Monday, January 22, 2007

Richard Akresh, an economics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, led a group of 14 University of Illinois students on a winter break study abroad trip to Burkina Faso. He sent us back some feedback: "As part of the course, the group spent 2 days in Bereba living with host families, sharing meals together, and learning about life in rural Burkina Faso. The group was also treated to a guided tour of the village, which included seeing a dry season garden, a soil erosion project, a weighing station for cotton, a traditional compound, and the FAVL library. The group met with FAVL leaders and local students and discussed the importance of reading and having a village library and also how FAVL provided resources for students to do their homework and research projects. The University of Illinois students had an amazing experience in Burkina Faso and one of the highlights was their time in Bereba. They gained an immense amount of knowledge from seeing different development program sites and I don't think they will ever forget their trip to Burkina or the incredibly friendly people they met during their stay. A big thanks to FAVL for all their help in arranging our visit."

1 comment:

Michael Kevane said...

Continuation of message...
The students had some great observations and suggestions. All in all they seemed to have really appreciated the opportunity to spend a night in a typical village with no electricity or running water, and even though they knew they were staying with somewhat wealthier families (who spoke French and who had latrines) they still got a good sense of the material poverty of Burkina. Life is hard. But they all noted the sense of community and easy-going lifestyle that material poverty often encourages, something painfully missing in the fast-paced “too busy to talk” lifestyle of the United States.

About the Béréba library, everyone seemed impressed. The responses had some good suggestions that we will definitely try to implement- some more study tables, monthly featured books, more African authors, more attention paid to decorating walls with children’s drawings and stories. The idea of having computers and Internet was raised, but of course this is a tremendous obstacle at present, and frankly the guiding philosophy of FAVL for the moment is to concentrate on books and printed information; computers are great for kids with good reading skills, but reading is not going to improve by having ten computers in a dusty room powered by a generator (worth remembering that the primary school averages 100 students per classroom, most of whom have no textbooks!).

In response to one important question about books in local languages: we do try to get everything that is available, but the book trade simply does not publish books in local languages in Burkina to any extent; what can be found are short pamphlets and mimeos that the national adult literacy program prints for adult learners. We wish there were more, and the donation of 300.000 CFA ($600) that was left behind by the students will help in obtaining more material.

By the way, FAVL booster Carol Spindel has a couple of great and relevant books: In the Shadow of the Sacred Grove, about a year she spent living in a village in Cote d’Ivoire, and Chief Illini, about the mascot used by the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois. The first is out of print, but does enable you to buy used editions.