Traveling to Burkina Faso

Hi there! After a few weeks to get re-adjusted to the Washington DC time zone and catch up on the backlog of emails that tend to be waiting for me (it’s good to know I’ve been missed!), it is time again to dust off my passport and get ready for my next field visit. This time, I’m going to have another opportunity to improve my French-speaking skills,  which have sadly atrophied since my college and backpacking-through-France days.

Soon, I will be traveling out to work with the Soutenir l’Exploitation Familiales pour Lancer l’Elevage des Volailles et Valoriser l’Economie Rurale (SE LEVER) or Women’s Poultry Program to Improve Income and Nutrition project in Burkina Faso. It is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented by Agribusiness Systems International (ASI), an affiliate of my employer, ACDI/VOCA. SE LEVER is a 5-year project designed to reduce malnutrition and the illnesses — as well as death — it can cause, particularly among children and pregnant and lactating women.

Malnutrition is a broad term, but basically it means that people suffer from undernutrition if their diets do not provide adequate calories and protein for functioning and growth, or if they cannot fully utilize the food they eat due to illness. This undernutrition has particular impact on children during their growth stages because it affects brain and physical development. Pregnant and breastfeeding women who lack access to adequate nutrition not only suffer from poor health because of their bodies’ additional needs for sustenance during this vital period, but the child they are carrying is also impacted by the lack of nutrition as it develops. Malnutrition is strongly linked to poverty due to the lack of ability to purchase food as well as other stresses and challenges, such as a lack of education, including knowledge about nutrition. This problem is known as food insecurity, which the USDA defines as “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”

The SE LEVER project is focusing on improving the nutrition of households in the regions where the program will be working, seeking to address these issues through not only educating and changing people’s behaviors around nutrition, but also improving access to both protein-sources and income through household poultry production (yep — raising chickens!) as well as increasing women’s empowerment. The SE LEVER project will work with men to promote women’s increased empowerment, improving women’s position in the household and ownership over income.

A Little About Burkina Faso

map_of_burkina-fasoBurkina Faso is a landlocked country located in West Africa, surrounded by Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, and Ghana. Prior to the 19th century, Burkina Faso was primarily occupied by the Bobo, Lobi, Gourounsi and the Mossi, who were known as fierce warriors. Several Mossi kingdoms ruled various regions of Burkina Faso, and today the Mossi comprise nearly half of Burkina Faso’s population. In 1896, France took control of the region, making most of the Mossi lands a French protectorate by 1897. The area was called Upper Volta because the country contains the upper part of the Volta River. The country achieved independence in 1960 and became the Republic of Upper Volta. In 1984 President Thomas Sankara renamed the country “Burkina Faso,” which means “the land of upright people” (or “land of the honorable/incorruptible” depending on interpretation) in Mossi and Dioula, the major native languages.

Burkina Faso’s independence has been marked by much political turmoil, revolution, and multiple military coups. President Sankara had taken power in 1983 after multiple coups but was assassinated in 1987. Blaise Compaore, Sankara’s friend and ally, then became president and embarked on political and economic reforms. A new constitution was drawn up in 1991, and the country held its first multiparty elections. Compaore was re-elected president in 2010 for his fourth term of office, and he wanted to run again in the 2015 presidential election. Term limits had been set in a 2000 constitutional amendment, and his attempt in 2014 to amend the constitution to enable him to run for re-election sparked a mass uprising. Compaore fled the country and was eventually deposed. Burkina Faso is operating under a transitional government until the elections in October.

For further reading, a brief country profile is available from the BBC here.

What Will I Be Doing While I’m There?

The SE LEVER project is in start-up phase, which means that it is in the process of beginning its operations and implementation. This is a critical period for not only setting up the logistics, training staff, and getting the program going, but also collecting data and reviewing our program plans to make sure that our activities and approaches are strong.

We are holding a planning workshop with headquarters and field staff as well as partners from local organizations who will be participating in the project’s implementation to share data and experience about the specific contexts where we are working, to review our plans, and to make revisions or adjustments to ensure that we are responsive, accurate, and evidence-based.

My role is to help staff and partners understand and identify the gender roles, power dynamics and key gender issues related to SE LEVER’s goals and activities. I will facilitate discussions and assist the project to incorporate understanding and awareness of gender issues in our strategies and activities in order to increase effectiveness and fairness.

The trip will be focused on the workplanning process, so I don’t plan to be visiting the field or remote districts during this particular visit.This will be my first visit to Ouagadougou, so it will be fun to explore this capital city instead. I’m hopeful that next time I come to Burkina Faso, I’ll be able to travel to the areas where activities will be implemented in order to meet members of the communities, collect data, and ensure that our program is achieving our goals to address nutrition, poverty, and promote women’s empowerment.


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