The first iNERDE STEM Summer Camp has passed into the history books. We did it! And we did it very, very well. Of course, it was difficult, to be perfectly honest, every single day presented some kind of challenge. We weren’t sufficiently prepared, we had and still have so much to learn, but no matter what difficulties we faced our “customers”, our Nerdy kids, their parents, and the community loved what we did. We accomplished what we set out to do, we turned a bunch of kids on to STEM and developed their critical problem-solving skills, and we shared our message of social responsibility that I believe will stay with our Nerds for the rest of their lives. The support we got from the community in Bamako was absolutely beyond what we hoped for, enterprises welcomed opened their facilities to us for field trips, NGOs as well as governmental organizations offered a helping hand and people just showed up, telling us that they believed in what we were doing and were ready to pitch in. One of those people, Bada Keita, became our first Mali-based Empowerment Agent. Many schools and teachers came to us and pleaded with us to work with them next year and to run more summer camps.
We will. We are going to grow our organization and put on 4 camps next year, returning to Mali with an improved curriculum and some exciting new elements in our program. We just held our first annual Summit in Boston and laid out an ambitious roadmap for the coming year and put in place the organization we need to execute to it. Rebecca Brousseau, who was a trooper serving as an Empowerment Agent for all 7 weeks this summer and fit into the Malian environment as though she had spent her whole life there, is going to head up the Education Program, coordinating with the schools, local teachers, parents, and community and recruiting and managing Empowerment Agents. A new member of the iNERDE team who has been working behind the scenes with us for the last several months, biochemistry researcher Aïseta Baradji, is going to take on leadership of our curriculum development efforts. Of course, we’re going to need to step up our fundraising to support our ambitions. Michael Leventhal is going to change hats and push a number of new initiatives in that area. One of the first you’ll see is our Adopt-A-Nerdy-School program, which will connect excellent iNERDE partner schools looking to hold STEM Summer Camps with corporate sponsors willing to underwrite a portion of camp costs.
It seems that while I was in Mali enjoying the beautiful unfolding of our first Colonie de Vacances STEM the world was going to hell in a handbasket. I won’t repeat all the terrible things that have happened in the last few months – whether you wish to or not it is nearly impossible to avoid the media and its daily offering of disturbing news so you know all of it as well or better than I do. The part of the world where iNERDE is operating hasn’t been spared: Africa, West Africa, Mali. Unfortunately, for most people, what little they know about Mali comes from those sources of dismal news. You, however, are reading this blog and perhaps know about iNERDE, perhaps you have even looked at our newsletters from this summer’s camp, you may be an exception, one of the few that knows Mali is a place where wonderful things are happening. Yes, there are problems, even terrible problems in iNERDE’s part of world, and there are some bad people and destructive forces – just as there are in the United States, a beautiful country I love and admire with all my heart. It was truly a joy to share my native country, Mali, with the North Americans that ignored the dreadful news stories and embraced the challenge of creating the first iNERDE Colonie de Vacances STEM. My Mali is also a beautiful country, multi-ethnic, -lingual, and -religious, where, to an impressive extent, its people live in harmony and mutual respect. The people of Mali are strong, confident, opinionated, stylish, spiritual (and Malian women even more so) and we love to eat (as Joey Orlando revealed in his blogs, describing how he ate delicious Malian food continuously his entire stay), dance, make music, argue, party, and joke. And although there are many disadvantages to life in Mali compared, say, to the United States, the one thing that Malians have in abundance is resilience and optimism. And we have a long history of love of learning, a quality that was reaffirmed to me by the enthusiastic support that the people of Bamako showed us this summer.
So the news is good, maybe much better than you could have imagined. It is good for Mali, good for Africa, and very good for iNERDE. And we intend to keep the good news coming.