Holding On to the Little That’s Left

Adama at the Nimnin Primary School

Adama Sikoto (foreground), 20, sits in a classroom at Nimnin Primary School in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

I spotted Adama sitting in a chair, Rahim, her 3 year old, was standing on her shoulders like a trapeze artist, smiling down at her. Adama was looking up at him, giggling.

I’d first met her a few days ago when I was roaming around the Nimnin Primary School, talking to Bukinabé who lost their homes in the floods. I happened upon her and Rahim outside the second grade classroom. Her French was pretty good, and we fell into conversation.

I wanted to check in with her again. We went inside the classroom she shares every night with 30 other women and their children. It smelled like wet dog and cobwebs. On the blackboard, a lesson from last year remained. The teacher had elegantly written some addition problems and a paragraph for the students to copy. It was about Moussa, a boy who had put on his nice clothes and was going to the cinema with his friends.

Right now, that’s a pipe dream, for Adama.

Outside, it had just rained. Great, I thought. Just what Adama needs: more water. On the puddles in the courtyard, green scum had formed and insects jumped and skittered like grease in a frying pan. Not far away, a little boy was going to the bathroom in a purple bowl.

Adama looking at what's left of the family's store

Adama and her son Rahim, 3, look at what’s left of her family’s store. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

And everywhere, there was mud. This is the daily nemesis of the 63,000 people living in schools and public buildings around Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou. Mud surrounds them. Their homes were made of banco, or mud bricks. In the 10 inches of rain that thundered down in 12 hours on September 1, houses softened like graham crackers in milk and collapsed. Now people return to them daily to pull dresses and birth certificates and dishes out of them. They haul what they find back to the school and wash it, adding to the liquid mess they live in.

Adama has started taking in laundry to earn a little money. But she doesn’t make more than $1 a load. As we sat in the classroom and chatted, she ate lunch, a bowl of plain white rice. We laughed about the snoring women she has to sleep with. We talked about the rumors floating through the school that they would be moved to another site. She told me that Rahim had come down with diarrhea and a cough.

What amazed me about Adama was her demeanor. She didn’t seem bitter. She didn’t whine or curse the government. And she never asked me for money. For someone who’d lost everything, who has to start over from scratch without any savings, I found it remarkable. I’ve seen flood victims on TV wail and bellyache. But not Adama. She seemed to be taking it in stride.

Where does it come from? Maybe it’s the tight knit African family structure. Or maybe it was Adama’s upbringing.

Whatever it was, I admired it immensely.

Lane Hartill is CRS regional information officer for West and Central Africa.

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5 Responses to “Holding On to the Little That’s Left”

  1. Lane Hartill Says:

    I received a surprise call last night. It was Adama. She just wanted to make sure I arrived home in Dakar, Senegal, safe and sound.

    This young woman who had lost everything was checking in on me. What a gal.


  2. Janet Miller Says:

    Part of the refusal to whine comes from realistic expectations and small claims on the universe.
    These people do not believe that anyone owes them anything. They see that it is not their right to have more than a change of clothing, or more than a room to sleep in.
    Do any of us in first-world countries have more rights than these people have?
    The ground floor of my house would house 30 or 40 people in their usual conditions. I live here with two cats.
    What do I have to complain of?

  3. Leilani Newton Says:

    Thank you for this article. I have found very little info in our U.S. press about BF’s problem. Also I have found no other way to donate specifically for BF, other than CRS.
    Thank you.

  4. Lindy L Busby Says:

    As you already know I have supported CRS on many occasions to the best of my ability. According to American standards I live in a poor neighborhood. But according to worldly standards I am rich. This is why I have chosen to support poorly developed countries through CRS. Please keep me informed as to where this support is needed most. I will do what I can. Buzz. PS. I choose my life style so that I may help others. I have a disabled spouse. Thank you.

  5. Jeanne Wittman Says:

    My complaint is that we do not hear of these tragedies. What little we might hear does not put emphasis on the people who suffer but on the devastation itself. We are also too selfish here in the U.S. to think it has anything to do with us. Thanks to CRS for bringing us this information and a way to help. I will continue to support your efforts to the best of my ability.

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