Field trip part two – Matiacoali

The next day, entering the Matiacoali municipality, we first stopped nearby a village called Piega to have a look at a field where vegetables are grown. One might wonder what vegetables have to do with children’s rights, but there is a connection here. Over 80 % of the Burkinabe make their living from one of two activities, or both. Agriculture and livestock breeding. I am not going to pretend to be an expert on either of those things, but I think I know enough to give you the basics of Burkina agriculture. A lot of people who live of agriculture grow cereals such as millet, sorghum and to some extent corn. This country has a dry and a wet season. You need to plant your seeds so that they can grow during the wet season, when both sunshine and precipitation are plentiful. A few months into the dry season you harvest your cereals. The harvest is stored and you live of it, either by selling it or eating it, until the next harvest. Everything is hunky dory. I am guessing now, but I think that’s how farmers have lived around here for ages.
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In comes trouble. A suspect who is already a lot more usual here than in many northern countries. Climate change. The climate appears to have already shifted, making the rainy season shorter around here. Obviously, this makes the dry season longer, which in turn means that the grains you stored to make it to the next harvest won’t be enough. So what do you do? You try and cut down on spending or find an alternative source of revenue. Or a combination of both. Unfortunately, in Burkina Faso, this may imply taking the kids out of school to save the school fees. Or sending the kids to the cotton fields, the artisanal gold mines or the city to work. In sum, insufficient harvest often means no school for the kids.

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During the dry season, open water sources progressively shrink because of the heat and use of the water. If they’re not big enough, they’ll dry out before the rainy season starts. The fields are resting, and the soil is apt for agriculture, but the lack of water makes the situation complicated. The solution that’s being put in place in the village I visited is this. A part of the fields where something else is grown during the wet season was cleared and fenced off, which I think is to keep animals out. Three wells were dug. An association was formed of villagers who were interested in trying to grow vegetables during the dry season. And that’s what’s being done now. With the additional revenue from the vegetables, parents aren’t forced to take children out of school. No one is being forced to participate in the village, but as it proves to be a pretty good idea, more people join in on the project.

The final stop was the town of Matiacoali, where Eriks has contributed to the construction of a new building housing two classrooms. The Matiacoali high school is the only high school in a municipality of around 60 000 inhabitants, which puts a lot of pressure on it to receive a large number of students. I was amazed by how quickly it was built. Construction started in December. Not three months later, the classrooms were about ready for the concrete dust to be swept out and the desks brought in. We met the headmaster, a representative of the construction firm and a consultant hired to make sure the construction complies to applicable norms and the terms of agreement. The classrooms were simple, but nice and clean. There is no central grid electricity in Matiacoali, but because it’s less than 50 kilometres away and expected to get there within a few years, ceiling fans and lights were installed. Although the classrooms are roughly the same size as the ones I sat in throughout school, a normal class here may well have 70 students at a time. More if the school is under a lot of  pressure, I was told by the headmaster.

I am really glad we went on this trip and I am already looking forward to the next one.  The countryside is a whole other world compared to the city. A part from a few very bumpy roads it was great to come out and see the landscape where most burkinabe live their lives. That’s all for now – back to Ouaga.

 

Field trip part one – Bilanga

This week was field trip week. Bargo, our driver Daniel and I left Ouagadougou early in the morning on Tuesday in one of ODE’s pickup trucks. The project that I work on, PAPPDE, is implemented in two municipalities in Eastern Burkina Faso called Bilanga and Matiacoali. Bargo usually goes on field trips once a month to meet his colleagues and se how things are proceeding. Having read a lot about the project I was very excited to see it and meet our colleagues in the east.

Roads in Burkina Faso are of very variable quality. Bigger and more important roads tend to be paved, but there is usually a lot of holes in them. We hadn’t been on the road for more than thirty minutes until one of the front tyres went flat. Fortunately, all of us don’t use the driver’s licence mainly for identification. When I asked Daniel if flat tyres occur often, he replied that it was the first time in February. That’s a yes I guess. In defence of Burkinabe roads, it was something dropped from a truck that pierced the hole.

 

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Bargo and Daniel both seemed familiar with the tricks of the trade.

