Empowering Malian women

By Joan Becker Cary ’79 / Photography courtesy of Martha Franquemont '09

MaliVolunteering in Mali, Africa, allows MARTHA FRANQUEMONT ’09 to combine her political science and economics degrees with her passion for addressing poverty and her personal goal of living in and learning about a culture far different from her own.

Franquemont Fish

A Malian woman sells fish in Yirimadjo’s market.

Franquemont traveled to Mali in August 2010 to serve Project Muso Ladamunen (The Project for the Empowered Women, or PML). She lives with a host family and works for the Springboard Microfinance Program, which offers microcredit loans and support that assist the poor in growing their enterprises and bettering the lives of their families. PML, spearheaded largely by Malian women, works to educate the community, fight and prevent the spread of malaria, and provide access to credit for local enterprise.

Although French is the official language of the region, Bambara is the primary language spoken in Mali. Franquemont said she has become fairly conversational in French and can speak basic Bambara. She began studying French during her senior year at Bradley, and served one year with AmeriCorps, working for the American Red Cross in Peoria. Before departing for Africa, Dr. Alexander Hertich, associate professor of French, helped her brush up on the language.

She also credits Dr. Joshua Lewer, assistant professor of economics, and the economics department for assisting her study of microfinance and its impact on poverty alleviation. But her biggest inspiration in life has been her grandmother, who has shared her stories of the years when she and Franquemont’s grandfather lived in Kenya.

Martha Franquemont

MARTHA FRANQUEMONT ’09 and PML microfinance participants attend a celebration of Project Muso’s work given by the mayor of Yirimadjo, Mali.

As a student, Franquemont volunteered at Global Village, a fair trade shop in Peoria Heights that sells products created by artisans and entrepreneurs from around the developing world. “Maybe someday soon I can work with Global Village to make Project Muso’s products available to consumers,” she said. “That would really demonstrate how small the world can be -— from Mali to Peoria.”

Franquemont is a native of Troy, Illinois. She expects to be in Mali until this fall, but may extend her stay depending on the job market and resources, she said. Last November, she received the Love of Learning Award worth $500 from the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. She is one of 80 members nationwide who received the award to help fund post-baccalaureate studies and career development.

Martha Franquemont

Members make bogolan products to sell. Bogolan is the Malian art of producing mud cloth textiles by drawing with clay on naturally dyed fabric.