Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Working with the community

Community. Society. People. We are created by the environment that nurtures us; shaped by our elders; and grow by choice. There is a quote that I came across a few months back that goes along the lines of ‘without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community’. I do often find quotes quite inspirational, more so when I can see it happening in real life.

In Britain’s culture the society is strong, but structured in a different way to Burkina Faso. From the building blocks of families, to the way the public is. In my host home we have four generations under one roof, each member is healthy and fit to complete their own chores, sustain income and ensure that we as the volunteers are well fed. When I cycle around the village, I love the way that the men huddle under the shelters always in groups, passing their time with conversation, that it requires nothing but their presence, their voice and a seat.

Volunteers cleaning the multimedia media centre and fixing computers, ready for free IT lessons for the community

Bringing it back to our project however, it is very important that for our work to be sustainable we have to work with the community. We are already working with a partner organisation that exists in the village called Association Manegdbzanga, within their office and with their staff. However, we want to educate the general people who live in the village too. Therefore, we offer free IT and English lessons to the public. We currently do 3 hours of English lesson and 3 hours of IT lessons a week.  

Volunteers cleaning the multimedia media centre and fixing computers, ready for free IT lessons for the community
At the beginning when we first started the lessons, not many people would turn up, 3 or 4 max. We found that this wasn’t very sustainable so we made flyers and posters, split up into pairs and put them up around Loumbila. This worked a treat! Now I think the most we have had is 16 people! One of the first things we did here was surveys. We created IT and English surveys to find out the knowledge base in the community. The knowledge of IT here is very basic and sometimes non-existent. So, we started from the very beginning: from turning the computer on, making a folder and basic Microsoft word. The community’s English skills were slightly better, especially students. We started with the alphabet before moving on to verbs, greetings and then simple conversations. The fact that the community are so eager and committed to coming to the lessons we have planned for them is wonderful because this means that they have a better chance of getting a good job and having a healthier life.

Volunteers raising awareness for International day of Innocent Children victims of aggression

By April Gladrey, Giovanni Kologo and Julia Lee

Visiting the Chief

As our ICS placement has progressed, it has become very apparent that a key principle of international development is sustainability. That’s clear from the fact development work is guided by the UN’s overarching ‘Sustainable Development Goals.’ As volunteers we are on placement for a relatively modest 3 months. There is thus a danger of being seen as “here today, gone tomorrow”. To avoid this, our team has focused on explaining to the community the reasons we are here, to elicit the support of local people for the long-term goals of the project.  

But to engage with a community, you first need to understand it… 

Burkina Faso is a highly diverse country made up of over 60 ethnic groups. The largest of these ethnicities is the ‘Mossi,’ which make up about 40% of the population. Prior to French colonisation, much of the territory that comprises modern-day Burkina Faso was under the control of the Mossi Empire. Different Nabas governed various kingdoms within this Empire, with the most powerful of these rulers being Ouagadougou’s Mogho Naba (Great Lord of Chief). The governance of Burkina Faso has of course changed markedly since the days of the Mossi Empire, (with elections being held October 2015 following a short period of civil unrest.) Executive power has long since ceased to reside with the Nabas. Nonetheless traditional hierarchies remain. The Nabas continue to play an important ceremonial role within Mossi society, and are held in high esteem by many people.

This week, in order to increase the community’s awareness of our project, we decided to visit the Naba of our village. The Naba’s house is built on one of the larger plots in the village. We travelled there with the President of our Association, and waited for our invitation to pass through the gates. The Naba was dressed in traditional African robes; blue birds speckled on a white outer garment. He was seated on a wooden chair underneath a veranda outside his house. Greetings are an important part of Burkinabe culture, partly because they provide a way of showing respect to one’s seniors.   We bowed as we shook hands with the Naba, having taken off our shoes before crossing the threshold. Thus the diplomatic codes were observed! We then sat in a circle, introduced ourselves in the local moore language, and explained in French/English the aims of our project. The Naba was a man in the autumn of his years, who listened with a calm authority to our explanations, and spoke softly of his approval. Overall the meeting was a real success. On ICS we have seen how individualism a prominent value in UK society, but in Burkina Faso the harmony of the community is given greater emphasis. In this context, it was important to gain the local Naba’s blessing for our activities. Hopefully this will help to ensure the sustainability of our project in the years to come! 


