About Burkina Faso


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All you ever wanted to know about Burkina Faso

(and some other odds and ends of information)

Below is some general information about Burkina Faso and my Peace Corps experience, with links to other parts of this website and to additional related websites. 

Teachers and students: notice the student activities scattered throughout the sections below. These link to questions and activities on the Student Activities page.

Topics below:

Burkina Faso
Ici on parle francais!
School (and strikes)
My philosophy of teaching mathematics
Peace Corps in Burkina Faso
Fellow Peace Corps Volunteers




Burkina Faso

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Burkina Faso, like many countries in Africa, was colonized by a European nation, in this case, France. As a result, the national language is French. However, before French colonization there were more than 50 languages spoken by the different ethnic groups living in the area. In establishing boundaries of the French, British, Belgian, and other European colonies (countries) of Africa,  the existing geographic areas of the various ethnic groups were not taken into consideration. So, many languages are spoken throughout West Africa, and many groups live across a country's border from others in their same ethnic group. The 50+ local languages in Burkina Faso continue to be spoken by its citizens.

The most unique aspect of life in Burkina Faso in relation to many other countries in Africa is that Burkina Faso continues to live in relative peace. In spite of incidents of revolutionary changes in government since its independence from France, and in spite of social unrest from time to time, today Burkina Faso exhibits a fair amount of political stability. It is a relatively safe country in which to live and work, with kind, generous and hard-working people.

February 2002

Burkina Faso is about the size of Colorado, but with a much larger population, about 12 million people in 2002. (Look at a globe to compare the size of Africa with the size of North America and the United States.)


Geogrphy.wmf (5120 bytes) 1. Find out more

For students:

How big is Burkina Faso? How big is Africa?  
(Click for an activity)



Geogrphy.wmf (5120 bytes) 2. Find out more

For students:

Finding and using maps of Burkina Faso  
(Click for an activity)



Burkina Faso was known as Haute Volta (Upper Volta) as a French Colony, named after the Volta River (which doesn't seem to be much of a river). It was renamed Burkina Faso (Land of Upright People, meaning people of integrity and responsibility) during the presidency of Thomas Sankara, a revolutionary leader who was killed in 1987, but whose influence is reflected in many aspects of life in Burkina Faso today.
The current president of
Burkina Faso is Blaise Compaore.

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Economically, Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world.

But it is rich in terms of its people and their attitude toward life.

smile on taxi brousse.JPG (416720 bytes) In terms of religion, Burkina Faso is primarily Muslim, with a Christian population of about 10%. Some of the population continue to practice traditional (tribal) beliefs, rather than either Muslim or Christian beliefs.


Geogrphy.wmf (5120 bytes) 3. Find out more

For students:

About Burkina Faso
(Click for an activity)



Geogrphy.wmf (5120 bytes) 4. Find out more

For students:

Longitude, Latitude and Time Zones   
(Click for an activity)



Geogrphy.wmf (5120 bytes) 5. Find out more

For students:

How much do you know about the Muslim religion (Islam)? (Click for an activity)


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I lived in Ouahigouya, the fourth-largest town in Burkina Faso, located in the north central part of the country (see the map above). My living conditions were more comfortable than many of my fellow volunteers who had no electricity or running water in their remote villages. I had a large house with both electricity and running water, although no hot water except during April and May when all the water was very hot.  The electricity and water worked most of the time, but were often shut off during the end of the hot dry season. I rode my bike or walked to go anywhere. I was fortunate in many ways--my life was simpler than in the US, but not difficult.

This site can show you a lot about life in Burkina Faso. Take a look at the photos of the towns of Burkina Faso for a better idea of life in Ouahigouya, Bobo-Dioulasso or Ouagadougou, or the photos of villages or other parts of the country. You can read one of my essays on the page called Reflections in the Dust. You might also enjoy looking at photos, menus, recipes, etc. from the holidays spent in Burkina Faso with Burkinabé friends. 


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The weather in Burkina Faso seems to fall into three seasons: hot, rainy, or dusty. (Some of the books say there are two seasons: dry and rainy.) No matter what season it is, it always seems to be hot at mid-day, although it gets REALLY hot in about March or April (hotter than 45 degrees Celsius or well over 110 degrees Fahrenheit every day, with little relief at night).

