Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A window into my life in Fada

-“Fanda” : Goodmorning
-“Fanda, Aujioté” : Goodmorning, How is the day so far?
-“Bani” : Good
- “Dempoté” : And how is your health
- “Lafia” : I’m in good health
This is the first gourmantché conversation that I held last week with a new friend of mine Victor. He among many others are keen to help me learn the local language and now that I am more settled into my placement I am going to put a strong effort into it. My French has also improved, and I feel completely at ease speaking it, and using it on an everyday basis. It took a while to get used to the Burkinabé accent, but I think I’ve got it down now. I have been in Fada N’gourma for just over a week now and already it feels like home.

In order for me to have some time to adjust to life in Fada, and to find a family to live with, for the past week I have been living in the comforts of my office. The office is in a big house with 2 bedrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen and 2 offices. It's a bit weird living in the office because there's air co, queen sized beds, 2 showers, regular toilets, 3 security guards Mamadou, Hassan and Paul that take shifts and a maid…. It’s even fancier than my place back home!! Plus I'm by myself so I'm looking forward to moving in with a family tomorrow!! Christian couldn't understand at first that I wanted to throw all of this away, but I am eager to experience the real Burkina Faso and get immersed in the culture.

I am already making friends in the neighbourhood, and because of that, was able to find a very welcoming and friendly family. I was offered 2 different choices: the first was a family consisting of a mom and her 3 year old girl and the grandma who only speaks gourmantché. The mom's sister, Mariam Doussa, a friend of Christian’s, and her 6 month old baby boy, Yohan, have another house close by but visit lots. It seems like a great place to live and they had an extra room for me to stay in, but I was looking to live with a bigger family. I will definitely continue to visit the family since Yohan is such a cutie, and Mariam is a very kind woman that I would like to get to know better. The second option that I had and decided on is the family of another friend of Christian’s, Oumou. She is a very kind young woman who lives with her mom, dad, 2 little sisters, other sister and a friend Adjaratou. The family owns a local restaurant that I have been to many times, and is a very friendly and kind family. Oumou has been very welcoming, and even helped me pick out a traditional outfit to have made at the tailor’s. The integration is going well, and my coworker Christian says I have already become an African woman!! Everybody here is so friendly and welcoming, it's awesome. When I first went to visit Oumou's house, the family was all sitting out on the back porch socializing, and Oumou’s sister was making the Burkinabé traditional meal of tô.

This is a picture of tô with Okra sauce and some meat. Tô is the white stuff... a millet paste.

The family seems to know how to cook very well and is eager to share their talents. I am looking forward to learning how to make tô, hibiscus juice, peanut butter, peanut and tomato sauce, and lots of other family recipes that they have. I also would like to help out serving in the restaurant when I have time which will be quite the experience. The food here is great, but it’s definitely not as varied as I’m used to. It’s riz sauce (rice with tomato and peanut sauce and beef), riz gras, couscous with tomato and onion sauce, or tô with the same type of sauce. Also lots of chicken and fish roasted on the streets. Fada is also known for it’s honey and it’s yoghurt. I have been devouring both and even put honey on my omelettes in the morning. I have also been getting used to the fact that water is served in 500mL bags here that you bite open and drink out of. Other popular drinks are mango juice, fanta and coke.

In order to further my integration, and my independence, I bought myself a bike last week. It is a great bike that is called a “France Aurevoir” because it is a used bike from France. Once I move in with Oumou tomorrow, I will be biking to work in the morning which will be some nice exercise. I have been missing my exercise a bit here, but have prospect of joining a woman’s soccer team. Crazy, I know!! Coincidentally as we were driving through Fada last weekend to buy some bananas, I saw a small white paper ad on a tree on the side of the road with a picture of a woman playing soccer on it. I jumped out of the car and rushed over to see what it was. It was an ad for a woman’s championship soccer game at the Municipal Stadium of Fada the next day!!!! What are the chances?!?! I planned my entire Sunday around the game and it was well worth it. It was Fada N’gourma vs Ouagadougou.

