Travel diary Burkina Faso 2023
16.01.2023 - Arrival
We set off for the airport at 3 a.m. on the start of our journey to AMPO in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. We flew to Brussels, arriving in the wind and the rain, but it didn’t matter we weren’t going outside. At Brussels airport we met the other three members of our group who flew in from Frankfurt.
After a 45-minute delay we all took off for Ouagadougou.
We flew over the French coast, the Mediterranean and the endless open spaces of the Sahara and 6 hours after takeoff we started our approach into Ouagadougou. Even from the air we could see the poor quality of the air below. Red dust hung over the city like a great bell. We landed in daylight. Passport control took longer than expected, since four of us were taken aside by the Burkina police for no apparent reason.
The other two in our group got through passport control without a hitch. The only thing we could do was to inform our dear friends, the Directors who were waiting for us outside and hope they could do something to help. Meanwhile it was dark.
The heat, bad air, hectic scenes at the carpark, concern for our fellow-travellers, the first cigarette in hours all contributed to my state of near exhaustion.
The others finally joined us and we set off to the hotel where Katrin was waiting for us.
The first thing to do was to calm down.
17.01.2023 - MIA/ALMA, the Rehab Centre and the Clinic
We were picked up at the hotel very early. There were justified concerns that we might not cope with the midday heat. Our activities were then programmed for mornings and late afternoon.
The group split up.
The larger group visited the Rehab Centre and the Clinic. The other part took part in the weekly Directors‘ meeting since there were some internal matters to discuss.
But nobody missed out. The first group joined the meeting later and we went together to see the Clinic which has just been extended by an upper floor.
All very impressive. New treatment rooms, a clean medicine storeroom, dressings unit, gyneacology unit, ophthalmology unit, etc. very well organised. In the waiting rooms and outside there were many people (mostly women and children) waiting to be treated. We went on to visit the LINDA centre for undernourished children. A little girl had been following us most of the time and we met her again there. At the centre we learned about her case history. She was so young and she already had an artificial bowel outlet and that in a country like Burkina Faso. The question as to how this treatment could be financed was something that occurred to me only 2 days later when I slowly realised the extent of the healthcare situation in this country.
It was getting hot and we were taken back to the hotel by our two wonderful drivers.
Driving around I saw more and more how much had changed.
Children were standing at the edge of the road in the heat and the dust and the poor air, begging for money. Five years ago there was already a lot of rubbish in the streets, but now it was worse. How much more the city had changed was something I realised even more in the afternoon.
We broke for lunch at the hotel and tried to rest. I knew it was not a good thing to use water and have a shower, but there was nothing else I could do. I simply wanted to get this red dust off my body. No time to rest.
At 4 o’clock we set off to the MIA/ALMA women’s refuge. After 20 minutes we left the asphalt road and turned into a dusty, red street with huge potholes. You needed an all-terrain vehicle to drive on this road, unless you had a bicycle or a moped. The MIA/ALMA property used to be like a small island on the outskirts of the city with not much round about. Something had changed. More huts, more rubbish, more stalls. People live under corrugated iron roofs supported on four poles, with a few blankets as “walls”. Goats eat the plastic rubbish blown in from the city. The city is spreading. No wonder: where else can the people go who flee from the terror in their villages?
The gates of MIA/ALMA opened and you felt like you were entering an oasis of peace, protection, organisation and cleanliness. Once again the young women and their children welcomed us with singing and dancing as a sign of their gratitude. Lucas from DEVELOPmed.aid immediately won over the hearts of some of the children. His secret – bubbles! And once again I realised how important this structured, clean environment is for the young women. They are able to learn or engage in training and the educators are there to look after the infants you just want to pick up and hold in your arms. To them we white people probably seem like aliens and we certainly don’t want to scare those kids.
Everything was as happy and joyful as ever – just one thing had changed. They have a new director following in the footsteps of the wonderful Chouchou. He will manage. Chouchou can’t quite let go and was around the whole time.
