A unique insight into everyday life at a Burkinabe NGO

Until now I’ve mostly written about our field trips. Maybe it makes sense because the places we visit on the trips are the places where the project is realized. But it doesn’t quite reflect how I am actually spending my time here in Burkina. The overwhelming majority of work days are spent entirely at the ODE headquarters. So I thought I would write a bit about this aspect of my time here.

ODE building 3

The Ouagadougou headquarter is where most of the staff is located, although it’s likely a number of people will always be out on field trips. Apart from the headquarters staff, there is a large number of field agents who are based in the areas where different projects take place. ODE was founded in 1972 by a federation of protestant churches. The building currently housing the headquarters was built in 1994. It has three stories of offices and conferences rooms accessible by and outdoor corridor. The center of the building is an open space with no roof and a small garden at the bottom. The architecture allows a current of air to pass between the outer windows and the inner yard, creating an indispensable cooling of the office. Nevertheless, it can get way too hot to be able to work comfortably, and only a few offices have air conditioning. Recently ODE were granted funds to install solar panels on the roof which will be able to power air condition for all offices and conference rooms. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t increase productivity.

ODE prayer1

Every day starts at 07:30 with half an hour of singing, prayer and bible reading. It has elements of a morning meeting as subjects for prayer are often related to current events at work, in the family sphere and sometimes even in politics. I have little experience of religious practice, but I was amazed by the very concrete things that are prayed for. For example, the successful achievement of an audit report could well be a subject of prayer. Everyone in the staff takes turns to lead the morning ceremony and gets to pick a bible verse to read and comment on, linked to a certain theme. Most of my colleagues use bible apps on their smartphones, but a few have actual bibles.

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Morning snack with the project colleagues

After the morning ceremony the staff is dispersed and each head to their respective tasks. Some, including myself who is way too tired to eat anything before the morning ceremony, go to have breakfast at a small kiosque right around the corner from ODE. It’s basically a big metal box that serves as a kitchen, and a steel structure with thatched walls as seen above. Breakfast consists of the number of quarters of baguette you desire, filled with either minced meat, fish or avocado. With that, tea or coffee. A particularity with tea drinking here is that you squeeze lemon or crush tamarind fruit into it.

 

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If we have meetings, they often start at nine. If it’s a monthly meeting with all the program officers like above, snacks are a given. Forget about coffee, tea and cookies. Meeting snacks here are all about Mango juice, water and sugar coated or salty peanuts.

ODE Mat

After the meeting, this hypothetical day has come lunch time and a one-hour break. There are a bunch of kiosques nearby and many of my colleagues also order delivery food and eat at their office. Me and Bargo are part of the regulars at the same place where we have breakfast. My typical lunch is seen above. Rice with some sauce, beans and avocado. Almost every dish here comes with either meat or fish. I was a vegetarian before I came to Burkina, but it quickly became rather difficult to pursue that. After a while, when I knew the food offer better I started moving back towards a vegetarian diet. One way was to ask for an avocado replacement of the meat and fish. Because it’s a bit unusual, it didn’t go unnoticed among my colleagues. Some even tried it themselves. This in turn led to jokes being directed at those who did, such as, why are you eating like a white man, are you trying to become white yourself? Joking about race is not very sensitive here. Occasionally we buy dessert from one of the many fruit vendors who walk around in the area.

ODE mekanik

Not all of my colleagues spend their days in offices. There are also a handful of drivers, a few cleaners and guards.  Some of the drivers also know mechanics and constantly try to keep ODE’s vehicles in shape. On all longer trips, one of the drivers will drive the car. Because of the state of roads, it can be quite tricky to know where it is the best to drive and when to even leave the road for a little detour to avoid an obstacle.

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ODE has been around for quite a while, especially considering that Burkina has been a sovereign state for only 57 years. Since ODE was founded, the development sector has exploded with a large number of international as well as domestic actors. One of the consequences is that the competition for funds has become tougher. Added to this is the fact that global funding dropped dramatically after the 2008 financial crisis and is only slowly making its way back. In a project at ODE, the financing partner is typically going to ask for a ten percent contribution. The state doesn’t give that kind of money to NGO’s in Burkina. So where to get the money to make partial funding possible? One of the answers is seen above. Because of the already mentioned and other inconveniences, ODE tries to gain further financial independence. One way is to buy a truck and carry cement to the ports of Ghana and Togo. Another way is to rent out the conference rooms of the office and guest house rooms right next to where I live.

That, ladies and gents, will be all for now. I hope you enjoyed. If I make sufficient sacrifice to the gods of the www, maybe they allow me another post within short.