Unfortunately Fada lost 5-0, but it was exciting none the less. There were about 100 supporters, who unfortunately jeered when any of the women made a mistake, but what an experience!! Christian happens to know the coach of the Fada team, so he is going to ask if I can train with them, or even play on the team. Nothing is decided yet though, so I will have to find some kids to play with in the mean time.

Another exciting experience was my visit to the church. We got to the church at 6pm for the service, and it was already packed!! It is an indoor/outdoor church, and we sat near the back on the outdoor part. It was a beautiful service with amazing singing and energy. I sang along with the songs, both the French and the lingala ones. Lingala is the language of the Congo that is often used in African music because it is so beautiful. It was starting to get dark so from our spot in the church we could see the beautifully star lit sky up above. At around 7:15, the winds started to roll in, and the power went out. The service continued in the candlelight which made the singing and drumming that much more amazing. Once the service was over, everyone dispersed before the storm hit. It was the most intense storm I’ve ever experienced in my life. We went out for dinner, but since it was an outdoor restaurant with a small little cover over top we started to get absolutely soaked. There was thunder and lightning and a downpour of rain. We ended up having to go inside this little office building that they had, and eat by the light of our cell phones since the power was cut there as well. Apparently Fada is known for it’s rain and storms which will be something to get used to even coming from Vancouver.

The day after my visit to the church, I went to explore the livestock market. A massive market that sells cows, bulls, goats, sheep and chickens. I felt like everyone in Fada was there, so it is quite a big deal for the community.

The best part of the market was on the way home we saw this man on his motorcycle with at least 10 goats. He's got about 5 that you can see on the back there, and another 5 attached around the front of his bike. The African way of doing things is fantastic.

There is also a big central market in town that is open every day and has everything from spices like sumbala, to plastic teapots that people use to wash their hands. At restaurants before you eat, your server brings 2 plastic teapots, one with soapy water, and one with fresh water and pours the water for you so you can wash your hands. I have not been to the market much since I work during the cooler hours, and during the hottest hours: 12-4 when I have my break, no one goes out because of the heat. I will explore more this weekend for sure.

Other things that I am adapting to are random power outages, interesting water pressure, the fact that 10,000 francs CFA is only worth $20, and geckos and lizards absolutely everywhere.

Details about my trips to Bogandé and Diapaga will follow soon, along with an update on how things are going chez Oumou :)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Helvetas the Hero

Introducing.... Christian Mouloki, my coworker and coach here at Helvetas. A 34 year old Congolese, Christian moved to Burkina to get his university degree in rural civil engineering. A successful young man, he is now the coordinator of the PACEA-Est program of Helvetas. PACEA-Est stands for "Programme d'Accompagnement des Communes de la region de l'Est en Eau et en Assainissement". Translation: Program for the support of eastern Burkinabè Communes in the domain of Water and Sanitation. This is the program that I am currently working with. Christian and his co-worker Nicholas Morand are the only 2 people currently working on this program, and since Nicholas is on vacation until June, Christian is bravely holding down the fort at PACEA-Est by himself. Now to explain a bit more about PACEA.

PACEA is a program that seeks to:
1. create access to local, affordable, and effective solutions to problems in the areas of hygiene, sanitation, and potable water
2. create a presence of local competent actors in the water and sanitation sector
3. decrease the prevalence of illness related to water and lack of sanitation.

Their strategy is:
1. support/advise the communes in their planning and management of water and sanitation projects
2. reinforce the capacity of the communes and local authorities
3. provide access to funding for projects by means of micro credit and communal investment funds

Helvetas’ strategy is based on one central idea: Learning by Doing!

The different actions that PACEA-Est takes include:
1. promotion of hygiene and sanitation by means of: creation of local groups to be in charge of sanitation promotion, plays and demonstrations about proper hygiene and sanitation practices
2. research and action: research of appropriate technologies to improve access to and storage of clean drinking water, improve garbage clean up and improve sanitation practices all by means of participative approaches.

