Friday, 2 March 2012

Burkina Faso - Living With Disabilities - Part VII

Living with disabilities, physical or mental, is a difficult challenge, even in a country that is most adapted to meet the needs of the individual. On a daily basis, those with disabilities face a number of challenges, ranging from transport and accessibility to stigmatisation and prejudice. These challenges are cumbersome and overwhelming. Even for the strongest of people, however, in a world where the equality is spoken about more than it is realised, they just become tiresome.

Being able to survive and live with a disability in an underdeveloped country is unfathomable to many, particularly with regards to the challenges that are faced in comparison to the lack of support that is offered on an organisational or governmental level.

In Burkina Faso, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Demography (NSID) 168 094 out of 14 017 262 have a disability (motor, sensory or mental), which has been heavily criticised as not being a true representative figure, as there has not been a greater effort to collect in-depth statistics. Furthermore, much of the statistics is only collected in populated provinces and towns, and not in the smaller village communities.

The reality of poverty is clearly visible for disabled people. The manifestation of this occurs in many ways. Often you will see a physically disabled person, sat by the traffic lights, or in a populated area, begging for money. Many cannot afford wheel chairs, or motorised vehicles, as a result their only form of transport is usually crawling through the dusty streets on their hands and knees. The more fortunate ones, with crutches, have to walk for miles.

(As much as I would like to show you pictures, so that you can witness the reality, I will not as I do not want to be responsible for perpetuating or continuing an undignified portrayal, or stigmatisation of an already marginalised group. I trust these words will suffice for an accurate description of the seriousness of the situation).

A lot of people with disabilities do not receive the education that they are entitled to or deserve for reasons such as social exclusion or simply lack of access. This limits their potential for employment and ability to provide sustainable income for themselves or their family. Statistics state that in Burkina Faso, only 17.5% of disabled children between 13 to 16 are school. These are the latest figures from 2006. You can imagine that the collapse of the global economic markets and the financial decline would have significantly impacted on this.

In the next 10/20 years, these children will form a significant part of society. If there is no investment in this cohort – through education, training, formation and inclusion - they cannot be blamed for how much they can contribute. Many in the future, just as they do now, will see them as being a burden, as opposed to valuable societal resource. Thus, there would have been no progression.

Despite this uphill, seemingly insurmountable struggle, there are those who strive to do the best they can for themselves. This brings us to the work I am involved in whilst here in Burkina Faso.

Many of you would have received my blog (thank you for reading and feeding back), and wonder what has brought me here. I mentioned briefly in my first blog, but I’ll go in more detail.

Despite Burkina Faso being a country that always been curiously closed to my heart, for various reasons, the reason I have been here since January is on a development project.

I, alongside 6 other volunteers from the UK, am working with an organisation called International Service, on a capacity building and sustainable livelihoods development project. I am team leading/project managing.

We are working with a grassroots organisation called “Tigoung Nonma” (meaning strength through unity in Moore, the national language), which is a co-operative of disabled artisans, who are trying to improve their capacity so they can live independently and generate a source of sustainable income.

The challenges are many; there is a severe lack of resources, material, and infrastructure to support their quest for autonomy. Nonetheless, the struggle continues. The artisans are highly skilled, and very able, their impoverished circumstance is a result of a lack of support and opportunity. You can take a look at some of their work here:

or visit www.internationalservice.org.uk to find out more about the organisation and the project.

There is a lot of work to be done, it may seem overwhelming on the surface, but it is achievable. The only way progress can truly be made is if it is collective and organised, whereby different sectors and groups come together to achieve a common objective.

There are a number of organisations who work to help marginalised members of the community; however, as they are so few, and lack resources, they are often going against the grain, and struggle to carry the burden of improving upon a situation that is stagnant.

Having worked a lot in the past year in the UK, in schools specifically supporting children with disabilities, where I have witnessed the change and effect it can have in helping them to learn the skills to become autonomous, I can truly say that - regardless of its flaws - if this kind of basic structure existed, in Burkina Faso, the re-development would be incredible. However, it is necessary to remember that these desires are undoubtedly affected by both national and international politics; economics, and resources, which often ends up impeding the efforts of the people.


  1. An enlightening piece JJ. This issue of "disability" in poor countries is something that has been very much in my mind. I sponsor a girl with Autism in the Caribbean, not saying this for props to me (obviously), but I have a daughter with Autism and the struggles here are bad enough, so to imagine that in a country without a strong (if any) benefit system resonated for me. You're absolutely right to say how poverty hits the "disabled" the most, so keep up the great work and publicity. Peace and respect. Rob

  2. Thanks Rob. You're right, not having a benefit system makes things harder. That and the fact that, so many people, even in the UK, do not understand autism and other disabilities. Progression is slow.
    P.s. I know you weren't saying it for props, but you're still deserving. Peace!