The road to Pô
The road to Pô

I am always inspired by people who are transformed through an experience of suffering. This week I journeyed a few hours out of the city we live in to visit an education project that we partner with.  The project was started by a couple named Bruno and Marie.  They had each been widowed in former marriages and experienced raising families as single parents.   Later in life Bruno and Marie found each other, got married, and together decided to take in an orphaned child. They understood deeply from personal experience the challenges of single parenting, parenting adopted children, and orphaned children in their community. In response to their own experiences of suffering, Bruno and Marie started a project in their home community of Pô.  The program reaches out to families caring for vulnerable children.  Marie passed away this past fall, but Bruno continues to courageously carry on with the project.

Bruno hard at work
Bruno hard at work

The project provides a mentor for each child in the program.  The mentors check in with the child’s school, they meet with the family the child lives with, and they provide support to the child. Each month there are group gatherings for the families that are organized around topics that the group has self-selected.  The program also pays school fees, purchases school uniforms and school supplies.

A high-school in Pô
A high-school in Pô

While I was visiting the project and some of the participants I also had the opportunity to speak with some school administrators.   During visits to two different schools in the area I learned about some of the challenges public schools in Pô are facing.  Here are the top things they shared:

  • A lack of teachers-the high school I visited had 1250 students and 32 teachers. In the primary school most of the classrooms had 50-80 students.
  • Limited supports for students-because class sizes are so big students cannot receive lots of individualized help at school. While some students can get the additional help they need to keep pace academically at home from family members…many others cannot.  Burkina has total adult literacy rate of 28%.  When parents are illiterate it can limit their capacity to support students learning at home.
  • Hunger-In Pô many families struggle with food security. When kids are unable to get adequate nutrition at home they have a hard time concentrating at school.
A high-school classroom
A high-school classroom

The teachers and administrators have many strengths and I applaud them for working diligently within a difficult system.  Bruno’s program works to wrap around what the school system does provide and support kid’s success.

In some cases a participant in the program may not have an adequate academic background to be successful in a public school even with the additional support of a mentor. In most cases this is the result of a child not attending school for many years due to a lack of ability to pay the school fees.  For these participants the program sets them up with an apprenticeship.  The apprenticeship is for 3 years and during that time the program pays for the child’s training.  At the end of the 3 years the participant is often either hired at the place they apprenticed or in some cases the participant may branch out and start something of their own.

Maquirou, apprenticing with a mechanic


I got to visit 4 of the apprenticeship sites.  2 tailors, a mechanic, and a welding business.  The first tailor I visited had just started at the beginning of the month with two female apprentices, Sophie and Katherine.  The girls will start with simple sewing tasks, like sewing a straight line, and then gradually will be given more complicated tasks.  The shop owner said if an apprentice is smart and works hard they will be able to sew a simple dress after one year.

Tailor/shop owner  Sophie and Katherine in their new work uniforms

Sophie and Katherine in their new work uniforms

The owner of the welding business, a young man named Justin Zibare, was formally a participant in Bruno’s program.  Justin successfully completed the program and now has a welding business.  This year Justin is hosting an apprentice from Bruno’s program at his welding shop.  What an awesome demonstration of the impact this program is making!

Justin outside his welding shop
Justin outside his welding shop

Transition…With Kids


Moving to a new country with kids is no joke.  Transition stress affects even the littlest human beings.  Barry and I are trying to be mindful that transition stress is here to stay for at least a little while.  Us two adults we have the advantage of being able to articulate when we need support and to some degree can identify for ourselves how we can get that support.  But our kids, like all toddlers, have not fully developed coping mechanisms for new situations…like moving to a new country.



We often reflect on how we can help our kids carry some of the big emotions they are experiencing.  Our parenting guideposts we always come back to are unconditional love, nurture, consistency, challenge, guidance, and relationship.  We (try to) embody these in our interactions with our kids.

These are a few of the other  things we are doing to help our kiddos cope with transition stress:

•Reflection  For a while we have done a nightly reflection time with Soren to provide a safe space for him share what he is experiencing.  It is a simple exercise: “What was your favorite part of the day? And what was something you did not enjoy today?”  Soren loves it and so do we.  I think we have heard way more about his thoughts and feelings than we ever did before we started this evening ritual.  Knowing what is on his mind helps us know how to better nurture him.  And the ritual itself helps him practice being able to identify his own feelings-a skill he will need throughout life.

