We’re Gonna Party Like it’s 1849!

“There’s a lady who’s sure

All that glitters is gold

And she’s buying a stairway to heaven” – “Stairway to Heaven,” — Led Zeppelin

All that glitters is gold…right… until they start digging holes in your village. Gold mining is very popular right now in Burkina Faso and is the poster child for unsustainable development.

So Sara, what’s so bad about digging for gold?

Well, it destroys the soil and environment and leaves a bunch of holes everywhere. This year there was a drought in my region of BF, so the harvest was bad. Gold can fetch 15000 to 25000 FCFA a gram ($30-50) and this can help villagers compensate for rising food costs. It also encourages children to drop out of school to look for gold and for many villagers to leave their families for extended periods of time just to find it. It’s not sustainable development because the gold supplies can run out. There’s no guarantee that they will find gold, and there’s a good chance that they may end up empty handed.

It’s like crash dieting before a big event. Sure, it might help you in the short term, but the results are not going to be healthy and long lasting. There’s also no guarantee that it will actually work.

Personally gold has been a large source of frustration for me in my village. I’ve had my cultural counterparts leave for weeks on end without telling me, and don’t return my phone calls or text messages. One time I had a bike problem and all of the village mechanics were out trying to find gold. So there were people leaving my village to search for gold, and that was frustrating enough, so imagine how I felt when I found out they were digging in my village.

I was furious. My village has suffered from NGO neglect and bad development. No one in the village will want to work with me on projects if they are able to strike it rich digging for gold.

So, what do you do? You work with the people who will still be around. For example, the village women will probably not leave to search for gold. Female students are likely to stay put, and none of the teachers or CSPS workers are going to leave because if they do they will likely get fired, and there’s already a shortage of trained workers that could replace them.

As my dad famously said, you take what you have and make it what you need. You work with the people who want to work with you, and do the best you can under the circumstances. No one said this job was easy, but it blows my mind to see generally risk averse people going all in for a small chance of striking it rich. It’s like someone who never plays poker betting it all on a pair of Aces. Yeah you could win, but you don’t know what the other players have in their hands.

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