Inner Reflections
November 21, 2023

Help Empower African Women

Beneath the bright African sun, in the heart of Burkina Faso’s Sahel region, I found myself at the center of a life altering moment. It wasn’t just any day; it was a field visit in a village seven kilometers from my hometown Dori, with my mother, a tireless advocate for Save The Children NGO.

As the heat radiated off the desert landscape, I found rest under the sprawling branches of a lone Neem tree. The air was dry and hot, and I, a 10-year-old seeking solace, dove into the pages of a book. Moments later, a girl almost my age, emerged from the village and approached with wide-eyed curiosity. Her gaze was fixed on the words dancing across the pages of my book. In that profound moment, a realization hit me—she couldn’t read! The simplicity of deciphering written words, a skill I took for granted, was a luxury she might never know.

Questions raced through my young mind. What future lay ahead for her? What about her future family? Her children one day? Would they have the opportunity to attend school, unlocking the doors to knowledge?

Seated beneath the Neem tree, book in hand, a silent vow was made. It wasn’t just a promise; it was a deep-seated commitment to be more than a witness to this inequality. This marked the birth of a dream, “One day, I will start a nonprofit devoted to championing women’s education in Africa.”

It is reported that more than 98 million adolescent girls around the world are not in school. That’s a lot of dreams cut short! UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) reports that in Burkina Faso, my native country, though over 90% of female children in the region start elementary school, 60% of those girls will have dropped out by 7th grade. In this present situation, a predictable, almost certain future for most girls is early marriage, poor health outcomes, financial hardship, subordination, and stagnation.

Barriers to schooling and continued education include financial hardship in general. For girls specifically, the lack of menstrual hygiene products once they reach puberty can result in accrued absenteeism, falling behind, and ultimately dropping out despite their motivation and capabilities. 

On a recent visit to Burkina, I returned to the rural village near my hometown, Dori. There, I had a conversation with several teenage girls, discussing the challenges they face during puberty and managing their periods. One girl’s candid revelation stood out: “I haven’t had access to proper pads since I started getting my period. I use a piece of cloth if available, and if not, my own clothing. On heavy days, I’d rather stay home.” Surprised, I asked, “Every month?” She confirmed, highlighting the discomfort and practical difficulties.  

Digging deeper, she explained, “Even if we manage to find a piece of cloth and attend class, it’s not clean. Teachers often send us home because we don’t smell good. There’s embarrassment and shame. On exam days, we often miss the test and end up absent.” That’s when I realized the need, and that’s how we started.

The stark need to provide menstrual hygiene products for those in extreme poverty in rural Burkina was apparent. This reality serves as the impetus behind Sahel Sage’s initiatives, addressing a crucial gap in support.

The primary mission of Sahel Sage is to increase the retention of adolescent girls in school in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso by removing the barriers to education. Our initiatives extend beyond conventional support. Sahel Sage not only provides essential school supplies and tuition, but also addresses immediate needs like food, clean water, vocational training, and mentorship programs. Crucially, we recognize the significance of menstrual hygiene, supplying feminine hygiene products to ensure girls can attend school without hindrance, and we continually listen to the girls, and local communities to ensure what we provide and how we provide it is what is needed. 

In 2023, one of our proudest achievements is the remarkable 80% success rate our Sahel Sage girls achieved in the BEPC exam, soaring high above the national average of 38.27% in Burkina Faso. Passing this middle school exam is a crucial gateway to high school, marking a milestone as our first cohort officially enters the realm of higher education.

Over the past five years, since our inception, Sahel Sage has made a significant impact, distributing over 500 reusable feminine hygiene kits, facilitating 15 vocational trainings, supporting the education of 87 girls, and building a community well to provide clean drinking water during a challenging drought season.

Our ability to continue this impactful work is even more noteworthy given the security crisis in the Sahel, where international response for aid has been limited. Burkina Faso, translating to the “country of Upright people,” is home to some of the most welcoming citizens globally. Despite facing adversity, the Burkinabe people showcase incredible strength.

In a nation where over 65% of the 22.1 million people are under 18 years old, we recognize the immense potential of Burkina Faso’s youth. By offering opportunities for education, self-determination, and emancipation, we believe we are planting seeds for a brighter future. As an epidemiologist, yoga teacher, and member of the InnerDimension community, my commitment to Seva Yoga (service) drives our mission. I am dedicated to fostering healthy and empowered communities. I believe that the rising of fully alive, empowered, accomplished, and healed women at this time of human history speaks to the possibility of a real civil society in which love, and compassion are the foundation. The impact extends beyond individuals, reaching families, communities, and countries. 

To educate a woman is to educate a nation.

By Fatimata Sanogo, Founder of Sahel SAGE & InnerDimension Community Member

Give Back

This Giving Tuesday, we can all help Fatimata with this meaningful cause! Tell your friends and family to sign up for Inner Dimension TV, gift a subscription, or purchase any of our online teacher trainings and enter the code SAGE30 where it says “Have a coupon” during checkout. *

Just for two days, you get 30% off and 50% of the purchase will go directly toward supporting the Sahel SAGE. Also, stay tuned for other special events as we continue to partner with Fatimata to raise awareness and give back!