They have a proverb in Burkina Faso: ‘If you are going to live just a single day plant a flower. If you are going to live just a few months plant trees. But if you are going to live more than a century educate your children.’
We have visited various schools in different provinces of Burkina Faso in completely differing settings, both urban and rural. We have met all the people involved in the school. UNICEF has set up a Child Friendly Schools programme. The principle is putting the children at the heart of the school. The teachers and headteachers were first trained in this new approach to encourage children to go to school. The children’s parents formed their own council. They take the decisions, discuss things with everyone involved in the school and contribute funds, even modest amounts, to help improve the school. For instance, they get involved by helping the children set up vegetable gardens, putting up fences to protect the school and lots of other things. The mothers help in the canteen if the school has one.
The children themselves have set up a club for health, wellbeing and the environment. They decide things for themselves, implement action plans and involve all the school children to manage a vegetable garden, books and the sports field… the children do lots of different things every day. They take care of children who are a little under the weather in the health club. They also clean the schoolyard. The educational system really revolves around the children.
The Burkinabe authorities have also set up school councils with parents, teachers, children, plus members of civil society, the village, the town that can take part in the life of the school if they are democratically elected to these councils.
So the school is at the heart of the village and becomes its centre. In these school councils, they take decisions independently to finance a water pump, repairs and safety measures at the school. The Child Friendly Schools in Burkina Faso that we have been lucky enough to see really are the future for the children and the future for Burkina Faso.
We have learned the ins and outs of this way of working in the two provinces we have visited, Namentaga and Ganzourgou. We have been accompanied by parents, local authorities and teachers, and seen that they are all working with the children’s best interests at heart. I’d like to end with another African proverb: ‘If they can wash our backs we only have to wash our bellies.’