History of the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso
The Peace Corps entered Burkina Faso, then called Upper Volta, in 1967 and operated there uninterrupted for 20 years. Major projects included forestry extension, young farmer education, small enterprise development, secondary education (math, science, and English language), water well construction, agricultural and environmental extension, arts and crafts, basketball coaching, and parks development. In June 1986, the government of Burkina Faso asked the Peace Corps to cease sending Volunteers because the Peace Corps’ programs no longer coincided with Burkina Faso’s development goals. The 30 Volunteers in the country completed their service in 1987. In 1995, 19 trainees arrived in Burkina Faso as part of a newly established health project. One year later, the Peace Corps established a secondary education project in response to the government’s urgent request for teachers. In 2003, in response to government initiatives and articulated local needs, a small enterprise development project began with 15 trainees. A girls’ education project started in 2005. Currently, nearly 90 Volunteers work throughout the country, primarily in rural areas. Approximately 1,500 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Burkina Faso to date.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Burkina Faso
Peace Corps/Burkina Faso currently works in the areas of health, small enterprise development, secondary education, and girls’ education and empowerment.
Health Volunteers are assigned to the Ministry of Health and work in small rural communities at Health and Social Promotion Centers (Centres de Santé et de Promotion Sociale) that provide treatment and preventive services to the inhabitants of five to 10 surrounding villages. Health Volunteers’ primary responsibilities are to assist in the establishment, training, and operation of a health management committee (comité de gestion) and to assist in a community health needs assessment. In addition, they help plan, conduct, and evaluate health promotion programs to address priority problems in the community.
Volunteers working in the secondary education sector are assigned to the Ministry of Higher Education to work in underserved middle and high schools as math and science teachers. Teachers in Burkina Faso typically have large classes, sometimes with more than 100 students, and are expected to teach up to 25 hours per week. In addition to classroom work, education Volunteers work in secondary projects during school breaks, in collaboration with their communities and schools. One of the most popular of these secondary projects is running camps that focus on promoting girls’ education and empowerment.
In 2003, Peace Corps/Burkina Faso, in collaboration with the Ministries of Commerce and Tourism, initiated a small enterprise development project. Volunteers work with entrepreneurs, cooperatives, and organizations to improve business practices associated with agribusiness, artisans’ businesses, and microcredit institutions.
In 2005 Peace Corps/Burkina Faso introduced a girls’ education and empowerment project. Volunteers in this project work with schools and communities to promote formal and informal education for girls. They help communities understand the importance of educating girls and work to develop and implement strategies to increase their chances of success in school. This may include girls’ clubs, training in life skills, mentoring activities, etc.
All Peace Corps Volunteers in Burkina Faso, whether working in health, small enterprise development, or education, are involved in HIV/AIDS education.
HIV/AIDS is definitely present in Burkina Faso but it is not one of the countries most affected. However, the AIDS pandemic strikes across all social strata in many Peace Corps countries. The loss of teachers has crippled education systems, while illness and disability drains family income and forces governments and donors to redirect limited resources from other priorities. The fear and uncertainty AIDS causes has led to increased domestic violence and stigmatizing of people living with HIV/AIDS, isolating them from friends and family and cutting them off from economic opportunities. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will confront these issues on a very personal level. It is important to be aware of the high emotional toll that disease, death, and violence can have on Volunteers. As you strive to integrate into your community, you will develop relationships with local people who might die during your service. Because of the AIDS pandemic, some Volunteers will be regularly meeting with HIV-positive people and working with training staff, office staff, and host family members living with AIDS. Volunteers need to prepare themselves to embrace these relationships in a sensitive and positive manner. Likewise, malaria and malnutrition, motor vehicle accidents and other unintentional injuries, domestic violence and corporal punishment are problems a Volunteer may confront. You will need to anticipate these situations and utilize supportive resources available throughout your training and service to maintain your own emotional strength so that you can continue to be of service to your community.