• Acts of kindness  This week we added to the nightly ritual.  Each night we picked one person in our lives and came up with an idea of how we could do something kind for that person the next day.  The kind act has to be something the person would like.  It can be simple.  Like a compliment or helping them with something. This takes a little bit of insight and consideration-also good life skills.  But mostly this exercise  breaks the cycle of negativity and complaining by helping us think beyond our ourselves. .My favorite idea Soren came up was:  “Let’s pick Anya. I’m going to make her a cake.”  Yup, I think that was spot on-Anya loved the cake.

• Stories  I also believe in the power of narrative as a panacea.  Anyone who knows me knows I am a “friend” of the public library.  I visit the library at least once a week, I always have a giant bag full of books checked out, and I financially contribute via ongoing late fees.  Having limited access here, in Burkina, to children’s books I have resorted to “no book stories,” a tradition started by my dad.  A “no book story’ is exactly what it sounds like….telling a story without a book.  I can remember begging for “no book stories” as a child, we loved my dad’s super imaginative tales.  Soren and Anya love them to…but unfortunately for them my tales, while imaginative, also  lately have some lesson to help them with deal with transition.

For this special case of transition blues I went a little further than the “no book story” and wrote a short book, with illustrations, about moving to a new country.   Writing it was rather therapeutic for me.  And I think reading it many times over was helpful for Soren and Anya.  The gist of the book is: its ok to be sad about leaving your home, its ok to have many different feelings about all the changes you are experiencing, you may have to be brave, you may not like all the new things, but give yourself time and know that you are loved.


P.S. Below is the text of the book, minus the illustrations:

Moving to a new country.

You may have lots of feelings about moving to a new country.  You might be excited to see what the new place is like.  You might be worried about what your new house will be like or if you will make friends.  Moving to a new country is a big change. Often when things change kids and adults experience many feelings.  How do you feel about moving to a new country?

When you move to a new country you have to say goodbye to many things.  Saying goodbye can be hard.  You may miss some of the things you have to leave behind.  Like your grandparents, your cousins and your friends.  Or your house, your room, your toys and your books.  When you think about moving to a new country what things are you sad to leave behind?

While many things change when you move to a new country there are also many things that stay the same. The sun will come up each day. If you look up at the sky at night you will still see the stars. Your family will be the same even if some of them are far away. Wherever you are you will find kind people.  Can you think of some things that stay the same no matter where you are?

Learning to live in a new place takes time.  Many things are different.  You may like some of the different things you discover and others you may not like.  You may find where you are people speak a language you do not yet understand.  You may go to a new school and not know anyone.  The weather might be hot all the time.  You may have lizards living in your new house.  Give yourself some time to get used to all the new things.  Perhaps you will like having lizards in your house because they make great pets!

Dealing with change takes a lot of bravery. It can be hard and also fun. It means you may need to try new things.  Like tasting a mango that you think looks green and squishy and gross.  But maybe you will discover mangos are actually delicious. You might have to work hard to make new friends.   But perhaps you will love your new friends.  You might have to learn to say “le chocolate s’ il vous plaît” if you want a treat instead of “chocolate please!” But you might like speaking in a new language because it is fun.

Things will be different.  Changes will happen.  So when you are learning to live in a new country, with so many changes, always remember my love for you will forever stay the same. My arms are always open to hold you when you need a cuddle.  My ears are listening for when you want to tell me what you think and how you feel.  My eyes are watching you to see how I can help you.  I love you my sweet brave child.





Seed of hope


This week Barry and I had the opportunity to visit one of our partner projects that supports orphans, families, and individuals, who are living with someone with HIV or are themselves living with HIV. The project is really neat. One of their main goals is to create a safe community of support for people to voice what is happening in their lives, share their struggles, celebrate their triumphs, and learn from one another’s experiences.  Alongside the social support system it is creating, the project also offers assistance with school fees, medical costs, food aid, educational opportunities, and mentoring.   The name of the project translates to “Seed of Hope,” a fitting name I think.


Throughout the year the program facilitates community meals and discussion groups each month for members. We were invited to share in their program year-end gathering and celebration.  There was a lot of singing, socializing, and food.  Elements of all great parties.


