A new focus

Poverty can be hidden, it can be covered, it can be pushed to the outskirts so it's not visible to the business class of a city, but it is still there. The reality of such tragedies hit me this week, and of all places here, in the capital city, in a sprawling urban metropolis, poverty can be seen at its worst. Well, in my imagination at its worst, but in the reality of things, those starving people living not two blocks from my house are the middle class of Burkina. Out in the villages, three, four hundred kilometers from Ouaga is where desperation is screaming at you everywhere you go.
Blaise's Barber Shop!  
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Your Worldview!?

The children at the Shalom school are inspiring, and they have worked their magic on me. Without education their future isn't bright, or it wouldn't seem bright to us Westerners. In America it's stressed that if you don't finish high school then your future will be flipping burgers and digging ditches. Here finishing primary school is barely a goal, flipping burgers and digging ditches is a career, and anything more is a gift from god. When I get home from Burkina I plan on fund raising money for the Shalom school. I want those kids to have all the tools necessary for their education. Even though they'll most likely never have electricity, I want to fund raise enough money to spoil them in every other regard! Look around and be thankful for what you have. We are a a society privileged to the fullest. It takes coming somewhere like this, and working on a day to day basis with the people to truly be grateful. If you think you are, well think again.
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Renewed Enthusiasm!

Okay, when I first came to Africa I pledged to blog at least once a week, which obviously hasn't come true. Here's what I've prepared in the way of excuses: We didn't get internet for the first two months; I forgot which email I used to set up with blog site; I am way too busy. Obviously the later isn't true, and in reality the reason for no blog in the last month is more from apathy than anything else. Due to sudden realization that time goes by faster if you're always busy I've decided to redouble my efforts in blogging and teaching. I've added two more classes to my schedule, outside of my normal students for Heal the World. I'll be teaching one class split into two units every Sunday, one unit focusing on grammar and basic English, and the other more abstract, focused on conversation through fun activities, from debates on international topics, to playing cards, to skits. Also, every Thursday I'll be teaching our guards Emmanuel and Jean Baptiste for an hour or two. Two of the nicest guys in the world, gave them a composition notebook and a pencil last night for our first lesson! It's going to be a big project, Emmanuel will have to learn how to write, and Jean Baptiste doesn't know much French, so crossing the language barrier is a little difficult. 
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death. celebrity. life. try harder.

so. REALLY need to preface this. PLEASE take it for what it is - a comment on life in this world, and not a plea for sympathy. 

i found out via a ct scan today (pictured) that there is a small polyp in my inner ear. for you doctors out there, you know that this is no big deal. a minor surgery, and viola. but i must admit that on my way to the hospital today, before my ct scan, i felt these thoughts of death coursing through me - similar level of nag that you feel when a telemarketer calls during dinner - but a bit more dark. i prayed and found comfort in the promise of salvation that i walk in daily - but then thought about my wife, our dog. my parents. brother. sister. it was odd. i didn't know what to expect. google, a great source of info (but sometimes knowledge isn't very comforting) told me all sorts of things the night before. i tossed for over an hour before my brain let me rest. 

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I'm Agree

It's funny how little words make big ripples in our hearts. I saw my inbox today (pictured), and read an email by one of our students, Roland, agreeing to our engagement to be a part of the Teachers College. This is no small commitment. 3 years, 1 of studying, 2 of teaching - the benefit (other than service to his country) - a free education at the University of West Africa. It's kind of a Teach for America flipped on its head. You don't need a masters degree to teach in Burkina, in fact you don't even have to finish high school (although for us you do). The real faith kick though, is that this university, of which we count the Teachers College as the beginning of, doesn't have any other faculties at the moment. It is a vision. One we are working towards, but one that is mountains away. But what does faith do? It moves mountains. 

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here we go

I have taken a long hiatus from this. But I see the benefit to blogging. To process the day. To remember what God is doing around me, through HtW and I. No promises...but I want to make this a regular event. Hope some benefit comes from it...if even just for me. 

 We started the Teacher's College this week. An unceremonious start to a new era in our work - bringing what we have learned to scale. It could seem scary, taking on more - committing to more families, kids, smiles and disseminated thoughts. I once said to Patrick (VP comm.) - let's go big or go home. He was a bit taken back, but my perspective was and is that this work isn't worth sleepless nights unless it really reaches the masses. I hear Mother Theresa when she says she looks at the individual, not the masses - but that doesn't work for me. If I wanted to help the individual I would sponsor a kid, donate my clothes, etc. Which are all good things to do, and in fact if we all did that, I wouldn't have to look at the masses. But were not, so I do. 

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Everything I own is turning reddish orange

On December 20th, for some reason, Sean Paul (a famous singer for those who need a reference) came to Ouagadougou to put on a concert. His style can be described as a popish reggae. The concert was at the national football stadium “Stade du 4 Août”. This is a very large venue and I expected the place to be packed. Then we got to the concert and remembered that we’re in Burkina and no one has any money. The lowest-priced tickets were 5000 CFA (US$10), a great deal for a Sean Paul concert but still way too expensive for the population here.  One advantage to there being no people was that we could walk right up to the stage.

The concert itself was OK.   There were no warm-up bands.  It was pretty much just the main event. Sean Paul does not speak French, and Burkina Faso does not speak English. This little situation made it quite comical when Sean Paul would yell for the crowd to “put your hands up” and “jump” and asked questions like “do you love Sean Paul?” All questions and commands were promptly responded to with a resounding “quoi?” (What?). Stop talking in English and sing.
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On to brighter subject, like scaring my students to within an inch of their lives. It was not on purpose.  I was checking their listening comprehension and oral skills. So I called each student up and asked them simple questions:  Write your name, name a factor of education, what is a job for a woman, and what do you want to do after school?

My students were so petrified that I could see them visibly shaking while I was asking them questions. They were not even being graded on this exercise.  I think maybe they thought I would yell at them or something for not being perfect.  One girl was so worried she crossed herself when we finished.
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For Christmas I took a trip down to Ghana with some friends.   The difference between Ghana and Burkina Faso, where development is concerned, is staggering.

The stark contrast between the two nations is captured perfectly at the border crossing. There is similar land on either side of the border, similar size villages on either side of the border, and one major difference --- different countries. In the Burkina immigration office there is one officer seated at a desk armed with a pen and a large notebook so he can handwrite all the names and passport numbers of people leaving and entering the country. On the Ghana side (even at 4 in the morning) there are at least six immigration officers with four computers with a passport scanner for processing people entering and leaving Ghana.

Ghana is at least 30 years ahead of Burkina and that could be due to many things, one of the largest factors being access to an ocean. A small bag of water in Burkina cost 50 CFA (roughly US10 cents), and in Ghana a small bag of water cost about US6 cents. Burkina, while one of the poorest nations in the world, is pretty much the most expensive nation in West Africa.

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Oh Burkina

I've been teaching in the Burkina Faso school system now for three weeks.  The three schools that I teach in are private.  I don't really think that means much more than they cost more to go to.  One of my classes has 62 students in it while the other two each have about 20.
Some of my students do quite well in class and actually appear to belong there.  The others are incredibly far behind and to be honest I don't have a clue how to catch them up.  I see each of my classes for three hours a week one day during the week.
The large gap in ability is thanks to the system these students are coming up in.  You can completely fail English every year and as long as your other subject scores are good then you move up in level. That means you move up in every level, including the subjects that you fail.
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This blog is about how are working to live up to the grander behind the ideal of our name.


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