Helvetas-PACEA Est currently works with 3 communes in Burkina Faso. They only start up a new project with a commune if the commune comes to them and asks for support, rather than forcing their help on the communes. The interaction with a commune starts with a letter of request for support to Helvetas written by the mayor of the commune. PACEA-Est then goes to visit the commune to see what kind of initiatives the commune already has to ensure that the partnership will not be one-sided, but that the commune is already putting a significant effort into improving their own situation. Then an agreement memorandum is signed by the mayor and Christian. Shortly after this, a study commences to analyse the state of the commune in regards to many different categories, ranging from waste disposal, to the management of rain water in the commune. It’s a thorough study conducted over a period of usually 30-45 days which aims to give the best representation of the entire community, and thus tries to create a representative sample audience when surveying. The results that are expected from this study are: a map of habitat distribution, the # of households, the # and positioning and condition of garbage deposits, the methods of garbage disposal, the perception of garbage, the perception of the link between excess garbage in the community and illness, recycling techniques used in the community, and the willingness of the community to work with Helvetas. After this study is completed, a study of the institutional capacity of the commune is conducted to find out which actors are currently involved in the water and sanitation sector, and which would be willing to once Helvetas becomes involved. The next step is the signing of the co-financing agreement of the first project between the commune and Helvetas. Then the project is launched!! There is also the creation of a technical committee that oversees/manages the project.
Woah lots of info.

Here's an image of the 3 communes that Helvetas works with. Bogandé and Thion in the province of Gnagna in yellow, Diapaga in the province of Tapoa in tan. And I'm based in Fada N'gourma in the province of Gourma in pink.

Now a quick update on the status of the 3 communes that PACEA is currently working with.

Bogandé: has already launched its first garbage cleanup project managed by the pre-existing Women’s Association in the community. The next step for Bogandé is the launch of a second project promoting the use of latrines in the community.

Thion: is at the stage of figuring out the needs of the community and getting set up for the study of the state of the commune. This is the only rural commune that PACEA-Est works with and so things are moving at a much slower pace.

Diapaga: is in the process of starting its study of the state of the commune and recruitment of the technical committee that will oversee the first garbage clean-up project.

I was lucky enough to go to Diapaga from Friday to Saturday of this week to witness the selection of the committee that would be conducting the study of the state of the commune. The study has thus just begun, and this is an exciting time for development in the commune of Diapaga.

Where do I fit into all of this, I am not quite sure yet. As I mentioned in my previous post about Helvetas, the expectations of my placement are that I am to create a method of evaluating and supporting the communes, support the Women’s Association in Bogandé, try and find a way of incorporating a Burkinabè volunteer into the communes and defining their role there. As of right now, I am doing my best to find out as much info about the communes, their structure, their interaction with Helvetas, and their capacity as possible. I will be visiting the Bogandé commune on Tuesday and will be able to give you some feedback on how their garbage cleanup project is coming along there.

Christian is very helpful in all of this, and we are both very excited about the collaboration between EWB and Helvetas!!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The adventure begins!!!

