Monday 27th February 2012
Polesgo, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
On a hot Monday afternoon, after tense negotiations with yet another money-hungry taxi driver, we arrived at the Polesgo SOS Village D’Enfants. We lugged with us our rucksack stuffed with notebooks, stationary, and school supplies, a few treats (bubbles, sweets, crayons, colouring books), and a sack of footballs. What we didn’t buy ourselves we gathered from generous friends and neighbours in England to donate to the village. The stuff travelled 10,000 miles with us across nine different countries and we were excited to be delivering it at last.
The SOS village is located 10km north of Ouagadougou city. Out of the buzzing city traffic and tarmac streets, an open sewer follows the line of the red earth road to the village. The huts and business of poor families make up the surrounding community. We received a very warm welcome by Celestine, the Sponsorships Coordinator, who had kindly arranged our visit. She was accompanied by Eugine, one of the village’s two educational directors, who joined Celestine to take us on a tour of the homely compound.
Like it’s sister SOS sites worldwide (read a little more of the history behind the charity here: Visiting the Bakoteh SOS Children’s village), the Polesgo SOS Village D’Enfants provides a home and loving family for orphaned or abandoned children. The children come to the village through various tragic family circumstances. Some of the current SOS children had mothers who died in childbirth and they were left with no one able to raise them within their extended family. Others lost their parents due to illnesses. Sadly, some of these children contracted HIV from their mother. Other children were born to disabled or mentally ill parents who did not have the capacity or income to provide the care the children needed. Each was lucky to be offered a place within the loving make-shift families of SOS.
Near the village entrance, classrooms and administrative buildings cluster together with a playground and swing-set. The kindergarten classrooms are playfully adorned with colourful murals. Children of the village and surrounding community attend the school. Fees are subsidised for poor local families and Eugine explained that many families would not be able to afford to send their children to school otherwise. As we arrived school was drawing to a close and we could hear the sounds of lessons winding down. Celestine and Eugine took us to visit several of the classrooms before the children were let out to play. The teachers and students politely received us into their well ordered classrooms. The class sizes were huge, with rows and rows of uniform-clad pupils tucked neatly behind their desks. The school facilities looked well maintained and maps and chalk diagrams adorned the classroom walls.
Twelve gated family homes are nestled at the rear of the compound. The village has been so popular that it is in the process of building a thirteenth. Within each home, a ‘mother’ adopts and raises eight to ten children. One amazing mother has 11, as they did not want to separate a family of three children who joined the village. Celestine and Eugine introduced us to Celine, one of the village mothers, and a few of her ten children. As we spoke her youngest, a toddler, stood shyly by her side. The rooms in her home are arranged as separate buildings around a tidy little courtyard. In the centre stands a round mud brick hut, painted with bold brown and black patterns; the family kitchen. The boys’ and girls’ bedrooms fence the edge of the home, along with Celine and her baby’s bedroom, and the family storeroom. Each mother personalises her home, with a name painted on the gate that she hopes characterises her family. Celene’s translated to ‘brilliant future’. Several ‘aunties’ join each mother to help raise her children. When the mother goes on vacation or training, the aunties can seamlessly step in and care for the family. We have been constantly impressed with the village’s attention to fostering within each child a healthy attachment to their adoptive family. As an example, Celestine told us how just recently one grown-up daughter sent her mother a card on valentine’s day saying how much she loved her. The mum was overwhelmed with tears. Such is the bond SOS are able to foster between families.
SOS have funded an infirmary in the village, where both children and adults can get medical attention. On the edge of the compound an imposing water pump stands to provide fresh drinking water for the village and surrounding community. By allowing the local community to access all of these resources, they benefit from the village too.
The warm reach of the Polesgo SOS Village D’Enfants stretches beyond the local community. They also run a ‘Strengthening Families Program’, which provides financial support, food aid, emotional support, and education to vulnerable parents so they will be better able to support their children. They also teach the parents skills to give them a better chance to earn a living and so support their families. At the moment, 150 children and 45 families are being helped by the program.
We were humbled and inspired by the incredible, committed work of the Polesgo SOS Village D’Enfants. Celestine and Eugine were very generous with their time. They set aside the entire afternoon to take us on a tour and speak with us about their work. Celestine very kindly acted as our translator too, deftly moving between French and English for us. Although Bluebelle is lighter after her final delivery to SOS we felt we left the village much richer for having visited.
We would strongly encourage other travellers heading this way to make space in their backpacks for supplies to donate to the village. All donations are very gratefully received, however small. You can check what is needed and organise your visit by following the links on the Stuff Your Rucksack website. We especially encourage overlanders to take the opportunity to make a small difference in this way. Not many travellers pass through the Burkina Faso branch of this wonderful charity (the last we saw in the visitors book was months before our visit). Visiting with a vehicle, we have a unique opportunity to help SOS continue their valuable work. Even if you’re not travelling this way, SOS are always grateful of financial help too. If you’re willing and able to make a financial contribution to their valuable work, there is a link to donate on the SOS website.
Finally, we would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who kindly contributed stationary for us to deliver to the village. The children and staff are very grateful and we are sure they will make good use of everything you have given.