Experiences in Yako, Burkina Faso
Lara Mitra

My journey to Burkina Faso in 2007 is defined by the kids I met there. The beautiful landscape of West Africa and memories of baobab trees, half black and half white goats, and the sand-colored deserts are vividly etched in my mind at the moment, but these memories are likely to fade as the years go by. The faces of the children at the Sheltering Wings Orphanage, however, I will never forget.

All the children there touched my heart, but a handful grabbed it and reminded me of the things I take for granted everyday. They helped me put things in perspective and challenged me to think more deeply about what really matters and what is dispensable in life. And they gave new meaning to the seemingly ordinary concepts of simplicity, sharing, and perseverance that I had learned as a child. My childhood definitions of these concepts were:

Simplicity is plain and easy living.
Sharing is giving others a part of what is yours.
Perseverance is sticking to something until you meet your goal.

Then I met Adeline, Aminata, and Pierre.

Adeline was about  4 years old when she came to the orphanage. When I was Adeline’s age, I whined for every toy in town--from Barbie dolls to remote controlled helicopters to Pokemon cards. I felt an obsessive desire to own every new toy advertised on television, never realizing that there could be more exciting alternatives. Adeline, however, taught me this simple truth in a short ten-minutes one sunny afternoon. Adeline cleared a patch on the ground and reached for the wheelbarrow. She roamed about the orphanage grounds in search of red earth, brown mud, leaves, twigs, bits of glass, and rags. When her

wheelbarrow was full, she returned to her patch and proudly dumped out her treasures. Then she got down to the serious business of constructing her dream house. She built the walls and roof with earth and mud, artistically contrasting the red with the brown, she built window frames with the twigs using the leaves as curtains, and she laid the rags on the floor as carpets. The bits of glass adorned the roof and reflected off the sun.
During this entire construction project, Adeline looked up away from her creation only to see if I was still watching her. Her hands moved faster as she neared the end of her house. She ran to the nearest tree, picked a pink flower off of it and placed it on top of her house as a sign of completion and ended the afternoon with a huge smile.
Adeline had looked for and found everything she needed right in her backyard. Adeline taught me that the objective is to have fun and that there are many different ways to have it.

Aminata was born in a small village near the border of Mali. Aminata is now almost three years old and lives at the orphanage. Aminata plays quietly in a room with scattered toys. There are more children than toys at the orphanage so all the toys are always in heavy demand. There is that special toy—a ghastly monster that every child in the orphanage craves for and that leads to lots of fist fights and screaming.

Aminata is shy and never grabs toys from other children. She waits for the monster to be abandoned and then quickly picks it up, savoring it for the few minutes it belongs to her. Aminata also never speaks. In fact, I hadn’t heard Aminata say one word during my entire time at the orphanage. Aminata communicates with everyone through her large hand gestures, smiles, and tears. So I was surprised when one day during a routine play session, things got very loud with Aminata. Aminata picked up the monster and reached towards me, saying “oooh.”  I didn’t know what she wanted or what she was trying to say and I decided she was just testing her vocal cords. But Aminata kept repeating her “ooohs” and they kept getting louder and lounder. Later that night, I realized exactly what Aminata had meant. Her “oooh” was really a “you” and she was offering me her precious monster. Sharing your most prized possession with others shows true generosity and demonstrates the real meaning of the word ‘sharing.’

Pierre is a 17 year old boy in the orphanage. Pierre was living alone in a small house in Yako trying to stay in school. When Pierre was 14, he heard that an orphanage was being established in Yako and went over to ask if he could live there. Pierre has found a passion since his arrival at the orphanage. Day in and day out he can be found dribbling or kicking a soccer ball. Pierre aspires to become a world class soccer player and he works hard to make that dream a reality. Every Saturday Pierre goes to the center of Yako to see the weekly soccer matches. He isn’t old enough to play in them yet, but that is what he wants to do when he turns eighteen. One day, Pierre wants to represent his country in international soccer matches, playing on the world stage. He longs to see his name on the back of soccer jerseys, like Ronaldhino’s and Messi’s. The other children at the orphanage often ridicule Pierre for his extravagant ambition. But Pierre remains unfazed and knows that it is only a matter of time. He knows what he wants and he knows he can get it. Rain or shine, Pierre can be found on the soccer field getting closer and closer to his dream, one kick at a time.

Adeline, Aminata, and Pierre brought depth and richness to my understanding of simplicity, sharing, and perseverance:

Simplicity is having fun with whatever is around you.
Sharing is giving to others what is most special to you.
Perseverance is striving for the seemingly impossible and believing that it is totally possible.

Pierre juggling a soccer ball