In West Africa, and especially in Mali, it is customary to go door-to-door when multiples (twins, triplets, etc.) are born, collecting support from neighbors. The birth of multiples can be a significant challenge for families with limited resources. Through this porte en porte tradition, communities provide tangible support to families in need, but it is also a sign of solidarity and social cohesion. Indeed, this custom is also often followed even by families with multiples who are not in need, in which case it is said to ensure that the children will live a long life.
Bintou migrated to Bamako about eight years ago, settling in Sotuba, a peri-urban community in Bamako’s Commune I. She and her husband separated when she was 3 months pregnant with her twins, so she decided to leave her village, along with her three other children. A move to Bamako gave her a better chance of earning an income that would allow her to support all her children on her own.
When she arrived in Bamako, things did not go as she had imagined and she had difficulty finding a place to live. She stayed with a friend throughout her pregnancy, and though her friend didn’t have much, she took care of Bintou until she gave birth. After her twins arrived, Bintou did not want to be a burden, so she and her five children settled in a home that was unfinished. That’s when she began to go porte en porte with her twins.
But as the twins grew, Bintou decided to start selling earrings to make her living. Her friend encouraged her to join a Mali Health savings group in order to get the funds to start her project. So she did. Then Bintou was able to take a loan from her group to purchase what she needed, and started selling. She walks throughout her community each day, selling earrings and other items that can be difficult to find in her community, like toothbrushes and toothpaste, from a large tray that she made.
Now age 7, the twins are doing well and are enrolled in school. For the past year, Mali Health has been working with mothers like Bintou to ensure that the interruption caused by the pandemic does not push families further into poverty, or pose an additional risk to their health. Bintou received support to grow her business, and she has been able to expand into selling a wider variety of items. In the future, her goal is to move her small business into a shop of her own.