Frederick Gough School visit Burkina Faso

Wednesday 19th February

A day later than planned (thanks to Air France cancelling our original flights unexpectedly) we met up outside school at 05:45 during half term, early Wednesday morning. The sheer amount of items we’d managed to collect, buy or have donated meant that travelling by train to Manchester airport was out of the question – therefore a large coach just for us awaited our departure. Suitcases, hand luggage, bags of crutches and large plastic boxes full of gifts loaded onto the coach and we were on our way! 14 months of planning and fundraising was over and we were finally heading to Burkina Faso!

We arrived at Manchester airport around 8:30am, but it took us a good hour or so checking in what with us having 33 items of luggage between us. Then came a long two hour wait in the terminal before we flew out to Paris on a tiny FlyBe plane. Just 80 minutes later we landed in Paris, ran across the terminal and jumped onto the next plane heading towards Ouagadougou, a mere 5h30 flight away. The flight went well, no problems at all – mainly thanks to Kirsty Hare who re-arranged the pupils so that nobody sat alone. Two films and several games of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ on our individual screens later and we touched down at 20:45 in Burkina Faso. The doors opened on the ‘plane and we were hit with a wall of heat before being driven to passport and yellow fever control. Again no problems at all to report here, a short wait for our luggage and a warm greeting from Eléonore (International Service Burkina representative who looked after us last time too) and we were taken to La Palmeraie Hotel in the city centre where we finally crashed into bed around midnight. A VERY tiring day, but thanks to our amazing pupils everything went well. The only problem? Sharing our bedrooms with small lizards running around our bedroom walls! Took some getting used to, but sleeping beneath mosquito nets gave us a feeling of ‘security’ and we were so shattered it really didn’t matter after all.

A busy day lie ahead of us and we had to get a good night’s sleep – but we were finally here! The feeling of excitement meant very few of us got any sleep at all.

Thursday 20th February

Waking up at 7am for our 8am collection by minibus meant we were already exhausted, but everyone managed to make it on time. A drive through the centre of Ouagadougou took us past our first taste of life in Burkina Faso – from the stalls on the sides of the roads to the sheer lack of safety for anyone brave enough to drive on them!

We were then greeted by Eléonore again at the IS (International Service) offices and were introduced to Jean Pascal and Ross, more IS staff based there who also helped to look after us throughout our stay – fantastic people, all of them. A short meeting to inform us of the plans along with coffee and Burkinabe ‘nibbles’ followed before we were driven to our first charity visit – Handicap Scolaire, a school for disabled children.

Handicap Scolaire was located off a side road, hidden from view…and for a very good reason. Although things are slowly improving, being disabled is a nightmare for anyone in Burkina Faso. Men more often than not leave their wives should their children be disabled, believing it is a curse. Some children are killed at birth if they are disabled and if they survive there is practically no help whatsoever from the state to help them with everyday life. Taxi drivers are told not to stop for disabled people for example – they really are ignored and quite often abused. Luckily Handicap Scolaire exists to help such children and their mothers. They provide physiotherapy sessions, talk to the fathers to explain that it is NOT a sin to have a disabled child, work with children and their mothers on literacy and numeracy and so much more. We didn’t take any photos during this visit as it didn’t feel right to do so. However seeing disabled children aged between 6 months and 9 years of age, some with spina bifida, others malnourished, suffering from malaria, HIV, blindness, unable to walk and in some cases move…it was extremely emotional and the sadness in their mothers’ eyes became too much for most of the group. However we focused on why we were there – to donate £750 to keep the school open for a further 6 months – along with cases and boxes full of gifts, clothes, medical supplies, etc., which we’d taken with us. It was incredibly moving and we’ll never forget the experience.

A short break for lunch (green beans, plantain and tomato sauce) along with a local drink to keep us refreshed, we then met the ladies from Tigoung Nonma – a tiny building where disabled and abused women make food for people in Ouagadougou as well as create their own arts and crafts to sell to earn a living. I introduced our group in French before our pupils plus Kirsty and Jody (Lowe, former FGS pupil and primary school teacher in Bristol) did the same in French too, all pupils spoke with confidence and impressed everyone they met. The women at Tigoung Nonma were so inspirational and visiting one of the artesan’s homes afterwards was a real treat. Watching him work with such enthusiasm was fantastic! After the morning’s visit, this was a welcome morale boost for the group. We donated a further £750 which will buy them a plot of land to build an office, a workshop and a restaurant so that their business can fully expand. Needless to say they were shocked and so grateful to us all. They could not comprehend how our pupils had achieved what they had during the 14 months fundraising to get them there.

Checking our watches we were shocked to find out it was approaching 6pm – we’d been on the go for 11 hours yet again, so we returned to our hotel for a well-deserved meal and an earlier night.

