Pannell research shapes up in Burkina Faso

Holly Rueger '17 (right) at the orphanage helping Pauline with her homework
Holly Rueger ’17 (right) at the orphanage helping Pauline with her homework

When Holly Rueger’s plane took off for Burkina Faso in January, she had a pretty clear vision of what her Pannell project would look like. She would study nongovernmental organizations in the West African country, find out what makes them successful, and figure out how such aid programs can help — “rather than hinder” — communities.

For two weeks, the sophomore volunteered at Sheltering Wings orphanage in Yako, a town just outside the capital, Ouagadougou. She tutored and played with the children, helped to distribute grains and TOMs shoes, learned traditional songs and dances, and visited a Bible study in a neighboring village. She also conducted research, interviewing some of the older kids who spoke English.

It didn’t take long for Rueger to realize that her project might take some unexpected turns.

“Originally, my research [focused] on ways that Sheltering Wings worked with the local community,” said the psychology and Spanish major, who minors in dance.

“[While] I did learn a lot about [that], I couldn’t see past the issue of education.”

Though recent efforts had improved school turnout, Rueger said, resulting in “about 66 percent” of children attending primary school, the literacy rate among children remains “somewhere around 20 percent — and most kids don’t get past primary school.”

Overall, almost three-quarters of Burkina Faso’s population don’t know how to read.

Recognizing how important education was to her research, Rueger decided to refocus. She would look at the country’s education system and identify why it was in trouble.

Rueger saying goodbye to Lea. "I was not ready to leave!"
Rueger saying goodbye to Lea. “I was not ready to leave!”

“From the information I collected, in the form of interviews, I was able to explore improvements that are already happening, as well as make some suggestions,” she said, adding that the final product was on its way to Sheltering Wings directors Mike and Amy Riddering.

“I hope it will provide them with some helpful information.”

Rueger plans to continue her relationship with the orphanage and hopes to spend more time in Burkina Faso after college.

In the meantime, she’s getting ready for SBC’s Junior Year in Spain, which is being transferred to Hollins University, where Rueger will complete her undergraduate degree.