Thursday, January 29, 2009

J'ai dit oh!

Lucky for me, Quentin beat me to the writing of this unmissable post, so I can be lazy and just forward you to his account of... Burkinabé French! It's only relevant to French-speakers I guess and, even then, it's really something that has to be lived rather than explained, but still.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

No comment

'Due to an error with our shipping software (it marked your package as going to Upper Volta, which is highly embarrassing, and has since been fixed), your package was returned to us, we are going to resend it today and it should be there shortly.'

Monday, January 19, 2009

Teachers, nurses and the next Blaise

-What do you want to be when you grow up?

The children, about ten to twelve years old, smile, look at each other, mumble. We pick a girl.

-You, what is your name?

She giggles and whispers her name.

-Louder, we can't hear you
-Fatimata, what do you want to be when you grow up?
-A nurse.

This first reply encourages the others.

-I want to be a teacher
-School principal

The replies are not very varied. It is after talking with some American Peace Corps volunteers that I first got an impression of Burkinabè schoolchildren, and after talking with them myself their stories were partly confirmed. Burkinabè primary school education does not encourage spontaneity or individuality. Children study by learning texts by heart, then recite answers accordingly, rather than putting the material in their own words.

In one way I think it's a real pity, in another I am glad that they are at least going to school. And in the middle of all the nurses and teachers, we do get an enthusiastic pilot, an eager surgeon, a few ambitious ministers (unspecified ministry), and even a couple of 'président du Faso'! Blaise (often referred to by his first name) is in for a challenge with those cheeky ones! (Speaking of which, as an example of recited answers: we ask them who the current president is, they all raise their hands and click their fingers (this is the way you ask to speak here), and the one we pick mechanically recites, 'Blaise Compaoré is the president of Burkina Faso and his wife is Chantal Compaoré.')

I tell them I am surprised there is no future football player amongst them, half the boys' hands shoot up, including the surgeon-to-be. 'So you're still hesitating between the two, aren't you?' He happily agrees. My colleague asks why no one wants to be a farmer, they ask her, 'why would we go to school then?' A revealing answer...

We also asked some of them if they wanted to get married- they all do, one girl once she gets a job, one boy at twenty years old. The same boy wants five kids, he assures us it's not too much.

Besides future prospects, we ask the children about the school canteen. Do they like the couscous? Is it well cooked, is it enough? Do they eat it alone or share it with siblings? The WFP supplies 598 schools of the Sahel region with lunch, as part of the country programme first objective: supporting basic education (primary school and adult alphabetisation). Lunch (and ideally breakfast, but not this year for lack of resources) is supposed to both encourage parents to send their children to school, and to allow them to concentrate better in class (because they are not hungry). As special encouragement, girls in the last two years of primary schools also get a take-home ration. The children first agree immediately; yes, it is enough, yes, it is well cooked. We insist, 'is there enough oil, it's not too dry?' Some admit it is a bit too dry. They also tell us that some go home for lunch and share with their siblings. Others don't because they live too far away, of because they use the lunch break to study. For them receiving lunch at school is particularly good.

Our mission this week was a mini-mission, two days, and quite relaxed, which is how we got to spend some more time with the children (more difficult under normal tight mission schedules)- a colleague based in Ouaga wanted to visit schools and health centers that WFP supports in order to see how it works in the actual field. As field experts thanks to our missions ;) we accompanied her to Bani (40 km from Dori), Gangaol (20 km) and in Dori itself, visiting each village's school and health center. After talking with teachers and nurses in each, and with kids in the schools, we also took the opportunity to take a few pictures- they are uploaded in a public album (see link on the side).

Tomorrow we are leaving on a 10-day ‘real’ mission, which will be intense in terms of distances to cover in a relatively short period of time, as we will be visiting all four provinces of the Sahel region. It is a ‘post distribution monitoring’ of school canteens mission. Pairs of interviewers will visit 58 schools in the Sahel (the only region in Burkina where WFP supplies school canteens, Dori is its ‘capital’). This week we trained them on how to do the interviews (based on questionnaires) with pupils, parents, teachers and cooks in each school. The goal is to see how the school canteen program is being implemented, how the goods are being used, whether the kids, parents, teachers and cooks are satisfied, what can be improved, etc. It is thus a follow-up mission, and our own mission is to follow up on the follow-up mission!