Friday 21st February

After a good night’s sleep, our alarms went off at 7am ready for our 8:30am collection to the IS offices again. We watched a 10 minute clip of how Tigoung Nonma had progressed in the past 3 months (search for ‘Tigoung Nonma’ on YouTube for this, it’s well worth watching!) before we set off to our third charity – Djigui Espoir. This is an organisation once again located in Ouagadougou whereby disabled women make tofu and soya milk in order to maintain an independent living. The women here were full of pride and enthusiasm throughout our stay! We were fortunate enough to tour their factory and taste their products. Again our pupils were superb when introducing themselves and Charlie was even interviewed by the team there for their website!

We also presented the ladies with solar lamps bought between the group at a discounted price thanks to O-Sun’s CEO Xavier Badoux (thank you Xavier!) so they can continue to work during the nights what with the constant power cuts (usually into double figures on a daily basis) and many more items, all gratefully received of course! We also donated £750 so that they could buy a motorbike to get their products to villages outside of the capital. Jody then donated a further £750 to update their electricity supply so that they can expand their business. This was such a positive morning, we absolutely loved it!

Once we said our farewells to the staff at Djigui Espoir we were driven to the Artesan Village, a large market where we bought a few souvenirs, had lunch outdoors in the soaring 43 degree heat and made our way to the next charity…

During the afternoon we visited a school for blind children linked to the Paralympic Committee of Burkina Faso. As soon as we arrived we could feel the positivity exuding from this place, music was blasting out, people were dancing – it was like a celebration! We were greeted warmly as always and introduced ourselves accordingly. We were then treated to a game whereby the blind pupils throw a large ball across a tennis-court size area, beneath a low rope with bells on it. The aim is to make sure the bells don’t ring whilst getting it in the opposing goal, each goal manned by 3 people on their knees. It was amazing to watch! They made it look so easy!

Then it was our turn – step forward Keeley, Ebony and Abbie vs. Charlie, Olivia and Casey! They were such good sports as it was hilarious watching our group try their best – with varying degrees of success! We all decided that it was extremely difficult to play the game blindfolded!

After the match had ended we were about to say our farewells before donating £750 for sports equipment for all 365 members of the organisation – again, very gratefully received – when I felt a small hand tugging at my t-shirt. I turned around to find a tiny lad with his hand raised, wanting to shake my hand. No reason for doing so, he just wanted to say hello. This brought a lump to my throat, but the moment I cracked completely was when I looked up to find our pupils standing in a circle with many other small children from the centre with them, all dancing together to the music playing in the background. Clapping hands, jumping together – I’ll never forget this image as I held the hand of the little lad next to me. It was at this precise time that I realised just how vital this visit was, what an impact our school and our staff/pupils was having on so many people and I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed plenty of tears at this moment.

Having said our farewells we returned to our hotel yet again for a quick change before meeting Ross and Eléonore for a meal in a ‘restaurant’ in the city centre – I say ‘restaurant’ because it was a car park by day, but tables were placed on it by night. We spent a good few hours chatting together during the evening, sitting beneath clear skies in temperatures of 30 degrees even though it was night-time. Jody and Kirsty then made a couple of emotional, heartfelt speeches to the group before I did the same – the feeling of pride for everything our pupils had done hit home during this evening. A superb day.

Saturday 22nd February

Despite everything we’d already done in the three days since we left school, we had a 5am wake-up call ready to be collected at 6am for the drive to Ziniare, a village located 90 minutes north of Ouagadougou. We were introduced to the ladies of Kabeela. They do so much work, too much to explain here, though this mural may help summarise what they do – it’s in French of course!

Having introduced ourselves to the ladies and donated our £2000 to them so that they can help literally hundreds of people (hence the larger amount of money donated) we were driven into ‘real’ Africa. Tracks covered in red dust, the odd donkey, goat, stray dog and chicken – plus a couple of people – our only company on the journey to a remote school where they have neither water nor electricity. This was the side of Africa I remembered during our last visit – the journey itself was emotional let alone what lie ahead of us at the school…

An hour later and we finally arrived at the school – two classes in total, each with between 67-77 pupils in them, one teacher in charge of each class and both teachers sleeping at the school each night as they have no accommodation of their own. Their commitment and dedication to teaching was astounding. This was a surprise visit for us, we had no idea we’d be visiting a school so we had nothing to donate…however we’d kept lots of clothes, solar lamps and toys/games aside (luckily!) so we took everything we had left to the school. You can imagine the reaction when we gave them to the children!

We sat in the classroom with all pupils and their parents, met the village chief and were greeted, once again, most extravagantly – this time with 4 loud gunshots to announce our arrival – so loud the ground shook beneath our feet!

We were then treated to a play based on family planning arranged by the ladies from Kabeela – sadly not in a language we understood, so we slowly made our way to the group of children in the distance…armed with our toy planes, bouncy balls, hair bobbles and a rugby ball we slyly left the play taking place for us and did what we set out to do – get to know the children of the village. This proved to be a hit! For most of us this was the highlight of the trip. Spending around an hour playing with the children, teaching them how to sing and dance, give each other high-fives, run around in the 45 degree heat and not care…that’s what it was all about! Giving around 100 pupils high-fives in a circle is something I, personally, will never forget!

