CORRECTION: The printed version of this article incorrectly stated $15,000 would supply 60 Burkina Faso students for a whole year. The correct amount is $1,500. The fundraiser’s goal is to raise $15,000. The article has been updated.
Education is expensive, as Washingtonians know — millions upon millions of dollars and whole years have been spent trying to make the state’s school system the best it can be.
Adama Ouedraogo of Burkina Faso is facing the same challenge in his own country, but instead of multi-year bond measures or more property taxes, he knows the change in your pocket can make all the difference.
Ouedraogo flew out to Washington last month to meet with Walk In the Light International (WITLI) staff in the United States, which included kicking off the Change 4 Change fundraiser in Enumclaw with Jane Matson, who is on the board of directors for the non-profit.
WITLI is a Washington-based, non-profit Christian organization that has been aiding the people of Burkina Faso by increasing their access to fresh water wells, health centers and schools since 2009.
The villages of Rialo, Sondre, and Vatao didn’t have schools before WITLI came to the community. Back then, Ouedraogo was just a volunteer, helping the non-profit in the village.
Now there are three schools, one in each village, the largest being the one in Rialo which teaches first through eighth grade, and is looking to finish its secondary school for grades nine through twelve in the near future.
Ouedraogo knows the schools have already started to lead his community in a positive direction, starting with the children.
“At the beginning, we asked them, ‘What do you want to be?’ Some kids don’t say anything. Some say farmers, something like that,” Ouedraogo said, recalling the time before his villages had a school. “But when we continue the school, some change, and say, ‘I want to be a doctor. I want to be a teacher. I want to be a police officer.’ They start to have their mind opened to many things. This is a big change in their lives.”
Ouedraogo was promoted to village director for all three villages last year, which means he’s in charge of managing all WITLI programs and construction.
He’s not only watched the schools grow, but their reputation as well.
“We are doing very good. If you go to the community and say, ‘Rialo Evangelic,’ people will know it, because the school is very good,” Ouedraogo said.
That’s because Rialo Evangelic Primary School, which despite its name is not a Christian-only school, has the best pass rate in the national exam, which is given to all Burkina Faso students at sixth grade.
Three years ago, 98 percent of Rialo Evangelic’s first-ever sixth grade class passed the national exam. For the next two years, 100 percent of students passed.
The national average, Ouedraogo noted, is around 60 percent.
The other two schools don’t have a sixth grade yet, but their pass rates for district exams far exceed average pass rates as well.
The schools are successful Ouedraogo said, because students have better access to fresh water, medical supplies, and school supplies than many other villages in the nation.
But with the schools growing at roughly a new grade every year (and with Rialo’s class sizes averaging between 60 and 70 kids), supplies are running thin.
“If we stop here, we will go back to the beginning,” Ouedraogo said. “The kids can’t take care of themselves yet… we need more time to break the cycle of many things in the village.”
WITLI has set up Change 4 Change collection points (in the form of empty water bottles) around Enumclaw, including The Courier-Herald and the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce, which is encouraging other businesses to participate. You can also visit www.witli.com to donate money online.
All change donated will go toward supplying a Burkina Faso student — ten cents buys a pen; 20 cents a notebook; 40 cents a chalkboard; $4 buys a student’s reading textbooks for a year; and $1,500 supplies 60 students for a whole year.
WITLI’s goal is to raise $15,000. Businesses will be collecting change through April 26.
The Change 4 Change fundraiser precedes a group of Enumclaw residents traveling to Rialo again this summer to volunteer in the school, work at the health center or aid the village in other ways, like drilling wells or helping residents set up their own businesses.
“Now that the village has a well and the children have an opportunity for an education… their eyes are beginning to open up to the reality that they can break this cycle of extreme poverty, illness and suffering and begin to change their village,” Matson said. “‘Change 4 Change’ is just one way that we can help these children break this cycle which has been part of their lives for generations. You are never too young or too old to be able to help change the world one penny at a time.”