 

The first intentional stop was the Bilanga Centre for Girls in High School. High School are not everywhere to be found in Burkina. If you’re from a small village in the Bilanga area, and bound for high school, you may have to travel as much as 100 km to go there. Naturally if you’re from the average rural Burkinabe family, you can’t afford going back and forth to much. So you rent a room in Bilanga town, where the High School is. This is what all girls who went to High School there did before. Some still do. Unfortunately, they faced a broad range of difficulties when renting rooms. Insufficient means to pay the rent, conflicts with landlords and poor safety were some of them. This forced many girls to abandon high school before graduating. If there’s one thing to recall from the development basic course, it is that we do not need women to get less education. The opposite, and lots of it. So ODE raised the problem in Bilanga with Eriks. They agreed to build a centre that would provide housing for girls who came a long way to go to Bilanga’s high School. And here it is.

 

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Girls have the right to education, let’s protect them!

 

Around 40 girls live here during the semester, in a safe and suitable environment to study in. The centre is run in tight cooperation with a parental organisation, which has payed a part of the construction and continues to pay a part of operational costs. The municipality is naturally also involved as a key partner. There’s been a tremendous increase in school enrolment in the last 20 years in Burkina, but that is mainly true for elementary school. High school enrolment remains feeble, especially for girls. I will get back to that later on.

Single stories and very non-industrial chicken.

One good reason to write something acessible to anyone when you’re away like I am, is that it’s a lot easier than trying to give satisfactory answers to everyone who asks how things are. Off course I still want to talk to my friends and family, but having to repeat the same things over and over isn’t gonna benefit neither the sender nor the receiver of the information. That said, another good reason to write is learning. I am here to learn. That is in fact the main objective of my internship. Not only to learn things about the project, children’s rights and development cooperation. I am also here to learn about Burkina Faso and a different culture than my own. Hopefully, this will make me reflect and give me thoughts and ideas which can be useful throughout life.

I am also happy to be able to share some of the things I am learning with you. Before I came to Burkina, Eriks organized a one week preparatory course for us. There are nine other Eriks interns at the moment, spread out in East Africa and Asia. It was a great preparation with many interesting lectures and workshops about everything from corruption and safety to cultural clashes. One thing I liked in particular was the TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called The danger of a single story. I highly recommend it to everyone. In brief (Spoiler alert!) its message is that if we only have one story about phenomenon x, we will have prejudices about it based on that story.

Even if the story itself is true, it will produce a very simplified image of the phenomenon. Adichie uses the example of when she came to the USA and her roommate was very surprised that someone from Africa knew how to use a stove. The roommate had only been exposed to the single story of the poor, rural, starving and war–torn Africa, so often told in western media. It had created a simple and stereotypical idea of what Africans are like that doesn’t correspond to reality. I am hoping that I can contribute to the diversification of your stories. And that doesn’t only concern the culture I am living in, you may just as well have a single story about NGO’s, former French colonies, or Swedish men in their 20’s with an interest for global development, like myself.

I also want to be clear about on thing. I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with us having “single stories” or prejudices. What’s important is what me make of them. There shouldn’t be any shame in having prejudices, we all do. But I think it’s a good thing if we try to diversify our single stories and test our prejudices against reality.

Okay, enough with the preaching. Today is Sunday and my second weekend in Ouaga. My first week at ODE was spent learning more about the Organisation and the project. Because the actual project implementation takes place about five hours east of here, I’ve mostly read and listened to my supervisor Bargo talk about it. We’ve also met with the Eriks staff of the regional West Africa Office. In this region Eriks cover Mali, Burkina Faso and Benin. Me and Bargo have also been to a meeting with an officer at the Swedish Embassy to talk about the work of ODE.

Yesterday I went to meet some new acquaintances introduced to me by a common friend who lived here for a year some time back. We decided to go have chicken, which is very popular food here. I’ve had to put my vegetarianism on hold for a while, facing the threat of serious malnutrition. I might pick it up when I know the food market better. So we decided to go to this place in southern Ouagadougou. I bought myself a used bicycle, which by the way are called au revoir la France (good bye France) hereI enjoy biking a lot and I’ve realized that if you just watch out, traffic here isn’t all that bad. I checked where I was going on google, but I didn’t check the itinerary. Mistake. Not only did I get lost, but even if I hadn’t, it was 13 kilometers away. In 30 degrees and loads of dust. Conclusion: I have to 1) understand how huge this city is 2) buy a protective mask to put over my mouth and nose like many a wise bikers and motor bikers do here.

