Gearing Up for Menstrual Hygiene Day, May 28: It’s Time For Action

Gearing Up for Menstrual Hygiene Day, May 28: It’s Time For Action

BARKA Foundation and those fighting Period Poverty are gearing up all over the world right now in preparation for Menstrual Hygiene Day tomorrow, May 28. This annual event has been growing in popularity and impact for the past several years. This year, due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, it is poised to become a major worldwide virtual event to create more awareness about this important issue than ever before.

The Bracelets: Bracelets are being locally created across the planet to symbolize an end to the stigmatization around periods and to provide a visual reminder of the 5 days of a period within a 28-day cycle. The bracelets above were made locally in Burkina Faso.

The theme of this year’s Menstrual Hygiene Awareness Day is: It’s Time for Action!

And in Burkina, action is what we’re seeing. At the national observance of MH Day in Ouagadougou earlier this week, an event that BARKA Foundation helped to organize and financially supported, the Minister of Education said that Menstrual Hygiene Awareness is now a priority for the new educational curricula that the government is developing.  In just 4 years, we have taken this issue from 0 to 100, put it on the radar of the Ministry of Education, and have done much to break the silence around the taboo topic of menstruation.

Pictured above are 3 of BARKA’s MHM Program Leaders, from left to right: Madame Zalle, Madame Bonkoungou, and Madame Traore. On May 28, they will lead a 1-hour radio program on the subject of Menstrual Health to sensitize listeners in the entire eastern region.

Here are some of the questions they will discuss:

  • What is menstruation?
  • Why do women menstruate?
  • How can you safely and hygienically manage your menstruation?
  • At what age do girls begin having their periods?
  • When do women stop menstruating?
  • How do you know when the date for your next period will be?
  • What symptoms may a girl have before or during her period?
  • Why do girls miss school during their periods?
  • What advice can you give a girl to be at ease, comfortable and healthy during her periods?
  • Why do we celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day?

Also, WASH United, a leader in the field of Menstrual Health has created a very informative infographic on periods during the COVID-19 pandemic. We highly recommend you check it out here. Periods don’t stop for pandemics, and neither do we! #PeriodsInPandemics

Have a wonderful, safe and action-filled Menstrual Hygiene Day 2020! Together we can end stigmatization and period poverty to empower girls and women around the world.

Response to COVID-19 in Burkina Faso

Response to COVID-19 in Burkina Faso

BARKA Foundation is closely monitoring the Coronavirus situation in Burkina Faso. We will continue to update this page with the latest news, updating the timeline below with significant events and information.

The healthcare system in Burkina Faso is already virtually on its knees due to an ongoing unprecedented humanitarian crisis, and most medical facilities in Sahel, Centre-Nord and Nord regions have either closed or are barely able to function. We are concerned that a widespread outbreak of Coronavirus could have catastrophic results.

Please also check BARKA’s news archives The BARKIVES for the latest news articles from the international press.

BARKA’s Response for its Partner Villages: During a Board Meeting on March 21st, BARKA’s Board of Directors determined to immediately focus its efforts to sensitize the population of our village partners and internally displaced people currently taking shelter in Fada N’Gourma on the critical importance of frequent handwashing at this time. In the process, BARKA will support several local women’s organizations in the Fada area by purchasing locally produced soap made with shea butter.  As markets, sales and revenue have dried up for local sellers, this will provide a much-needed income generating activity for dozens of women in several women-run associations.

Number of people reached thus far with soap distribution and handwashing sensitization: over 3000.

Click here to make a donation that will be restricted for this purpose.

BARKA’s Response for its Burkina Faso Staff: Until further notice BARKA’s entire staff is prohibited from traveling to Ouagadougou or Bobo-Dioulasso. Currently we are happy to report that all staffers are healthy and no one has fallen sick. We are taking measures to protect staff with masks and gloves when they distribute soap.

If you are in Burkina Faso and feel sick, call the Burkina Faso hotline at (226) 52-19-53-94 or (226) 70-95-93-27, or dial 35 35, if you suspect you might have COVID-19.

CORONAVIRUS TIMELINE WITHIN BURKINA FASO:

Number of Cases of COVID-19 in Burkina Faso (per Ministry of Health):  851 (as of May 30)

Number of Deaths: 53

Number of Recoveries: 690

May 30: Police used tear gas to disperse a demonstration in the southwestern city of Bobo-Dioulasso on Saturday, May 30. Hundreds of people, many on motorbikes, had gathered in the city center and planned to proceed to the Hauts-Bassins regional administrative office to call for the lifting of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions.

