I was in the west African nation of Burkina Faso last week as a guest of Compassion International. Compassion arranges for the sponsorship of children in third world countries. These efforts are striving to lift these children out of poverty. We saw, first hand, how Compassion helps the children of Burkina Faso. Compassion works through churches with their children centers and for sponsorship.
We visited two rural and two urban Compassion sites. Both families that I visited in the rural areas had suffered a loss of homes. In rural Burkina Faso, they typically live in mud brick houses. The houses are small and often house multiple generations of families. During the rainy season and during a particularly hard rain, the houses melt and are no longer functional. Incomes are nil. We were able to make gifts on behalf of Compassion of a 65 lb. bag of rice (a delicacy for the rich of the country), a gallon of oil, and a bag of soap. Their kitchens are pits near their homes. They have to fetch water. There are no bathrooms. We asked what one family does for a bathroom and were told they hold it until dusk and then take care of business in nature.
People grow millet at their homes for food. The kids get fresh drinking water and medical care. In some, cases families also get medical care, because the family needs to be healthy for the child to be healthy. Compassion does provide, in some cases, the means for family members to earn a living. Compassion pays the school fees for children. In Burkina Faso and much of Africa, there is no free public education.
Each rural site had hundreds of kids enrolled. Every Thursday (a non-school day in BF), the kids receive breakfast, lunch, instruction, and play. The kids were happy and enthusiastic. They wore uniforms. The only good set of clothing they own. They were given a tremendous amount of rice and ate all of it – even the smallest among them. They live in mud-brick houses. It is shelter and not much more. Entire families, often of several generations, all share a, roughly, 10 feet by 12 feet room. The kitchen is a pit outside. There are no bathrooms. They often grow their own millet. Some have chickens and/or goats.
The urban visits we made were to people who live in cinder block buildings in a community setting. There is one large outdoor cooking area that is shared. The rooms are about 8 feet by 10 feet with an adjoining bedroom for the entire family. There are no bathrooms. Ouagadougou has open sewers.
People with HIV are shunned, so if they know their status, they don’t make it public. Once HIV becomes AIDS, they are often forced out of the place they are living. We met no fathers. They were all dead, probably of AIDS. Compassion will provide medication to family members who are HIV+.
We brought coloring books, crayons, pencils, notebooks, soccer balls, and other gifts for the kids. It was a highlight for them and us when these gifts were presented. I had the honor of doing the presentation at the second site we visited.
This is an experience I will never forget. People struggle each day to eat. Rampant poverty beyond anything in this country. And still, in spite of all of this, they have their own self dignity. They have joy in their churches. And I think, they have hope. Compassion certainly gives them hope. Twenty years from now, Burkina Faso will have a growing group of educated citizens that have the skills and enthusiasm to lift the country out of poverty. I fell in love with Burkina Faso. It is a place where it is safe to walk at night. It is a place of potential.