Recent Ball State alum, Djiguimde Ritassida Mamadou, continues his series of guest posts with Part II, in which he recounts his experiences surrounding his return to Burkina Faso. In this post, Mamadou discusses the value of education as well as how he utilized his English degree to earn a job teaching English in several private high schools. To see Part I of Mamadou’s post, click here.
A primary school teacher in Burkina Faso makes about $200 a month. A state high school teacher makes about $300 a month. I am sure most Americans would consider this outrageous. Well, they should not. Compared to life in the United States, life in Burkina Faso is not expensive. Most civil servants or government employees are pretty satisfied with what they are earning. However, here is where it gets complicated.
Let us suppose that you, a young Burkinabѐ, earn a scholarship of about $100,000 to study for your Bachelor degree in the United States. How would you perceive it? If you really think about it, you can almost be certain that you would never make such an amount of money working as a teacher in Burkina Faso your whole career. I thought education should be like a sort of investment! You invest in your education, you get a good job afterward, and you end up making way more than what was invested in you. If you are not able to make more than what was invested in your education, you were simply a bad investment. Thus, wouldn’t it be better to just take the money which was aimed to be invested in your education and live off it?
Here are the questions most of us from “third world countries” who have earned a scholarship to study in the United States and returned to our home countries are meditating over. Was I a bad investment? Why spend so much money for my education while knowing I would never make it in my career? Shouldn’t the institution providing me with the scholarship just give me the grant money and leave me alone? These questions even push me to ask: “Why did I go there in the first place?”
Not being able to find answers to these questions, I get even more harassed when people ask me, “why did you come back?” I was first asked that question at the soccer field next to Ball Memorial Hospital when a playmate said, “I have never heard about somebody leaving the United States for Africa! Why are you going back? Stay here, dude, and have fun!” I did not really know what kind of an answer I could give him. All I knew was that I was going back. Period!
When I returned to Burkina Faso, besides my family and the Fulbright program coordinators at the United States Embassy in Burkina Faso who were excited at my arrival, the rest of the people I knew before did not seem to be thrilled. Whenever I meet one of my old acquaintances, the first question they ask me is, “But why did you come back?” Other instances in which I was confronted with that question were when I was applying for teaching positions in different schools. The directors of the schools would usually take my résumé and say: “So, you are coming from America? Why didn’t you stay there and work? Why bother for our miserable life? Look how miserable you are now, knocking at doors, looking for a job, while you could have just stayed in America and lived a good life? I am sorry but there is no teaching position available right now.”
Being harassed by these questions everyday made me realize that patriotism is at an agonizing stage in Burkina Faso. Most people have lost hope in the future of the country. People are looking for ways to run away and never return. They have this belief that the savior will be an outsider and that happiness cannot be reached right here at home. It is sad I know, but this is the reality.
Ladies and gentlemen, here is the good side of this story. When I was at the University of Ouagadougou majoring in English General Studies from 2004 to 2006, I took a course named American Civilization. This course was intended to make students familiar with the way of life in the U.S. Besides that course, I also constructed my knowledge on America through media: news, movies, books, etc. Well, the picture of the United States I created in my mind based on the course and the media was totally wrong. It was only when I went there myself that I became familiar with the real way of life. In fact, the knowledge you acquire from real life experiences cannot be found anywhere in books and cannot be taught via a course. That is the motive that pushes me to believe that my Fulbright experience would be poorly appreciated if we try to assess it in terms of cost. We simply cannot measure this experience in terms of $$$. It was worth way more than any kind of education I received in class. To all of you who are taking classes on ways of life in Africa, Asia, or other parts of the world, I am not saying that you are learning the wrong stuff, but I am actually saying that you simply cannot get the picture right. Therefore, I entice you to travel and discover for yourself. According to a popular saying in Burkina Faso, “Travelling is what provides you with the right knowledge.”
To address the question “why did you come back,” it is actually only when I got back to Burkina Faso that I myself gradually found a sense to my return. After being hired at four private high schools as an English teacher, I quickly realized that my education at Ball State University and my Fulbright experience were potential assets for this position. My students were most impressed by how diligently I expressed myself in speaking. Most of them told me that they had never had an English teacher who spoke with such fluency as me. Quickly, I became a role model for students. Above and beyond, I had them take a survey at the beginning of the academic year about their weaknesses in English and the possible reasons for those weaknesses. One common complaint that came out of this survey was that their previous English classes were boring; they were only being taught grammar and text comprehension. In order to find a solution to this complaint, I moved away from our traditional way of teaching and adopted a teaching style which was totally based on PBL (Project Based Learning). My class sessions were by and large built around activities that were fun and appertained to my students’ daily realities. That way, I was able to build a safe learning environment for my students where they could learn while having fun. I have also set up an English club, the aim of which was to provide a psycho-social support to pupils and students of the city of Bobo Dioulasso while helping them improve their English Language proficiency in writing, speaking, reading, and listening. The club also had a goal to open pupils’ and students’ mind to the world while providing a cross-cultural perspective on current issues to all its members via regular meetings. The meetings were kept alive by discussions and debates on current topics, speeches by guest speakers, sessions of video projection, and poetry, short stories, drama, comedy, and singing competitions in English. Most of the students who were not interested in the English Language suddenly started showing an interest to the subject. One of our greatest achievements in the English club was the production of two short films on “Arranged Marriage” and a short documentary on the health benefits of sport. Throughout this experience, I could not feel anything but satisfaction. I could have been able to do that without my education at Ball State University and my Fulbright experience. The directors of the schools were I was teaching and even the United States Embassy in Burkina Faso thought the English club was a bright initiative. If somebody asks me today “Why did you come back,” I still do not have an answer for them. All I know is that I am impacting and changing the lives of many young Burkinabѐ in a positive way. I will just wait and may be the future has in store a better answer.
Djiguimde Ritassida Mamadou