May 18: The government announced in a statement that as of May 16, out of 138 samples analyzed, Burkina Faso has not registered any new cases linked to covid-19.

May 7: Roads within Burkina Faso are re-opened.

May 6: Burkina Faso’s football federation canceled the 2019/2020 football season due to disruptions occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

April 30: Schools are being set to re-open on May 15th.

April 28: As of last week, there were over 19,550 confirmed cases in Africa. International media sources report Covid-19 cases have surged 43% in Africa during the past week.

April 20: The Government of Burkina Faso modified the curfew restrictions. As of today, a curfew is in effect between the hours of 9:00 pm and 4:00 am. Additionally, effective next Monday, 27 April 2020, the wearing of facemasks will be obligatory throughout the country.

April 2: Burkina Faso slashed its expectations of GDP growth for 2020 from 6.3 percent to two percent, in an nationwide address by President Roch Kabore. He also pledged that the state will “take charge of water and electricity bills” for some inhabitants and enforce price controls for essential products, with security measures to protect stocks of key consumer goods. The authorities have set up a recovery fund for companies in difficulty worth 100 billion CFA francs (152 million euros / $165 million), together with a solidarity fund to help workers in the informal sector. Also, President Kabore pardoned 1,207 prisoners in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

April 1: There are now 6 confirmed cases of government ministers, and the Ambassador of Italy has also tested positive.

March 29: Burkina Faso’s Minister of Transport, Urban Mobility and Road Safety, Vincent Dabilgou, has tested positive for COVID-19. He is the 5th minister to have contracted the virus.

March 26: The Burkinabè ministerial board declared a state of sanitary emergency in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. As such, authorities announced a quarantine in Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, Boromo, Dédougou, Houndé, Banfora, Manga, and Zorgho, where cases have been confirmed. It remains unknown how long the quarantine will remain in effect.

March 25: Authorities in Burkina Faso have ordered all bars, restaurants, and markets in the capital Ouagadougou and its surroundings to close from Wednesday, March 25, until at least Monday, April 20, to prevent further spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country. All gatherings are also prohibited.

March 24: The Burkina Faso Ministry of Health confirmed 114 cases of COVID-19 in Burkina Faso, the highest number in West Africa. Martial Ouedraogo, National coordinator of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, said seven patients have been cured. Some 604 people have been traced and isolated.

March 23: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Monday for an immediate cease-fire in conflicts around the world to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. The U.N. chief said: “It is time to put armed conflict on lock-down and focus together on the true fight of our lives… the world faces a common enemy — COVID-19 which doesn’t care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith”. He said women, children, the disabled, marginalized and displaced and people caught in armed conflicts, which are raging around the world, are the most vulnerable and “are also at the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19.” It’s time to silence guns, stop artillery, end airstrikes and create corridors for life-saving aid and open windows for diplomacy, he said. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world. It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now. That is what our human family needs, now more than ever.”

March 22: The US Ambassador, Andrew Young confirms he has tested positive for Coronavirus.

March 21: Burkina Faso has 64 confirmed cases of coronavirus (29 women and 35 men), resulting in 3 deaths to date including that of a 62-year-old female legislator with diabetes — sub-Saharan Africa’s first fatality from the new virus. Four government ministers are among the latest cases including the ministers of foreign affairs, interior, education and mines and quarries. The vast majority of cases are in Ouagadougou, however cases have also been identified in Bobo-Dioulasso, Boromo and Dedougou. According to a government issued report, 5 cases of recovery, including the first infected couple who returned with coronavirus from France last week, have been recorded.

March 20: The Burkina Faso government puts the followings order in place:

  • All gatherings more than 50 people prohibited, effectively putting an end to church and mosque services and funerals
  • Nationwide curfew from 7pm to 5am
  • Airports in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Diouslasso will be closed for 2 weeks (renewable)
  • Land and railway traffic has also been suspended for 2 weeks (renewable)

March 16: All schools are shut down effective immediately until at least April 14th.

March 11: Al Jazeera reports that there are only 400 coronavirus test kits available in Burkina Faso, with only three health facilities in the country able to carry out the tests – two in Ouagadougou and one in the second city of Bobo Dioulasso.

