This past week Nancy, Jeremiah, and Deborah started the routine of school again at the International School of Ouagadougou. Yes, you read correctly, this year Nancy went back to school too! Tuition at ISO is expensive, so to help pay Jeremiah and Deborah’s fees she is teaching three classes: 8th grade Language Arts, Yearbook, and SAT Prep. Since Jeremiah is in 8th grade this year (Deborah is in 7th), he has his mother as a teacher for Language Arts and yearbook. Should be an interesting year as they explore their new relationship as teacher-student.
Besides their regular classes Jeremiah has joined the ISO softball team and Deborah is taking up flute again (she took flute lessons when we were living in Boston) as part of the band. As is normal in an international school like ISO, there is a lot of turnover in the teaching staff and students. So everyone is making new friends and learning to adjust to new teachers. We’re confident that it’s going to be a good year.
The students who live at the Mennonite Student Hostel face a number of challenges. Many come from families with minimal financial resources, most often they’re from agricultural communities in the country-side where there are few educational opportunities. While the students who make it to university have already gone very far in the minds of their families and home communities, the problems they face when they come to Ouagadougou seem enormous. But of course they persevere, facing challenges with courage and determination.
Group work during a seminar at the Hostel
Among the problems the students face is theft. Last Thursday morning they awoke to discover that two of their bicycles had been stolen during the night. One wonders how those who have so few resources can survive the loss of property or money. This is where the community that the Hostel provides becomes their strength. Earlier this year, one of the students was on her way home from a tutoring job when a man pulled up beside her bicycle and spoke briefly to her. Before she realized what was happening, he had reached into the basket on the handle bars, taken her bag, and driven off. The bag contained her telephone and the equivalent of approximately $10.00 USD in cash. When she arrived back to the Hostel and told the others what had happened, they pooled their resources. One person had an extra telephone to lend her, and others gave small amounts of cash. The love and generosity of her fellow students consoled her heart.
There is now a new complication for university students. While traditionally the university closes down for the month of August for vacation, this practice has been suspended over the last few years because of irregularities in the school calendar. For example, this year the tests that are given to choose those graduates who will be employed by state agencies are happening during this month of August. But this past Thursday officials announced that university cafeterias upon which the student population depends will be closed for two months. On July 31 the residents of the university dormitories were informed that they had to vacate their rooms by August 1st. Some who had no other options had to sleep under the stars that first night. This is not a good option as the rainy season is upon us. At least the students in the Hostel have a place to stay even if their daily bread will be scarcer in the next two months!
For the Hostel residents, the community will be their strength once more. Those who are free to travel home will likely leave Ouagadougou for a time. Those left behind will find ways to pool their resources in order to have enough to eat. They will help each other and the congregation will contribute some foodstuffs and look for ways to support them in their efforts.
Please pray for the students, both those at the Hostel and those who find themselves scrambling to find food and lodging. This is a time of increased strain between the authorities and the student population. There are likely political factors mixed with economic considerations that have led to these abrupt changes in policy. Recent demonstrations of those in opposition to the current regime have taken place near the university and may have included students. By closing the university at this time and forcing students to move away, authorities may be attempting to decrease the size of such demonstrations. The student population was already frustrated, and the current situation risks increasing tensions. Pray for wisdom and wise action on the part of both the authorities and the student leaders.