Sheltering Wings: Fighting Poverty in Burkina Faso

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YAKO, Burkina Faso — The West African nation of Burkina Faso is plagued by poverty. Sheltering Wings is a Christian mission organization fighting poverty in Burkina Faso by developing programs in the town of Yako. Destiny Villamor, a 21-year-old from the American Midwest, felt called to the region to do mission work with Sheltering Wings. Villamor took the time to share her experiences with The Borgen Project and encouraged others to get involved.

A friend Villamor made on a mission trip to Haiti inspired her. “God always had it on my heart to do missions and help people,” Villamor said. Her friend Rachel spoke passionately about her mission experience fighting poverty in Burkina Faso. The pair of friends then decided to go together. “It was totally unexpected, but it was awesome.”

Villamor spent most of her time at the Sheltering Wings orphanage and lived there as well. The orphanage takes in children from the village and obtains sponsors for them to attend school. Sheltering Wings also set up a medical clinic in an abandoned building just outside Yako. Villamor often visited the clinic staffed by two nurses from the orphanage who examine and treat the villagers.

Villamor described the poor conditions in the village. Housing was mud huts roofed by tin or tarp. Gas stations sold gas in wine bottles because there were no pumps. “There is trash everywhere. There is no trash system,” Villamor said. Trash was simply thrown into the street. Access to clean and accessible water was another problem. Sheltering Wings built wells around the town for public use in response.

Without job prospects, villagers had to make do with what was available. “There were a lot of ladies doing a lot of work,” Villamor said. Women wore wraps on their heads piled high with fruit or whatever materials they were selling. The women balanced the objects on their heads as they walked and sold items. Many street markets sold piles of items such as tires and shoes. The shoes in those piles had no match. People were on every main street trying to sell whatever they could find.

Sheltering Wings has a widow sponsorship program for women who’ve lost their husbands and families. As elderly women, they are unable to care for themselves. Each woman receives a basket filled with a solar lamp, blanket, soap, vegetables, pineapple juice, cans of tomato sauce and sacks of rice and noodles. Villamor remembered one woman giving back a live chicken out of gratitude. “They are so full of faith and love,” she said.

Villamor heard many stories about poverty in Burkina Faso from the people she met while doing mission work. She visited the Sheltering Wings women’s shelter where she met a pregnant woman. The woman’s family wanted to kill her because she was an unwed mother-to-be. A child born out of wedlock was considered cursed. The woman escaped to the safe haven to save herself and her unborn child.

Villamor warned of a scam school in Yako where parents are deceived into sending their sons. The boys are placed on the street with red cans tied around their necks. They are referred to as the Red Can Boys. The boys were beaten if they came back with no money or had food crumbs on them. Combatting the problem is like a double-edged sword. As Villamor explained, giving the boys money only continues the cycle, but returning empty-handed they will be beaten. The missionaries were told not to give money because the scam needed to be shut down.

“Each child in the orphanage has an awful story,” Villamor sighed. A seven-year-old named Winnie had parents who fed her lye and fused her tongue to the bottom of her mouth. Social services found Winnie and she received hospital treatment. Winnie was then brought to the orphanage. Despite her tongue being freed, she still would not speak. Winnie wore a diaper because she could not understand the concept of using the bathroom. Her fortune soon changed when a U.S. family adopted her. Villamor said Winnie’s adoption was the most memorable moment of her mission trip.

“The orphanage is doing great things and people need to know about Sheltering Wings,” Villamor said. If the organization received more support, it would have an even greater impact on fighting poverty in Burkina Faso.

Brittany Mannings

Photo: Flickr

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