March 9: Burkina records its first 2 cases of Coronavirus, becoming the sixth country in sub-Saharan Africa affected by the virus. Health Minister Claudine Lougue told reporters that the two patients, a husband and wife, had recently returned to Burkina Faso from a trip to France and went into isolation. Mamadou and Hortense Karambiri, considered celebrity pastors, lead a church of 12,000 members, and had held a service before coming down with symptoms. Their church, Bethel Israel Tabernacle, canceled its Sunday services.

Barka, St. Joseph Hospital

Barka, St. Joseph Hospital

From left to right: Dr. Kevyn Comstock, Esu Anahata, Ina Anahata, Issouf “Kodjo” Bance, President Mary Prybylo, Karim Combari, Spiritual Care Director Andrew Files, Primary Care Director Mya-Lisa King, Miki MacDonald N.P.

January 22, 2020

We would like to get down on our knees to express the depth of our gratitude for St. Joseph’s Hospital partnership with The BARKA Foundation and its incredibly generous gift of medical services to two members from the BARKA Delegation who visited the US from August through January. During their 6-month visit, Kodjo and Karim (pictured above) received thousands of dollars in life-saving medical care.

When Karim arrived he could barely walk and was in constant pain. Osteopath Kevyn Comstock diagnosed him with spinal stenosis. St. Joe’s donated an MRI which confirmed severe spinal stenosis and then offered to provide him with the only care that would offer a permanent solution to his medical condition- spinal surgery. Dr. Swartzbaugh performed the surgery and post-op care and the operation was a resounding success. Karim has his life back (no pun intended) and is walking tall and no longer in excruciating pain.

Kodjo had a dental emergency which unfortunately came late one Friday night- with no dentists available until Monday. St. Jo’s provided him with a pro bono visit to the emergency room to treat his pain, as well as vaccinations, osteopathic treatments and a steroid injection for his bad knee.

Needless to say, Kodjo and Karim were amazed at the level of the care they received from St. Joe’s. In Burkina Faso there is 1 doctor per 10,000 people and most clinics and even hospitals have barely any resources or advanced medical equipment. At St. Joe’s, Karim was even able to speak directly to his surgeon and team of medical practitioners through a real-time video translation service.

Karim, Kodjo, and all of us here at BARKA Foundation are truly grateful to St. Joseph’s Hospital for going above and beyond to help the lives of two people who will be forever changed. St. Joe’s willingness to put love into action through such charitable medical services embodies what we like to refer to as reciprocity.

From Left to right: Karim Combari, Dr. Joanna Swartzbaugh, Kodjo Bance, Ina and Esu Anahata (pictured in screen is the French interpreter).

Op-Ed: Why We Should Care About Burkina Faso Right Now

Op-Ed: Why We Should Care About Burkina Faso Right Now

Photo: Emergency water distribution in Fada N’Gourma, November, 2019

January, 2020, Fada N’Gourma, Burkina Faso

Fourteen years ago, my wife and I co-founded The BARKA Foundation, a UN-affiliated NGO with special consultative status with ECOSOC. BARKA’s work focuses primarily on WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), and related areas of women’s empowerment and sustainable agriculture. Since 2006, our lives have been singularly devoted to the small, ultra-poor, landlocked nation of Burkina Faso. What began as annual month-long trips turned into 9-month stays as BARKA’s work matured, projects increased in size, and Burkina became more our home than our native US. However, we have not set foot back in this beloved country since May 2018, due to a rapidly deteriorating security situation.

Over the past 18 months, our hearts have broken as we’ve helplessly witnessed Burkina play host to Africa’s latest unfolding tragedy. Due to increasing militant attacks by several jihadist groups, over 500,000 people have been forced to leave their homes (a 544% increase since January), creating one of the fastest-growing displacement crises in Africa.[i] The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, is calling the situation an “unprecedented humanitarian emergency[ii] in the West African country of roughly 20 million people. Almost 3,000 schools were forced to close by the end of the last academic year[iii] and 330,000 students were out of class. This places more and more children, particularly girls, at risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, child marriage, and early pregnancy. Children not in school are also at higher risk of being recruited by armed groups.[iv]

