Monday 29 October
We left Scunthorpe on Monday evening for the Travelodge close to Manchester Airport. We were: Cavelle Cherry, Adam Musgrave, Cody Jay, Andy Markham and Pat Warrington with 14 bags and large plastic boxes.
We always knew that the most difficult part of the trip, logistically, would be to get all the luggage to the check-in because there was no way 5 of us could manage without trolleys and/or assistance. Scunthorpe station allowed us across the track because of the amount of baggage and this proved to be a positive start with the students’ friends and relatives pitching in. At the airport station we managed to find trolleys and a system was developed - someone stayed with the bags whilst the others loaded them ready for transport. This process was repeated up to check-in. The students did the majority of the heavy lifting. In the event we were charged £86 excess luggage which, considering the amount we had, was a good deal.
Tuesday 30 October
The flight to Paris was successful but, even though there was an unpleasant incident with a security guard, this turned out to be the only negative part of the trip.
Our arrival in Ouaga - being met by our contact, Eléonore, and the Sagadou School Director, Doussa Ibrahim - was extremely warm. All three pupils were smothered in kisses and hugs from Eléonore, the most elegant of Burkina women with a huge heart.
Wednesday 31 October
Wednesday morning saw us up at 6am to be picked up at 7 by our driver and Land Cruiser. All boxes and bags were secured on the roof of the truck and, taking Doussa along as guide, we edged our way out of the city, travelling East. It was rush hour. Chaos doesn't even begin to describe the traffic, the highlight of which was a white van with a motorbike and several bicycles being held onto the roof by precariously stationed young men. It was lunacy and the phrase 'someone is going to die' was muttered from the students’ seats. Nobody did!
We travelled on paved roads from Ouaga to Koupela which is a small town in the East where our hotel for three nights had been booked. Koupela is 45km from Sagadou and so we were to be based there to allow us to visit the school during daylight hours. In the event the hotel was a disgrace. Last year it had been bad but this time, after Adam Musgrave had simply turned the tap on (emitting brown water) and the sink had fallen off the wall, the headteacher, Doussa, refused to allow us to stay there because it was too dangerous. Lo and behold a new hotel had been built since last year which still had to have the third storey built onto it and the gardens incomplete, but the rooms were spotlessly clean and the pool had been completed. Bonus! Three delighted 14 year olds!
We quickly left our personal items in the rooms and climbed back into the car to hurry to Sagadou. We were now about an hour late and were aware that the villagers would be waiting.
We left Koupela on paved roads but after a kilometre this ran out and we were on a packed earth, two lane road. We travelled for miles on this, passing a large college where the pupils all wore uniform and all appeared to ride bikes. This was on the outskirts of Koupela and once we had passed it we were out in the bush - mile after mile of flat countryside covered in drying grass, low bushes and trees. We passed small settlements - maybe villages but the houses are small farms and so spread out between the bushes and trees that you can only see those closest to the road. Now the mud huts were apparent because only those with money have concrete houses. There were goats and cattle being cared for by children as they were either grazing or being ushered towards watering holes. This year, although the rains were late they did happen so there was more water in large pools than you might expect. However, these pools also breed mosquitoes and all of us knew of the importance of taking our malaria tablets. Having said that there was water, all the fords we crossed were bone dry and there was much evidence of dried river beds.
Travelling was relatively slow because of the state of the road but eventually the road finished in a T junction and we turned right onto a single lane unpaved road towards Sagadou. Now folk began to wave as we passed and our feeling was that few white faces are seen in the remote areas - goodness knows what they think of us; blond hair causes much giggling. After a short while we eased right off the road into what seemed to be a wood with the vehicle driving round small bushes and trees and following a narrow track. In the near distance we could see the tops of buildings and women working in the fields, who waved as we passed.
