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Geneva man embarks on a different Dakar rally

Across Africa, schooling is often disrupted by a lack of funds and teachers

(Keystone)

As the Paris-Dakar rally continues on its way south through the Sahara Desert, a Geneva man has embarked on his own odyssey to West Africa - to raise money for education in Burkina Faso.

Like the rally-drivers, Daniel Richard, founder of the Future through Schooling Association (AAE), will take his four-wheel drive land cruiser vehicle through France and Spain and into Morocco and the disputed Western Sahara.

He will then travel through Senegal, Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo and Ghana. His eventual destination is Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, where his association is based.

Richard's involvement in Burkina Faso began when he responded to an advertisement in a Geneva newspaper to send clothes for street children there. He continued to do this for a number of years until decided to visit the country.

"I had travelled in Africa for 34 years, but when I arrived in Burkina, I was not travelling. I felt as though I was at home. The people I stayed with have become like my family," Richard told swissinfo before setting off on his trip.

"I felt I wanted to do more - that perhaps I could help a child through its school years," he said.

A successful speculation on the stock market gave him the means to do even more. Richard and his Burkinabe friends decided to set up the AAE to help to meet the school fees of poor children.

Public Education in Burkina Faso is not free, and while 90 per cent of children receive some schooling, 85 per cent drop out after a few years.

The AAE, all of whose members are volunteers, guarantees the funding of a child for 10 years, from the age of five to the end of compulsory schooling at 15. No distinction is made with regards to gender, religion or ethnic group.

"It takes only 900 francs to guarantee the education of a child for ten years. That's nothing to us, but in Burkina Faso, it's a lot of money," Richard says.

"At first, my dream was to see ten children through school. But now we are paying for 40, and we have enough money for another ten to start next year," he adds.

The main purpose of his trip is to deliver his 4x4 vehicle to his local colleagues so that they can keep in touch with the children on the scheme, who are scattered throughout the country. He will also deliver school books and a fax machine.

But first he must arrive in Ouagadougou. He must negotiate the same hazards as the rally drivers must face: treacherous desert sands, banditry, wild animals and civil unrest.

The biggest obstacle will perhaps be in Western Sahara, where the pro-independence Polisario Front fighting Moroccan occupation has threatened to attack Paris-Dakar participants.

He only received permission to cross the territory 24 hours before setting off.

Richard has been working on another project which will reach fruition in February. He has collected around 250 kilos of toys which he will use to start up a toy library.

by Roy Probert


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