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) states that 1.2 million Burkinabè are threatened with famine and malnutrition.[v] 80% of Burkina’s population grows their own food to survive.[vi] However, this past rainy season, when the year’s staple crops are cultivated, many local farmers either didn’t travel to more vulnerable rural farms for 3 months to grow their crops or were forced to leave before they could harvest[vii] due to threats of violence by jihadist groups and increased insecurity. Farmers are now selling anything they have, such as livestock, to survive and put food on the table.[viii] Access to food is expected to get more expensive and challenging as the devastation of the country’s agriculture and rural economy continues to be felt. [ix]

An aggressive insurgency spawned from several al Qaeda affiliates has killed almost 2000 people since January, combining guerrilla hit-and-run tactics with road mines and suicide bombings.[x] Until this year, attacks were primarily focused on government institutions, police/security posts, and community leaders. Targets have now shifted toward civilians including numerous recent attacks in churches[xi], public markets, schools, against gold mine workers[xii] as well as several instances of kidnappings of westerners[xiii]. To make matters worse, militant groups are responsible for a rise in inter-communal violence[xiv] in a nation that has long been known for its social cohesion and peace among Christians, Muslims, and practitioners of local traditions. Local vigilante “self-defense” militias known as “Koglweogo” are also taking up arms and have been accused of atrocities[xv] themselves. Burkina Faso is now stuck in a vicious cycle where the problems that allowed armed groups to infiltrate the country are being exacerbated by their presence, while the resulting desperation is causing more people to join them.[xvi]

How did we get here? In 2014, the dictatorial president, Blaise Compoare, who ruled the nation like a tribal chief for 27 years, was overthrown[xvii] by a relatively peaceful popular revolution. Until then Burkina Faso, a former French colony, was deemed an oasis[xviii] of peace and security within West Africa because Compoare’s regime had made deals with terrorist groups to prevent them from conducting attacks in Burkina. The fledgling democratic government did not renew such truces when it came into power in 2016. In addition, Compoare went to great lengths to prevent any coups against him (he was a coup specialist who came to power himself in 1987 in a bloody coup[xix]) and surrounded himself by an elite army known as the Presidential Guard. This army received specialized training by France and the US, much to the neglect of Burkina’s national military. When the Presidential Guard was disbanded in 2015 after attempting its own coup, a security vacuum ensued. Burkina’s first terrorist attack occurred two weeks later[xx]. The Burkina military that remained sorely lacked training, equipment, and funding and was quickly overwhelmed by activities of several terrorist groups operating within the country. Earlier this year the Burkina military accidentally bombed the wrong target by confusing geographic coordinates and were also cited for extrajudicial killings and human rights violations[xxi].

Why should Americans care? Faced with jihadist breakthrough in Burkina Faso, neighboring states in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea increasingly fear attacks in their territories. The risk is high that the violence which moved south from Mali into Burkina will continue spreading to Ivory Coast, Ghana, Benin, and Togo, further destabilizing the region. Since the crisis began, BARKA Foundation has been advocating for greater international support in terms of military capacity, security capabilities, and development aid to nip this terrorist insurgency in the bud before it gets completely out of hand. The insurgency is still fledgling and is more vulnerable now then it will be after it has more time to establish itself in the region. Although the US has been a key strategic ally through assistance programs aimed at building capacity in areas such as counter-terrorism, peacekeeping, intelligence and defense institutions building,[xxii] neither American nor French support has come close to being enough to turn things in the right direction. Maj. Gen. Mark Hicks, commander of US special-operations forces in Africa even expressed concern that too little resources were being applied too late to be effective[xxiii]. Humanitarian organizations, political leaders, even the Pope[xxiv] have spoken out about the need for international partners to pay closer attention to what’s happening here. The advanced attack capabilities terrorists in Burkina are now employing make it a potent long-term threat to US and European interests in the region and may be directed against the US homeland with little to no warning.[xxv] Western leaders make a serious mistake to underestimate the danger this insurgency will pose in the future.

Despite these threats, last Fall, the Pentagon ordered a 10% cut to the roughly 7200 US defense personnel in Africa.[xxvi] The Trump administration has skepticism about doing anything in Africa,[xxvii] and President Trump would surely consider Burkina Faso a “shithole country[xxviii]”. Last month Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper began weighing proposals for a major reduction or even complete pullout of American forces specifically from West Africa.[xxix] Nothing could be worse for Burkina Faso, the region or US interests in Sub-Saharan Africa. The US has done more than any global power to contribute to the rise of Islamic Jihadist violence around the world and bears some responsibility here. It was the overthrow of Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya that created the influx of arms into Mali[xxx] and the rise of terrorism there, which is directly responsible for the terrorist situation in Burkina Faso[xxxi]. It was Bush and Obama’s drone policies in the Middle East that served as a recruitment campaign[xxxii] for jihadists throughout the Middle East and beyond. To pull troops out of West Africa now just when they are most needed, and more support should be brought to bear, is both irresponsible and immoral.