After maybe 5 minutes we drove into the clearing in front of the school and moved slowly forwards to park under a tree. The temperature was in the high 30's or even the 40’s, but we had travelled with air conditioning so the heat hit us like a wall. Within seconds we were surrounded by at least a hundred children, men and women, all wanting to shake our hands and clamouring for our attention. Doussa waited at the side with a broad grin on his face. There was no way to leave the crowd until every hand was shaken. We lost Cavelle in the scrum and looking back she was in the middle of it all still shaking hands like a trooper. All three kids were speaking French all the time - bonjour and merci were repeated hundreds of times each day we were there.
Eventually, Doussa encouraged us towards the shelter of the larger trees at the side of the clearing where the majority of the villagers were gathering. As we walked forwards there was an avenue of pupils all singing to welcome us. We walked down the middle of this avenue feeling like royalty inspecting the troops. It was very humbling. Did these folk not realise that we were just teachers and their pupils from a steel town in the East Midlands??
It was decided to utilise one of the two footballs brought over by Adam and a game of footie was organised. The game went on for about 40 minutes only finishing when we insisted that Cody leave the pitch. He had been running around in all the heat for all that time so we overrode his indignation and got him into the shade.
We were astonished when we took some photos of the children and locals from the village, many of whom had no idea what they looked like until we showed them their faces on our camera screens. Very emotional for all concerned as you can imagine.
We then planted trees beside the school to create a lasting memory of our visit.
Our final task on that first day was to see the solar power equipment secured in the store room of the school. It looked small and insignificant and yet it had changed lives. The two panels on the roof fed through into a battery which gave the school’s three classrooms two blackboard lights each. Thus for three hours a night the classrooms can be used both by teachers to do their marking and pupils for further study. Of the 10 to 15 schools in the region the only one with electricity is Sagadou. We lost count of the number of times we were thanked but our thoughts were that a simple non-uniform day in a British school could initiate vast change in the lives of so many people in Africa. Crazy.
Thursday 1 November
Our first task was to prepare the painting equipment for the 48 pupils so that we could use the stencils cut by our Year 9 pupils as a means to teaching the Sagadou children to mix colour and then apply paint. The preparation took about 45 minutes during which time the Sagadou kids sat, in the classroom - one class each side facing each other - in silence. We covered desks with plastic, filled water pots, gave out paper and brushes and filled the paint pots with powder paint. Our pupils then distributed them to the children. Just as we finished an older boy appeared and asked if he could join us and have the experience of being taught by the English teachers.
The lesson was simple - give them the three primary colours, show them how to mix the secondaries, and then get them to apply the paint onto their paper using the leaf stencils. They loved it. They had 5 teachers as all of us Brits became hands on. Our pupils were remarkable, encouraging confidence and promoting understanding. It was so successful we were asked to repeat the lesson the next day.
Then it was Andy's turn to take centre stage by teaching maths, but here things didn't go according to our plans as Doussa insisted that Andy teach maths in the Burkinabe way. There the pupils only do calculus and questions are written on the board, the teacher raps the desk with a plastic stick and they have 2 minutes to find the answer using their slates and showing all working out. Then the stick is banged again and a pupil is chosen to go to the blackboard and do the sum. If they make a mistake that pupil sits down and another takes their place until the sum is completed correctly. No encouragement is given - if they are wrong, they are wrong. At the end of 3 or 4 sums - each given two minutes to complete - the class are asked who had 3 right, 2 right or 1. If more that 80% of the class get 3 right the class can move on. If they don't the lesson is repeated. There is an honour system and nobody cheats. It isn't a question of being seen to be right or learning how to pass an exam but of understanding the problem and learning how to solve it. Such is their desperation to get out of poverty and they know there are no shortcuts. They clamour to learn which is the reason they don't do art.
We were then taken to the family home of an elder of the village. He had 4 wives and the round mud huts were built in a circle around a central cooking area. The home was mostly deserted because the villagers were working in the fields. Due to the intense heat one of our number felt shaky and we returned to the hotel for a big pot of fried guinea fowl.
