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.
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.
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.