Bio: Esu Anahata, Executive Director of The BARKA Foundation, is an Ariane de Rothschilds Fellow and published author of “Charity is Obsolete; The Gift of Reciprocity from the Indigenous Paradigm,” Hope for Africa[xxxiii].

[i] https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2019/12/20/Burkina-Faso-displaced-attacks-extremist

[ii] https://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2019/10/5da03eee4/conflict-violence-burkina-faso-displaces-nearly-half-million-people.html

[iii] https://www.france24.com/en/20191011-inside-burkina-faso-s-failing-fight-against-jihadism

[iv] https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/geneva-palais-briefing-note-children-burkina-faso

[v] https://www.dw.com/en/burkina-faso-threatened-with-famine-caused-by-terrorism/a-50367365

[vi] http://www.fao.org/emergencies/fao-in-action/stories/stories-detail/en/c/1240477/

[vii] https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2019/12/20/Burkina-Faso-displaced-attacks-extremist

[viii] https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2019/12/20/Burkina-Faso-displaced-attacks-extremist

[ix] https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2019/10/23/Burkina-Faso-violence-Sahel-militancy-education-children

[x] https://www.acleddata.com/data/

[xi] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/01/world/africa/church-attack-burkina-faso.html

[xii] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/06/world/africa/burkina-mine-attack-canadian.html

[xiii] https://www.foxnews.com/world/2-french-tourists-go-missing-in-benin-near-burkina-faso

[xiv] http://www.sahelmemo.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Burkina-Faso-SITREP_January2019-1.pdf

[xv]https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25299&LangID=E

[xvi] https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/isil-dead-moved-africa-191126152156781.html

[xvii] https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/31/world/africa/images-of-a-dramatic-day-in-burkina-faso.html?action=click&module=RelatedCoverage&pgtype=Article&region=Footer

[xviii] https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/02/01/terrorism-threatens-a-former-oasis-of-stability-in-west-africa-burkina-faso-mali-compaore/

[xix] https://www.nytimes.com/1987/10/26/world/a-friendship-dies-in-a-bloody-coup.html

[xx] https://ctc.usma.edu/ansaroul-islam-growing-terrorist-insurgency-burkina-faso/

[xxi] https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/05/21/day-we-fear-army-night-jihadists/abuses-armed-islamists-and-security-forces

[xxii] https://citizen-soldiermagazine.com/state-partnership-program-links-d-c-national-guard-and-burkina-faso/

[xxiii] https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-west-africa-violent-extremism-spreads-as-u-s-trims-military-footprint-11551013201

[xxiv] https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/pope-appeal-burkina-faso-terror-attacks-dialogue.html

[xxv] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/warning-from-the-sahel-al-qaedas-resurgent-threat

[xxvi] https://www.wsj.com/articles/pentagon-to-scale-back-number-of-forces-in-africa-1542323356?mod=article_inline

[xxvii] https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-west-africa-violent-extremism-spreads-as-u-s-trims-military-footprint-11551013201

[xxviii] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/11/us/politics/trump-shithole-countries.html

[xxix] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/24/world/africa/esper-troops-africa-china.html?searchResultPosition=2

[xxx] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-libya-un-arms-idUSTRE80P1QS20120126

[xxxi] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/22/coups-terror-nato-war-in-libya-west-intervention-boko-haram-nigeria

[xxxii] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/18/obama-drone-war-isis-recruitment-tool-air-force-whistleblowers

[xxxiii] https://www.amazon.com/Hope-Africa-Voices-Around-Little/dp/1578263085

Peace Day Sermon @ Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor, 9/22/19

Peace Day Sermon @ Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor, 9/22/19

In honor of the International Day of Peace, BARKA’s Co-Founders Ina & Esu Anahata, and Kodjo Bance and Karim Combari, two members of the Burkina Faso Delegation visiting the USA since August, were invited to lead the service at the UU Church in Bangor. They also comprise the BARKA Djembe Troupe which began and ended the service with drumming that had everyone in the congregation on their feet dancing. This service was followed by a Drum Class and workshop by Master Djembe drummer, Kodjo Bance, for about 20 community members.