Back to the hotel. In the twilight the sun went down through the smog and the dust.
18.01.2023 - TONDTENGA, the Orphanages, training centres and microcredits
Set off early again, heading for the organic farm, TONDTENGA (TT).
Similar to the MIA/ALMA refuge, TT is on the outskirts. I remembered the farm being far from the main road with nothing round about. This impression is a thing of the past. There were huts bordering on the farm. People in need tap into the power lines leading to TT. The wall around the site is old and beginning to crumble. “Neighbours” climb over the wall and make off with things like solar panels. Their need is simply too much.
We met the boys, and now more recently the girls, who come here to start their training in organic crop production and livestock farming. They plant small banana trees, harvest lemmongrass and breed goats, cattle and poultry. We could only enter the stalls after disinfecting our shoes.
Taking my courage in my hands I sampled fruit from the tree. Dénis showed me how to open the fruit and eat it. Delicious!
Back at the centre of the farm the trainees were summoned together. The director introduced us and then the trainees‘ spokesperson talked to us. I couldn’t hold back the tears. All of those present have fled their villages from terrorist activity and have just barely escaped the atrocities. They are so unutterably grateful to be at the farm, to have their training and to receive protection, food and clothing. I realised the difference between sitting at home reading about it and actually sitting in front of these people. I will never be able to comprehend their fear and their past experience. I could only listen with feelings too difficult for me to describe.
I was happy that we could share their meal with them. We ate toê, a dish normally eaten with your fingers. I couldn’t quite master the technique and had to ask for a spoon.
The sombre mood passed when the TT girls wanted to have their photo taken with the rest of us girls. It was really important for them and it was good to be able to laugh once more.
The heat was rising and we were taken back to the hotel. Lunch, shower and rest for those who wished.
In the afternoon we were fetched to go to visit the orphanages, the training centres and the microcredit department.
There was also something afoot at the orphanages. The boys were busy practising, some playing the balafon and many others juggling on the football pitch. The girls were learning a choreography, all for the Saturday evening barbecue at the orphanages.
We visited the training scheme at the hairdressing salon where they create masterpieces of braided hairstyles. And on to the tailoring workshop where the women learn to cut fabric from patterns and embroider tablecloths, napkins and dresses, as they also do in the MIA/ALMA refuge.
We then went for dinner for the first time at Mam Dunia, the AMPO restaurant. The food is simply delicious and perfect for our European palates.
Before dinner I had the possibility to view the department for cataract operations at the Clinic. There were about 20 patients waiting in the dark outside the Clinic for this operation. The operated eye is sensitive to daylight which is why these operations are done after 6 p.m. And once more I heard the unending gratitude which I was to pass on immediately to the donors of the microscope.
I was particularly pleased at the chance meeting with father and son Simonis from our cooperation partner Solidaritätskreis Westafrika, and with Christoph Straub, Chairman of the Deutsch Burkinischen Freundschaftsgesellschaft, who also happened to be in Ouaga. We met in Mam Dunia, as you do…
19.01.2023 - VIIMDE, Charles de Gaulle Children’s Hospital and the Wheelchair Workshop
The group split up again after breakfast. Four of us paid a home visit to beneficiaries of the VIIMDE initiative. VIIMDE supports and counsels women with HIV. We didn’t take photos.
We visited two families living under very different conditions. The first family had already completed the programme. They were unable to repay the microcredit they received. We are now looking for ways to help the family further. In our experience they were a very quiet and grateful married couple. They didn’t own the place where they lived. It belonged to a relative. They cannot afford a place of their own. There was rubbish in the small yard, washing hanging on the line. The smallest of three children, a two-year-old was there. The eldest child is eleven, none of the children knows about their parents’ illness. All of the children are healthy. If the neighbours find out they will avoid any contact. Too little is known here about the disease.
