Illuminating Burkina Faso
Working with the charity Assolidafrica 07, a group of teachers and students from the French High School Iscles Manosque have been to install lighting and electricity; computers and a photocopier, in two remote schools in Burkina Faso.
Burkina Faso is a landlocked African country just north of the equator whose 17 million people are spread out over 100,000 square miles, and whose official language is French. The two remote schools to benefit from this equipment were College de Boulma and College de Kapon (440 students) – separated by an hour’s drive through the bush by car.
Being so remote, on arriving the French students confessed that their first thought was ‘What are we doing here? Is this really a school – where donkeys wander in and out, laundry hangs out to dry right there in the grounds, and villagers are pumping water from a well?’ Assolidafrica 07 have been slowly building the schools for five years whilst lessons to classes of up to 100 pupils proceed.
In a project they named ‘Solaire et Solidaire’, as part of their own education the French students, guided by tutors, designed the off-grid Photovoltaic power supply and lighting/electrical systems they would install. Victron provided training and some of the equipment, and the students approached industry themselves for sponsorship …experience which will be invaluable to them later in their own lives.
The project included the installation of high-quality suspended lighting systems, very professionally wired in trunking; fabrication of roof-top mounting system for the Solar Panels; and the technical installation of PV panels cabled to Charge Controllers, Inverters and the Consumer unit (distribution panel/fuse board).
One of the volunteers, Thomas Tsamen commented: We didn’t have all the tools we needed so we figured it out with the means we did have.’ A point which illustrates the double-benefit of this volunteer program; the volunteers learn as they build projects which provide so much benefit for the African Schools. And as for team-building, working outside handling tools and equipment which the sun has heated to 60 degrees has it’s own challenges! They’re harsh conditions in which students and teachers alike quickly learn that diplomacy is the key to the continuance of smooth relations!
In traditional African society the Tribal Chiefs are guarantors of customs and habits. They’re the ones who regulate society and decide all matters relating to development and problem-resolution. The chief of Kapon – dressed in the robes of his office – said ‘Studying is what’s going to save us. If we stay ignorant, there is no development …I’m so glad to receive these panels and this equipment which will light our classrooms and help our education.’
The lighting now installed allows the schools to extend their curriculum into the evening. Speaking at the Completion of the work tutor Rasmané Ouedraogo said: ‘I’m speechless really. Students will have light and electricity to study for their diploma. And with the computer equipment we are making a giant step.’ In Burkina Faso, where a Broadband subscription costs more than the average annual salary, fewer than 5% of the population have access to the internet.
The President of the Parents and Teacher association makes the point that the installation takes a big worry away from parents – about how they would afford an electricity supply.
And the principal of the French High School Iscles Manosque, Cyrille Seguin, acknowledging the commitment of both teachers and students who ‘dared’ to bring the project to his attention …and then carry it out, said of his students: They will carry the richness of this experience with them all their lives.
The image used at the head of this blog, which is of the colourful Leo Market in Burkina Faso, has been slightly enlarged from the original taken by Marco Schmidt.