|The Courier N° 122 July - August 1990 - Dossier Tourism - Country Report: Mali (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)|
by Grd VERNIER(*)
How can an adolescent hope to find his feet when social adaptation is already difficult because he has made one or two silly mistakes?
The staff of La Commanderie, a centre for youngsters with problems at Ballan - Mirear Chinon in Touraine (France), have come up with an unusual way of tackling this daunting task.
The idea was to get six of these young people, boys and girls of between 14 and 18, to try out real cooperation by going to help the local people in Burkina Faso build a classroom for the future college of Tenkodogo, in the hope that working together would be enriching for all concerned. It was put into practice as part of the Chinon - Tenkodogo town twinning operations which began in 1975.
The three - week work camp, in July 1989, was preceded by some serious groundwork. The future cooperation officers learnt bricklaying and carpentry from professionals and, during the previous winter, they started corresponding with youngsters in Tenkodogo. They also did various jobs in Touraine to try and cover some of their estimated costs of FF 70 000 (CFAF 3.5 million) - not just travel expenses, but building materials to be bought in Burkina Faso, plus tools (buckets, trowels, saws, etc) from France to be left on site at the end of the stay - and, thanks to various contributions, including a grant from the Europe Third World association of European Community officials, they got this amount together. The youngsters also took out medicines collected from laboratories, doctors and hospitals in the Chinon area for the Tenkodogo hospital.
Does this mean that all the aid came the North? The spirit of cooperation on which the scheme turned was quick to make the traffic two - way - the French youths, who had gone out to help others in a distant land, themselves derived enormous moral benefit from the stay in return.
They integrated fast, making friends with the Burkinabalthough they had always found contact difficult before. Becoming the partners of Africans gave the project a different dimension for them by enabling them to discover the problems of development and enter into a different culture with enriching values of its own. The paradox of being assisted youngsters in the position of cooperation officers actually helped them get away from their personal (and frequently inhibiting) problems. And they also felt that their work got adult recognition when, for example, the Minister of the Environment and Tourism visited the site a gesture which did a lot to boost the selfrespect of adolescents who often doubted their own abilities.
In fact the educational support represented by this humanitarian scheme ensured that the work camp not only provided a classroom and the opportunity to make friends with the local people, but catered for the needs and wants of all youngsters in the longer term. The preparation and implementation of the project meant that they - who used to give no thought to the future and were often doomed to failure - had the opportunity to see something through, and this resulted in greater self - assurance or a change in their relations within the family as soon as they got home.
Clearly this experiment, which could well be repeated, is an imaginative way of capitalising on the term cooperation and showing that aid does not have to be one - way, Southbound traffic.