Our guests this week were New Paltz Rotarians Bob Rich and Pascal Guirma with their friend Jim Ullrich. They spoke about their special project in the village of Guirgho in Burkina Faso, Africa. Their group, Friends of Guirgho’s mission is to partner with rural schools in Burkina Faso, beginning with the village of Guirgho, to maximize the potential of every student by providing access to state-of-the-art educational tools and technology. 

Burkina Faso is a small country in western Africa with one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. It is also a place where people are warm and welcoming, where young people routinely greet their elders with gestures of respect, where Muslims and Christians and indigenous religious and ethnic groups live side-by-side and intermarry — a place teeming with life and possibility. 

​Guirgho is a rural village nestled in the center of Burkina Faso. In Guirgho, the challenge for teachers, as in many rural schools, is the lack of resources. Teachers often have to teach up to 80 children with diverse abilities in a single classroom. Text books, when available at all, are often outdated and insufficient in quantity for all students. The primary teaching tool remains the chalk board, on which teachers must write or draw entire lessons.

Currently, children in Guirgho attend kindergarten to 12th grade without ever seeing or touching a computer. The prospects for children without basic computer skills in today’s global economy are very limited. Friends of Guirgho believes that greater access to technology will result in a larger pool of potential innovators able to meet the challenges facing their families, their communities, their country, and the world.

The centerpiece of Friends of Guirgho’s vision is a computer center that will incorporate space for computer assisted instruction for teachers and students. During non-school hours, adult members of the village may also use the facility to advance their education. Our objective is to help enhance the existing curriculum and see where we can be of support to the teachers and students.

​All of Friends of Guirgho’s efforts will result in a template that can be scaled, replicated, and implemented throughout the country and beyond.  In addition to the computer center, the plan includes:

• Construction of a workshop, with tools and training, to enable students to learn how to repair desks and develop trade skills that can be used for other school and/or village-related projects with, perhaps, income potential; 

• A school garden to help feed the students and grow additional produce that could bring in supplemental income for the school;

• Cotton spinning, which is a traditional but dying craft in the village. Friends of Guirgho can support its revival, thereby generating and stimulating a market for weaving;

• Establishing a preschool to provide young children with essential pre-literacy experiences.

In photo, left to right, are:  Jim Ullrich, Speaker Host Christine Chale,  New Paltz Rotarians Bob Rich and Pascal Guirma

​(photo by Jonah Triebwasser)