Burkina Faso is ranked 9th lowest in the Human Development Index. With a population of just over 15.8 million, the average age of its citizens is 17.
Unlike neighbouring Ghana, there are no cocoa or oil exports. Recent deposits of gold have been found, but they are unlikely to change daily life for the vast majority of Burkinabés.
Here the landscape is dry and harsh. During the rainy season it’s possible for subsistence farmers to grow crops and raise livestock, but when the dry season hits, there is no water to irrigate the crops and the average person living in the country is too poor to afford the costs involved of obtaining water from deep beneath the ground.
Flying in to Ouagadougou airport, all you can see for miles around is scrub and very red earth. Everything you touch has a fine coating of red soil. It begins to coat your throat after a few days. Life here is tough. You get the impression that for the vast majority every day is a struggle to survive.
On exiting the airport, hawkers try to sell you SIM cards and cheap souvenirs as well as offer to exchange US dollars. I feel embarrassed as we are whisked away through the chaos into the hotel van. We are afforded a 5 minute glimpse of the real Ouagadougou before pulling into the sanctuary of the Hotel Azalai Indépendance. This is the place where expats, mainly French & Belgian, gather by the pool on a hot Sunday afternoon, enjoying the benefits of a cooling swim and a few beers. If it wasn’t for the anachronism of cell phones and free wifi, I could easily believe I was back in the days of Colonialism. I am, however, very grateful for the French influence on the bakeries. The bread and croissants are as good as in Parisian restaurants. The poor Ghanaians have been left a legacy of British cuisine at its worst!
As soon as we leave the tranquility of our little oasis, we enter the chaos of cars, trucks, scooters, bikes and the occasional donkey and cart. Exhaust fumes, heat, dust and sweat can be overpowering as we try to navigate along the side of the road without being hit, in search of Burkinabé fabric.
Outside of the city, it seems to get even hotter and we follow the sealed road, which eventually leads to the Ghanian border, for about an hour. As soon as we pull off the main road we hit the dirt and create plumes of red dust which swirl behind our comfortable, air conditioned landcruiser.
Waiting to meet us at the village are men, women and children from not just this village, but from neighbouring ones too. Some have walked for many kilometres. A few of the children smile and wave, while others cower in fear as this is their first encounter with a white face.
We sit in the small village church, the men on one side, the women and children on the other. What is unusual about this meeting is that the church is filled not just with Christians, but there are Muslims, including the village chief, along with Animists and others. They are coming together in unity as part of a pilot community development program facilitated by the church. It seems to be having an amazing impact on this village and beyond. Many of the men and women testify that their lives are beginning to change as a result of working together and sharing ideas and resources to create food security and income generation. They are dreaming big and hopefully these gorgeous kids, many of whom are tied to their mothers’ backs, will grow up to complete their schooling; to become business owners; to be self sufficient.
Small steps of progress are being made, but life is still tough. I need to remember this place when I get back home. I need to be more grateful for what I have and be willing to share more.