However I got to see a lot of Ouaga that I hadn’t before. And when I met my new friends Guira, Frédéric and Roc,  I soon forgot about the hardships of the trip. We went to this restaurant on what appears to be the outskirts of the city. The truth is it probably continues for another 100 miles or so. The restaurant was a kind of large, wooden shack-like thing with colorful tables and chairs inside. The idea of the restaurant is this: you go to a part of it where they keep the chickens in cages. You point at the one you’d like. You go back to your table. After half an hour, the chicken comes to your table on a plate. A bit brutal it might seem, but on the other hand, probably a chicken-friendlier way than the industrial one.

We had a great time. These guys are connected to AIESEC, this huge international student organization, so they’ve traveled far and wide and had many stories. Of course I got lost on the way back as well. Tuesday I am scheduled to travel east with Bargo and visit the project for a few days. I’ll write all about it when I get back.

Ici, on aurait dit qu’un baobab est tombé.

Today I survived my first bicycle trip in downtown Ouagadougou. On my way back to Zone de Bois,  where I live, I realized that this afternoon it’s been a week since I landed I Ouaga. What a great occasion to start writing. I haven’t been too sure about whether I should or not, but I decided to just go for it and not overthink. My first week has been one of many impressions and it feels as though I’ve been her far longer than a week. But what am I even doing in Burkina Faso you might wonder. Or maybe now you wonder what the heck Burkina Faso is. It’s a country in West Africa. The rest. Well, I will explain.

I am taking part in an internship program hosted by Erikshjälpen or as they are known internationally, Eriks Development partner. In short, they are a Swedish NGO that work to promote and protect children’s rights in a dozen countries globally. The reason it’s called Eriks is because of the founder Erik Nilsson. Born in 1929, he suffered from hemophilia (bleeding disease) from an early age. During his lengthy stays at hospitals, he started writing letters to other sick kids. Long story short, here we are 70 plus years later. And now, Eriks have been kind enough to send me to one of their Burkinabe partners: Office du Développement des Églises   Évangeliques, as from now referred to as ODE.

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The ODE Headquarters where I will spend a lot of time the coming five months.

 

ODE is, as the name indicates, the development organ of a federation of evangelical churches. It dates back to 1972 and they run development projects within multiple areas, one of which is children’s rights. Thus the common ground with Eriks. The headquarters is here in Ouagadougou. I am interning at one of ODE’s projects that runs with support from Eriks. The project is implemented in two rural municipalities of eastern Burkina called Bilanga and Matiacoali. Three people at ODE work with the project. My supervisor Bargo and one person who runs it locally in each municipality. I haven’t been to there yet, but we are probably going next week.

I live in an apartment in a small house that belongs to ODE. It’s on a big road about three kilometers from central Ouagadougou. Just one block from the ODE headquarters though, which has been very convenient as I have been very tired the first week. I think it is mainly because of: 1) loads of new impressions for my poor brain to handle and 2) the Harmattan fine sandy dust that invades my body through eyes, nose and mouth. Tonight is no exception so I will go to bed shortly. One last thing though: the title.

I love proverbs and sayings, not least in other languages than Swedish. As you probably know, Hans Rosling left us last Tuesday. I had to share these sad news with someone as soon as I got the notification, so I turned to my supervisor Bargo whom I share office with. He didn’t know who Hans Rosling was, so I briefly explained. He then said the words in the title. Here, we would have said a baobab tree has fallen. Bargo couldn’t have guessed how incredibly accurate that expression is to describe the loss of Rosling. The baobab is a very large, very significant and very appreciated tree that has a near mythic status in many countries across Africa. And I think that is exactly how a lot of people feel about Hans Rosling. A great man who has inspired thousands and made a tremendous effort to spread knowledge about development and health issues. I hope this isn’t emotional exaggeration, but I feel like he is to our generation the closest we will come to a Dumbledore of this world. Wise, brave, kind-hearted and a wee bit peculiar. Regardless, he’s been a great inspiration to me and I think it was way too early for him to pass away. Rest in peace Hans.