Women, Health and Education: Panel looks at 'What Works in African Development'

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 A panel discussion on “What Works in African Development: Women, Health and Education” took place on Thursday, April 4, at Cranbrook’s Performing Arts Center in Bloomfield Hills. 

 
The panel was moderated by Michigan Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan, former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.  Also on the panel were Ambassador Seydou Bouda from Burkina Faso, West Africa; Ambassador Jimmy Kolker who served in Burkina Faso (1999-2002) and is currently principal deputy director Office of Global Affairs, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Simeon Baguian, project coordinator for Namtenga Projects in Burkina Faso; and Noelie Sandouidi Baguian, president of Namtenga Soundo Babisi, a weaving studio for women.
 
About forty years ago, Butzel Long partner Michael Lavoie (presently president of the U.S. District Court Historical Foundation and secretary of the Pontiac Alumni Foundation) joined the Peace Corp.  His assignment was to build a well for the Village of Namtenga in the West African nation of Burkina Faso.  He was there for two years.  His host family had two children—they are Simeon and Noeli, both on the  panel noted above.
 
Lavoie kept in touch with Namtenga and his host family.  He and they have returned several visits.  He introduced Burkina Faso to Cranbrook more than 15 years ago and formed a very close relationship between Cranbrook and Burkina Faso.  
 
Namtenga did not have any weaving looms so Cranbrook sent them to the women of Namtenga who used them to weave material.  Ambassador Jimmy Kolker was present for the delivery of the looms to the village.  The material that the women created was then shipped to Cranbrook and sold at Cranbrook’s Holiday Festival and all donations received were sent to Namtenga for community needs.  
 
“I saw the outpouring of appreciation from the people,” said Kolker.  “But I have to say, this was 12 years ago and I am impressed with how well this has been sustained and how it’s grown into something really important to the people on both sides.
 
“The schools [Cranbrook and Kingswood] here have made this very much a part of their curriculum, part of the culture of the schools, and that to me is a great example of not just a successful aid program but also international understanding,” Kolker added.
 
The students of Cranbrook periodically talk with students of the Village of Namtenga by way of Skype.
 
Two years ago during the Peace Corps 50th Birthday and Burkina Faso’s 50th Anniversary as an Independent Nation, Lavoie led a contingent from Cranbrook to a visit to Burkina Faso and the village of Namtenga.  Burkina Faso is one of the nations of Africa that has been able to avoid much of the internecine conflicts that seem to affect too many nations in Africa.
 
Corrigan noted that her boss, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, is very interested in promoting global friendships and global entrepreneurship.  “We’re very interested in the project of Cranbrook and Namtenga and seeing what we can do to support and advance this global initiative.  We’re thrilled that Cranbrook and the village have had this friendship for these many years,” said Corrigan.
 
The April 4 panel discussion focused on issues to the three prongs of Cranbrook’s grassroots efforts in the Village of Namtenga: Women, Health and Education; in Women, the founding of entrepreneurial enterprises through weaving; in Health, finding fresh water sources and malaria prevention; in Education, an active scholarship program and various school supplies for Namtenga’s students along with a pen pal program between Cranbrook and Namtenga students.