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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!