Association Burkina Canada was born in 2006 in a courtyard of the town of Léo, in the province of Sissili, Burkina Faso. Marlène Elias was pursuing her doctoral research with her husband Reid Cooper in Léo and surrounding villages at the time. The two felt strongly that the lives of many Burkinabè people could be easily improved with a little outside help. These ‘improvements’ related to education (more schools with greater resources, classes with fewer than 100 students, and so on), health care (access to hospitals, doctors, and medication), infrastructure (clean water, closed sewers, electricity, paved roads to reduce dust), and similar very basic amenities that we simply take for granted in Canada.
During their several months in rural Burkina Faso, Marlène and Reid experienced first-hand how difficult life can be for rural Burkinabè people. Local infant mortality rates are amongst the highest in the world, and nearly every mother Marlène interviewed for her research had lost one or more children. Infants also frequently lose their parents due to AIDS or other diseases and are sent to live with distant relatives where, as an extra mouth to feed, they lead disfavoured lives.
Burkina Faso itself is a poor country with few resources, little water, and scant job opportunities, leaving the majority of adolescents without a vision for a better future. However, Marlène and Reid also learned that Burkinabè people, who struggle so hard for their survival, are extremely generous and kind. Their ability to smile and laugh through adversity, and share what little they have with their neighbours and community are truly inspiring.
In that courtyard in Léo, then, along with their friend and community activists Abou Dradin Tagnan and Yago Azizou, they developed a project to improve the lives of individuals and the prospects of the community by providing education to the neediest children in the province. They chose education as their platform because it represents the backbone of society. The ability to add and subtract numbers can make the difference between receiving a fair price for a product or being completely exploited by middlemen. The ability to read and write opens up opportunities to work in government, cooperative, and corporate offices. However, education achieves much more than job opportunity and advancement (which, in itself, are massive opportunities in developing nations). It is positively correlated with income, improved health, self-confidence and empowerment. Girls’ education, specifically, has also been shown to decrease fertility rates and conjugal abuse. The chance to succeed an education can offer a child creates hope; and with hope, anything is possible.
Upon their return to Canada, Marlène and Reid set to work creating the legal structure for a charitable organization. They called upon their close friends who had both important skills to contribute to the organization as well as a commitment to effect positive change in the world. Together, they formed the Canadian branch of ABC’s Board of Directors, who worked hard to incorporate the NGO and achieve its ‘Charitable Status’ from the Canadian government. ABC was thus incorporated in June 2007, and received its charitable status in January 2008.
In its first year (2008-2009) ABC funded 20 vulnerable and orphaned children to attend school. In 2011-2012, the organization sponsors the educational pursuits of 30 youths; 15 girls and 15 boys at both elementary and high school levels. Based on their performance, ABC is committed to supporting these students all the way through high school. ABC’s members are proud of their programs, which go beyond paying students’ school fees, to providing them with one nutritious meal at lunchtime as well as appropriate uniforms or school clothes, and all the tools a young student needs, from a rucksack to paper and pens. The sponsored children are closely followed by Azizou, ABC’s administrator in Léo. Azizou works with a governing board in Burkina Faso and communicates with the children’s teachers and guardians.
In the future, ABC hopes to continue increasing the number of students it supports, and to allow the most promising students the chance to attend university. ABC also cares to increase Canadian awareness of the struggles faced by people in developing nations, and to teach Bukinabè students about Canadian society. This is achieved through a pen-pal program, which fosters ties between Canadian and Burkinabe students. In creating links between the two countries, ABC seeks to expand the horizons of individuals and lower the barriers of difference that separate us in so many ways.