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Eastern Burkina Faso

I’ve been back here in Mali and Burkina Faso for almost 6 weeks now and it really has been an experience. Good along with bad but when you experience what goes on here in West Africa you tend to adjust, appreciate, and go with the flow.

T I A   This Is Africa !

Even though my iPhone has broken (actually quite some time ago) I have at least been able to GPS my locations during my excursions out to the field. As the following map shows, I’ve been able to get out to a far ranging area of Mali and Burkina Faso. So with the little time I have, I wanted to just share a very quick, short, sample of the wonderful things and people I’ve met along the way.


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(All Blog photographs © Bartay)


Helen Keller International is in the process of distributing thousands of pairs of shoes to school children through their NTD (Neglected Tropical Disease) program. They have been donated by Toms Shoes and after listening for a couple of days while riding in a 4 wheel out to the villages, I cannot even begin to explain the logistics involved in actually distributing that many pairs of shoes. The program has hit a few snags along the way but when I got out to the village of Sanwabo and saw the school that had been one of the first to receive them, the kids were very happy to show them off to me.


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Some of them didn’t want to wear them because they didn’t want to get them dirty, kind of like keeping them for their best outings. After the shooting I watched as one girl took her new shoes off, put her sandals on and walked back to the village, keeping them clean for another important event.


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But then a group of boys just wanted to have some fun and having good shoes made a game of football a lot easier to play. An example of the logistics of getting thousands of pairs of shoes to a certain age group is ‘what size do you donate’? Well I heard that at the first donation site all but about 4 kids got shoes. I only saw one boy out playing soccer that was wearing his old sandals, he was by far the tallest boy there. I am assuming there wasn’t a large enough size for him, but I’m sure he’ll be taken care of.


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On another day I went on a field trip way up North of Fada towards the final village of Madagou for HKI’s FASO program. I think this maybe was the furthest I’ve been off the dirt road in the past, we drove through the Sahel for almost 2 hours. We were going to about 3 or 4 villages on the way and there has been a problem in Eastern Burkina Faso with bandits, so HKI along with other NGO’s have the National Gendarmes come along. There were 4 soldiers in the truck, two inside up front and two in the back sitting on the benches. All were in full gear; helmets, bulletproof vests, and automatic AK47’s. Ignorance is bliss, the only time I was aware of them was when I was once shooting inside a family’s compound and wherever I went I saw a helmet following me just outside the wall.


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In Madagou, the furthest North we went, HKI was helping the villagers understand the importance of having a latrine and how it protects the water supply. They were in the process of building quite a few, most were inside or next to a family’s compound. They might break open the wall and make an extension for the latrine or build it just outside the compound wall. The round slab is pre-made then the villagers dig the pit, install the lid then build a privacy wall around it. This is really a very nice, sanitary latrine. That stack of square bricks is a vent.


HKI - FASO - Burkina Faso


The village was in the middle of constructing a communal latrine, all was finished but the privacy wall. It was a bit funny that all the villagers kept laughing at me taking pictures of latrines. It was explained to them that the photos were going to America to let the world know what HKI is doing and to help procure funds to continue. I asked Savallé (HKI’s field coordinator on FASO), do they even understand ‘America’ and he said No, they are not even aware of continents. They do understand there’s an outside world and that was all they needed to be appreciative.


HKI - FASO - Burkina Faso


It has rained about every 4th day since I’ve been in West Africa and when it does it rains rather hard. Not for long but the storm comes in with very strong winds, dark skies, lightning and thunder, then just dumps. But being near the end of the dry season, usually within about 1 or 2 hours every puddle is gone. The earth is so dry it soaks it right up and all else immediately evaporates in the heat. To give you an idea, in about 2 or so more months from now, where I’m standing would be under about 4 feet of water in this riverbed.


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In the village of Contaga out in Eastern Burkina, it was the first day of a 4-day project to get the villagers to vote on building latrines in their village. After walking around the outskirts of the village explaining that using this area as a bathroom tends to denigrate the water supply, I found it fascinating to watch them map out the village for the study. They had one villager explaining the roads and where each family was, along with the well and the center of town. After brushing an area of dirt clean, one fellow would draw it in the dirt while another used different shades of ash to fill in the drawing. After about an hour or so when they were all done, Voila… there’s the village.


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Back on the FASO project they had these new quick cookers HKI got and were giving to the village women. They were using one to demonstrate how to cook a very nutritious porridge for their babies, which after the demonstration they let the mothers feed their babies the demonstration batch. The only problem was the only spoons were the ladles and they were a bit big for a baby’s mouth, I think more went ON their faces than IN their mouths.


HKI - FASO - Burkina Faso


I saw quite a few gardens; community and family ones. It was amazing to me to see the further along ones so full of vegetables and greens at a time during the end of the dry season but they are really growing things. Needless to say, they are rather proud also to show off they efforts.


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I cannot believe it but after years of photographing around the world for HKI, I finally saw my first experience with the Orange Sweet Potato. It is one of HKI’s premier examples of a simple way to get so much nutrition and vitamins in such a simple package. However I have always just managed to miss seeing it for some reason.

Now I know you all know the expression ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’, well this proud father and his three kids (Dah!) were enjoying the benefits of their growing garden of Orange Sweet Potatoes.

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So that’s a short and quick tour of the last two and a half weeks here in Burkina Faso. I am off Monday morning for a 10 o’clock flight to Nigeria. I’m connecting through Lomé in Togo, then to Lagos. Then I’m driving about eight hours or so North towards Ibadan to work on a project with the IDRC. I’ll be there for about a week before heading off to Nairobi, Kenya.

I am working outside on the patio and the wind is picking up and the skies are getting very dark. I’m expecting the power to go out at any moment so along with the extremely  s l o w  WiFi, it’s now 3 pm Saturday and I’m hoping to get this posted before Sunday, we’ll see.  I think I need to move inside before the downpour starts.






This entry was posted in Burkina Faso.


  1. Claudia May 10, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    Love the little brown feet sticking out fro behind the Mom’s that were showing their vegetables!

  2. Maria Epes May 11, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    Remarkable work that you are doing Bartay. This blog is fascinating and thanks so much for sharing all the places and faces as well as a feel for the landscape and people too. Those feet and vegetables are wonderful and my favorite is the map. What a beautiful mapmaking process.

    You sure have covered ground and gotten out to a lot of locations. Good luck on the next leg getting to the IRDC job in Nigeria.

  3. Jennifer May 12, 2014 at 5:37 am #

    They’ll be talking about you for a while to come – the crazy guy who only wanted to photograph the latrines!

  4. Kathleen May 12, 2014 at 6:50 am #

    Yay, latrine progress! It’s fascinating to see various daily living processes, how your organization has impacted students so quickly and effectively, and again, their smiles.
    How do they possibly manage the balancing act of full watering cans while on a bicycle?

  5. Brian May 13, 2014 at 4:52 am #

    It is really striking how colorful the clothing the women wear is. Everyone smiles and seems pleased to be photographed. Great work!

  6. Charlie Brown May 13, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    Wonderful photography and commentary. I really enjoy reading your posts.

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