So why am I writing a blog about development and life in Burkina Faso anyway? Between August 2010 and July 2011, I will be working with an organization called Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) in the country of Burkina Faso. Here is a little bit about what we do:
In Burkina, EWB’s mission is about helping Burkinabés realize and achieve their potential. For the Burkina EWB Rural Agriculture Entrepreneurship team, this means finding ways for farmers to better manage their farms, as well as unlocking the entrepreneurial spirit of all Burkinabés. It involves developing skills as well as changing attitudes – building tools as well as creating leaders.
A major focus of our work is ‘le Conseil aux Exploitations Familiales (CEF),’ an approach to helping farmers set their own objectives, determine the necessary steps to get there and manage their farms accordingly. Concretely, EWB volunteers create change by working with local partners, such as farmer organizations, to build their organizational capacity and develop on the ground innovations within the CEF. In doing so we strive to give farmers the opportunities they lack – to have food throughout the year, to reinvest in their farms, to send their children to school, to live the lives they seek to.
While we focus highly on helping today’s farmers through their farmer organizations, my own placement is a little bit different.
I’m working at the college and university level to unlock that same entrepreneurial spirit. Graduates have the potential to become incredibly successful farmers themselves, or even to become key actors in Burkina’s rural development through their work with government or NGOs. However, the system they are a part of encourages them only to wait, while at the same time putting barriers to innovation and initiative.
Moreover, I believe the first and most important step lies with their education. Whether they become farmers or development workers, their post-secondary education must give them the space to create, to grow and to take ownership of their future – not tell them exactly what to know, what to repeat, what to do and how to do it.
In the first four months of my placement, I spoke with students and teachers about what they hoped to see. Resoundingly, they wanted to take their future into their own hands. During the next six months of my placement, I will be trying to help them do that, whether it be working with directors on fundamental curriculum changes that leave more room for student ownership, partnering with professors to explore how we can give a more practical dimension to management and social skills that now exist only as theory, or supporting the students themselves to explore their own new initiatives.
Even though I’m just a tiny part of it, I hope to help this new generation become one of development leaders, passionate about achieving their own potential, passionate about unlocking farmers’ potential and passionate about the development of Burkina Faso.