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An African Story

When GES was developing the Into Connectors series one of the titles we looked at for the Turquoise level was ‘Different Villages’. We were very fortunate at the time to make contact with a village in Burkino Faso, East Africa through a wonderful Abrams editor. It was thanks to this contact that we were able to obtain some fabulous images for the book. No remuneration was sought for these images, so GES decided to donate a sum of money to the village to use however they saw fit. A few days ago we received this email:

Dear Tracy and Jill,

My husband and I recently returned from Burkina Faso.  We had a wonderful time visiting with his family, both in the capital and in his village.

I want to let you know what the village decided to do with the money you sent, and to send you some pictures of the village and the school.  It's really an incredible story how far education has come in his village in a very short time, and I want to share a little of the history with you because I think you will also be amazed by the village and by the good that your donation is doing.

My husband's village is called Mahadaga.  Although the village is relatively large (I would guess over 5,000 people), people still live very traditional lives.  Almost everyone is a subsistence farmer, with the exception of the teachers, a couple small shopkeepers, and a few health workers. There is no running water, and only a few homes have electricity from solar panels. The vast majority of individuals still live in mud homes with thatch roofs, although there is a small but growing number of cement homes.

When Yemboado (who is now 33) was a child, there was no public school in his village. The only elementary school was run by missionaries. The school had three teachers for six grades, so each teacher taught two grades together in a classroom.  Students who wanted to continue their education past elementary school had to go to junior high in another village or town; my husband went to junior high in a village 10 km away and walked home each weekend to visit his family.

About 10 years ago, the government finally opened a public elementary school in the village.  Like most public elementary schools, the school has six grades and six teachers.  But so many parents sent their children to school, that the six classes have not been enough.  Every class (kindergarden through fifth grade) last year had over 100 students; a couple had over 125 students! To help manage this enrollment, the school decided to divide the fourth and fifth grades in half.  Those grades were selected both because they had particularly high enrollments and because the students are preparing for an exam that they must pass to graduate from elementary school. As a result, the school now has 8 classes.  The parents petitioned the government for, and received, two additional teachers.  The parents then worked together to build two temporary structures in which to house these classes (kindergarden and first grade).

When Yemboado and I arrived in the village, we met with the school director and the leaders of the parent-teacher association to learn more about the educational needs of the village and to discuss what kind of project they would like to undertake. . . . After considering the budget, they decided to purchase desks and blackboards for the temporary classrooms.  The children in the temporary classrooms had been sitting on the ground during class, which made it more difficult to concentrate and to work on their lessons.  And, as you will see from the photos, the blackboards that the parents had originally provided for the classrooms had been almost completely destroyed through use and weather.

Yemboado and I went to the closest town and met with a well-regarded blacksmith who was known for having made sturdy desks for a number of other projects.  In Burkina, there are no school desks for purchase in stores; each one has to be made to order.  Blacksmiths usually make the frames, and then hire a carpenter to make the desktop.  After negotiating with him over the price, we agreed to purchase two blackboards and thirteen desks. The blackboards came with easels on which to set them, so that when the village gets more permanent classrooms, they will be able to move the blackboards into the new classrooms.  

We also gave the parent-teacher association the remaining funds to put in their account and to use for the school during the year. Since we returned to the U.S., we have called the village and confirmed that the desks arrived and were well-constructed. Once the school year begins, we will ask them to take pictures of the students in the desks to send to you. . . . We also met with the girls who were featured in the photograph in the Different Villages book.  We told them about how their picture had been used, and gave each of them a copy of the book.  They were so excited to see their photo in a book!  . . . All but one of the girls are currently in elementary school (from second grade to fourth grade). We talked to the parents of the one girl who was not in school, and were told that they took her out of school last year because they could not afford the $6 school fee, along with the books and other school materials. After talking with them about the importance of education, they agreed that she would return to school this year.

Everyone asked us to thank you for your donation, and to tell you how much it meant to them. We were so impressed by the interest that the village has taken in educating its children that we are going to try to see if we can solicit foundations for funding to build a second elementary school. We will be in touch again hopefully in a month or two with more photographs. Again, thank you so much for helping the Mahadaga elementary school.