The fate of the second family touched us even more. Again there was rubbish in the yard. A girl was playing with and old car tyre. A boy bit into a piece of wood. We met the wife, 41 years old. She has had 10 pregnancies, of which 3 miscarried. Four years ago during the last pregnancy but one, the AMPO Clinic discovered during a routine examination that the mother is HIV positive. Since then the staff at VIIMDE has been trying to persuade her to join the initiative programme. She is afraid. Her husband knows nothing about her situation. And we don’t know if he or the children are infected. AMPO has offered to speak to the husband. It is a very sensitive issue because she doesn’t know how she became infected. If he is not infected, there is the risk that the woman will be abandoned, lose her children and everything she owns, even if it is not much.
Lucas and I visited the Charles de Gaulle Children’s Hospital. DEVELOPmed.aid finances medical treatment, medicine procurement and the children’s stay in hospital. For the first time I was made aware of the state of the healthcare system in Burkina Faso.
No doctor will even lift a finger until the finances are sorted out. For the children there is no food, nothing to drink, no medicine. Parents sit in the hospital courtyards and cook meals for their children. What sort of children are lying in this hospital?
I was met with heart-rending screams. Infants with burns covering their entire body, screaming in pain, their flesh burned to the bone. They have fallen out of the mother’s baby sling into the fire or have been scalded with hot water in a street kitchen.
Children with broken bones, probably having fallen from a moped. We often witnessed women driving along carrying two or three children. There are children with infections like malaria or HIV. We also visited a children’s cancer ward.
Felix, a member of staff at AMPO, guided us through the various departments. The doctors phone him in cases where financing is not secured. Assisted by the AMPO Clinic, he checks prescriptions to prevent fraud and theft. Much needed medicines can disappear all too quickly. I gained an insight into the work of DEVELOPmed.aid, and, it may seem strange, but I was grateful that Lucas took me with him and gave me this experience.
These images will remain with me for the rest of my life, but I feel that I am now in a position to report on this need with authenticity. We do not publish photographs of these children.
We then drove to the Wheelchair Workshop where we were given a cheery welcome by Edouard, the Director. Edouard also uses a wheelchair as a result of polio when he was a child ad so he knows exactly what is needed to remodel a wheelchair or a motorbike fit for purpose. It was refreshing to see the smiling faces of the team as parts are welded, metal is hammered and screws are tightened. I found it difficult to go along with the mood with the images I had just seen still in my head.
Here we were confronted with different life histories.
There is a separate hut where young people with handicaps undergo a two-year training in building these wheelchairs and motorcycles. It is a unique, wonderful project and we were privileged to witness a handover ceremony.
We then drove back to the hotel.
We had the remainder of the afternoon “off”, but we needed this time to process all of the impressions.
In the evening Katrin had invited us along with the Directors to her home for supper. We had a delicious soup with beans and vegetables. The evening however turned out to be eventful and emotional.
Sadly one of our drivers was involved in an accident. A large moped drove into the car and the rider was thrown off on to the road. It was soon obvious that he was in poor shape. His leg was broken. Our immediate reaction was to get out and help. Not a good idea for white people to be out on the road in the dark. Better to stay in the car and lock the doors. Our drivers were in a quandary. White passengers in the car, a victim by the roadside – no sign of an ambulance until the costs were clarified. Unbelievable! The man was taken to hospital in another car where he lay in a ward untreated and without painkillers until the following afternoon. The victim’s father put up some of the money and AMPO paid the difference, although our driver was in no way to blame. We sat deeply concerned in the garden courtyard of our hotel, trying to understand and process the events of the day.
20.01.2023 - Budget meeting, visit to the market and at the residence of the German Ambassador
The day was supposed to get off to a quiet start. We noted that we had seen nearly all of the AMPO facilities. We now had time to discuss budgetary matters with the people responsible.
And then came another meeting out of the blue and we were very impressed. In October 2022 after a runup of two years, a new association was set up: KAM NOGLOOM DES ANCIENS ENFANTS DE AMPO, the association of former children of AMPO.
Around 140 former AMPO children got together to form a mutual support group. If any one of the young people had problems re-integrating into society after leaving the orphanage, the association is there to help.
