Sep 26, 2011

Pobé Summer Reading Camp, Hanging Out with Twaregs....and Farewells!

In September I spent a wonderful week in Pobé-Mengao! The village library ran its first ever summer reading camp for CM1 (4th grade) students. I saw this not only as the perfect opportunity to participate and help run the camp but to say proper goodbyes to my Pobé-Mengao friends. Since June 2010, the region was closed off due to terrorist kidnapping threats, but I was thrilled when Peace Corps, after much begging and pleading, allowed me to go back. 

Reviewing the alphabet with a group of students

The week-long camp consisted of 25 4th graders (13 girls, 12 boys) randomly chosen from a class of 86. The camp’s goal was to help improve the students’ reading levels in a fun and welcoming environment. Sessions included reading activities, peer tutoring, storytelling, arts and crafts, song and dance, instruction, and discussions on health, HIV/AIDS, malaria and life skills. Overall, I was very happy with the camp. There were a couple decent readers but the rest were at an incredibly low-level. Five of the students could not read, write or recite the alphabet. We were shocked when one day we asked the students to write their names down on paper, and fifteen misspelled their own names. The camp was led by Dounko the FAVL animator, Hamidou the librarian, myself, an assistant and one of the primary school teachers. The teacher was awesome and really worked closely with the students. Each of his lessons reflected errors he witnessed the students making throughout the day. We conducted evaluations—individual reading tests before and after the camp—and during the last tests we could see much improvement in the students. It was hard not to get emotional when Daouda, with a huge smile on his face, proudly recited the entire alphabet without error for the first time. As happy as I was, it was frustrating. I only spent a total of about an hour or two with him individually, so that he understood the alphabet. It’s upsetting to think that at 12 years old, he’s been held back at has had such a disadvantage in school simply because no one took the one or two hours necessary to help him. 

There's always time for dancing!

Throughout the week we had frequent visitors: older students, parents, functionaries, the Mayor and the Prefect. All came to witness the camp and offer words of encouragement. It was obvious that the community was really happy with the camp and is determined for it to become an annual event.


 Arts and crafts: making masks; Dounko reading a story

While in Pobé, I ran into a student and good friend of mine named Ibrahim. Ibrahim is Twareg and back in 2009 he invited myself, my mother and several study-abroad students to visit his family. To our pleasure, this year he invited Dounko, Hamidou, Francois (FAVL driver) and myself to visit and learn about his family.
 Home of Ibrahim and his family
Ibrahim lives with his two parents and his ten brothers and sisters in an isolated area about 8 kilometers outside of Pobé. They are herders and own about 25 camels. Despite the fact that one camel can be sold at about 300,000 to 400,000 CFA, they live incredibly simply, in tents. They are nomadic and do not have many material possessions. Upon our arrival we were warmly welcomed and sat on small but comfortable goat-skin cushions inside their tent. They made us tea while we asked questions about their way of life. The family only speaks Tamasheq, so Ibrahim served as our French translator. Later they saddled up one of their camels, and Dounko and I were brave enough to go for a ride. We milked a camel and drank its deliciously warm and rich milk, in addition to receiving a huge bottle-full for us to take home. By the time we left we were nothing but smiles.

Dounko atop of a camel                                                                  Drinking camel milk...mmmm!

Today is bittersweet, as I bid farewell to Burkina Faso. My Peace Corps service is up, and I will be flying home tonight. After 3 years and 4 months, I am ready to come back home, settle down, and have a real salary! But it is still very hard to leave. Burkina has become like home for me. These past few weeks have been full of joy, visiting friends and sharing wonderful memories together. I say farewell, but I know that I plan to return to Burkina in 2 years. So, instead of goodbye, I will say: Wena kon Bilfu!
I would like to especially thank all those in Americaland who have supported me in so many different ways during my time in Burkina. From letters and carepackages to those who so generously helped support the establishment of the Pobe Mengao Village Library....THANK YOU! Believe me when I say, it never would have happened without you!