Colma C elementary school in the town of Bobo-Dioulasso
Here at Colma Elementary School, in the second largest town in Burkina Faso, 1170 students are crowded into 6 classrooms. At the beginning of the year, the 3rd grade class (CE2) welcomed as many as 285 children. A solution had to be found quickly. So the school, with the help of subsidies from parents, decided to build 3 sheds. Now there is an average of 140 students per class and per teacher.
The lack of teachers is critical. Most of the time it is impossible for them to deal with so many students. Groups of children are organized with reading or writing activities- shaded from the sun under trees in the school yard - while the teacher provides lessons to others. A monitor is in charge of the activities of these groups, but the children are often left by themselves, chatting and wasting time. Teachers lack supplies such as books, chalk, pens and notebooks.“We manage with what we have”, says Sanon Bakaré -5th grade (CM2) teacher, “but the results are pathetic”. The supplies should normally be paid for by the parents, but most parents work the land or do small trading, and often they cannot afford to send their children to school, so there is no way they can help with the needs of teachers.
The parents are also required to pay for the school water and electricity. These services have been cut because the school isn’t able to pay the bills. This leaves the children in a dangerous situation; they are not able to drink water during the school day. Sixty per-cent of the students do not eat three meals a day. Such is the case for Suliman who arrives every morning with an empty stomach and who regularly faints at about 11:00 a.m. “This year, harvesting has been poor for my dad, and a bag of corn costs too much” he explains. “But me, I want to go to school to study”. There is no school cafeteria and quite often children don’t eat at all during the school day. “This situation can last all year long” school director Vincent Drabo explains.
Since 2003 the number of students has also increased because of a massive return of repatriates from Core d’Ivoire. Here at Colma School, there are 200. Their lives are seriously precarious.
Jean-Marie is 13. He arrived in Bobo-Dioulasso in 2003 with his dad. They left their home and family to begin a new life in Burkina. But here, they own nothing and feel like foreigners in their ancestral country. “My dad fixes motorcycles, and I don’t have enough to eat. I have no school supplies, but the school accepted me anyway, and my friends share with me. I do want to study but I miss my mom. I haven’t heard from her in two years and I would like to go back to my village, near Abidjan”.
Moussa crossed through Cote d’Ivoire in 2004 with his mom and younger brothers and sisters. He has been traumatized by the violence he saw on the way: dead bodies on the road, soldiers pillaging houses, child soldiers shooting at anything. “At school, I am happy, but when I lived there, I ate well and my mom worked less. And now, we receive no news from my dad. So we don’t know if he is dead or not. I want to study to become a mechanic, but I am hungry and I wish my family could find enough food every day”.
Despite the difficulty of the situation, at Colma Elementary, they don’t feel discouraged. The director has even decided to organize cultural activities to interest children in the arts. This year, the school was even awarded the first prize for traditional ballet in the Bobo district.
Here, at Colma Elementary, teachers as well as students find the will to go to school and to face daily challenges.