LONG ISLAND, New York — Burkina Faso is a West African country with an annual population expansion rate of more than twice the global average and a life expectancy age of around 60 years. More than three-quarters of the nation’s working populace makes a living through agriculture. Villagers grow peanuts, rice, millet and other subsistence crops. The nation exports its sugarcane, cotton, shea nuts and sesame to nearby countries. Droughts and diseases from the tsetse fly and other pests, as well as lack of industry because the country is landlocked, create harsh conditions for Burkina Faso’s people. In fact, more than 40% of Burkina Faso’s population endures conditions of poverty. Women, in particular, find it difficult to earn a living and feed their families. However, an organization called the Association for Small African Projects (ASAP) Foundation helps women start businesses in Burkina Faso with the goal of lifting them out of poverty.
Girls and Women in Burkina Faso
Especially in rural areas, women and girls face blatant discrimination in terms of economic opportunities. Exacerbating these circumstances is the fact that more than 50% of females aged between 20 and 24 are in a marriage or union before turning 18, according to U.N. Women. In addition, in 2020, more than 1 million girls and women in Burkina Faso faced hunger, water shortages and sexual violence due to political conflict coupled with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Small Business Initiatives
For 25 years, the ASAP Foundation has assisted women in Burkina Faso’s remote villages. Hervé Millet, an engineer in the Netherlands, founded the organization in 1997 after visiting a friend in Burkina Faso. During his stay, he saw a need for a clinic and arranged for one to be built.
Millet continued working to aid villagers, and thus, the ASAP Foundation was born. The Foundation keeps its costs low so that 95% of its funds can go toward its projects. One of the Foundation’s main initiatives offers economic aid that helps women start businesses so they can emerge from poverty. To jumpstart these enterprises, ASAP provides micro-credits to female villagers. About 2,700 women are able to access annual credit loans of 30 euros each, which “can generate an annual income of 60 to 100 euros.” The women engage in small-scale commercial activities, such as raising livestock or producing and selling shea butter, pottery or pies to sell in the market. The women use the profits for necessities like health care expenses or the cost of their children’s education.
Handcarts Provide Transport
In addition to offering business micro-credits, the ASAP Foundation provides handcarts so that women can more easily transport items to the markets or to their homes. A female villager typically carries everything from water, foodstuffs or wood on her head, with a child clinging to her back at the same time. This means that a woman must make several trips back and forth to bring heavy loads to the market. However, a handcart addresses these issues. A local craftsperson designs the carts to run easily on uneven footpaths. Each cart costs 50 euros and each woman contributes 20 euros toward purchasing these carts. Making travel more efficient means that women can spend more time producing goods and reap higher profits rather than wasting time walking back and forth in the searing heat.
The Secondary Agricultural School (LAP)
Another ASAP Foundation project gives scholarships to destitute village children. Ten years ago, the organization founded a secondary school to help students become entrepreneurs in the agriculture industry. Called the Secondary Agricultural School (LAP), this boarding school’s dormitories hold 320 children, half of them girls, from refugee or impoverished farming households. The students learn animal husbandry, computer science, agronomy, general coursework and more. For every child that attends, the parents contribute only 250 kilograms of corn and 120 euros. With around 60 annual graduates who often return home to help their parents, the educational experience results in improved food security for the students’ families.
In addition to helping village girls stay in school, by providing micro-credits and handcarts for their mothers, the ASAP Foundation helps women start businesses and enables them to rise out of poverty.
– Sarah Betuel