This June, I traveled to Pissila, in the Sanmatega province of Burkina Faso. I was there to attend the closing ceremony for the Burkinabé Response to Improve Girls’ Chances to Succeed (BRIGHT) II Project, funded through the MCC compact with Burkina Faso. Speaking with students, teachers and parents participating in the BRIGHT II Project, I truly experienced firsthand the benefits of MCC’s investment.
The BRIGHT program is a collaborative effort of the United States and Burkina Faso to improve rates of children’s primary school attendance, completion, and promotion to secondary schools. To date, the program, including work performed under the MCC compact, has educated over 27,000 students, including 16,000 girls, and has built 132 primary schools across 10 provinces. The numbers are impressive—but they don’t tell the whole story.
In Pissila, the success and visibility of the BRIGHT program was evident from the high-level participation at the well-attended closing ceremony. The Prime Minister of Burkina Faso, Luc Adolphe Tiao; the Minister of Education and Literacy, Koumba Boly; and U.S. Ambassador Thomas Dougherty were all on hand to share in the celebration. Officials from MCC, USAID, and Plan International were also present. The stars of the show, however, were the 500 students from the BRIGHT school of Pissila, who were as proud as could be to show off their school and accomplishments.
We arrived early on Thursday morning to enthusiastic cheers and waves from students of all ages. Three large tents were set up at the center of the school, flanked by new classrooms, offices and teacher housing. Boys and girls, waving American and Burkinabé flags and proudly wearing their school shirts displaying the BRIGHT II emblem, greeted the prime minister and U.S. ambassador as they arrived. The atmosphere radiated with excitement and joy; students and teachers alike were proud that their school had been selected to host such an event.
The moving speeches and lively performances diverted our attention from the hot Burkina Faso sun and 100+ degree temperatures. Enthralling music and traditional dances had the whole crowd applauding, especially for the youngest dancer in a local troupe who was able to shake the prime minister’s hand. Later, Celia Ella Kafando, a fifth-grader, courageously took to the podium to make a speech on behalf of the students of Pissila.
Though her head barely reached the top of the podium, Celia spoke with a clear and strong voice, thanking MCC and the American people for building her school. To the visible enjoyment of the prime minister, the education minister (one of Burkina Faso’s two female ministers) and the region’s governor (also a woman), Celia shared that many of her fellow students aspired to become governors and ministers thanks to their education. Everyone smiled when the prime minister and education minister were given the “key” to the school, a beautiful, symbolic oversized key made by Burkinabe bronze workers.
The prime minister’s speech was unexpectedly touching and honest. Speaking directly to the students, he admitted that school was not always easy, recognizing that most of them had to move away from home, learn a new language (though French is the official language, over 60 languages are spoken in Burkina Faso) and—perhaps the most universal problem of all—wake up early to get to class. He encouraged the students not to give up and to follow their dreams. Ambassador Dougherty echoed these sentiments in his speech, stating, “We hope each and every BRIGHT school graduate will have success in realizing their potential in the years to come.”
Though two more years remain until the compact’s end, it was encouraging to see such a successful closeout of this project. The Government of Burkina Faso has pledged to maintain the schools and remain committed to supporting girls’ education. In the words of Prime Minister Tiao, “The American people can trust us. We will take care to meet the challenges of underdevelopment.”
For more information about the Burkina Faso Compact, visit www.mcc.gov/burkinafaso.