Sunday, June 22, 2014

School Days

Education had been a big part of my life before moving to Burkina Faso. So it is not surprising that after arriving here I had a keen interest in knowing how things were done in the African classroom. Since our home is located no more than 100 meters from the village school in Kimini, I would quickly learn that I “was not in Kansas any more! “

I have huge respect for the minimally trained teachers here who work under extremely adverse conditions, unthinkable in the West. Could you imagine walking into a first grade classroom and looking out at 82 youngsters crowded together behind bench-like desks?  Having 120 students is an average class size. Teaching materials are nonexistent. iPads, apps, computers, art, music, technology Common CORE standards and after school programs are not even part of their vocabulary.

 The school building which houses three classrooms is in grave disrepair; tin roof held in place with heavy rocks, metal louvered -windows hanging from rusty hinges, and huge cracks compromising the structural stability and safety of the students. This year grades one(82 students), three (66 students) and five (33 students) are being taught. Each year grades are rotated. Next year, second, fourth and sixth grades will be conducted. What happens to the children, and there are numerous, who fail and must repeat the grade? Presently, they must wait another year before enrolling again. We all know that even after the summer break skills are lost. So imagine what occurs after a year away from the classroom. Many children just do not return to school.

We are striving to improve educational conditions in the village. Now that we have moved into our little house a few meters away, the one classroom building we once called home is now vacant. The suggestion to add a first grade there has been given the green light. The government typically supplies teachers but if they fail to send an additional “ maĆ®tresse”, we are prepared to hire one.

In Kangala, an isolated village 25 kl south of Kimini, where children walk in excess of 3 kl to school, conditions are even more primitive. Two classes are held, one is taught in a mud brick building while the other is conducted in an open-air hangar type structure with a thatched roof.  

 “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela.

Ruth and I constantly discuss the overwhelming need for a new school building and dream of the day when we, with your help and support, can construct a new, safe school where children can achieve academic success. Together we can change the world one brick at a time!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Our work in Kimini is all about children and their needs. Some days my heart is filled with sorrow. I question with my Western mentality how needless tragedies are allowed to happen. What sign did we miss? How could we have intervened? What prevention should have been in place?

Nine-year-old Fanta had died while we were away from the village. Fanta was one of three handicapped children in the same family. She and her two brothers, Seydou 15, and Issa 7 were all enrolled in school but only Seydou has a wheelchair to help get him to school. Fanta and Issa were not able to go home during lunchtime. Classmates carried her outside to sit in the shade under a tree that had a beehive in its branches. 

Being children, they began to throw stones at the hive causing it to fall to the ground. When the angry bees swarmed, the children ran away. Helpless, Fanta could not escape their wrath and was repeatedly stung. When help arrived, Fanta was covered with bee stings. She was taken to the hospital but did not survive. 

Life here is harsh by any standards. When you are poor and handicapped the odds are really stacked against you. We ask ourselves why this had to happen but there are no quick solutions to problems when you live in the fifth poorest country in the world.

Other days we rejoice when God uses us to intervene on behalf a child. This was the case recently when we became acquainted with Malima and her infant daughter. They had come to our house one afternoon when the news spread that we had baby clothes to share. At first glance, it was clear that this baby was very thin. After a few moments we learned that the child was 15 months old and was not receiving the nutrition she needed to grow. Something needed to be done before Nadjata became a sad statistic.

In nearby Bobo there is a special facility for children who “fail to thrive”. We had made the required phone calls and were told they would accept Nadjata and her mother. It is required that the mothers stay on site with their babies so they can be taught how to prepare highly nutritious meals and monitor the weight of the babies. The objective is to equip the mother with skills that will carry over when she returns to the village. 

Now all that was needed was consent from the family.

Burkinabe are very family-centered, relational people. So it was no surprise that not only was the permission of the husband needed but also approval was sought from the extended family. So with that in place, Malima, with Nadjata in her arms, climbed into the backseat of our limo. (Most likely her first ride in a car).

Upon arrival, health records were reviewed, measurements taken and weight obtained. Nadjata, a fifteen- month old, tipped the scale at a mere 5.5 kilos, about 12 pounds.

Now three and a half weeks later, weighing 6.5 kilos, about 14 pounds, Malima and Nadjata were given the green light to return to Kimini. The weak, listless baby girl we transported to Bobo now giggled in the back seat as we made our way back to the village. This was truly music to our ears!

A careful follow-up plan is in place to monitor the progress of Nadjata’s growth. Each Monday she will be weighed and a week’s supply of specially fortified food will be given to Malima to prepare for the coming week. We pray that the progress that has been made will continue and Nadjata will begin to stand, walk and thrive.

We start each day anew looking to God for guidance and strength to face each challenge with renewed hope.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Forever Home--

We have shared some pretty awesome experiences this week with a truly amazing family from San Diego. The Dorseys have come to Burkina Faso to add Sylvain, a delightful six-year-old boy to their family. Being allowed to see the melding of this new family unit has been a privilege and a blessing.

They arrived in Burkina on May 23 laden with gifts to shower on the two orphanages where Sylvain had resided and gifts for Yako and Kimini as well.

Kellan, their sixteen –year old son, and I took a taxi to their hotel while Ruth drove the rest of the family there. It didn’t take me long to learn this was no ordinary family. Kellan is a special young man gifted in many ways. I told Kellan that Sylvain is a gentle boy full of enthusiasm and curiosity and added that I knew he would love him.            

Kellan responded, “ I already do. He is my brother.” By the time we arrived at the hotel I knew God was smiling on little Sylvain.

Saturday morning could not come soon enough. It was the long awaited day when the Dorseys would finally meet their boy.   

Sylvain ran into the arms of his papa and mama and embraced his new big brothers.  With twinkling eyes, he grasped the hand of nine-year old Nathan, a sensitive, compassionate boy.  I can only imagine the memories they will make together.
Clearly, Joe and Cris have already raised some wonderful boys. Sylvain is so lucky to have a father and mother filled with boundless love. Joe and Chris are the embodiment of the words of Mother Teresa, “ Intense love does not measure, it just gives.”