We made it! Somehow in a flash, it is now half way through the placement. The first week had felt like we had been here for months, and now we have really been here for a month. Whack bang in the middle of the placement, we have a mid-term day. It is more exciting than you think. Unfortunately we were too distracted to take pictures.

Being the first lucky cohort in Loumbila, we were the proud presenters of the location of the mid-term. AML has vast land with nice facilities for the offices and classrooms for learning, including spaces to even accommodate farmers and pupils to stay overnight unfortunately this doesnt happen much anymore because of the lack of funds. We even have a mango tree very close to our office!

Our team, or Laagum taa-ba as we call ourselves, decided to arrive early at the office at 9am to be ready for their arrival at 9:30am. After all these weeks of seeing the same faces it was exciting waiting for the other volunteers to share their host family and placement stories. We tided our office and waited with mixed feelings of excitement, anticipation and wonder.

At mid-term we accommodated for APIL, KABEELA and HSB. One of the teams came early, and we all ran to see them and hugged them with joy. This was repeated for each of the teams. Everyone was bubbling with stories; the air was filled with laughter and jokes. After short introductions, we were hustled into one of the larger rooms for breakfast. AML had polished their teacups and saucers for the hot drinks, and filled our bellies with tasty pastries brought from the bright lights of Ouagadougou. Following the itinerary again, we moved into a grand room used for meetings.

In this room, International Service leaders gave the formal introductions of the day. Then each of the team leaders proudly gave a presentation of the work that they have already completed and the plan for the rest of the placement. For our Laagum taa-ba team/AML, this included the IT and sexual health surveys, the IT and English lessons to the community, the IT and English lessons for the AML staff, the success of raising awareness about sexual health, setting up social media and more. We then went back into our teams to reflect with our work with our partner organisation (in our case AML). Then it was time for lunch.

Lunch was gladly welcomed by everyone, it would have got a 5 stars review, alongside a selection of drinks including the local drink bissap made lovingly by the AML staff. After this we were given some activities to complete in groups regarding the successes and challenges that we faced in various topics such as host homes, as well as thinking about human rights based approach to development. Sadly, time is always the enemy and it was the end of the day. We had other activities planned but there wasnt enough time! Seeing the teams go one by one, whilst being the team that was staying was torture. However, it had been a fantastic day, and everyone was still buzzing as they loaded onto the bus.

And there we have it. The mid-term day was over, and we commenced our lives again to continue to make a difference to our local community, to create new stories and memories to tell our friends and families at the end of the placement.  

Awareness Raising

ICS Cohort 1 of Association Manegdbzanga has been set the mission of delivering 14 hours of Awareness Raising sessions during the placement. To complete this task, we needed to find the schools, arrange a meeting with the Headmaster to set a date to be able to deliver the awareness raising session. We were further challenged to complete all of this in a period of only three weeks due to schools breaking up for the rainy season and exam season starting.  

After trekking through mountainous terrain, cycling in the midday heat and tumbling around in a taxi, we finally managed to secure and contact all of the schools in Nomgana. As internet is limited in the area, word of mouth was the easiest way of finding the location of the schools. Despite it being the end of the school year, 5 schools were excited to have us and arranged time for the sessions! In the end, we delivered 15 hours of awareness raising sessions in 4 days!

Our awareness raising session focused on sexual health as the area has many teenage pregnancies, limited healthcare for sexually transmitted diseases and a high prevalence of FGM (female genital mutilation). Throughout the sessions, we discovered that sexual health is a taboo subject, so there was a real need for open, safe spaces for these discussions in the community.

