I got my assignment. For the next two years I'll be living in Narena. It's a medium-sized town of about 5,000 people (I'm still trying to figure out how they classify these things). It's on the road from Bamako to Conakry (capital of Guinea) less than 60 miles outside of Bamako and within spitting distance of the Guinea border. Apparently it's about two hours from Bamako by public transport, which is making many of the other trainees jealous (an extreme example being my friends Peter and Tim, who are about 25-30 hours away).
I will be working with a microfinance institution in Narena. They have just started a mobile-banking program in which "tellers" visit some of the smaller villages around Narena to collect deposits from members on a regular basis. Since there are no banking institutions here, banking money is a completely new concept to most people. This system allows people to build up some savings to cushion against the hard times (drought and sickness are most likely), or to fund larger business purchases. The mobile bank specifically is a way for people to learn the virtues of banking in a more hand-held way. Apparently the average deposit amount is roughly twenty cents.
I have been tremendously interested in microfinance since college, and since being here I've been so deeply convinced of the need for financial literacy among a population where many to most can't read, but almost everyone has some form of informal business. From selling excess crops to owning storefronts, and from women who sell mangoes on the street to those who make a living in shea butter, entrepreneurship is a necessity for survival here. A little education on marketing, feasibility, and calculating profit will go a long way here. This is decidedly important work, and I am very excited to get to the point that I can make myself useful.
I am headed to visit my new site next week, so I will have more to say on the topic in about ten days.