What a wonderful idea! This example of personal initiative goes to show how sustainable our projects are.
The following evening they gave us gifts to remind us of this successful event.
We were also able to relax in the afternoon. We all had time to rest, to gather our thoughts or simply switch off before heading for the residence of the German Ambassador in the evening. What a lovely, calm, relaxed evening. There was pizza, wine and beer and we sat round in a circle in comfort putting all sorts of questions to the Ambassador. AMPO enjoys a very good relationship to the Ambassador and his wife and it is a great pity for us in Ouagadougou that their tour of duty is due to end in the summer.
21.01.2023 - Sightseeing and the orphanage party
Sightseeing – yes, of course!
Thomas Sankara, the former President of Burkina Faso, was a President in whom the population had placed a great deal of hope, before he and many of his party were murdered in 1987. No one was allowed to speak his name or even mention him for years.
Times have changed. A monument has since been erected in his honour. There are major plans for the area around the monument. A tower, 87 metres tall (87 to symbolise the year of his death) is in the planning and a park is being laid for people to stroll in. We visited the Pavillon Burkina Faso where the attack took place.
We headed on to the monument to national heroes. I had promised to send a postcard from Ouaga and so we had to make an unscheduled stop at a market. We bargained for 8 postcards in the searing heat of 42 degrees. After much patience and drinking water, we finally got our postcards. The long drive to the monument turned out to be in vain because it was closed. We took a few photos from the outside and swiftly got back into the cars. We continued on to the handicraft market and welcome shade.
Unfortunately we were running out of time, but we managed some shopping and took lots of photos. Now we can carefully consider what we should order for our shop in Berlin.
At 4 p.m. we were expected at the Orphanage for Boys. The time had come for the girls and boys to display what they had been practising over the past few days. There was an incredibly lovely, jolly party atmosphere. The girls displayed their choreography to the accompaniment of the drumming group, the boys juggled with clubs and balls and in the background some boys were playing the balafon.
Then came the games. Negotiating a course while balancing a glass of water on your head, an egg and spoon race, making sure not to drop the egg from the spoon held in your mouth and naturally we all had to join in, encouraged by the cries, hoots and applause of the children. Lucas once more won over the hearts of the children with a few magic tricks.
And for a while we were able to put aside the awful scenes we had witnessed before.
Late in the afternoon we had a barbecue. More than 140 children and young adults shared a feast of baguettes and sausages with mustard and ketchup.
As the evening drew to a close there was no holding back some of the girls. We were hugged and kissed, we all laughed and sang until finally we headed back to the hotel still smiling
22.01.2023 - Burkinabé singer Thaliane visits AMPO
A few days previously I had received a message from the Burkinabé singer Thaliane to say that she was back for a short time in Ouagadougou. We had met in Berlin and we made a cursory arrangement to meet up in Ouaga. I was so pleased that she had remembered and we agreed to meet at Mam Dunia at half past ten. We all set off earlier to AMPO because we were looking forward to an excellent breakfast in the restaurant.
Until now Thaliane had only known the AMPO Clinic. Dénis explained AMPO as a whole and she was visibly impressed. Dénis and Marthe took her to visit the orphanages. She gave a fiery speech to the girls: never give up, believe in yourself, education is the most important thing, learn for life and for your independence! And the girls were hanging from her lips.
The girls gave a spontaneous rendering of their song “Dépose ton arme“ (Lay down your gun). Thaliane was so moved that she decided immediately to record a song with the children. It would be so fantastic if it came about.
Then it was time to say goodbye because Thaliane had an 8-hour bus trip ahead of her back to her town. Thank you for a wonderful visit.
Two of us drove back to the hotel. The other four stayed at the orphanages and spent a lovely afternoon with the children.
