Triad Magazine

A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.

Faces of Timbuktu

By Joseph Takeli

Photography By Kimberly Williams

HCC’s History professor Kimberly Williams spent her spring break in the city of Timbuktu, Mali, bringing hope and smiles to poor kids in orphanages and schools. 300 presents and $350 were donated by HCC students and staff members. The $350, which represents quite a fortune, went to a new school in Timbuktu. “That’s like one year salary in a lot of places in Mali.

Every classroom I went in, the director would show that money. To the students, that is a big deal. It may not mean a lot for people to just take things out of their pockets and hand, but collectively it made a very powerful impact. To see the kids’ faces when they got these toys, spending time with them and talking with them… it’s priceless. I think I got way more out of it than they did. It’s a wonderful human exchange. I learned a lot”, said Williams.

Professor Kimberly Williams brought gifts and smiles to the eighth-grade students of Bamako, Mali.

The conditions in Timbuktu’s orphanages and schools aren’t the best. They seem to have been abandoned by the central authorities of Mali. “A lot of the schools I talked to seem disappointed with the government’s support,” she said. Williams said she was shocked in Mali to see little boys with no families, no support, sitting there and trying to read and study with no resources. Comparing Timbuktu with wealthier places of the world, Williams says: “You are born in a place, and things come so easily to you, just because of where you were born. It doesn’t seem fair. You really want to go and make a difference.” She also points out the contrast between the extreme poverty of Timbuktu and the beauty and warmth of the people: “they are gorgeous, very friendly and very warm.” Timbuktu, the 12th century’s crossroads of civilizations has become so remote and so poor, although it still has a lot to offer to humanity. Williams said some 20 millions pieces of paper and documents written in Arabic, as old as a 1000 years, have been recovered from the sand of the Sahara desert.

These documents could well participate in the reshaping of West African history as it is known today. She hopes that Timbuktu, a candidate for the New 7 Wonders of the World, will be picked. The drawing takes place on July 7, 2007. Williams believes if Timbuktu becomes one of the 7 New Wonders of the world, it will become one of the centers of the world’s attention. Timbuktu will then draw more tourists, and possibly improve its economy, she says. William said that she loves to travel. that’s how she went from History teacher to a passionate humanitarian. She has already visited over 40 countries. “The more you travel, the harder it is to ignore.” Although she had always been concerned with social and humanitarian problems, Williams said she had her first shocker in the summer of 2005 in Thailand when visiting a refugee camp. Many little children in the camp were abandoned.
She was watching a beautiful baby girl play and smile, only to learn from the woman running the camp that the baby girl will be sold as a prostitute when she grows. “It broke my heart. It made me want to do something,” said Williams. She resolved to visit an orphanage or a school whenever she travels to poor countries. In 2006, Williams went to Ghana. This year, after Timbuktu, she plans to visit China and Tibet in June. Williams believes it is important to know other cultures in order to evaluate your own. “I don’t think you can truly understand your own culture until you study another one. Otherwise, you really don’t understand yourself and the way you fit in the world,” she said. She urged students to take advantage of any funds made available by the State Department to travel or study abroad. For example the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, which “awards up to $5000 for U.S. undergraduate students to study abroad for up to one academic year,” William said. She also encourages students to get involved with the United Nations’ volunteers’ program. “It always looks nice on your resume to show you volunteered for the United Nations,” she said.

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