Graduate from Timbuktu ‘pays it forward’

By Tony & Patti Leisner
This item appears on page 15 of the August 2021 issue.
Standing behind the children is Sane, founder of ADCS, along with boxes of biscuits.

In October 2001, we visited West Africa, including Mali. We had a rich experience, spending days in Timbuktu and taking a camel ride into the Sahel at night to meet the “blue men” of the desert.

While in Timbuktu, we met a boy named Sane Haidara, who told us he thought he was around 11 years old. He spoke more than acceptable English and said he wanted to become a tour guide. We didn’t need a guide, and he wouldn’t accept any money, but he wanted a friend whom he could email using his school account. We exchanged cards and began a long and interesting exchange.

We had Sane sign a contract pledging to remain in school and send us his grades and class pictures each year. In exchange, we gave him $20 a month to pay for books, and he would contribute 10% of that to his mosque and also help his family. At the time, the average per capita income there was $240 per year.

Sane did well in school, graduating and going to the university in Bamako, the capital, but what he wanted was the gold standard of a degree in America. He spoke six languages, and we helped him create a translation business to assist the US Army in training Malian troops.

This banner, thanking Patti and Tony Leisner, was put up in Timbuktu's main square on the first day of the ADCS breakfast program.

He earned enough (he thought) to pay for US tuition, and we sponsored him to live with us and attend a local college. Our condition was that, upon graduation, he had to return to Mali and help his country.

He not only graduated, he was the commencement speaker, and he won a scholarship to attend a local university, working toward earning a master’s in public policy.

Afterward, he returned to Timbuktu and, using our initial funding, started a nonprofit to provide breakfast for children attending school on empty stomachs. The name of his organization is Association pour le Développement Communautaire au Sahel, or ADCS (

ADCS has its roots in his 2016 bachelor’s degree program, where his thesis was a plan to start a feeding program back home. He refined it in graduate school and started the paperwork and structural beginnings in 2019.

Currently, his organization is providing milk and grain biscuits to nearly 600 children in primary school.

Our philosophy is that this shows the “power of one” and travel. One person helps one other person, who then helps hundreds.

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