Two of our group had brought a game of Blokus with them, a game with very simple rules. They explained it to the children and they started playing feverishly. All you could see was a cluster of children round the table. They started playing with the boys and then the girls joined in when they came over just before lunch. Meanwhile Lucas started dancing with the rest of the boys and then they played football. They got on like a house on fire. We were able to chat a bit over lunch. Each of the group sat down at a different table and the fun began. We only had a smattering of French, the kids a bit of English and even a bit of German. But it worked! They were so curious. Where do you work? Do you have children? Where do you live? They wanted to know everything. And we were only too happy to respond. They even taught me a few words of Moré, the language of the Mossi, one of the ethnic groups in Burkina Faso. One boy said he wanted to become a journalist, but he only speaks French and a few words of English. Can you really become a journalist? Yes, it is possible, I assured him. French is a language spoken in many countries. I could see his confidence returning. These children have been through terrible experiences, having lost one or both parents under circumstances that don’t bear thinking about. And they are still making plans for the future – fantastic!
After lunch we went back to the orphanage with the girls. Lucas stayed with the boys. We played Blokus again and one of the girls read to us from her German school book. I was thrilled how fluently she could read the words and her slightly French accent sounded charming. Gradually they plucked up courage. They touched my hair and then my arm and were fascinated by the tiny hairs, something they’ve never seen. They stroked my fingernails. So curious without prohibition. After a while they started to do our hair and we all got braids. When our driver came to take us back to the hotel it was sad to say goodbye. Lots of hugs. They really didn’t want us to go and we didn’t want to go either. It was so lovely to see the children in their daily surroundings, to see how they react to each other with so much consideration. They truly have become a family.
I started to pack my suitcase because we were leaving for home the following evening.
23.01.2023 - Microcredits, farewell dinner
Check out. We set of to AMPO with suitcases packed. There they had prepared the guest rooms for us where we could freshen up later.
Another item on our agenda awaited us in the morning. We visited women who had received a microcredit. For women microcredits are one step towards independence and autonomy in many respects. We met hairdressers, women selling cola nuts, dolo beer and kitchen utensils, cooks who prepare their food on the street. Some of these visits involved us going to their homes in direst poverty, the likes of which I would never have imagined. We could only go so far by car and then we continued on foot through poor alleyways full of rubbish, 40 degrees heat, goats running around freely eating plastic bags.
Some of the women live in temporary huts along with between 4 and 8 other family members. The fathers of the children were nowhere to be seen. Most fathers have gone and the women are left on their own.
One woman told us that her son cannot enrol in school because he has no birth certificate. You can only get a birth certificate if it is signed by the father. He had already left her when she was pregnant and nobody knows of his whereabouts. It is a vicious circle.
We sat down with a cook in the shade. Thousands of flies buzzed around the cooking pot. And I gazed over the square. In spite of the poverty I noticed how the people treat each other with respect. They listen to one another, let the other speak, share a joke – in such unspeakably poor surroundings.
Slowly some children made the first tentative sign of approach, looked at us from their huts, watched us and started to giggle.
Inevitably I started to smile too.
Burkina Faso, the “land of the upright people” – how true that is!
We drove back to AMPO to meet nearly all of the Directors once more at the restaurant. They had prepared a wonderful buffet for us, poultry, fish, meat with salads, sauces and various side dishes..
Dénis and I each held a speech to say thank you and goodbye and we were presented with gifts.
We are the ones to say thank you for the amazing organisation of our stay, for the hospitality and the cordiality of our welcome.
I believe each of us felt that we are doing something right and something important in our work.
And then we had to wait. Around 8 p.m. several of the Directors accompanied us to the airport to say goodbye.
It had been a very emotional week.
Thank you for everything.
Merci beaucoup et à la prochaine.
Angelina Wiebe (Merck KGaA)
Elin Mundt (accompanying)
Lucas Weber (DEVELOPmed.aid)
Thomas Pfeiffer (former GF AHK-Pflegeteam GmbH)
Britta Sacadati (AMPO International e.V.)
Ute Krüger (GF, AMPO International e.V.)
Britta Sacadati, Ute Krüger