Wednesday, December 15, 2010
It Takes a Village to make Peanut Butter
I still remember the words of the village women I met 10 years ago in Mali. We sat on the mat-covered floor of a round-walled hut talking about their traditional medicines; I was doing research about traditional environmental knowledge and dance (they are related:). A few minutes into the conversation they turned the tables. "Do you have any medicine for exhaustion?" they asked me.
I didn't fully understand what exhaustion meant at that time in my life, but now, 10 years older and 2 kids later, I think I get it. Well, sort of.
The women in the village of Kolonmalila, on the border of Guinea and Mali, rise every morning at 4 a.m. to start making food for the day. Thump, clap, thump. Thump, clap, thump. Thump, clap, thump. Three women tend each large wooden mortar, making rhythms as they pound millet, amaranth or corn for the day's meal with 5-foot pestles. Each day the women in the village spend about 2-4 hours processing grain for the meals. And that is only a small portion of their daily work. They also collect fire wood, cook the food, farm, repair the huts, gather medicine, winnow, dry and store food and care for animals. And care for their children. The women live in huts separate from their husbands, with the children. And Malians don't tolerate crying babies, so they are fed on demand and tied to the backs of these women as they work.
I probably really don't understand exhaustion.
When I probed further, I learned that they wanted a grinder. They want a machine to help process their crops. As I researched the options, I came across Compatible Technology International, a non-profit founded by ex-General Mills engineers. These retired GM workers have designed and tested grinders, winnowers, potato peelers, water filters, among other items, and have brought hope and a better quality of life to many people in impoverished nations.
A grinder? What's so important about a grinder? Well for one, it saves the women hours of work each day. It can grind in 1/2 hour, what normally takes 4 hours. With their "free" time, the women can process grain for sale in the market, and start to make a small income to buy clothes, medicine, etc. for their families. It grinds grain that is minimally processed, yielding greater nutritional value in the final product, and produces less waste.
Also the women can "rent" it out for a small fee, and earn income that way, too. The grinder costs $350. That is about the average annual salary for a Malian--living in the city. In the village, life is subsistence-based, and they would never be able to afford the grinder.
It was a chuck of change for my family, too, so the people at CTI suggested a great way for raising money for the grinder. Host a peanut butter-making party!
We invited our friends and neighbors to test the machine and grind some organic peanuts, and enjoy some African food. I made peanut sauce (tigedigena) and zame, or seasoned rice and veggies. Other people brought food to share, and in all I say we crammed our living room with about 50 people. Through the generosity of our friends and neighbors, we raised $700, which will pay for the grinder, a flywheel attachment that our friend Peter designed, the shipping and some medicine for the villagers! Our family's gift to the villagers became Madison's gift to the women in Kolomalila. I feel so grateful that people donated. Until you go there, it is hard to understand what a difference one item like this can make. I feel grateful for this opportunity, the generosity of my "village", and I hope that I can continue to work to improve the quality of life of women everywhere!