently very successful and his prescriptions in braille are accepted by many pharmacies.

According to Dr. Abdoulaye Diallo, you must always have faith in your goals! His children were inspired by his perseverance and courage, and three of them became doctors.

In conclusion, many people may think that being in a wheelchair, living with albinism, being blind or hearing impaired is synonymous with sadness or unhappiness. But through the testimonies of our six panelists from the first edition of Voice’s FailFair, the Malian public has understood that we are all experiencing challenges in our respective lives. Disability is not a fatality, it is only a visible difference that does not prevent anyone from fulfilling their dreams.


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