4th day in Burkina, and already I have lived through a world of experiences. After 18 hours of travel on 6 different modes of transportation we finally arrived. Walking out of the plane on to the tarmak we were greeted by some intense 37 degree weather and it was already 4 in the afternoon!! I was looking forward to the breeze that I saw whistling through the trees but was dissapointed to discover that is was a wave of heat passing over me instead. Upon our arrival we were also immediately surrounded by what are called rastas. Young men trying to sell us things and become friends with us. Warm welcome, but maybe a bit overwhelming. We got to our hotel a couple of hours later. It's a nice transition from Toronto to Burkina because it still has toilets and fans and electricity, so we are getting eased into the way of living here. All of the long term overseas volunteers in Burkina came to meet up with us, and we went out for dinner at Stade de France. It's neat because instead of ordering from the Stade de France we order drinks there and there are stands around where we get food. The food is pretty good so far but lots of people are getting sick from it. Then back to the hotel as we were all completely drenched in sweat as we have been for the past 4 days and very worn out. A nice surprise of 2 cockroaches and 1 lizard was waiting for us at our hotel. It's hilarious because some of the lizards do pushups when they are standing still. I will put a video up once I get to my office. Day 2 was our first real adventure!!! Alanna, our Junior Fellow Support, sent us off by ourselves to tackle the grand marché. She gave us 7 things to buy without telling us the price and we each went our seperate ways to explore!!! I don't think I've ever been ripped off so badly in my life :) I bought fabric for about 6 times the price that it usually is, and somehow got convinced into buying a hideous dress haha. The rastas were very successful that day at the market!! My friend Nushka even managed to be convinced to convert to practicing islam!! 2 hours and a weird shower experience later and she was muslim. Later that night we went to a restaurant that is called TV5 which is an outdoor restaurant with a big TV that is always on channel 5. Day 3 was our sector day. We split up into agriculture group and water and sanitation group. There was so much to learn about the water and sanitation sector and about how we could have long term positive impact on it!! Turns out the NGO I am working with, Helvetas, is a very sustainable organization and when they find a project that they like they stick with it for 40 years! Hopefully I will be able to convince them that working with the communes of Burkina is a worthy project. I also found out that my mentor at work is very excited to meet me, and is already preparing my office :) I will meet him today and tomorrow he will drive me to Fada N'gourma where I will be working. He has temporary housing set up for me and I will sort something permanent out upon arrival. We are also going to try a new project of having a Burkinabè volunteer work with the communes. New and exciting initiative that I will be heading up. Day 4 was our first day off. I talked to my EWB coach about my expectations for my placement and about how I am feeling. We then went to the beach with a bunch of the long term volunteers and found a place that had goat cheese salads mmm.

We went by motorcycle so I got to test out my awesome helmet that I bought in Toronto. I am finally starting to adjust to the heat but it is pretty vicious. Some restless nights, and 5 people were sick last night. Today is our last day together before we all split up over the country. This is where the adventure really starts. A bientot!!!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Commune Capacity Building

At last the long anticipated details of my placement. I will be working in eastern Burkina Faso with an organization called Helvetas which is the Swiss organization for international cooperation. Helvetas’ work in Burkina concentrates on 3 areas: promoting organic cotton, improving access to rural villages, and water and sanitation. The area that I will be working with is water and sanitation. In Burkina Faso, only 51% of the rural population has reasonable access to drinking water. In terms of sanitation it is hard to measure the quality of it, but it is know that only 14% of the population has usable latrines. This situation has led to the prevalence of illness because of poor water quality, and lack of sanitation. Helvetas has decided to engage itself to improve this situation.

Since 2006, Burkina Faso has been in the process of decentralizing its government. They are moving from a national government in control of the entire country to local governments called communes. These communes are locally elected government structures similar to the French communes that were created at the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. One of the governmental responsibilities that is being transferred from the national government to the communes is water and sanitation. This is where Helvetas comes in. The communes are still in the process of establishing themselves, and are having difficulty bringing water and sanitation into their mandate. New initiatives such as latrinization (the construction of latrines) and waste disposal need to be authorized and organized by these new governments. Helvetas is helping these communes build their capacity and take ownership of the water and sanitation of their regions.

I will be working with the Bogandé commune in the province of Gnagna to build their capacity and help them take charge on the areas of water points, latrines and waste. I will be back and forth between Bogandé and Fada N’gourma where the head office of Helvetas is. Apparently I will be in Bogandé for 70% of the time, and in Fada N’gourma for 30% of the time. Bogandé is a small 8,900 person village north of Fada N’gourma by about 140km. Fada N’gourma is the capital of the Gourma province and is much larger at 221,000 people. It will be nice to be located in both of these areas because I will get a great taste of rural African life, and more urban life as well. I am not sure yet how I will travel back and forth between Fada and Bogandé, or where I will be living in either of these towns, but this is the excitement of going to Africa, there are so many unknowns, and so much to learn. Another exciting thing about my placement is that I will be the first EWB volunteer to partner up with Helvetas. This is a new initiative that we are exploring, and I will be the one to lay the stepping stones for future Junior Fellows to partner up with Helvetas. That is one of my goals at least :) From the details that I have received about my placement, the objectives of my contribution overseas will be to identify the necessary skills that the communes need to acquire, create a tool to evaluate the communes, and create a setup for future volunteers with Helvetas. Another portion of my work will be to support a local women’s organization that is managing a latrinization campaign and a putting together a solid waste disposal program.

