It’s 11 am and time for Rebecca to shift gears from her other work to be ready to greet several women and babies at the milk program office in town. Today is the day that these women will come in to get more formula and powdered milk for their babies. Four of them are mothers of twins, who are at a higher risk since the mother may not be adequately nourished in the first place to allow her to produce enough milk. The rest are caregivers of orphans or babies who have lost their mothers, having been chosen from the extended family. Many have traveled from far away villages on foot, carrying the babies on their backs. Some are already staying in Dano at a part of the hospital called CREN, which helps children who are desperately ill. All the children coming in today are in different states of health. Some of them would have been dead by now if they weren’t in the program getting help.
Sometimes you discover that despite having lived somewhere for a long time, you didn’t see something happening right there in your area. This is especially easy to do when living cross-culturally, and is what happened with us concerning orphans or partial orphans here among the Dagara. (Someone is considered an orphan if they have lost even one parent.) It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that we really understood what attitudes and practices were toward children who have lost one or both parents. What we discovered is that when a mother dies in childbirth, the baby is often left in a room alone to die, or that when they do try to help the baby, they lack the education and resources needed to do so correctly, and the baby dies anyway.
There are so many reasons for leaving the baby alone like that, and of course we should not stereotype or assume that every person is the same or has the same reasons. There are also those who did and do take care of orphans, doing so to different degrees of compassion as well. In general, however, in this culture adults are valued above children. One way this is evident is in the funeral practices which are very important Dagara customs. A typical adult’s funeral lasts three days, whereas a child’s funeral only lasts one day. Perhaps in a world where so many children don’t make it to their 5th birthday, people have learned to cope by concentrating their energies on those who actually live longer. Not that they don’t love their children, but they are taught that they should be tough in this way. I believe this is changing in the younger generations, however.
Since funerals are so important and there is more of an attachment to the adult who died, the baby tends to get blamed for taking the mother, who was dearly loved and needed, away from the family. A stigma developed that orphans are cursed and will bring you bad luck. They say that no one will come and buy from you in the market, for example, if you take in an orphan. This is of course self-fulfilling if this attitude is widely accepted and therefore causes people to be afraid to come buy from you in the market.
Another aspect of the situation is simply the lack of resources to take care of the baby. The rest of the family feels a financial burden already and now they have to do something special to keep this baby alive. Formula is expensive relative to their means, so many times they will try sugar water, cow’s milk, or a porridge type food called “bouilli.” This is boiled ground up millet or corn making a rough kind of baby cereal, which is really a solid that babies won’t be ready for for months. Because of this, by the time they seek outside help for the baby, if they do, it is often too late.
So once our team became aware of this problem, we began to look for ways to take away the obstacles for a family who feels overwhelmed by taking care of an orphan. The most obvious need is formula for the babies, so we have begun to get the word out, working with the local social welfare office, that people have a place to come for help. Depending on a family’s situation, they can get milk for free or a reduced price. If the child is in poor health, we take them up to CREN where they can live for a while until the mother or caregiver is fully trained in how to use and clean bottles for formula, and until the child is stable health-wise.
The child and caregiver can then return to their home in the village, returning at scheduled intervals to get more milk. They are also visited by Rebecca and/or our teammates, Suzanne and Melissa, in the village to make sure they are using the milk and bottles correctly. People from the States have sent many bottles, as well as sweet gifts of knitted baby caps and handmade quilts.
This ministry has so much potential for expansion, and so many needs to be met. So far, because people have heard of it and because we are working with Action Sociale, the local welfare office, other situations needing help have come up already. As Rebecca was preparing for all the ladies to come, Moussa Yameogo from Action Social came over with a man whose wife had just given birth a week ago but the baby was not eating. Another situation in the past involved a young girl who had a baby who wasn’t eating well because she had an infection. In the process of helping her, we discovered that she herself was an orphan also taking care of her younger sister. Someone had taken them in, but were not really being cared for due to the attitudes discussed before. We were able to get them in a better situation. Then the other day Suzanne was called out to the village to see a baby who wasn’t eating well and discovered that the baby had a cleft palate.
Each encounter offers the opportunity to educate and inform people on all kinds of childcare issues. Since it’s not necessarily practical for everyone to come to Dano, Rebecca has envisioned a situation where there are certain ladies in each village or village cluster who have a heart for the orphans and will work together to take care of them. This way they are not completely displaced and can be near extended family and friends in the community they would have had in the first place. Attitudes and levels of education are definitely changing for the better, so it’s an exciting time!
What do you think? Have you ever experienced a cultural difference that you weren’t expecting? What did you do?
Burkina Faso is a landlocked country with several rivers, only two of which have water year-round. Finding water can be a huge problem during the dry season. Although 76% of Burkinabe now have access to an improved water supply, there is a sharp difference between urban and rural areas in water development. Urban areas have a system of pipelines, even in Dano, where a household can be on “city water.”
However, once one travels out to the remote villages, that is not an option. Instead, people have access to either wells or groundwater that collects in low-lying areas. Unfortunately, many of these wells are old and broken, or the wells are uncovered, leaving them susceptible to disease. If the well in their village is broken, women will often have to go very far on foot to carry water back to their homes by balancing a large bowl or other container on their heads. It’s a lot of lost time and effort.
Closely tied to water sources is the issue of sanitation. Especially during the dry season, it is common for the only water source for people to also be the only water source for the area’s animals. They might also wash their clothes in the same water. Then of course, there’s “bathroom use”; it’s estimated that 77% of people in rural areas just go anywhere they see fit. This can also seep into the water supply. Unfortunately, many are unaware of the link between sanitation, hygiene, and their health. A lot more instruction needs to take place on this subject.
Things are changing, especially in the area of providing clean water to people. The government has many programs going and has made improvements in the last 20 years, but the job is huge. There is still plenty of work to be done. The most urgent and efficient way of helping those in the remote areas, is to repair existing wells and dig new ones in key places. Our teammate, Geoffrey, in conjunction with Living Water International, is heading this ministry. He has also trained two different teams of Dagara men to repair wells. In the past two years, over 50 wells have been restored to villages who had no source of clean water for a long time.
When the team begins a well repair, they first have to take apart the old well, pulling out the old parts and pipes. Then, using a generator, they pump out the water that has been sitting for a long time. They keep pumping until the water is clear again. Then it’s time to measure the depth of the well and put in the new pipes. The new well is then attached and people can start pumping clean water.
During the time it takes to pump out the old water, Dagara Christians give a lesson from the Bible and do a skit of a Bible story for that village’s school children. At this well rehab, they did the parable of the sower.
At this particular well repair seen in these pictures, the crowd was made up mostly of students and other children, but many times there are more people of all kinds from the whole village. There can be singing and celebration going on the whole time, followed by a meal they prepare for the workers as a thank you. Each one varies as much as the overall personality of the village. Whatever the specific situation, they are always extremely grateful to have a renewed source of clean water.
What do you think? Water is a basic need that we often take for granted. Where do you get yours? What are some concerns you have about water in your area? Have you ever tried to walk with a heavy, sloshing object on your head, or any object? Women here are so graceful because they learn this ability from a young age. It’s hard!