The team researched and delivered Awareness Raising sessions that covered STD’s, AIDS/HIV, FGM and early pregnancy. These topics were split into two one hour lessons, each with 3 activities to engage students. The lesson content had so much information that drummed up a lot of questions, causing nearly all the sessions to run overtime!

We were all nervous to present as there were over 80 pupils in each classroom between the age of 16 and 14! It was a daunting prospect but once we started and got to know the students we relaxed and enjoyed ourselves.

Our national volunteers took the lead in the lessons, but the UK volunteers tried to involve themselves by reading out pre-prepared French dialogue and answering questions with the help of translation.  It was rewarding to see the students challenge us with new questions and query into the different types of contraception and how they work.

It was really fun to get to know the local young adults in the area, and try to promote our English and IT lessons to them. Whenever we cycle around we always see students that we have taught! 
Volunteers at an Awareness Raising session on sexual health

The picture shows one student who was demonstrating to the class how to put a condom on in the final quiz where students won sweets as prizes. You can see how popular the sessions were –students were spilling out of the door!

By Julia Lee

Settling into our host homes

Two weeks into the first ICS cohort with AML, everything is new and exciting as the team are getting to know each other and the AML community. But lets not forget about the host homes! Im sure you are wondering: what is it really like to live in a Burkina Faso host home?

I was too, even after all the research and training I received I still didnt know what to expect! I have learnt that the best way to prepare is to come with an open mind, as all host homes are different. When I first arrived, I really noticed the difference from my home back in England, everything felt new and bizarre but now it just feels normal. It has truly turned into our home. The host home has been one of the highlights and a significant aspect of making me feel part of the local community.

The family I have been placed with are great! Everybody is so welcoming and are genuinely happy to have my counterpart and me living with them. Their main language is Mooré (the local tribal language) as well as a small amount of French, but no English! As you can imagine, communicating can be difficult so it’s lots of hand gestures and learning the language! However my counterpart does a remarkable job of translating for me!

My host pappa is a builder, he drives a moped and has two wives. He is always smiling, always buying presents and is always so happy to see me! His first wife is my main mamma She has her own small shop outside of the compound we live in. She sells cigarettes, oil, sweets, sachets of water, mens t-shits, and she also makes a traditional drink called Bissap and these gorgeous balls of cake that are very addictive! She makes our breakfast every morning, tea every night and on weekend she makes lunch as well!

 My other mamma has a place for a stall at the market which is every three days. Here she sells bread, onions, nuts, garlic and other seasonal produce. There are five children who live in the house, however there are usually at least ten around the house is always filled with people!

Everyone lives in the same compound there is a house for the papa, mamma, their son, his wife and the second mamma. There is a shared basic toilet and place for a bucket shower. Everybody contributes to daily chores and a lot is expected from children of a young age. 

Living alongside a Burkinabe family and in their home has really made me appreciate the lifestyle I have in England. The next time I complain about doing my washing in the UK Im going to kick myself and think about every Sunday morning in Burkina Faso hand washing clothes and fetching water. I still have a lot to learn about the culture here but so far, Ive learnt that life is hard here but despite this, everyone is still so happy and joyful!

By April Gladrey 

Making Introductions...

Greetings people of England and other lands across the waves!

This blog post is being brought to you from Loumbila, a small village in central Burkina Faso, not too far from the capital Ouagadougou.

But who are the authors (we hear you ask)?

Well, we’re all volunteers helping International Service set up an exciting new partnership with a Burkina based charity called Association Manegdbzanga (which we’ll abbreviate to AML, for the benefit of those who prefer a simpler read)! Education, education, education…Didn’t someone once say that? That’s AML in a nutshell – an organization that educates people in rural communities on matters like literacy, sexual health, finance, and agricultural techniques. All this helps local people realise their human rights. In this blog post, we aim to achieve two things – introduce ourselves and explain our journeys in Burkina thus far. We’ll call these headings Thing 1 and Thing 2 but a Cat in a Hat will not be featuring!