All in all I will be working with Helvetas to support the newly established communes in order to help them develop the skills they need to manage the water and sanitation sector on their own.

The expectations of Helvetas for my placement have been lain out in a detailed document so I am excited to explore these and set my own expectations for the next 4 months of my adventure!!!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Finding my Dorothy

If you ask members of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) to explain who Dorothy is, you would get a very different answer from each person. This is because Dorothy means something different for each member. Dorothy is the figurative person that EWB works for in Africa, the person that keeps us accountable and always questioning the decisions we make and the actions we take. Dorothy is the person that drives us to carry on in our work, and motivates us to push for a better world where she is able to reach her potential. One volunteer might say that Dorothy is a vulnerable African woman stuck in the poverty trap who is doing her best to take care of her family and survive in this world. Another would say that Dorothy is a little boy in a rural African village trying to get through school so he can support his family once he is educated. Dorothy is not one single person but is a concept that drives every volunteer within Engineers Without Borders.

The reason that my blog is entitled Finding my Dorothy, is because that is exactly what I am set out to do this summer on my volunteer placement in Burkina Faso. At this point in time, my Dorothy, my motivator, is the dedicated members of EWB that work tirelessly to make the world a better place. I am inspired by my friends and co-members in EWB to do the best work that I can to promote global citizenship in Canada and reduce the gap between Canada and the developing world. Although I am greatly motivated by these fantastic people, it is the African heros and “development champions” as EWB calls them that I will look to for motivation this summer.

To share a quick Dorothy story from a friend of mine, Florin who is currently working in Ghana: “I was sitting on a bus on the way to Tamale a few days ago and I looked out my window and we were driving through the plains, it was getting late, there was nothing around, and then I saw one single woman in the middle of this place that was nowhere, carrying water for her family. I just thought "Dorothy!" ... then a white streak in the sky grabbed my attention, and I followed it and turned by head all the way around and saw the most beautiful postcard African sunset, pink sky, clouds on fire, trees in silhouette, and my Dorothy that I had just found. And I just felt like "this is exactly where I belong and I want to do something big, real big, and I know I will… these moments feel magical”

As I read this story from Florin I knew exactly what he meant, and I can’t wait to experience a moment like this myself. I too want to accomplish something big, and I want to experience the magical feeling that he spoke of.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Hi, my name is Annelies and I am a Biomedical Electrical Engineering student at UBC trying to balance my love for medical technology with my passion for international development. I have been an active member of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) since September 2007, my first year at UBC, and will be heading overseas this summer to volunteer on behalf of the organization. I was the Director of Communications for the UBC chapter of EWB this past year working with media and advertising of our events and our organization.

I applied to the Junior Fellowship Program, the short term volunteer program with EWB, in December of last year, and was accepted and placed in Burkina Faso. Since January I have been doing a lot of preparation ranging from reading and discussing articles with other Burkina-bound EWB members, to buying mosquito repellent and sunscreen!! As an extra preparation I recently went to the Burkina consulate in Vancouver to find out more information about the country and get any advice that I could. It was an exciting experience because I finally felt like my trip was actually happening and I got a better sense of what life in rural Burkina Faso would be like.

I hope you will be interested in following along with me during this amazing experience, and I encourage you to ask me as many questions as you like and keep me on my toes in my work.
I just recently found out the details of my placement in Burkina Faso which will follow in my next blog post!!

Stay tuned!!