WHD 2013

Friday, January 18, 2013

Photo story: NGO BWEF in Burkina Faso.

Investing in higher education in the Sahel region. 


By Frederick Eckhard, President of NGO  Burkina Women´s Education Fund (BWEF) and former Spokesperson of Koki Annan.  

How the story of BWEF begins

When I retired as Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Spokesperson in 2005, my wife Kathryn, who is a Scot, proposed that we move to Brittany, in northwest France, where the weather is a bit like Scotland-windy, rainy, changeable—but nicer. We found a dream house with a view of the sea. I thought I was in Paradise.But I developed this gnawing feeling that it was time to give something back.

 And, as so often is the case, circumstance came into play. The woman we bought our house from, Gilberte Saint Cast, had started a humanitarian organization about ten years ago to help girls in need in Burkina Faso. (For the story, as I described it in an Op-Ed in the International Herald Tribune.

I traveled with Gilberte and her husband to Burkina Faso in 2009 and 2010, each time for a couple of weeks. What struck me most was, yes, these were among the poorest people on earth, but they were brimming with optimism and ready to work hard.

Girls face the same challenges in Burkina Faso as in many other parts of the world, but the Government is striving to meet a target set by my former boss, Kofi Annan, in his Millennium Development Goals—namely equal educational opportunity for boys and girls. A little financial push from Gilberte was helping about 45 girls finish secondary school or get training in vocational school.

I couldn’t help getting more involved. I worked alongside Gilberte, but I wanted to do more. Why not support girls at the university level, I thought? Two of Gilberte’s girls got their secondary school diploma in 2010 and each wanted to go to university to study accounting. I, with the help of my son, who lives outside of New York, raised enough money to give each girl a grant of about $1,000.

Trip to Burkina Faso- January 2013

 Breakfast at the Karité Bleu is classically French—coffee with hot milk, croissant, slice of baguette, butter, honey, apricot jam, fresh-squeezed orange juice and, for African flavor, a half of a mango.

I had arranged for 12-year-old students at the Middle School in Saint-Quay-Portrieux to do an exchange of letters with Jean-Pierre’s students. This was now the third year of exchange. I delivered a packet of 28 letters. I would visit his school tomorrow.

In the afternoon, we had planned to bring together eight girls that we subsidize at universities in Ouagadougou. We drove through miles of central Ouagadougou.

The meeting was to take place in an exclusive neighborhood called “Ouaga 2000”. The Presidential Palace is there, as well as Christiane Toé’s office, where the meeting was to take place. Ouaga 2000 is a work in progress.

Christiane’s office building

Christiane had invited eight of the nine girls we subsidize at universities in Ouagadougou; the ninth, Haoua, was on an internship in Ghana that we had arranged for her.

Left to right, Hélène, Sophie, Pélagie and Marie

She also invited several of her colleagues from a Burkina University Women’s Organization that she heads.

Christine, Salamata and Mariam.

The format of the meeting was first to talk to them as a group. After Christiane introduced me, I spoke about networking. In Africa, I said, that means family. But often family is not enough. Look around you, I said, and especially at these professional women who have succeeded in their lives. They can help you. We then took them one by one into Christiane’s office to question them about their budgets and then give them the second installment of their grant.

Reviewing Hélène’s budget

I was particularly impressed with Christiane’s assistant, Awa, who asked pointed questions.

I heard that as we were having these individual meetings, indeed the girls in the room next door had started talking to one another and to the women professionals. Networks were being born. We lubricated the process a bit by offering barbecued meat on a stick and soft drinks.

One by one, we discussed their career objectives.

For Inès, who wants to be a journalist, we had found someone who could offer her three internships this summer—one with national radio, one with national TV and the third with a national newspaper. Eeeehaaaa!

Hélène will finish her third year of study with us this year. Should we push her out on the job market or let her go on to a Master’s, as she wishes? The answer will depend on how much money we raise this year.

Pélagie, a hydrology major at one of Africa’s best universities, is struggling. She failed English. Can she make it up? We hope so.

Diane, orphaned as an infant, had a bout of malaria and missed the required grade level to stay in her school by one quarter of a point. We since learned that there’s a medication that can limit the symptoms of a malaria attack to three days. Can we get this for all our girls? Happily, Diane got entry to another institute and is now in her second year of accounting.

Marie, a gifted student, is in her first year of law school. Was this the right choice? We wonder. But she says it is her passion, and so be it.

Sophie, who’s long-held dream is to become a mid-wife, seems finally to be on track. Our fingers are crossed.

Josiane took a while to figure out that she wanted to be a nurse, but now seems to be focused.

Sonya, who has been studying corporate management for years and has had a prestigious internship or two, is still on the job market. She has decided to go to school nights to get her Master’s degree. We’re behind her.

On our way out, we asked Christiane where Marion could work.  She showed us a nicely-appointed office. Everything looks good.


  1. So good to see Kofi´s former Spokesperson involved in such a good cause :-)

  2. We need more of theses projects in the region!!!