During the rainy season, there are wonderful plants and flowers in most of the country and lots of mud, with some villages inaccessible because of flooded roads for a month or two. During the kind-of-cool (or less hot) season, which is from about December through February, there is a lot of wind and blowing dust. In December, the weather often can be just beautiful except for the wind blowing the dust. The winds that blow in from the Sahara desert and turn the sky brown are called harmattan winds, and they really start blowing dust in January and February. During the "cool" season, everyone goes around with a hoarse throat and/or a runny nose because of all the dust.

By May the hot season has become oppressive simply because it goes on week after week without relief, and the nights are almost as hot as the daytime. Most people sleep outside during this time, but you really need a mosquito net. During the hot season those of us not used to living here tend to get a bit cranky and tired. When the rain finally starts in May or June, it can be in the form of a bit of wind with a few drops of rain, all the way to a raging wind/rain/lightning storm that can tear apart trees and roofs. However it arrives, the rain is cause for celebration, and I would often find myself standing outside enjoying getting wet.


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These photos show the dramatic difference in weather that can happen in Burkina Faso. On the left, a red dirt storm with extremely high winds which turned into a brief heavy rain, as shown on the right less than an hour later.

Photos from my front gate in Ouahigouya during the fall of 2000

Click on a thumbnail to see the larger picture

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Geogrphy.wmf (5120 bytes)  6. Find out more

For students:

Burkina Faso Weather:
How hot is 30 degrees Celsius (and other weather questions)?

(Click for an activity)

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Burkina Faso is part of French-speaking West Africa.  I taught mathematics in French to students whose first language was one of the many local languages spoken in Burkina Faso. In addition to speaking French (which is their second or third language), all of my students also speak their local language. Most of my students speak Mooré, the language of the Mossi group. In my spare time, I tried to learn to speak a little Mooré, but I didn't get too much past everyday greetings. A fellow volunteer from my group, Jonathan Colman, has developed an amazing website where you can learn some basic Mooré.

If you come across words you need to translate between French and English, you can use an online French/English dictionary. And you can find French definitions of French words in an online French dictionary.



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                (Trouvez plus!)

For students of French:
(Pour les éléves et les étudiants de français):

Burkina Faso websites in French   
(Click for an activity)


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School (and strikes) Chalkbd1.wmf (4042 bytes)

I taught mathematics at the LYCÉE YAMWAYA in Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso.  The school is the third largest in the country, with about 2000 students. Even so, there is not space for all the students who want to go to school, and there aren't enough teachers even if there were enough space. In the villages outside of Ouahigouya, there is an even greater shortage of teachers. Here in Burkina Faso, only 11% of secondary-age students are in school. Most secondary students are young men, since the young women are needed to work at home. Many people are trying to find ways to increase the scholarisation (schooling) of students, especially for girls. They recognize that education is a key to development and a strong future, both for the country and for its people.

Between mid-November and the Christmas holidays of 1999, our students went on strike for four weeks over a change in the requirements for university entrance. The strike was led by upper-level students, who felt that the system should continue to rely on the rigorous BAC examination as the primary entrance requirement for university study. The government had adopted a change that would have required students to take an additional test, thus diminishing the value of the BAC and further limiting university enrollment.  Furthermore, it would have caused students to have to pay for, prepare for and take yet another test after the grueling BAC. However, in December 1999 the government announced that it would return to the previous system. Thus, it appears that the students were successful in non-violently communicating their concern. Meanwhile, the strike gave me plenty of time to take pictures and develop my initial Burkina Faso website.

Take a look at some photos of my students and life at school. Also, visit the website of Bernard OUEDRAOGO, an English teacher at the Lycée Yamwaya, including the English Club's newsletter.


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My Philosophy of Teaching Mathematics

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As a mathematics teacher and educator for the past 30 years, I have studied a lot about how children learn mathematics, and I have seen and used techniques that work and some that don't. I have also been fortunate to work with talented teachers, university mathematicians and mathematics educators, and others deeply interested in and knowledgeable about helping children and young people understand and use mathematics in powerful ways. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has many resources to help teachers accomplish this goal. Other good sites for mathematics resources for teachers or home educators are the Texas Statewide Systemic Initiative's Mathematics TEKS Toolkit, Swarthmore College's Math Forum, and a nice site for students called Mathematics Help Central.