Esu gave a sermon on the theme of BARKA’s motto: Peace, Water & Wisdom, and spoke of the spiritual underpinnings of BARKA’s work and how he and Ina came to Burkina and why they co-created BARKA Foundation. Here is a transcript:

In honor of yesterday’s International Day of Peace, I’d like to begin with a Peace Day message from Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General. He says:

Peace is at the heart of all our work at the United Nations. And we know peace is much more than a world free of war.

It means resilient, stable societies where everyone can enjoy fundamental freedoms and thrive rather than struggle to meet basic needs.

Today peace faces a new danger: the climate emergency, which threatens our security, our livelihoods and our lives.

That is why it is the focus of this year’s International Day of Peace.

And it’s why I am convening a Climate Action Summit.

This is a global crisis.

Only by working together can we make our only home peaceful, prosperous and safe for us and future generations.

On this International Day of Peace, I urge all of you: take concrete climate action and demand it of your leaders.

This is a race we can and must win.

I’d like to begin my talk today with how we came to find meaning and purpose in a small landlocked country in the heart of West Africa called Burkina Faso, which literally means the land of upright (or honest) people.

Ina and I met through our spiritual teacher, Dr. Malidoma Patrice Some. His name Malidoma means to make friends with the enemy, a fitting theme for discussion about peace. In his case, the enemy, or stranger, was the white man, and he has devoted his life to teaching a western audience about his indigenous culture, and particularly what he refers to as indigenous African spiritual technology. He introduced us to the grief ritual and the elemental rituals of earth, water, fire, nature and mineral, he implanted traditional African shrines here on Turtle Island that had never been brought to America before, and he introduced us to Initiation. All of this was done in community, creating a deep sense of belonging and groundedness in its participants, what he often referred to as finding our indigenous selves.

When Malidoma began bringing westerners to his village in Burkina Faso to work directly with the shamans and medicine keepers who have been holding on to this spiritual tradition that has been unbroken for thousands of years, we followed him there. The profound power of this work affected us on such a deep level that Ina likes to say these healers twiddled the dials of our DNA in order to align us with a deep sense of purpose, with the reason we were born at this time in order to do this work that has brought us together. We both had been living very different lives before we co-created The BARKA Foundation. We both had the feeling of being spiritually called to do this work, deep in the marrow of our bones, we heard a Spirit Call. It was something we could not turn away from… we could only surrender to it. The fact that we were falling in love in the process made this a journey not only of purpose but also one of passion… and not just passion for each other but an undying passion for the work that unfolded before us. So we jumped off. Years later we hosted a radio program called Jumping Off with Ina & Esu in which we played our field recordings, African music, and talked about Burkina all the time– one of the greatest compliments we ever received was that we were relentless.   So yes, while holding hands, we jumped out of our former lives and into the unknown, with faith and courage and love and passion and surrender… and yes, relentlessness, because that too is a necessary ingredient to sustain us on a lifelong journey that we knew would be nothing shy of daunting.

The origins of BARKA were really about wanting to share the wisdom of indigenous culture with the modern world. It was as simple as that. We had seen how this indigenous wisdom had changed our lives, what it had to offer a post-modern world on the brink of self-destruction. Like Malidoma, we wanted to share it… we had a deep faith in the power of Africa’s spiritual traditions and practices, and we knew the world needed this medicine, and so our original intention was to be an agent of change in bringing balance to the planet. A modest ambition… But within a few years, as we continued traveling to Burkina, and gained a better understanding of life and culture and the real needs of people in Burkina Faso, our mission evolved. It all boiled down to 3 words which we felt encapsulated everything: Peace, Water & Wisdom.

Part 1. Peace

We consider BARKA’s work to be a form of peace in action. We’ve never looked at peace as something passive or abstract, but rather something that you must actively build with concrete action, planning, and perseverance. We approach that in Burkina Faso through a process of active listening to the communities we serve. For us, this “development” work we do is all about building what the UN calls “a culture of peace”. But that word development is a tricky one for us, it’s a word we tend not to use– because we don’t see poor countries as undeveloped- quite the contrary we see a great deal of sophistication and creativity in life in Burkina… Burkinabe have to be resourceful and use every aspect of themselves just to survive. Yet according to UNDP’s Human Development Index, Burkina is among the least developed countries, ranking 183 out of 189 nations in the world. Of course, they’re defining development as everything from rates of sanitation coverage and maternal and infant mortality to Gross Domestic Product. Still, the way we like to see development is best defined by Bradford Morse, in his Foreward to Pierre Pradervand’s Listening to Africa, in which he says development is “a process intended to enlarge and expand the confidence, the capacity, and the creativity of human beings and thus to enrich their lives and improve their futures.”  He further states that “cultural, social and spiritual dimensions deserve equal- perhaps higher– places in the gallery of development than material consideration… no approach to development can succeed unless it emerges from and is supported by the creativity and commitment of those it is intended to benefit.”

