Each Friday I’ll serve up a photo and give you the story behind it. This week, the owner of a restuarant in Bobo-Dioulasso.
For five consecutive days in Bobo, I lunched at the same local restaurant conveniently located in between the office my colleague’s house. As my colleague ate there frequently already, I too quickly became a regular and had custom meals made for me upon request. The owner was dynamic and offered quick service (even gave second helpings of ice) – a rare quality in Burkina. I captured the above moment when she and her daughter joined us the last day I was in town.
My database installation tour has gotten off to a great start and I have now completed my work in four of Burkina’s thirteen regions (Boucle du Mouhoun, Nord, Centre Nord, and the Sahel*). So, what’s involved in each visit?
First, I go over with the agents the advantages of the new system. Tracking payments has been simplified, and now we’re adding individual visits to our data collection. Once the agent is comfortable with the two data entry portions, I show them the power of having all of that data in one place, as I have simplified all of their reporting to just one-click.
Additionally, they can use the software to create custom characteristic reports – a few examples:
- Before traveling to a certain province, we can identify which borrowers are located there, and of those, who is behinds on their payments or has had too much time pass since we’ve last met with them.
- If a borrower comes in for a meeting and says their business is struggling, we can quickly identify other successful borrowers who live in the same area and have the same type of business. We encourage our borrowers to create an informal network where they can go to each other for help.
- Before deciding on next year’s loan portfolio, we can easily see if we’ve already over-financed a certain industry in a certain area. Allowing us to avoid over-saturating markets.
After showing off the system, then comes the real work. In order for all of those reports to be useful, we must be sure to have every borrower’s updated information. That means verifying everything from their phone numbers to the date of their first scheduled payment. It typically takes a little over two (long) days to get the data ready and then we spend a day and a half on practicing with the software. Then it’s off to the next region either by public transport or by private car.
There have been amazingly few hiccups so far, though I have had to deal with:
- Missing the one and only bus to Dédougou (hitched a ride with another government trip that was headed out there).
- One region had multiple borrowers with not only the same exact name, but also lived in the same city and had the same type of business.
- Not being able to track down hard copies of payment receipts for one region.
- Surprise holidays (March 8th was international women’s day – my colleague and I worked a half-day).
- Living in the house of a PCV who left in December (no one had been in the house for almost three months – you can guess how clean it was).
Most interesting for me however, has been meeting and working with all of the other agents posted in each region. I’ve received great reactions from everyone, and all have been quick to pick up on the use of and importance of the software.
I’ve also had the chance to see many PCVs along the way and have spent about half of the time thus far being hosted in their houses. It’s a bit disorienting to wake up in a new place every few days, but it has been a great way to see more of the country.
And while the GPS/mapping portion of the project have been reduced, I have trained a small team in Ouaga to map the 1,100+ borrowers in the capital. I’m hopeful that the team can visit all of them by May (the time my tour is finished).
Up next – the Centre Ouest and Centre Sud. Then a four day break in Ouaga to report back on my progress and have a little downtime.
*Due to the ongoing Tuareg conflict and previous AQIM activity, I wasn’t able to travel to the Sahel, and instead had the agent meet me in the Centre Nord.
Last week marked the 14th edition of Dédougou’s FESTIMA (Festival International des Masques et des Arts de Dédougou). The event is held every two years and while there are other mask festivals around, FESTIMA is unique in that it shows off many different styles of masks all at the same time in the same place. Masks were mainly from Burkina, but groups from Benin, Togo, and Mali were also involved. Most of the spectators were from the immediate area, but the festival did draw some groups of international (mostly French) tourists.
Griots, along with other musicians, would bring the masks to life with their music – usually drums or a flute-type instrument. Each group, composed of griots, musicians, three to eight masks and a few others would perform at a time. Most masks represented animals while others represented spirits from the bush. It is said that once the performer dons his mask (women are not permitted to wear masks) he becomes the animal/spirit he is wearing. Locals told us that it often helps that the performer is a little tipsy.
Check out some of my favorite images from the festival below (and thanks to Hayley, who borrowed my camera for a few of these shots as I was trapped in the office during parts of the week). I’ll get some of the great video footage up once I get suitably fast internet.
Each Friday I’ll serve up a photo and give you the story behind it. This week a few girls from Ouahigouya show off their woman’s day outfits.
Yesterday was International Woman’s Day, an official holiday here in Burkina. Each year a traditional pagne (fabric) is released to commemorate the day, and a few girls I passed on the road relished in showing off their new outfits. For more on international woman’s day and women’s importance in microfinance, check out this great post on CGAP’s blog.