Friday 2 November
In the morning we signed out of the hotel and paid our bill, intending to go back to the Ouagadougou after another period at the school. We were to leave in time to get back to Ouaga in daylight because the roads are too bad to travel at night. Again we taught painting.
After the lesson we were taken to the chief's compound. Although it wasn't far the head insisted we went in the car because of the effect of the heat on Cavelle. This was a complete privilege. The Chief is a very elderly frail man who values Frederick Gough School more than Andy or I could ever relay. He has watched the school grow from a classroom block with a well to a small village in itself with teachers’ houses, a kitchen for the kids’ midday meal, store rooms and a latrine block, and now they have electricity. He thanked us all profusely for making the long journey to visit them. It was a humbling experience as he insisted in being photographed with us all.
Our goodbye was poignant and heartfelt and there was much waving and shaking of hands. It was with great sadness that we left. Before we left, however, we dressed the pupils in the new t-shirts which Adam had arranged to be donated by Hartwell’s garage – probably one of the most moving things any of us had experienced.
Returning to the Hotel La Palmerai we had our evening meal before Eléonore from the International Service joined us to inform us of the plans for Saturday…
Saturday 3 November
The weekend began with an early start and we were collected around 8am to be taken to the bank to change some euros into the local currency (CFA) which took over an hour in total. Andy changed the currency whilst Pat had a chat with more locals waiting to be served. We were then driven to the biannual craft market held in Ouagadougou – a huge venue, each building filled with art stalls from different regions of Africa. This was the perfect place to buy our souvenirs, but not without the help of Eléonore’s bartering skills! Bags, key-rings, shirts, wooden sculptures and bracelets purchased, we bumped into two volunteers working for Eléonore in one of the market buildings – who came from Hull! Small world. Lunch was taken in an outdoor hut with a live band playing traditional music from Burkina Faso (which we have on CD should anyone wish to have a copy) before we were returned to our hotel for an afternoon of rest and relaxation – very well deserved we thought!
Sunday 4 November
Three flights were ahead of us, two of them overnight so we had to be fully prepared for the long journey ahead. Flight one was very short at less than an hour to Niameh in Niger to collect more passengers and re-fuel. Flight two to Paris from Niameh also flew by (no pun intended) thanks to the excellent in-flight entertainment provided by Air France. Whilst Cavelle and Cody had a short sleep, Adam, Pat and Andy spent the vast majority of this flight wide awake, minds full of what we’d all experienced. A short transfer in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, we joined our final flight to Manchester – sitting separately due to the plane being half empty (the 5 of us and businessmen and women only)
Monday 5 November
The plane landed, we collected our luggage and headed towards the train station…only to be told that our train had been cancelled!
A final word
There we have it – the experience of a lifetime, truly memorable thanks to the things we saw, the activities in which we took part, our time at the school and in the hotels, everything from the beginning to the very end. Life-changing doesn’t come close to summarising what the visit was like. Our three pupils really were the stars of the show. They have seen things practically no other children of that age group will have seen should they live in England, yet they did not complain at all even when things didn’t go according to plan.
As for the future, we’re already planning the next visit - hopefully scheduled to take place during February 2014 – and plan on taking more pupils next time. Until then our fundraising goes on with the aim to help build a third classroom and also a clinic for the village to help stop the alarming death rate during childbirth there for both the babies and their mothers. Exercise books, pens, pencils, rulers, rubbers, colours, pencil sharpeners, uniforms for the pupils…lots to collect but we’re sure we’ll get there!
So a big thank you from all 5 of us for your on-going support and best wishes which you have passed on to us throughout the past year or so. It really is appreciated. We will be talking to pupils in years 7, 8 and 9 during their assemblies. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact any of us should you wish to find out more about this amazing experience which we think everyone should do if they have the chance. It will change your life forever. It sure has ours.
Pat, Andy, Cavelle, Cody and Adam