America Ferrera-Supported Save the Children School Opens in Mali

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Save the Children’s Artist Ambassador Rallied Family, Friends and Fans to Raise Funds for a New Elementary School

America Ferrera visits Diassadeni village in Mali on January 5, 2010. Photo Credit: Joshua Roberts for Save the Children

It's incredibly rewarding to help bring this school to the beautiful village of Diassadeni. And now I'm looking forward to the most important part of this experience -- the learning!

Nearly 150 excited children started their first day of school in new classrooms in Mali earlier this week thanks to the support of Emmy Award-winning actress America Ferrera and her family, friends and fans.

"It's incredibly rewarding to help bring this school to the beautiful village of Diassadeni,” said America Ferrera. “And now I'm looking forward to the most important part of this experience - the learning!"

“We are so thankful to America for her strong passion and determination to give these children a fair chance at getting a good education,” said Abou Coulibaly, Save the Children’s Mali sponsorship field coordinator, who oversaw the school project for the village of Diassadeni in Sikasso District. “Most parents here have had little or no schooling, but they see how education can transform their children’s lives. You can feel the excitement and anticipation. It’s a big day here.”

The community celebrated the opening of the new school in typical Malian style, with colorful attire, lively music and dancing. Villagers from all surrounding communities were invited to join in the celebration. The village chief and elders, the head of the School Management Committee and the head of the Women’s Committee — all of whom play an important role in stressing the power of education to families in their village — all spoke at the event.

Village Chief, Lacking an Education, Sends Grandchildren to New School

“I feel blessed because this happened in my lifetime,” said Moussa Ouattara, the village chief, who did not go to school but whose grandchildren attend the new school. “I pray that our generous donors live a long and prosperous life.”

After speeches, the chief and elders visited the classrooms and congratulated the School Management Committee for the good job they did on the school. Members of the committee promised to ensure all community children will be given equal access to schooling and to take good care of the buildings.

After more than one hour of live music and dancing, elders of the community made blessings for America Ferrera and the school. A big lunch was offered by the village chef for everyone at the celebration, and plans were made to organize a naming ceremony for the school in honor of America Ferrera.

Sixth-Grader Photographs First Day of School

Eleven-year-old Kalidou chronicled the first day at his new school through photography. He photographed Natogoma, 8, on her first day in fourth grade. At her father’s encouragement, Natogoma is the first person in her family to go to school. (You can view the photo essay on Facebook or Flickr).

America Raises Funds for Malian School

America, a Save the Children Artist Ambassador for global education, launched a fundraising campaign last December to build a school in Mali, prior to her traveling to the western African country. While there, she visited the village of Diassadeni, a rural farming community, where she met families and community members who are doing their best to educate children with very little resources. America saw children crowded into three termite-infested mud classrooms, sharing two pit latrines that offered very little privacy, and teachers with limited training leading students in their lessons.

The former “Ugly Betty” star raised funds for the new school by setting up a Facebook Cause page, hosting an art auction of iconic “Ugly Betty” paintings featured on the ABC television show and asking friends and family to donate to the school in lieu of giving her birthday gifts. She reached her fundraising goal by May, and the school was built with the community’s help during summer break.

Donations were used to build a community school with four classrooms, a headmaster’s room and separate toilets that offered privacy for girls and boys. Save the Children also provided school supplies and teacher training to help improve the quality of the children’s education.

Learn more about how to “Build an Entire School” in Mali or read about other education gifts in Save the Children’s new online holiday gift catalog.

Save the Children is the leading, independent organization that creates lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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Eileen Burke

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