Thing 1

Here we are, in all our “ahem” glory…

UK Volunteers

Name: Sam Peake 

bit about me: Last year I was on the Executive at Nottingham University Students’ Union. I also recently performed in a comedy sketch show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!

Reason for volunteering with ICS: Having studies human rights law as an undergraduate, I wanted to deepen my understanding of how these rights are achieved ‘on the ground’ in a developing country. 

Name: April Gladrey   

A bit about me: Before volunteering on ICS I worked as a nursery school teacher.  I have also sat in the Jamaican bob slay from the film ‘Cool Runnings’!

Reason for volunteering with ICS: I am enthusiastic about travelling the world and learning new cultures. I am also eager to improve my public speaking skills, through our awareness raising activities.

Name: Julia Lee

A bit about me: I am training to be a dentist at the University of Bristol. My sister has been on the X Factor!   

Reason for volunteering with ICS: I wanted to contribute towards fighting inequality in one of the poorest countries in the world. I hope to expand my horizons whilst doing so.

Burkina Faso Volunteers

Name: Koné Samira Nadia Dijura

A bit about me: I can speak several languages, including French, English and Mandarin!

Reason for volunteering with ICS: I aspire to create a catering business, so I am looking forward to developing some of the professional skills that I will need to achieve this dream. 

Name:  Kologo Rovisse Andrie Giovani

A bit about me: I studied mining at university. In my spare time I enjoy playing football, and support Arsenal FC. 

Reason for volunteering with ICS: Gold mining is a growth industry in Burkina Faso. To gain employment in this sector it is important to speak English, so I hope to improve this during ICS. 

Name: Kabore Hasnaa Pagui Fawziyya

A bit about me: I enjoy cinema and have been an Assistant to the Casting Director in a French film called ‘Le Dernier Tir’. I can also tell the type of all the mangos in Africa (seriously, I can)!  

Reason for volunteering with ICS: My dream is to start a communications company. I know my marketing skills will develop as we advertise our activities in a new community. 

Team Leaders

Name: Naomi Alexander

A bit about me: I used to be a Geography teacher in South London, which perhaps excuses my love of birds and trees. A few years ago, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro!

Reason for volunteering with ICS: I enjoy working with young people and this is the perfect opportunity to support individuals with their personal development goals. 

Name: Mohammed Constantine


A bit about me: I am a huge fan of gymnastics – it’s one of my passions!

Reason for volunteering with ICS: I am interested in community development and would like to work in this field after my placement here.

So there you have it! That’s our team and over the coming months, we will each be writing blog posts to update you on our progress. Aren’t you the lucky ones?!

We’ll finish this post with a description of our first week in Burkina; that’s ‘Thing 2’ (to strain the theme we introduced in the opening paragraph)!

Thing 2

The UK volunteers depart from Heathrow on the morning of the 7th of April. Our flight is delayed, causing a quick dash across Istanbul Airport to catch our connection. Soon we’re flying above the sun-kissed domes of the city, over the Sahara, to finally touch down in Ouagadougou (the dusty capital of Burkina Faso).

The next day, UK volunteers meet their Burkinabe counterparts. It’s a Bank holiday, so we have a great opportunity to get to know each other, by playing card games and sport.  Dinner is rice and fish, and some UK volunteers opt to eat in the traditional way; with their right hand and no cutlery. Over the next 3 days we are kept busy with in-country training. It is interesting to learn more about Burkina Faso; our home for the next 3 months. 

On the following morning, each group sets off to the various locations International Service has projects in. It’s sad to say good-bye to friendly faces so soon, but everyone is excited by what can be achieved whilst working on their human rights projects. In the case of our group, that means proclaiming: “Bring on Association Manegdbzanga! Bring on Loumbila!”  

Team AML