Changing roles in Burkina Faso - a photo essay

In one of the poorest countries in the world, Burkina Faso, a very special school gives new hope to orphaned or disadvantaged girls

In Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso in west Africa, a school and training programme is combating entrenched attitudes and gender stereotypes that confine women to low-paid unskilled labour, or worse. At the CFIAM, girls and young women, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, can train to be car mechanics, a trade that offers them the skills necessary to enable them to pursue independent lives and achieve a measure of socio-economic progress. Such is the success of CFIAM and its students that it has been the subject of an award-winning documentary Ouaga Girls

Girls working on a car
Girsl working on a car during the class of coach-building at the CFIAM all-female school for non-traditional jobs in Ouagadougou. Bernard Zongo. Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi/Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni
  • Girls working on a car during a coach-building class led by Bernard Zongo at CFIAM in Ouagadougou.

Spare parts used for the class
Spare parts used for the class for auto mechanic at the CFIAM all-female school in Ouagadougou. Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi/Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni
A girl works on a car
A girl works on a car during the class of coach-building at the CFIAM all-female school for non-traditional jobs in Ouagadougou. Courses include car electrics, technology, electronics, French and mathematics. The precariousness of young women is extreme in Burkina Faso, with a 53% rate of unemployment. Non-traditional and non-gendered professions have lately emerged to facilitate a socio-economic reintegration of disadvantaged women. Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi/Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni
  • Left: Spare parts used for the class. Right: A girl works on a car during a coach-building class

A car used for practice
A car used for practice in the auto mechanic class at the CFIAM ll-female school for non-traditional jobs in Ouagadougou. Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi/Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni

When the centre first opened it attracted only a handful of applicants; now it caters to nearly 200 students. Its popularity is due to the fact that the country’s traditional education system can be ill suited to both the job market and the needs of the most vulnerable strata of the population.

Genevieve, 21
Genevieve, 21 Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni
Georgette, 28
Georgette, 28 Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni

In Burkina Faso’s education system almost one in three children drops out before completing primary school. Secondary education is not an option for the majority of young people, especially girls. This is despite the government’s stated desire to promote education and vocational training as an engine for the country’s development. ­

Tools used during class
Tools used during the class for auto mechanic at the CFIAM all-female school in Ouagadougou. Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi/Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni
Tools used during class
Tools used during the class for auto mechanic at the CFIAM all-female school in Ouagadougou. Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi/Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni
Tools used during class
Tools used during the class for auto mechanic at the CFIAM all-female school in Ouagadougou. Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi/Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni
Tools used during class
Tools used during the class for auto mechanic at the CFIAM all-female school in Ouagadougou. Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi/Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni

The first CFIAM centre, where about 100 study motorcycle maintenance, was founded in Koudougou in 1997. Ouagadougou’s centre opened in 2002, and in 2016 a third opened its doors in Sabou. They are supported by ATTous-Yennenga, an organisation committed to showing Burkinabé society the potential contribution of young women toward the development of the country, especially when not confined to gender stereotypes. The centres offer courses in mechanics, automotive electricity, electronics and bodywork.

Girls practicing on an engine
Girls practicing on an engine during the auto mechanic class at the CFIAM all-female school in Ouagadougou. The school works mainly with girls in difficult circumstances averagely from 15 to 19 years old, mostly orphaned or out of school. The lack of means prevents them from continuing the official school cycle and could face a difficult life in the streets. The courses aims to a socio-professional integration by preparing them to non-traditional jobs. Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi/Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni

As well as practical training, the girls are also given psychological support to prepare them for the difficulties they might encounter seeking employment in a domain traditionally regarded as exclusively male. Personal development courses are included in the training program to help students learn to realise their potential and strengthen their self-esteem.

A mural outside the CFIAM
A wall painting outside the CFIAM all-female school in Ouagadougou. The precariousness of young women is extreme in Burkina Faso, with a 53% rate of unemployment. Non-traditional and non-gendered professions have lately emerged to facilitate a socio-economic reintegration of disadvantaged women. Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi/Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni
Emilie, 19, at home (left) and studying at the centre
Emilie, 19, at home (left) and studying at the centre
  • Top: A mural outside the CFIAM. Above: Emilie, 19, at home on the outskirts of Ouagadougou (left), and studying at the centre. Below: An electronics class at the centre

An electronics class at the CFIAM
An electronics class at the CFIAM all-female school in Ouagadougou. Courses range from car electrics, coach-building, technology, French and mathematics. The precariousness of young women is extreme in Burkina Faso, with a 53% rate of unemployment. Non-traditional and non-gendered professions have lately emerged to facilitate a socio-economic reintegration of disadvantaged women. Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi/Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni

As Yvette, the course psychologist, puts it: “In Burkina Faso a girl belonging to the lower social classes cannot expect much from her life. She must stay at home to help with all the housework, always carried out by women. Then she has to find a low profile work, such selling fruit in the street.”

“The will live in hardship, desiring a future that they’ll never have. And the only other option they seem to have is prostitution.”

Carol, 18
Carol, 18 Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni
Rookia, 27
Rookia, 27 Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni

“Most of the girls who are attending this school come from very problematic families, often they dropped out of school or couldn’t afford any further schooling. They are completely in disarray and arrive in a state of emotional insecurity.

“This school is a new start for them, an unexpected new chance. Everything changes when they start. They find self confidence, understand that they can finally be masters of their lives and decide for their own future. They understand that they are really worth something, are important, valuable.”

A wooden panel for storing the tools
A wooden panel for storing the tools for auto mechanic at the CFIAM all-female school in Ouagadougou. Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi/Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni
Spare parts
Spare parts used for the class for auto mechanic at the CFIAM all-female school in Ouagadougou. Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi/Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni
CFIAM students
From left to right: Ouattara Maténé, Compaoré Djamilatou, Bonkougou Korotimi, Kabre Geneviève, Nikièma Saratou, Déné Saratou. Students of the coach building courses outside the garage where they practice. Students specializes in different jobs including car mechanics and electronics. Photograph: Jean-Marc Caimi/Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni
  • Left to right: Ouattara Maténé, Compaoré Djamilatou, Bonkougou Korotimi, Kabre Geneviève, Nikièma Saratou, Déné Saratou outside the garage where they practice

Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni

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