Saturday, August 3, 2013

Touchdown Burkina Faso

After months of anticipation, we were finally in country, eager to get to work and make a difference. Our team was certainly awash with a mixture of emotions; excitement, nerves and happiness about being given such a great opportunity, and sadness about leaving home for 3 months. But like all things, we knew not to dive in headfirst; we had a week of training ahead of us to adjust, and even the trip from the airport to our house quickly made us realise how many adjustments were going to have to be made to adapt to the very different culture.

Not only did our in-country training week provide us with skills to put to use both professionally and socially, it was also an opportunity to better get to know our teammates, who we had met only briefly on the training weekend a month before. This was more difficult for Laura who missed the pre-departure training weekend because of illness. The thought of meeting our group for the first time was daunting, but it wasn’t long before everyone started to click.

In this first week we were also given the opportunity to visit each project. It was great to see where the other project groups would be working. All groups found it difficult to envisage the challenges that lay ahead. We found it especially hard given that we are the first team to work on this project. Being the first team does, however, have definite advantages and we are ever aware of the benefits of starting with a blank slate – we are in the privileged position of laying the foundations and direction of the project. The work we have started will have knock-on effects, not just for future placement teams, but for inclusive sport in Burkina Faso in general. One of the great things about our project is that we can visualise an end goal; seeing Burkinabé athletes at the Paralympics in Rio 2016, and being able to say ‘we helped to get them there’.

The first week was also an opportunity to learn more about the Burkinabé culture and have lessons in both French and Mooré, a local language spoken by the Mossi ethnic group. Since then, we have been able to put these new skills to good use buying food from the market, chatting to our taxi driver and greeting our neighbours. We are also building good working relationships and friendships with the national volunteers, Rasmané and Mahamadi, who we work alongside each day.  We are very lucky to have a national volunteer as a team leader. Boukary has been very supportive and can establish links quickly given his local knowledge.

Our working day runs from 8am until 3:30pm. We are based in an office at ABPAM, a Burkinabé association working to promote the rights of people who are blind and visually impaired. Over the past two weeks, we have been able to put to use some of the skills we learnt in our project-specific training week (week 2), including disability awareness and research methods. So far we have created a research plan to evaluate the capacities, resources and abilities of the 21 clubs affiliated to the Paralympic Federation. At first we thought getting any information and data would just take a quick phone call to arrange, but it quickly became clear that that is not the appropriate way of doing things here. As our national team leader and the Federation members informed us, the chances of getting any information without a face-to-face interview/meet & greet were slim to none, and would be considered too direct. So we’ve been fortunate enough to begin our visits to some of the organisations working to promote inclusive sport in Burkina Faso. These visits have been very helpful for informing our future plans and for giving us a real understanding of the current situation regarding inclusive sport in Burkina. On a more personal level the visits have been both humbling and inspiring, and we feel our confidence is continuing to grow as we become more settled and accustomed to the pace of life here in Burkina.

Adjusting to home life has been at times tiring. Food is less readily available, there is less variety and it doesn’t stay fresh for long. This means that it has taken time to source certain foods, we have to food shop more regularly and be inventive with our cooking. This aspect has been challenging but also more and more enjoyable and rewarding as time goes on. Blackouts are also common here, but it is difficult to know when they might occur. As it gets dark earlier here, we are reliant on electric light in the evenings. Nevertheless, we have managed to cook a full meal in the dark during a power cut and make our way home from the local restaurant without the help of street lights, which are not common here. It really does make us realise how fortunate we are at home to have basic commodities and infrastructures in place.

Our weekends have often been spent all together as a large group. So far we’ve visited the sacred crocodiles at Bazulé and spent time visiting each other’s houses. We are looking forward to further exploring the country in all its variety in the coming weeks.

Earlier this week we celebrated the 60th Anniversary of International Service at Zinairé, a town outside of Ouagadougou where another project group is based. It was great to celebrate such an important milestone for the organisation while here in Burkina with the organisation’s Chief Executive, Jo Baker, and everyone who works with IS in-country. Jo came to visit us earlier this week and let us know about the fundraising initiatives taking place back in the UK and how British Paralympians are becoming involved with this project. This gave us a sense of achievement and excitement about the work we’ve done so far and are yet to do.

Overall, our first three weeks have been a hugely positive experience and we are looking forward to the next couple of months working and living in Ouagadougou. We apologise for not getting round to this sooner, but with a lack of Internet connection at our main office, and how busy we’ve been, this means this is our first team blog! (We’ll try and be better!)

Some of us at work with the N-Power placement team member Hannah and the Federation Member Henri Diarra in our office

Our project is funded under the International Citizen Service Scheme. International Citizen Service is a development programme that brings together young people aged 18-25 to fight poverty and make a difference where it is needed most. ICS is funded by the Department of International Development (DFID) and currently works in 28 developing countries across the world. By 2015, it aims to recruit and train 7,000 UK young people and 7,000 young people from developing countries, who will go on to become active citizens who are passionate about and involved in community-based volunteering. Find out more at www.ics-uk.org.uk or search for ICS on Facebook.

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