|© UNICEF Burkina Faso/2008/Tarpigla|
|UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visits with children in a classroom at the Manegda School on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.|
OUGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso, 7 May 2008 – “When I was a child I studied in more difficult conditions than those I can see today. In my country, schools were seriously damaged as a result of the war. Therefore I schooled under the trees trying to be sheltered from the rain. The UN and UNICEF in particular greatly supported my country at that time.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who grew up in post-war South Korea, made the above statement during his recent visit to the Manegda School on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital. It was met with an outpouring of emotion and admiration from the schoolchildren, teachers and ministers in attendance, including Burkina’s Minister of Basic Education and Literacy, Odile Bonkoungou.
Ms. Bonkoungou, along with political leaders, diplomatic corps members and the UN Resident Coordinator, welcomed Mr. Ban and his wife to the school. Enthusiastic schoolchildren were clearly thrilled by the visit.
The Manegda School is located in a poor and densely populated area. Its classrooms are extremely overcrowded, with a total of 816 pupils to only 14 teachers.
The children had risen early for Mr. Ban’s visit and were eager to participate, which fostered a friendly atmosphere and some lively discussions.
A girl from the primary school asked, “Can we expect a woman to lead the UN one day?”
“Why not? Maybe this may happen when my term ends,” the Secretary-General replied.
Mr. Ban visited a UNICEF-donated tent that has served as a temporary classroom for hundreds of children while more permanent classrooms are being built to expand the school’s capacity. In the tent, a children’s representative spoke eloquently on behalf of her schoolmates.
“Mr. Secretary-General, we are glad you could dedicate some time out of your busy schedule to be with the children when you visit a country, such as you did today,” she said. “All the children from Burkina thank you for this.”
Interest in education
The head of the Mothers’ Educators Association also expressed gratitude to Mr. Ban for his interest in children’s education.
“Your visit to our school will ever remain unforgettable,” the school’s director added. “Overcrowded classrooms are results of massive campaigns meant to have as many girls as possible come to school.... The situation highlights the urgent need for more facilities and teachers in primary schools.”
For her part, Ms. Bonkoungou underscored efforts that have been made by the government to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in Burkina Faso.
Progress on girls’ schooling
Burkina’s gross school enrolment rate has increased significantly in recent years. This increase is particularly due to a massive girls’ education campaign and other incentives – such as the elimination of school fees for girls and the free distribution of more than 4 million books and school supplies.
Ms. Bonkoungou congratulated Mr. Ban for playing a key role in favour of improved education around the world, and especially in Africa.
“We shall meet in 2015 to assess progress Burkina has made towards the achievement of MDGs, particularly MDGs 2 and 3 related to education,” Ms. Bonkoungou concluded.
‘A source of inspiration’
Mr. Ban said he was pleased with his visit to the Manegda School. He presented some PCs to the school to help children to learn computer science, an increasingly essential skill nowadays.
“This visit is a source of inspiration for me,” he said.
By way of remembrance, Manegda students presented a notebook with peace-related drawings in it to Mr. Ban. And a tree planted in the schoolyard by Mr. Ban himself will remind children of his visit. They call it ‘the UN tree’.