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About The Mali Assistance Project

   History    Founders

About The Mali Assistance Project

The Mali Assistance Project (MAP) was founded in 1999 to help the villagers of Foutaka Zambougou, Mali, West Africa and surrounding areas to survive immediate crises of famine, drought and disease, and to build a sustainable infrastructure for their future health and economic stability.

The hard work and planning efforts of village residents, along with financial help from donors, has enabled the villagers to remain in their homes and avert starvation. We are planning to improve water quality, dig deeper wells, install water purification systems, build irrigation systems for crops, outfit a local medical facility, and expand elementary education for village children.


“The Mali Assistance Project” (MAP) was founded in August of 1999 by Karen Marx and Abdoul Doumbia, under the umbrella of “Witness”, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 1995 by Jeff Long.

In 1999, Karen and Abdoul traveled to Zambougou where they were welcomed with open arms by Abdoul’s family and fellow villagers. Upon examining the stores of food, it became apparent that these warm-hearted, generous people were soon to be facing a desperate situation. Due to a drought, compounded by a flood, which washed away the fields of planted seeds, Abdoul’s family and the villagers were soon to be out of food.

Abdoul and Karen returned to Mali in October of 1999 and purchased 33 tons of food in the town of Segou, including 55,000 pounds of millet, 5,500 pounds of peanuts, and 5,500 pounds of beans. Four huge trucks were rented and driven 4 1/2 hours through mud and flooded-out roads to arrive in the village of Foutaka Zambougou. There are 81 families in the village, with some families having as many as 35 members, totaling about 2200 residents. The timing was critical, in that the villagers had rationed food for some time and had not eaten anything in four days. Without our assistance, the people of Zambougou, most likely, would have perished. The amount of food purchased would provide 6.88 oz of food per person per day for three months.

The Chief, the Marabou (spiritual leader), and the elders of Zambougou determined the procedure for distributing the food. Each family came forward with their donkey and cart, loaded their 100-kilo bags of food, and transported it to their dwelling area. (To the left is a photo of the granaries used to store grain in the village.)

In the afternoon, a grand celebration took place with drummers, a “griot” singer, and about 200 women and men from the village dancing (with Karen joining them).

Contributions came from all over the United States, from Europe, Canada, South America and even from Australia and South Africa. With their initial success, MAP began work on future projects.

November 2002

The primary wells in the village of Foutaka Zambougou have nearly dried up, with only several feet of muddy water at the bottom of each well. Rainwater collected in a swamp area feeds into one shallow well. The animals use this swamp for drinking and bathing. With sheep, goats, and donkeys going into this swamp, the contamination issue is beyond imagination. This is the primary source of drinking water for the people in the village. It is no wonder that many people are ill and half of the children die before the age of five, usually from diarrhea from contaminated water. Women collect some water for their families by walking five kilometers to the village of Tesserela, with a large calabash shell on their heads, to carry water back to the village of Zambougou.

Imagine what this means to the villagers – to have so little water is dreadful. They have only muddy water to drink; a limited amount of contaminated water with which to cook; and very little water to bathe babies, children or adults. Mothers do not have diapers for the babies but use rags. Water is needed to wash these rags and the babies.

The dry season begins mid-October. The swamp and the wells will become totally dry around the end of February 2003.

Crops failed again due to the current drought and the villagers will soon be out of food. There is no possibility of help from the Mali government. MAP is the only source of help to which the village can turn.

January 2003

A second famine relief effort was made by Karen Marx and Abdoul Doumbia in January of 2003. They purchased 37,400 pounds of millet and rice in Segou and delivered them to the villagers. During the trip, MAP was able to determine solutions for the lack of water and need for new wells. $27,000 is required to fund the digging of new wells. We researched and documented the resources needed to create a functioning school for the village. To read the full report of this visit, click here.


Abdoul Doumbia is a Master Drummer from Mali, West Africa. He was brought to the US in 1992 by Brown University to teach in the African music and dance department. He now teaches and resides in Boulder, Colorado. Abdoul’s home village in Mali is Foutaka Zambougou. The Bambara people in Zambougou are proud, hardworking, trusting, and welcoming people. They want to do everything they can to help themselves.

Karen Marx has been a djembe drumming student of Abdoul’s since 1998. She has had the opportunity to travel to Mali six times with Abdoul. Karen began studying African drumming in 1995. She has played African marimba for 8 years with the band Chimanimani – “Zimbabwe dance and trance music.” Karen is an interior designer and the owner of Marx Interiors in Boulder since 1981.




To make a contribution, please make checks out to
“The Mali Assistance Project” and mail to:

The Mali Assistance Project

c/o Karen Marx, Executive Director
3601 Arapahoe Ave, Box 221
Boulder, CO 80303