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SAALA, a story of solidarity

In April 2008, we happen to discover the small village of Namponkoré during a touristic trip round Benin and Burkina Faso. As a matter of fact, we only stay overnight in the village and visit the school in a rush, since our programme is quite dense. But this short visit, together with the kindness of all the people we meet there, will definitely stand out in our lives.

Hundreds of children are packed in three run-down classrooms. They attend class as they can, some of them sitting, 5 or 6 in a row in antique benches (the same as were used by our great grandfathers), others standing since there is no room for everyone. But all of them listen carefully to the teacher and when he asks something, they snap their fingers so that he can spot them in the flock.

Of course, the permanent three-classroom structure is much too small for the numerous children who rush up to school every morning - some of them after covering more than five kilometres on foot. The villagers have thus built a straw hut in order to shelter the youngest, but unfortunately, this fragile construction is unable to stand up to the rainy season : those pupils can't attend school before October or November, when the biggest rains are over, and have to leave the premises round the month of April when the rainy season begins ...

 

Very impressed by this visit we reluctantly leave the village in order to continue our trip, but with the firm intention to seek whatever solutions we could come up with in order to help this school.

For the following months, we will become obsessed by this idea and in January 2009 we are eventually able to create the non-profit-making association “SAALA”, which is Gourmantchema (the language spoken in the area of Namponkoré) for "future".

 

In the meantime, we also involved Françoise Dolto High School of Marly-la-Ville (the school where the chairwoman was teaching at that time) in the project. As a matter of fact, the chairwoman of SAALA founded in this school, in 1996, a club known as "the Society for Human Rights" (SHR) where pupils willing to inform themselves and their fellows on the violations of human rights are free to participate. During all these years, dozens of pupils have come to contribute to a better information on human rights in the school, and they have also participated in many actions in order to try and help major humanitarian organizations (such as Amnesty International, Handicap International) or smaller (and unknown) ones, through different actions as for instance the making and selling of Christmas candles.

 

Since the spirit of SAALA was defined in its statutes as “allowing and enhancing the organization of actions to help develop education, culture and health in the South countries, as well as promoting the development of cultural exchanges and the cooperation between individuals from different cultures and countries”, the contribution of the members of the SHR was almost an evidence : from then, pupils from F. Dolto high school would have the opportunity to correspond with children from a different culture, and would be able to contribute to the enhancement of their school. Needless to say, the idea of getting to know and helping their fellows from “the other end of the world” was a success.

One year after the foundation of the association, a new classroom had been built, and by the end of 2013, two more had been completed, as well as two sanitation blocks of five toilets each (the school was deprived of them until then). But thanks to our efforts, we have also been able to equip two of the new classrooms with solar panels, which means that electricity arrived at least in the village, where no power lines existed and still do not exist (the nearest town connected to the grid is about 50 km from there). This has been a real breakthrough for the pupils and for the masters as well since the children are now able to stay longer at school (night falls really early there) in order to prepare for accessing high school (only less than 20% of them were able to go on studying after primary school). In addition, electricity also meant that pupils would soon be able to use the computers we could bring them thanks to a major company who offered them to our association a few years ago.

 

In 2014, we started a new project altogether : the building and funding of an apprenticeship centre in the capital Ouagadougou. This new undertaking is being conducted in a new way, since we work together with the Burkinabe charity ABAEF, whose vice chairman is a French doctor, and whose chairman is a villager from Sourou, near the capital. The purpose is to help young girls aged 15 to 19 who have dropped out of the school system train for hairdressing or tailoring. The centre is now active and four trainees are attending the classes thanks to the scholarship SAALA is able to pay for them. Our goal is to help the centre become financially independent (since both the hairdressing and the tailoring workshops generate profits thanks to people from the oustide coming and having their hair cut or their suits tailored).

But we still have other projects in store : our next "big" undertaking is the development of Sourou primary school as well as the building of a "speech hut" to allow villagers to get information about different health issues, as well as to provide the youth of Sourou with a meeting venue. We are currently searching for new funding sources for this last project to see the light...

Of course, everything we have undergone until now has been partly possible thanks to the contribution of three town councils from cities of the 95 department : Marly-la-Ville (the town where is located our SHR high-school), Saint-Witz, a small town in the vicinity, and Bruyères-sur-Oise (actually the town where SAALA has its registered office). And of course, many different events such as Christmas markets, second-hand markets, dance evenings, concerts and dinner-dances have contributed to half of the collection of funds.

But SAALA would not exist without its active members, benefactors and sympathizers. Without them, the association would be meaningless because SAALA is, above all, a story of mutual aid and solidarity. Thanks to their renewed support, we have succeeded in the fulfillment of our first project, namely the consolidation and expansion of the primary school of Namponkoré, been able to fund the apprenticeship centre in Ouagadougou, and strongly hope to develop others, such as the development of the primary school and the building of the speech hut of Sourou.

Through different means of communication, we try and explain our project to more people, but it is sometimes difficult, even for those who are sincerely interested in it, to join the association. We  deeply count on everyone willing to help us to contribute to the largest diffusion possible of this website, as well as our Facebook pages (https://www.facebook.com/saala.avenirausud and https://facebook.com/saala.org?ref=hl ) and we would like to end up this summary with the simple though essential words of Soeur Emmanuelle :

 

“To live is to act”

 

If you wish to contact us, for more information, for a suggestion you would like to make, or to join the association, please fill in the form from the “contact” page, or send us an e-mail at : saala.bf@gmail.com