I think enabling students to solve a wide range of mathematics problems should be our most important goal in mathematics teaching. I believe all children can learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide if we use what we have learned about how people develop mathematical proficiency, and I believe they should learn these basic computations. I believe it is equally important, however, that they know when to use which operation in real situations they will encounter. I believe that technology is an important tool for doing lengthy calculations and for allowing students to learn mathematics. Using tools such as graphing calculators and computers, students can see functional relationships, explore number patterns or organize data. I think mathematics teaching should include much more than computation, so that students also can use geometry to analyze the physical world (as many other countries emphasize), use statistical processes to organize and understand information (of increasing importance with the amount of information we receive every day), and use the symbolic tools of algebra to make generalizations and deductions.

Sometimes schools, teachers, and students lack the kind of technology I think is important. In my life as a teacher in Burkina Faso, most students didn't have any textbooks, and those that did usually had to share out-of-date books passed down in the family or donated from France. Students certainly didn't have any technology, and there were so many students in every class (60 to 100) that it was impossible for every student to receive individual attention. Nevertheless, even here, teachers and the national ministry of education were working to improve their educational system and their mathematics program by emphasizing realistic, sometimes complex, problems in a direction similar to the direction I see in the United States and in other countries around the world. 

One major difference, and something from which we can surely learn, is that in Burkina Faso, as in many other systems of education outside of the United States, students and teachers are used to dealing with lengthy, complex problems, so that a comprehensive test might include only one or two problems treated in great depth. This is very much in line with recent recommendations in the U.S. on how we can improve mathematics teaching and learning.

Overall, I would say that trying to implement what I believed in this environment was truly challenging and a wonderful learning experience!


This section written during the 2000-2001 school year.

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Peace Corps in Burkina Faso
(Corps de la Paix)

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Peace Corps volunteers served in Upper Volta from 1966 until 1987, when the government of Burkina Faso asked the United States to remove all its aid programs while the country refocused its development philosophy toward being more self-sufficient. During those 21 years, Peace Corps volunteers worked in education, forestry, small enterprise development, water, and agriculture, among other projects. Since returning to Burkina Faso in 1995, Peace Corps volunteers have worked in education and in community health programs. About 80 volunteers currently serve in Burkina, with roughly half in education and half in health. In the area of education, Peace Corps volunteers teach mathematics, natural science, physics/chemistry, and English.

Take a look at a few photos of the wonderful folks who run the Peace Corps volunteer office in Ouagadougou.

Since its authorization by Congress in 1961, Peace Corps around the world has focused on three goals: (1) To help the people of interested countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained workers; (2) To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and (3) To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. This website, like other outreach efforts of returned volunteers, is an effort to support the third goal. Find out about the United State's Peace Corps program at their official website.

For other information about Peace Corps volunteers and programs around the world, visit the Peace Corps Crossroads site or the National Peace Corps Association website. There is also a site maintained by Friends of Burkina Faso, an organization largely composed of former Peace Corps volunteers and others interested in Burkina Faso today.


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Peace Corps Volunteers  Dancers4.wmf (10048 bytes)

As of 2002, there are approximately 80 Peace Corps volunteers serving as teachers and community health volunteers in Burkina Faso. Friends and families of Burkina Faso Peace Corps volunteers from the years 1999-2002 may want to check out some of the photos in the 'PCVs' section of this site. Be sure to see all the linked pages.


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All photos and essays are copyright Cathy Seeley. All rights reserved. No photo or text may be reproduced without permission except for small group educational purposes (thanks for giving appropriate credit). 
For other uses, please contact Cathy Seeley.


About Burkina Faso Faces of Burkina Faso Towns and Cities Villages and Rural Life Art and Music Animals Gardening School Life Holidays PC Volunteers Cathy's Life as a PCV Cathy's Technology Reflections in the Dust Search Site Map