In this sense of the word, you can see how instrumental development is in achieving peace. No development, no peace.

But there’s at least one other prerequisite for attaining peace- to explain I’m going to tell you a little story of something that happened to me last week.

Ina and I live in unorganized territory T3ND just a few feet off of a pristine spring-fed lake in NW Hancock county. Ina has turned this peety loamy forest floor into a beautiful and picturesque garden bursting with color and life. She does the same thing in Burkina Faso too. After saying my prayers at our Ancestor shrine on the top of a hill, I was stopped in my tracks by the beauty of my surroundings. I felt the power of this place, its energy was humming- I wished I had a camera and then remembered that we all carry one in our mind: The sun was beginning to set and the long golden rays of light were illuminating some of the shrines we have on the land—a Mineral shrine to honor the collective memory held in bones and stones, the shrine to the 7 Directions- East, West, North, South, Up, Down and Inward, and the shrine to the aliens from other planets, universes and dimensions. I was looking down a hill in a forest of hemlock, cedar and pine. Beyond the trees was the lake, reflecting the sun’s vibrations. I felt the peace of this moment, and just then, my heart exploded with love- love for Ina, for she is the one who created this space, she is its primary caretaker, its architect and its sculptor. So as the cup in my heart was running over, I thought of how essential love is in the creation, maintenance and sustenance of peace. In the creation of peace, I think maybe at the center of peace, there is love. No love, no peace.

Peace and love- the hippies got it right.

{Not if Ina mentioned} The last thing I want to say about peace is that Burkina Faso is in dire need of it right now. The country is being destroyed by terrorists. The incredible social cohesion that Burkina is renowned for is coming apart as terrorists exploit ethnic tensions that exist between animal herders and pastoralists. So we want to ask you all for your prayers of peace for Burkina. Barka.

Part 2. Water

Last year, as part the Water Fair we produced on World Water Day, BARKA Foundation established a Peace Pole in Fada N’Gourma, the city where we’re based. We see an integral link between water and peace.

I remember the outrage Ina and I both experienced at seeing the social injustice of women walking for miles to get water. This was 15 years ago before everyone knew about it. I remember the extraordinary generosity of people who had nothing and their willingness to share their food and water and culture with us. In Burkina, when a stranger arrives at your doorstep, the first thing you do is give them water, your most precious resource. It is a sign of welcome, of blessing and of abundance. When people make up after a fight and having said harsh things to each other, in Burkina you swish your mouth out with water and spit to release and cleanse the things you said in the heat of battle. Malidoma taught us that in his spiritual tradition, water is about grief, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, gratitude and ultimately peace.

From 2008 through 2015, BARKA was focused solely on water projects, and often project combining water, sanitation and hygiene- 3 sides of one coin. More recently, our work has led us in new directions- supporting farmers to mitigate against a changing climate through sustainable agriculture, agroecology and permaculture; supporting girls and women through menstrual hygiene management, an issue that is stigmatized in Burkina and keeps girls from finishing their education- only 1% of girls in Burkina graduate from high school. This program developed out of the hygiene work we were doing in schools where we were drilling wells. So water has led us in every step we’ve taken, water is the hub and every other project is a spoke of the wheel.

Part 3. Wisdom

When we distilled BARKA’s mission into the 3-word motto of Peace, Water & Wisdom, the wisdom we’re really talking about is indigenous wisdom- not just from Burkina but of indigenous cultures from all over the world. The global community owes a debt to indigenous cultures which have held knowledge for millennia of how to live in harmony and symbiosis with the planet. Malidoma introduced us to the concept of reciprocity with the indigenous paradigm- this was the first time I heard the word used in this context. He spoke of indigenous cultures’ reciprocity with the natural world, a kind of balance with natural law and the ecological landscape. Ina and I felt that this was at least one key missing ingredient in the global dialogue on climate change. We can’t just keep taking from Mother Earth without replenishing what we took and expect our resources to last forever. We can’t keep growing our economies indefinitely on a planet with rising population and shrinking natural resources. And of course, we all know that climate change is affecting the poorest countries first. The ones that are least responsible for the change are the ones suffering the most because of it. We here in the West, in the US, who are on top of society must realize that our lifestyle of over-consumption is being afforded and subsidized by poor developing countries- like Burkina Faso which is now the 4th largest exporter of gold in Africa- yet its own population sees less than 1% of the wealth generated from the gold mined within its borders.

