The rainy season here in Burkina lasts from around June to August, and is often slow for health volunteers, due to the difficulty in mobilizing villagers for activities. Most people in rural villages are obligated to spend the majority of their time working in the fields once the rains start, either planting, tending, or harvesting the crops which are their main source of sustenance and income. This leads to volunteers with a lot of time on their hands and few community members with the time or energy to help plan or implement projects. One solution that many volunteers choose is to run a summer camp, often for girls, as somewhat time-consuming, but ultimately rewarding project during the summer months. This year, My two volunteer friends in nearby villages, Lindsey and Lori, decided to take 5 girls from each of our sites and plan a joint camp in our district capital, Orodara.
Burkina's education system is clearly challenged, with a shortage of qualified teachers and schools, and an overall literacy rate in the country of just 13%. In addition to this, many girls grow up without any encouragement or support towards further educational goals or fulfilling roles other than the traditional ones of mother and wife. While these roles are clearly important, and there is much for young women to continue to learn from their elders in a non-academic setting, it is an unfortunate reality that 80% of Burkinabe girls do not even finish primary school, are usually extremely hesitant to step into leadership roles or speak freely in classroom settings, and often succumb to sexual pressure from men and end up pregnant or in an early marriage in their mid teens, thus dropping out of school and halting their education for good.
Girl's camps are meant to make a small step in empowering young Burkinabe girls and women to see their own self-worth and their potential, both academically, professionally, and as contributing members of their community. Our daily activities included discussions of goal-setting and action plans, female role models, and good communication skills. Some of these may seem like fairly basic concepts, but turned out to be challenging to discuss at times. It was amazing to see the girls' progress over the two weeks, girls that started out literally unable to stand up and answer a simple question in front of the group without verging on tears became much more comfortable and confident as the time went on, unafraid to speak up when they didn't understand something, or to voice their opinions on a topic.
We were lucky to have several great visitors who helped us with the camp, including those from a local women's association in which the members work together for a variety of income-generating activities, as well as the midwives from each of our three communities, a former Peace Corps language tutor who actually comes from Orodara, and the head of the local radio station, who helped the girls to record a broadcast on their experiences during the camp. The midwives helped with a women's health day, when we discussed the topics of puberty, family planning, IST's, and HIV/AIDS with the girls.
Of course, there were many challenges during the process of planning and running the camp, from bickering between the girls and to the challenge of doing a condom demonstration without the entire room dissolving into giggles, and the many many cultual differences between our style of teaching and group interaction and that of the Burkinabe's. But overall it was a great project and I think all three of us volunteers were proud of ourselves and our girls that participated. The girls themselves danced up a storm and stuffed themselves with rice during our final day's ceremony, and sang a song they composed for the parents and visitors who came to celebrate with us. Enjoy the pics below, and I hope everyone at home is enjoying the summer!
On a somewhat related topic, the most recent good news from my village over here is that my friend Abibata just passed the test that allows her to go to University in the fall, a huge feat for a young woman (or man, very few people pass this), and will be starting in the fall at the university in Ouagadougou!