Bringing food, tools and hope to West Africa
Chico man organizes elaborate aid effort
In June, upon arriving in Africa, Chico State accounting senior Koudougou Alfred Koala and 14 North State volunteers from the Feeding Nations Through Education group traveled by bus to help the impoverished, sick and starving residents of Thyou, a village in one of the poorest nations on earth: Burkina Faso, West Africa.
A half mile before they got there, they were surprised by a throng of 150 ecstatic villagers singing, dancing and clapping their hands to meet them. It was total jubilation on this, Koala’s second FNTE humanitarian trip to help the 4,000 residents in the village of his birth.
“My motto is, ‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime,’” said Koala (pronounced like the cute Australian bear), who is president and founder of FNTE.
As a child, Koala and the other residents of Thyou often had no clean water and drank from a nearby river or from unsanitary, hand-dug wells. This caused frequent and severe bouts of sickness that too often proved fatal. Work done during this five-week trip should all but eliminate the drinking-water problem. Koala’s group brought desperately needed help, part of which included the village’s first professionally built well.
During a recent interview, he held a picture of 10 colorfully dressed female villagers standing around the completed well. He pointed to three who were holding their babies and exclaimed, “See them? Now they won’t need to die.”
FNTE’s aid package included medication, oxen, plows, a grain mill, 1,200 pairs of eyeglasses, 2,000 pounds of rice, and, perhaps most important, a plan to educate their youth.
“I value education as gold,” said Koala, 31, who came to Chico for college in 2007. Shortly after his arrival he began plans to help his country, which has a 75 percent illiteracy rate, through donations and education of the children. His efforts have resulted in a wildly successful program that is helping educate and feed Thyou residents, with plans to expand it to all 349 villages in his home country.
Burkina Faso suffers from three severe problems: illiteracy, famine and myriad orphans. In Koala’s village few children can afford school, and education ends after elementary school. Starvation is common, since the rainy season is only three months long and families live only on what meager crops they grow then.
“That’s when kids die,” said Koala. “It’s horrible—some are just skin and bones.”
There are so many orphans because their parents starve or contract sicknesses such as HIV and malaria.
Koala’s nonprofit, FNTE, mainly helps by awarding sets of five families, who’ve each adopted an orphan and have agreed to send their kids to school, with a “care package” of a small plow and two oxen to pull it, plus a 220-pound bag of rice to get them through their first year of farming. June’s trip was to award the second set of families; the first was in December 2009.
After three years the chosen families agree to use money from excess crop sales to send their first child to elementary school. The program has been so successful that each of the first five awarded families is sending its first child to school in October, a full two years ahead of schedule.
Koala sheds tears of joy as he tells how the father of one of the original five families, Marcel, whose family numbers 15, was so overwhelmed he couldn’t help but cry profusely when he saw Koala. This is in a culture where grown men are never supposed to cry.
“My family will never be the same,” gushed Marcel.
Koala was so moved he cried along with him.
“Tears flowed down his face to his beard and kept flowing,” he said. “I helped him wipe his tears and he helped wipe mine.”
Along with the gifts, training is given to the families in efficient crop production as well as maintaining the plows and oxen. Before FNTE provided help, families had to plow rock-hard fields using a crude, two-foot stick with a small metal claw at the end. Crop production was so low that starvation was unavoidable.
In addition to the “family packages,” FNTE brought a dozen smaller bags of rice for the most destitute families. The well was custom-designed by Koala with contractors to increase sanitary conditions. Again, training was given to several local men and women in order to maintain and repair it.
Another blessing from FNTE was a gas-powered grain mill, which allows villagers to process their grain at previously unheard-of speeds.
Today fundraising continues, and Koala hopes to present yet a third set of five families with their packages in the next year. He plans to graduate from Chico State next spring and continue his FNTE work from the United States.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without my U.S. education or the help of so many who have lovingly contributed,” he said.