- BARKA Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit charitable organization established in 2006 in the United States.
- In 2009, BARKA became registered as a local country-based organization in Burkina Faso.
- BARKA is affiliated with the United Nations and has Special Consultative Status with the UN’s Economic and Social Affairs Division (ECOSOC)
A Long Term Perspective in Burkina Faso
BARKA’s international development work is focused solely in Burkina Faso, West Africa. BARKA Foundation currently works with 9 village communities in the Eastern Region of Burkina Faso. Our approach is community-led and long-term. We continue to walk along side villagers long after a project is completed, which often leads to other much needed services in related areas. For example, in 2016, BARKA began developing a sustainable agriculture project with two villages where it had previously drilled a well. The water from those wells will be used to irrigate the new gardens during the long dry season and combat both malnutrition and the devastating effects of climate change.
What Makes Us Different?
There’s a lot we do that makes us different from other NGOs and non-profits. We get personal with our work, often sharing meals from a single bowl with beneficiary communities, getting to know their names and stories, and sleeping in the village in mud huts. BARKA’s co-founders are adaptive leaders, very hands-on and have developed a keen sensitivity to the indigenous paradigm that informs BARKA’s work and helps yield successful outcomes. We believe in the value of indigenous wisdom, that no one knows better than the beneficiaries themselves, and that simple, cost-effective, low-tech backyard technologies sometimes might be better than expensive hi-tech ones. BARKA is community-led by the people it strives to empower. We listen in order to find sustainable solutions that make sense in Burkina.
Our Problem with Development
BARKA’s perspective on international development is particular. First of all, we don’t care for the term “development”. Burkina Faso is ranked close to the bottom of UNDP’s Human Development Index and is considered a “least developed” nation. However anyone who has ever experienced poverty knows that one must be incredibly creative and resourceful to survive. And anyone who has been to Burkina Faso and met Burkinabè would never say that as a people they are undeveloped. In fact, because much of Burkina has not been modernized, the indigenous population has retained an incredible amount of knowledge about the ecological landscape that has been passed down through generations, which enables them to survive in one of the harshest environments on the planet.
Development and Culture
BARKA approaches its work in clean water, women’s empowerment, and climate change mitigation with the idea that we’re not “developing” anyone. The answer isn’t to bring western society’s culture and values to a place like Burkina Faso. The goal is to honor indigenous rights and work with local culture to improve the living conditions of people who don’t have their basic needs met. Indigenous culture is a big part of life in a place like Burkina Faso. By embracing it, BARKA is welcomed into communities and given a level of access normally barred to outsiders. Our work has a more lasting impact because people resonate and identify with what we’re doing together and they’re able to own it which is key for long-term, sustainable results. The US Embassy of Burkina Faso has lauded BARKA for also fulfilling one of its missions- to showcase American values, promote bi-lateral cooperation and “privilege constructive dialogue among Burkinabè and between Americans and Burkinabè on priority issues of shared interest.” See US Ambassador Andrew Young’s comments on the Embassy’s successful collaboration with The BARKA Foundation here.
Development, Human Rights, Women’s Rights
In all the projects we implement, we aim to ensure that indigenous peoples’ human rights and women’s rights are not only met, they are protected and incorporated- baked into the DNA of the project. Through our affiliation with the United Nations, and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, we have used “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” (as delineated in the Indigenous People’s Declaration of Human Rights) as a guiding principle. This means that the beneficiary community is a partner in the work, that their acceptance has come freely, before any of the work begins, and that they are fully informed of all aspects of the work. Our projects provide women with local leadership and financial opportunities as a way to achieve social and economic empowerment.
One of the most special things about BARKA is this idea of reciprocity. It is the central tenet on which BARKA was created- to be in a relationship of mutual benefit with the people of Burkina Faso, and to build bridges between communities in the United States and Burkina Faso that can benefit everyone involved. We believe that charity has become obsolete. We don’t want to cultivate a culture of dependence or handouts, we want to change the world with the simple understanding that we are all linked inter-dependently, that we need each other, and that life is better, richer and more peaceful with this notion of reciprocity. This is the new paradigm for development- for modern and indigenous civilizations to realize that they need one another to co-create a sustainable future, that we can learn from each other and benefit collectively by it.
- To see how US students are benefiting from being in relationship with schools in Burkina Faso, visit Service Learning
Bringing It Back Home
BARKA’s work is not only in Burkina Faso. It also has programs in the United States where it has engaged dozens of schools and communities in the northeast to raise awareness of the following issues:
- Extreme poverty in Burkina Faso,
- Clean water and women’s empowerment issues around the globe
- The importance of sustainable development, and
- Developing young leaders and providing leadership opportunities through service learning initiatives and taking learning out of the classroom and into the local community