While reflecting on progress, accomplishments, and goals yet to be achieved after her 15 years of community health and development work, Aïssata Touré, Mali Health’s SHARE project manager, tentatively says, “we’re doing the maximum, but we can still do more.” SHARE is a component of our savings group program aimed specifically at bolstering perinatal care and assisted births among pregnant women.
As a lifelong resident of Sikoro, the community where Mali Health was born, Aïssata has been an intimate witness to, and a driver of social transformation within her community. While growing up, her mother founded L’Association Muso Kalanso, The Association of Women’s Education. It was a grassroots community savings and education group in Sikoro, and simultaneously ran a nearby kindergarten. So working directly with pregnant women as Mali Health’s SHARE project manager, Aïssata feels right at home.
At only 26-years old, experience and ambition don’t fully describe the path Aïssata has blazed thus far. “Since I was the first child in my family,” she explains, “I had to believe that I could do anything boys could do.” Aïssata’s parents frequently tasked her with chores and errands usually associated with boys, so she quickly developed a thick skin and personal resolve with which she navigates complicated gender norms today. “The worst,” she laughs, “was carrying huge batteries across Sikoro to get recharged for nighttime electricity. I think those experiences pushed me to do more, to expect more,” she says.
Mali ranks among the countries with the highest gender discrimination in the world. Aïssata consciously lives her life as a positive example for other young girls in Sikoro, especially her own 9-year old daughter. She was the first in her family to attend university, receiving a degree in Economics from the University of Bamako. “Women can do anything. We just have to be brave.”
Since I was the first child in my family, I had to believe that I could do anything boys could do…Women can do anything. We just have to be brave.– Aïssata Touré
At 13 years old, Aïssata volunteered as a peer-educator throughout her district’s school system to perform theater skits about about HIV prevention and treatment. “Oh yeah! I was terrified before my first performance,” she remembers. Within a few years she was running health advocacy radio programs throughout Bamako as assistant director.
By 2013, Aïssata was already on a list of community surveyors that Mali Health contracted to conduct various impact evaluations of our programs in Sikoro. At the time, she was working on her radio program, women’s savings groups, and maternal health volunteer work with the Red Cross. When she saw a job posting for Mali Health’s Assistant to the Advocacy and Radio Program, she took the opportunity. From then on, “every year I wanted more. In my performance reviews I would push for more responsibility.” The following year Aïssata transitioned to Communications and Public Relations Assistant, and the year after to become project manager for SHARE, her current position.
What’s the connection between her mother’s lifelong work with women’s groups and Aïssata’s own career choices? “Just a coincidence.” And between Aïssata and her own daughter: “I’m not sure, we’re very different—she’s super ambitious!”
The apple never falls far from the tree.