FADA N'GOURMA, BURKINA FASO - I am currently a third-year undergraduate student studying environmental science with a soil & water concentration at the University of Maine at Orono. This past summer, I was a research intern with the Initiative: Eau West Africa office in Fada N’gourma, Burkina Faso. This opportunity was more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. As an intern, I experienced first-hand the everyday difficulties that some face to have access to safe water, while also being exposed to drinking water service management in a developing city context.
My internship with Initiative: Eau focused on my academic and personal growth. While in Fada, I assisted Initiative: Eau’s research associates with data collection in the field to advance the organization’s active programs: H2Odata.city, H2Odata.actor, and H2Odata.crisis. I spent time in the lab learning how to properly test collected samples for compliance with World Health Organization (WHO) drinking water quality standards. And, I explored literature that was relevant to Initiative: Eau’s work, which gave me a better understanding of the inner workings of a field research project and the extensive data required to publish a credible document. All this while learning about similar water quality and infrastructure studies.
In addition to the opportunities for topical learning in water and sanitation, my time in Burkina helped me learn in other ways. Language-wise, French, being the lingua franca of Burkina Faso, created an obstacle for me as a non-French speaker at the beginning of my internship. While I still cannot speak fluently, I found myself, however, beginning to grasp French while in-country. Ultimately, it inspired me to add a French course to my schedule this semester. Also while I was there, the Initiative: Eau Burkina team began taking lessons in Gourmantche, the local language spoken in the Eastern region of Burkina and surrounding countries. Interestingly, I felt I was able to connect with the people around me, regardless of the language we spoke.
While in Burkina, I completed two United Nations (UN) Department of Safety and Security courses: Basic Security in the Field II and Advanced Security in the Field. As well, I took and passed the Building a Better Response course from the Humanitarian Academy at Harvard. In addition to these online courses, I received my CPR certification alongside the entire Initiative: Eau Burkina team. All of these certifications and courses deepened my understanding of humanitarian intervention and global development and afforded me concrete skills that I can apply in the future.
My time living and working in Burkina Faso was an invaluable life experience. I not only learned about conducting field research and humanitarian work, but I also did so while completely immersed in a culture very different from my own. Each day in Burkina Faso was filled with new and exciting adventures. I was given the opportunity to become involved both professionally and culturally. This summer intensified my already strong passion for working in unfamiliar environments that place me outside of my comfort zone. Since I’ve returned home, I’ve continued to practice my French so that when I return to Burkina Faso in the future, I will be able to communicate more effectively and independently. To continue my efforts with Initiative: Eau, I will be hosting a Happy Hour for Water at my University in September to help raise funds for the organization and to raise necessary awareness about the constant global struggle for safe and reliable water.