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Inspired by perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit of Burkinabé people

POSTED June 9, 2022

Inspired by perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit of Burkinabé people

A visit to camps for displaced people in Burkina Faso is a reminder of the growing need for support

By Fred Witteveen, CEO,

Fred meets young women in Burkina Faso who showed the perseverance of Burkinabé people.

Recently, I travelled to Burkina Faso, West Africa — my first trip as CEO to see our field work now that COVID-19 restrictions have eased somewhat.

Burkina Faso means “the land of upright people.” It’s an aspirational name given to the country by its young visionary president, Thomas Sankara, who was assassinated in 1987. His dream and determination live on in the many inspiring Burkinabé people whom I met.

Habibou is one of those people (I’m with Habibou above). This brave mother-of-two shared her harrowing story with me.

“Armed men came one day, and they stole our livestock. We were a wealthy family with land, a large home and many cattle, sheep and goats. We lost everything but the clothes on our backs. Several days later, they came back to kill us. They murdered my two brothers, their wives and their sons. They killed many people that day.

My husband, my two children and I escaped to the nearest safe town by riding in the back of a delivery truck; we were stuffed in with all the goods. But somehow my husband was separated from us. I haven’t seen him for two years. He is blind, and I worry about him constantly.

When we arrived in the town, I went house to house offering to wash clothes or trying to do anything else to earn money to feed my children. It was humiliating. In my village, I had my own successful business as a trader, selling clothes in the market.

Fortunately, I was able to join a women’s savings group (run by Children Believe). I got a loan to buy children’s clothes and shoes to resell. It helps me, because when I am idle, I think too much about my husband and my children — what will become of them.

I pray hard for peace to return, especially for my children. They were doing well at school at home, but here they are failing because of the trauma they endured. I want them to be educated. If you are not educated you are in darkness and anyone can do anything to you.”

Habibou’s story deeply moved me, reminding me of other stories from these communities I’ve shared in past blogs. I continue to be passionate about learning more about the escalating crisis across Africa’s Sahel region, spanning Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger.

The United Nations describes it as “one of the fastest-growing displacement crises in the world — and one of the most forgotten.” More than 2.6-million people have fled their homes within these countries, along with almost one-million refugees, but we still hear little about this catastrophe in Canadian news.

During the past five years, violent extremist groups and militias have gained control over the Sahel region — now an epicentre for conflict. The situation is compounded by drought, COVID-19 and inflation.

Today, in Burkina Faso alone, more than 1.8-million people have been driven from their homes, and that number increases daily.

I’m proud to report Children Believe is on the ground in Burkina Faso helping thousands of displaced women like Habibou — and doing so much more. I saw our innovative, life-saving work first-hand.

Last year, in partnership with UNICEF, we cared for 26,600 children who survived unspeakable violence by providing mental health support. These children come to our 55 child-friendly spaces daily. They are safe havens where children can play, learn and enjoy a sense of routine and stability. It’s so critical for their recovery.

In Burkina Faso, I also visited vibrant classrooms and communities near Ouagadougou, the capital, where I met some of the 4,500 children sponsored by Canadians. Ten-year-old Marina, a sponsored child, and her parents welcomed me into their mud-walled home.

Young father and daughter in Burkina Faso who show the entrepreneurial spirit of Burkinabé people

Marina’s father, Pierre, 44 (both pictured above), is a millet farmer who struggles to provide for his wife and three children. But his hope and optimism were infectious. “I’m so proud of my daughter,” Pierre told me. “It’s important to educate girls. Marina is not going to be poor like her parents. She will be able to get a job. My wife, Maria, and I are dreaming she’ll become a teacher.”

Maria is realizing her own dreams, too, as a member of our Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) program. This self-sustaining micro-finance approach enables disadvantaged communities who are excluded from the conventional banking system to access credit for income-generating activities.

I participated in my first “sharing out” celebration attended by 2,000 female VSLA members. The energy and joy were electric. The women danced and sang as they received funds they saved during the past year. The grand total: C$278,000+! They are using their capital to launch small businesses — everything from farming to solar-panel sales.

I left Burkina Faso humbled by Habibou’s perseverance and inspired by Maria’s entrepreneurial spirit; I’m also deeply grateful for our Canadian donors who walk alongside these women from thousands of kilometres away.

Watch highlights from my trip below, and click here to learn how you can help by sponsoring a child from Burkina Faso today.

Photos by Philip Maher

Video Transcript: Land of Upright People Children Believe in Burkina Faso 




Fred Witteveen, CEO, Children Believe:

We are right now in the village of Langano, just 40 kilometres east of the capital of Burkina Faso.

I’m about to meet Marina, she’s the first sponsored child I’m going to meet in Children Believe.

I’m really excited, and I just want you to follow with me as we go towards her house.


-Background music plays as Fred tours community.-

-We see children walking to school with their backpacks.-

-Fred speaking French to children.-


Fred Witteveen:

Very good. Very good. Oh, here’s one, Can-a-da.


-Background music plays as we see women knitting together in camp for displaced people. Fred stops to talk to them.-


Fred Witteveen:

There’s nothing like coming in person to really see what’s happening.


-As background music plays, we see children play outside and play games in a tent. Others look around, curious.-

-Fred reads to children.-

-Women and men dance at a Village-Savings-and-Loan-Association ceremony.-

-There’s a ceremony with presentations of documents. A ceremonial outfit and hat are presented to Fred.-


Fred Witteveen:

Children Believe is all about breaking barriers that prevent children from reaching their full potential. I am also grateful for the support of the government, local chiefs because their support, too, and the religious leaders, are important for making this successful.

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Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in — and be heard. For 60+ years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education — inside and outside of classrooms — is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.

About ChildFund Alliance:

A member of ChildFund Alliance, Children Believe is part of a global network of child-focused development organizations working to create opportunities for children and youth, their families and communities. ChildFund helps nearly 23-million children and their families in 70 countries overcome poverty and underlying conditions that prevent children from achieving their full potential. We work to end violence against children; provide expertise in emergencies and disasters to ease the harmful impact on children and their communities; and engage children and youth to create lasting change and elevate their voices in decisions that affect their lives.

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