People have levied a criticism on development work that is related to the climate issue and consumption. The criticism, for which until recently I didn’t really have a good response, has to do with overpopulation. Our work in Burkina is arguably saving lives. Yet there are people who have said the world is already overpopulated, how do you justify saving lives when there aren’t enough resources to go around? I give thanks to Kumi Naidoo, the head of Amnesty International, former head of Greenpeace, who put this argument in its place last week with Amy Goodman on an episode of Democracy Now. He said that not only must we break this idea that happiness comes from more and more consumption, we must have the wisdom to ask the right questions and frame the issue correctly. The average American generates the same level of carbon dioxide emissions as 583 people from Burundi, and one can argue that the number wouldn’t be much different for a person from Burkina Faso. That’s not even the highest. The average person from Saudi Arabia has a carbon footprint equivalent to 719 people from Burundi. So this really isn’t a question of having too many people as much as it is an issue of a small number of people using up an inordinate amount of the planet’s resources. Kumi Naidoo also rightly pointed out that if you want to truly address overpopulation, look no further than gender equality, because as you empower women, family size goes down.

There is injustice practically everywhere you look in the world, however, I want to end on a positive note regarding climate action… It seems like people are waking up, doesn’t it? This past week has created the most powerful energizing moment in the history of the global fight against the climate crisis. And who is leading the charge? Not our politicians, nor our scientists or teachers or religious leaders, not even NGOs, it’s coming from the youth.

More than 1 million students walked out of school this past Friday in a global climate strike. Strikes were organized in over 170 countries. One of the chief architects of this inspired action was Greta Thurnberg, a 16-year old who also happens to be on the autism spectrum.

The following day, Saturday, September 21 was Peace Day, and the UN held a Youth Summit on Climate. This will be followed by the UN’s Climate Action Summit tomorrow in NY where global leaders and heads of state are being asked simply to come with solutions to the problem.

Maybe the Trump administration’s policies of rolling back environmental regulations are having a positive effect on people and companies and states because we’re all realizing that it’s in our hands and we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. In the words of Hillel the Elder, the Jewish sage and scholar, If not us, who? If not now, when?

And lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out that wisdom is also embodied by the two guests we have with us today from Burkina. Karim and Kodjo are both guardians of their cultures. They are both wary of modern technology and actively practice their own indigenous spiritual traditions. I have a document on my phone called Kojo’s wise words in which I frantically try to write and capture the pearls of wisdom that frequently drop from Kojo’s mouth. Karim has been our friend, spiritual interpreter and cultural/spiritual guide since we met him in 2005. On that first trip when we met, Karim worked tirelessly on our behalf for 3 straight weeks- he did all the hard work, the dirty work, the unrewarding grunt work, and did it all without a complaint. On the last day we were together, unbeknownst to us, he gathered up his dance troupe and performed a startling traditional dance which quite simply blew our minds. We happened also to have videotaped it and you can find it now on youtube. Karim is also an actor, part of BARKA’s theatre troupe which performs plays to sensitize the population on various topics. Kojo is not only a master drummer, he is also an impeccable artist. His artwork will be on display after the service and before his drum workshop at 1 this afternoon. We trust both Karim and Kodjo with our lives. We’re so grateful to able to share their wisdom and gifts with the UU community today, and to share a little bit of the story, the spirit and the power of BARKA. As Kojo says, the spirit of BARKA is not a small one. Thank you. Barka.

 

BARKA’s Annual Report and Strategic Plan

BARKA’s Annual Report and Strategic Plan

In anticipation of BARKA’s Annual Retreat for the Board of Directors, we are releasing our Triennial Report for the past 3 years. This is now available for download here.

However we are also looking forward and planning the details for BARKA’s strategic direction for the next 3 years.  Our 2020-2022 Strategic Initiatives can be downloaded here.