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Trailblazing motorcycle maven

Trailblazing motorcycle maven

Philip Maher recalls the story behind one of his favourite photographs from his field visit to CCFC programs in Burkina Faso this week

By Philip Maher

I’m only a few days into my trip, but I’ve found my first favourite Burkinabè (Burkina Faso resident) so far, though there are many.

This week I walked into the Hope Centre in a small town about an hour outside the West African capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou. (Waga-do-goo). The centre is a vocational school for youth between the ages of 12 and 26. Some of these students could not gain access to traditional school due to the cost, low school marks or because they simply dropped out earlier in their lives for various reasons. Here they take on a three-year course in tailoring/sewing — since many clothes are handmade locally — plumbing or motorcycle mechanics. The project is managed by Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC) with funding from partner organizations, ChildFund Korea and ChildFund Germany.

The Burkina welcome is always warm. Students eagerly show off what they have learned. The last classroom is the mechanics centre where I meet Rosemonde — perhaps the first Burkina woman to take motorcycle mechanics. Even in North America the male dominance over mechanics still permeates our culture. Rosemonde seems unfazed by the attention she may receive. “I decided to learn mechanics, because it excites me to see people repairing motorbikes,” says the 18-year-old. “If I open my own shop I will hire girls, if I can find some who are willing.”

It is particularly encouraging to see parents supporting their children, even when the local culture is less accustomed to doing so. “My parents encouraged me a lot. It makes me feel like going ahead,” she says.

The boys in Rosemonde’s class understand her goal is unique, but they have chosen to offer their support. “If she wants to study mechanics, it’s OK,” says one of her fellow students. Interestingly, it’s the girls in the tailoring program who seem split on whether this is a man’s job. Two girls discussing Rosemonde’s choice disagree: “I would not trust my motorbike to a girl,” says one, while her friend says emphatically, “I’d like to take mine to a girl.”

Rosemonde finishes her program in a year. She hopes to work with an experienced mechanic first, but she dreams of opening a small shop.

Photo by Philip Maher