Thursday, February 20, 2014

First impressions

I am writing this blog after having spent around two weeks in Burkina Faso:

Burkina Faso is a humble country, landlocked and flat. It is often forgotten by even the most seasoned traveller and attracts few tourists. There is limited infrastructure and buildings appear left half finished. Its landscapes are barren and empty so the dust that burns your eyes may even be deemed a saving grace from the litter scattered across the roads and dumped in the dry rivers.  By no means is it the jewel in the crown of Africa! It is a wonder then at the amount of smiling faces and friendly waves one will receive when traveling in both the poor and rich neighbourhoods. A simple ‘good morning’ (bonjour) that, in England, would often be met with surprise even hostility, is the norm. Why have we evolved in such a way that makes friendliness unusual? Why does Burkina Faso, though behind in many areas, have the upper hand here? Truly they prove that the old clique, wealth doesn’t bring you happiness, is most certainly grounded in the truth. An essential part of the culture and a universal rule amount the nationals I have met is that family and friendship is key to a fulfilling life, a value that often appears to lose its significance in the western world. Though we don’t always like to admit it parents and siblings play an essential role in our happiness, for to be appreciated and loved is surely the greatest treasure known to mankind. This moral code is both a joy to see and a thorn in my side as I think of the distance between my own family and friends.

The ISE Team delivering one of their raising awareness talks

The project that we have begun has noble intentions. It aims to raise the awareness of the disabled using the medium of sport as a binding force. The schools we are working in have deaf, blind, physically and mentally disabled students and are exceptionally rare establishments for Burkina Faso. This puzzles me somewhat. Why when a key part of the culture is love and friendliness does a disabled person loose out and become unequal. A paradox indeed and one that I hope to investigate further in my placement. The children we work with are eager and young. For me their age is an advantage at the moment as the language barrier is less apparent, though it seems even the 5 year old have a far greater understanding of French than I ever will.

Mark Birkett

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