As some of you may or may not know, The Peace Corps Burkina Faso program was closed on September 3rd 2017 due to security concerns and the volunteers were evacuated.
You can read the official statement here:
I served in Burkina Faso from June 2011-August 2013 as an education volunteer in the village of Lèba.
According to the Peace Corps website, over 2075 volunteers have served from 1966-1987, and 1995-2017. President Thomas Sankara was assassinated in 1987, and there was an 8 year recess when Peace Corps was asked to leave by the government.
As a returned peace corps volunteer (RPCV), I am in almost what seems like a state of mourning. A program that I spent two years and three months of my life is now over. Indefinitely. A group of volunteers that swore in less than two weeks before has now left after just getting to site.
I (fortunately and unfortunately) have no personal experience with evacuation as a PCV, however I have spoken with several volunteers who have been previously evacuated.
In my training class we had 3 former evacuees from Peace Corps Niger. I had the greatest respect for them and looked up to them all during training. They described the evacuation process as being traumatic, having only hours to pack their things and travel to their consolidation points. Some of them never got their things back.
In April 2012, a Coup D’état happened overnight in Mali, the president was kidnapped, and the volunteers were evacuated soon after. I met several of them during my service in Burkina, as it was an easy transfer for them as Jula and French are also spoken in Burkina. One of those Mali volunteers told me that they generally decide to evacuate volunteers is when they cannot physically get to volunteers, or they are unable to transfer money into their bank accounts because the government is shut down.
I was extremely fortunate during my service that we were never consolidated. There was a point where there was an attack on a chemical plant in Algeria where I was asked should things get bad if I wanted to leave the country or my site voluntarily, and I said no, and would leave only if the circumstances and my safety truly depended on it. There is something called “interrupted service” where for circumstances beyond the volunteer’s control happens, and they are able to leave Peace Corps something akin to an “honorable discharge”
Since I left Burkina, things have gotten worse
in 2014, there was an uprising where citizens tried to prevent then President Blaise Compaore from changing the constitution to eliminate term limits. The parliament building was burned to the ground and Colonel Isaac Zida became interim president.
In 2015, the RSP (presidential police) staged a mutiny and held the then president Michel Kafando hostage. This coup ultimately failed and they were able to have elections.
In January 2016 there was a terrorist attack at the Cappucino restaurant and Splendid Hotel. I used to go to Cappucino in Ouagadougou when I was a volunteer.
In August 2017 there was a similar terrorist attack at a Turkish restaurant on the same street.
It breaks my heart that because of terrorists deliberately targeting foreigners, and also apparently Peace Corps volunteers, that the volunteers had to be evacuated and the program ended.
It breaks my heart to see all of the fantastic work done by the Peace Corps Burkina Faso American staff, host country national staff, volunteers, and counterparts come to a standstill. One of the most powerful diplomatic tools we have: cultural exchange, is no longer available to us.
It breaks my heart to see a president who wishes to slash the budget of such a meaningful program promoting world friendship and building bridges between Americans and other countries in need.
To the Burkinabé people, I wish you the following (in Mooré):
Wend na ko-d fo panga (May God give you strength)
Wend na sonsg fo noogo (May God give you good things)
Wend na ko-d fo noglem (May God give you love)
May it be one day that Peace Corps can return to your wonderful country and continue to cultivate change.