The staff in this program are great. These ladies prepared the food for the crowd of about 100 people.  No small task!  I get panicked if I have a party of 6 coming over to the house for dinner.


With meticulous organization everyone got food to bring home.  Barry made a friend with a little guy who was about 3 years old.  He was both fascinated and a little scared of Barry.  They played hide and seek which involved lots of laughing and screaming with delight.  It was fun afternoon joining the celebration with Seed of Hope.

Learning French

Barry and I working on homework from French class.
Barry and I working on homework from French class. 

Before coming to Burkina I never really thought much about how it would feel to learn a new language as an adult. I knew it would be hard work for sure and perhaps frustrating.  But beyond that I did not consider or realize the complex feelings that can be part of the language learning process.

The biggest feeling that surprised me is being vulnerable.  Vulnerable in the sense of putting myself in the position of imminent failure on a daily basis. I will say things incorrectly, I will be misunderstood, I will misunderstand, I will forget what I just learned, I will sound ridiculous.  These are fears and frustrations….but also realities.

There are positive feelings as well. Especially if I am mindful enough to celebrate my small communication victories.  Like today when I was able to have a whole 5 minute conversation with someone about their family!

Constance, our lovely French teacher.
Constance, our lovely French teacher.

Constance is our amazing French teacher.  She is patient, encouraging, and constructive. She has taught French for many years and does a fantastic job.  Constance laughs a lot.  I love her laughter.  It brightens every class and reminds me to find joy rather than defeat in my failed attempts to speak French.

Each day I have to make a choice to work on my French only in the safety of the classroom… or face the vulnerability of attempting to use it out in the world.  For someone like me who wants to get things right it is hard to take the step from preening my head knowledge of the language to stumbling through speaking it.

The other day I met a dear man who encouraged me by sharing what the people of his mother tongue say about learning a new language.  Learning a language is like growing a tree.  When the flowers bloom on the tree you want leave them all on the branches in the hopes that each one will turn into fruit.  But if you want good fruit you have to cut some of the flowers.  It is hard to do but worth it. Cutting some flowers from the branches means being willing to take a risk, by speaking the language, in order to get more and better fruit…fluency.


I remind myself of my ‘language tree’ often.  When I am trying to say something and know I’m probably going to get it wrong.  Or when I’m trying to make sounds with my mouth that I never made before and it feels really silly. And every time I am trying to say something and know the person listening is painfully waiting for me to form my sentence.

This is my mantra:  Remember the tree. Take the risk. Accept the vulnerability.


Mango Tree


I used to say Mangoes were my favorite fruit.  After spending time in Tanzania during Mango season I learned that Mangoes in the States taste very different from a Mango fresh off a tree.  Kinda like the difference between a store-bought tomato and a garden grown tomato that is picked when ripe.  Fresh mangoes are amazing.

So I was overjoyed to find that our home in Burkina has a Mango tree!




Recently we harvested mangoes from our tree.Our friend Harouna helped us get the mangoes from the tree.  He threw bunches down at a time and Barry attempted to catch them.  After missing a few mangoes Barry got a bucket to catch them.


There was lots of rejoicing and dancing to celebrate the giant pile of mangoes we got.


Then we enjoyed eating them.  Oh, and Anya supervised the whole event from the ground.


Arriving in Burkina

Ouagadougou from the air.
Ouagadougou from the air.

We made it to Burkina Faso. 26 hours in transit, with two kids under 4, was the scariest thing about this transatlantic move. But we all survived…in fact the kids faired far better and whined less than Barry and I. The Brussels airport, our stopover in Europe, provided an amazing kids play area that entertained Soren and Anya for a couple hours. And while they played Barry was able to catch a nap on the floor.

Playing at the airport

On Friday evening we arrived in Ouagadougou, the capitol of Burkina, and our home for the next 3 years. Ouagadougou is pronounced ‘wah-gah-DOO-goo.’ We have heard Soren saying “Ouagadougou” repeatedly to himself while lying in bed at night. It made us laugh to hear this, but truly it is a fun word to say.

For now we are settling into our new home, getting oriented to our new positions, and trying to maintain some semblance of our usual family life for Soren and Anya. Also, we are making new friends…even with our lizard housemates.