ST. ALBANS — When Kate Larose volunteered with the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso from 2002 to 2004, she had the opportunity to travel, learn French, help the community of Tioyo build homes and a malnutrition center, plant gardens, and do HIV/AIDS health outreach in the area. In West Africa she had the chance to learn a new culture, help others, and be enriched by it all.
Over a decade later, Larose, a St. Albans resident, is returning the favor. She and her family over the summer are hosts for Jonas Kambire, a 20-year-old from Tioyo. Kambire’s 22-year-old sister, Téné, has visited several times in the past, both in 2008 and 2012. Larose knew both while she worked in Burkina Faso many years ago.
For Kambire, this is his first time in the U.S. and in Vermont. In an interview last week conducted in English and French, Kambire described when he first arrived in the U.S., and when he saw New York City for the first time.
“My first reflection was, ‘God forgot us,’” Kambire said in reference to his home village, which has a population of 800 to 900 people. “It was really hard when I got here seeing how different life is. It was a shock.”
As Kambire has taken in the comparative largeness and wealth of the U.S., he has visited several places on the East Coast, including Washington D.C. There, he and Larose went to the Smithsonian museums and national monuments, where Kambire could not only learn more about the country’s history, but about its past and present injustices.
Larose said she wanted to take Kambire to see places like the Holocaust Museum and the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument, where it is made clear that inequalities exist everywhere, and people like Kambire are needed to fight them. Larose said she hoped the trip would inspire Kambire, who would like to be a lawyer and eventually a judge in Burkina Faso.
“I know he has the heart for it, “ Larose said.
Enjoying the stay
In addition to the museums in Washington D.C., Kambire said he would like to see other museums locally, among other activities. He said he would also like to see a geyser, a natural phenomenon he studied in school in Burkina Faso.
“I have a lot planned,” Kambire said. He’s been reading books, watching movies and keeping up with the international soccer World Cup on television, and he also recently joined a soccer league in Williston. He’s also practicing his English, studying for his big Baccalaureate exam next year, learning how to use a computer, creating artwork, and writing his life story over the summer.
In addition, Kambire has been spending time with Larose’s one year old son, Jackson, and the family dog, Daisy, a dog Larose took home from Burkina Faso 12 years ago.
Kambire also has been looking to meet others in the area, though finding venues to do so has been difficult. With so much to do and see, Kambire said that he’s content for the moment.
At some point while he’s here, though, Kambire would like to share his culture with others. “Here and Burkina Faso – they’re totally different worlds,” he said.
Kambire is ethnically Lobi, a people originally from the Lake Chad who moved south through Ghana, Burkina Faso, and the Ivory Coast.The Lobi historically have hunted elephants for meat and other products such as ivory. According to Kambire, though, there have been no elephants near Tioyo since the 1950s, after colonization and ivory hunting wiped out the local population.
“Now, everybody farms,” he said.
In the meantime, before he shares with others, Kambire said he would learn as much as he could while he was here. While he’s technically here on a vacation, Kambire has a track record of being a dedicated student – he speaks three languages and understands six, and he is also the second student at the top of his class back home – and there’s no doubt that he’ll take advantage of being here before returning to Burkina Faso.
“Everything that I get here – things that I learn about the culture – I want to take that,” he said, “because it will serve me for the rest of my life.”
Burkina Faso is a landlocked, dry country in western Africa, with a population of just over 18 million. Many of the people there rely on subsistence agriculture, with cotton being the main cash crop. In addition, gold exploration and production are done there. French is the official language, though many people speak native African languages as well.
Burkina Faso, often referred to as ‘Burkina,’ achieved independence from its French colonizers in 1960, and military coups over the next two decades led to multi-party elections beginning in the 1990s. President Blaise Compaore has been in office since 1987, and protests have sprung up in response to his potential run for an unconstitutional third term in 2015.