We then returned to the group and presented everyone with our gifts – again this was an emotional experience since they have nothing at all. We felt very humbled by our visit to this tiny school and we’ll never forget it.

By 3pm sadly some members of our group started to suffer due to the sun and humidity so we decided to return to our original hotel…looking at the photos below comparing the two, I think we made the right choice! One meal later and a relatively early night – a much needed one at that! – we all slept extremely well – even with the large lizard running on the roof tiles keeping us awake for the first hour!

Sunday 23rd February

Waking up around 7am, we decided to have our breakfast at the hotel before taking a stroll around Ouagadougou on our own – the locals are so friendly, welcoming and keen to get to know you, but on the other hand it can be intimidating when people walk beside you asking for money, food, etc. Not only intimidating, but also upsetting. Yet again our pupils took it in their stride, despite an annoying gentleman playing the same 3 notes on his guitar whilst ‘singing’ to us in broken English for around 30 minutes!

We then spent the day by the pool before packing for our return flight that night.

One final meal later (again with Ross and Eléonore) we made our way back to the airport to say our farewells to them both – so difficult as they’re both so lovely. We changed our remaining money back into Euros…this gave me another example as to why our pupils are the best in the world. Charlie Cooper took his 50 euro note, walked up to Eléonore and gave it to her with the simple explanation that he’d ‘only waste it on a Toblerone and it can be used so much better out here’. Selfless to the very end.

We checked in, filled in the necessary forms, sat in the departure lounge for 2 hours chatting away about our experiences and took off at 23:55 on the dot for our night flight to Paris.

Monday 24th February

Our flight landed at 06:20 local time in Paris, we made our way to the next departure gate and sat around for 3 hours waiting for our flight to Manchester. Sadly it was an eventful over-night flight with plenty of vomit and nosebleeds, but everyone took it in their stride as always. Very little if any sleep was had between the group because of this so we were exhausted by the time we landed in Manchester at 10:20 UK time. A 2 hour coach journey ensued and we finally arrived back at school just before 1pm. An emotional reunion between pupils and parents was followed by lots of hugs between the group and that was it! We all returned to our homes ready to share our experiences. Several days later I’ve only just begun to explain what we did and this summary only touches upon the main points of everything we experienced, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to hear more or look at more photos and video clips (all of which will be on the shared area at school a.s.a.p.)

We are still exhausted, shattered, emotional, suffering with hundreds of mosquito bites between us, but we’ve shared an experience which none of us will ever forget – and of course none of it would have happened had it not been for Pat Warrington who started this off years ago. Pat, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU SO MUCH! We missed you! Hope this has helped to summarise what we did during our most recent stay.

A final word…

How can I summarise this experience here…it’s almost an impossible task. All I know is that it has truly changed me as a person, corny as it may sound. Until you’ve been through such a week you’ll never fully realise how it affects you emotionally. Hopefully our week of assemblies will help us pass on our sentiments in more detail than this document has done, but one feeling I have right now whilst typing this is pride. Pride for Kirsty and Jody, pride for our 8 pupils. Everyone worked together as a perfect team throughout the trip. Once again, our pupils astounded everyone they met – their parents have been in touch since we returned saying how confident they have become in such a short space of time, how proud they are too of their children having been through such an experience at such a young age. I couldn’t agree more with their points of view.

You see sights you’ll never forget during this visit, some fantastic of course, but many upsetting. However we ARE making a massive difference and we will continue to do so for as long as possible. The non-uniform days, cake sales, raffles and so on have transformed the lives of hundreds of people in Burkina Faso so THANK YOU EVERYONE for being involved in some way or another.

The final word must go to Kirsty, Jody and our 8 pupils though. I could not have asked for a better group of people to spend the week with. I truly miss them all and I know we’ll all keep in touch for years to come having experienced such an unforgettable period of time together. If you see Kirsty at school and/or any of the 8 pupils below, ask them all about it – I’m sure they’ll be only too happy to talk about it all – however expect a few tears every now and then. Certainly from me!

Abigail Boyd, Niamh Cowling, Olivia Williams, Charlie Cooper
Ebony Philp, Keeley Sutton, Casey Nicholls, Ben O’Donoghue
Kirsty Hare, Jody Lowe and myself

We made one cracking team! Thank you to everyone who supported us, from staff to fellow pupils, our families and friends, Xavier from O-Sun and of course everyone at the International Service organisation both in York (Martin Keat and Caitlin Green) and in Burkina (Eléonore, Jean Pascal and Ross). A final thank you once again to Pat Warrington without whom none of us would have had the chance to experience what we did. It goes without saying that we will NEVER forget it.

Andy Markham

Getting stuck in at Djigui Espoir

Volunteer with us on the ICS scheme