Friday, 16 December 2016

ICS Case Study

“For women here, the real issue is unemployment.”

In Burkina Faso, it can be a real struggle for women to support themselves and their families, especially those who have lost their husbands. Men are widely considered to be the ‘head’ and bread-maker of the family, and widows are often disregarded and even ostracised by their community. Yvonne ZOUNGRANA  is just one of the women who turned to AVO because she was unable to find work, despite being lucky enough to attend school. Yvonne admitted to doing well in school, but that she was “unable to carry on with education” because her family was unable to afford the tuition for college.
Volunteers interview ZOUNGRANA, Yvonne

“With no prospects and nothing to do, I used to stand in line outside the council building very early in the morning to see if I could clean the streets of the city. They would only choose 30 woman out of over 5000, and after waiting for so many hours to be told no was extremely hard.”

Eventually, Yvonne heard about AVO after doing occasional housework for one of the families working with the association, and has spent the last two years working at the association to improve her skills in dyeing and weaving traditional fabrics.
Mama AVO [Mme Yameogo] organised equipment and a training session for me and other woman in similar situations to learn tissage [weaving].”  She is now 35 years old, with 5 small children to support, and works at AVO almost every day. She has not had a chance to return to school to continue her education.

Many issues for women in Burkina Faso seem to stem from a mentality of gender-roles, enforced by a patriarchal society that is firmly set in the minds of the people. This makes women’s rights a very sensitive subject, because we are often faced with the outlook that “it is the way it always has been.” 

The government has taken steps to encourage equal access to education, improve access to health care, and banning polygamy and FGM. And yet, women are still subject to many inequalities, caught up in the cycle spun by of a lack of money, lack of opportunity, and the men-first mentality that underlies all this. Women, particularly those who have lost their husbands, must find a way to overcome these severe disadvantages, in order to support themselves and their families.

President of AVO

YAMEOGO/SIMPORE Esther, the president and secretary executive of AVO, founded the association in 2001, after witnessing the struggle of widows and vulnerable women first-hand. 

“As an orphan from a young age, when we lost our father, my widowed mother had no support. We lacked food, clothes, and struggled to pay for school. After this, I knew one day I would help people who have been in similar situations, and teach them skills so they can feed their families.”

Professional training in dyeing techniques
It is clear that AVO is incredibly passionate about the work they do here in Koudougou, and for the president, it is a “personal wish to give support and to serve others.” One of AVO’s primary aims is to provide sustainable support for disadvantaged woman, widows, and orphans, particularly for income-generating activities. As an association, they works closely with the community to forge partnerships, to search for monetary aid and other opportunities for development. Some of AVO’s successful projects include: a micro-credit scheme to provide women with bicycles, searching for sponsorship for school equipment and clothing for the children, and the provision of IGA training sessions.

Now 15 years on, AVO is just beginning their partnership with ICS. Our hope is that close cooperation between the partner and the volunteers will help to increase the positive impact of AVO in the community, and to “continue to provide new opportunities and skills for our women.”

Volunteers deliver surveys in Nariou-Ronsin
One of the main objective of our partnership is to raise local awareness of women rights and to take surveys on their understanding of these rights, but discussing these objectives with AVO’s staff quickly revealed to our volunteer team that we needed to change to a more indirect approach. 

Their advice and feedback was vital in helping us to prepare and be culturally sensitive to the realities of society here. It was one of the most successful parts of our placement, as summed up by Mme Yameogo: “The volunteers and our Animatrice visited 5 of our partner villages to conduct awareness raising sessions for over 250 of our women and men.”  We used these excursions to speak to about key issues such as hygiene, the right for access to healthcare (particularly for pregnant women and infants), and the importance of education, especially for girls. It was a unique chance to speak to both men and women, and to start (indirectly) challenging their mentality towards rights for women and girls. We then completed surveys to assess the needs and living conditions of the women, and their understanding of their rights. 

The main issues and needs, as highlighted by Mme Yameogo, seemed to centre on “lack of clean water, lack of sanitation, lack of jobs, and lack of trainings.” By gathering the results of these surveys, we hope to facilitate AVO to provide support where it is needed most, such as through specialised IGA trainings that the women have specified would be most beneficial to them.

Volunteers deliver marketing lesson for AVO women
During the first cohort’s time with AVO, the volunteers also helped AVO to organise many different skill sessions in income-generating activities for the women in Koudougou. These training sessions, often arranged as an exchange with other organisations, provided AVO women the opportunity to learn and improve their skills, including advanced dyeing techniques, the production of perfumed soap, and shea butter products. 

The volunteers were also able to provide literacy and marketing lessons for the women, which helped, as Yvonne explains, to build their confidence and capacity “to sell our products and promote our work here in Koudougou.” Furthermore, the volunteers helped to initiate French, maths and hygiene lessons with the children during AVO’s community meals, thereby complementing their studies and reinforcing the importance of health and education.  

Another focus for the partnership was to improve professional capacities of AVO as an association. ICS volunteers have been able impart their skills and knowledge through lessons for the staff, in both English and IT skills, which were particularly relevant in teaching AVO to manage and maintain the new blog and social media accounts we helped them create. The investment from ICS also provided funds to develop AVO’s resources and community infrastructure, from designing a new logo, to creating a new sign, to buying benches and a writing board for lessons and public events. Mme Yameogo commented on the changing face of AVO: “It already looks better, with the sign, paintwork, and writing boards for the children to learn.” The volunteers even helped AVO to organise and run their Open Day, from radio broadcasts to marketing trips to selling and promoting AVO products on the day.

The ever-smiling, ever optimistic women of AVO
We believe the future looks bright for AVO and the community as a result of this positive partnership with ICS. Yvonne can already see that “the impact of the ICS programme will have many benefits for us. We can practice everything we learn and develop our skills to a high level. I have found all the trainings very useful, and can take the lessons learned to use in everyday work, that will give us a good income.”

Our work with AVO is just beginning, and we do not doubt that there is still a long road ahead. This association is driven by both the passion and ambition of Mme Yameogo and her team, to bring about positive change for disadvantaged women and children across the country. AVO faces challenges everyday. It is a constant battle to change the mentality of society, towards widows, orphans, women and girls, and to find the means to provide them with the opportunities they are otherwise denied, in one of the poorest counties in the world.

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