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Power to teach needed in Burkina Faso


Lillian Haas, MC Canada Witness worker in Burkina Faso, makes frequent trips to the city to use her computer, since the solar panels that normally power her equipment were stolen. Haas and her team have developed a written form of the previously oral-only Siamou language. Siamou speaking people will for the first time now be able to read the translated Bible stories they have only heard told.

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January 6, 2006
-by Jeff Enns

Winnipeg, Man. - The theft of Lillian Haas’ solar panels has left her without the power she needs to teach. The panels were stolen from her home compound in Tin, Burkina Faso, leaving Haas and her neighbours without electricity.

The theft comes at a critical time as Haas (Blue Sky Mennonite Church, Alberta) prepares teaching material for five new literacy centres set to open throughout Burkina Faso in 2006. The centres are the result of six years of tireless work in developing a writing system for the Siamou language. Thanks to Haas and her team’s efforts, the once exclusively oral language can now be expressed with pencil and paper.

The lost panels were used to power her household, including a computer, scanner and printer. Now she must travel to a larger centre to use a computer and communicate with the rest of the world. The loss of power has severely compromised the production of training materials for the new literacy centres.

The solar panels were stolen on July 16, while Haas was attending a grammar workshop in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. The panels were securely housed in a metal frame and perched atop a tall pipe cemented into the ground. Thieves used pipe-cutters to sever the three inch pipe and then dragged the entire assembly to the nearby bush where they salvaged the valuable panels.

Haas hopes that the panels may eventually be recovered but acknowledges that chances are slim; the market for solar panels is brisk in Burkina Faso. Unlike a power outage that may last an hour or two in North America, Haas and her community will continue to be without electricity until replacement panels arrive.

Despite the disadvantage, Haas is pressing on in her work. The literacy work began with the goal of translating the Bible to Siamou. Haas, a Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker (in partnership with Mennonite Mission Network), began the project by translating the gospels so that people could begin reading the stories they were hearing. With scripture translation now complete, the Siamou people can read the entire Bible for the first time in their native language.

The next challenge is to teach the written language to Simaou speakers using the new literacy centres. Haas says it’s difficult to keep up with the demand: “The Siamou want to read!”

Two reading clubs are helping to identify and prepare potential teachers for the planned literacy centres. Club members also assist Haas by editing the stories she will publish.

A celebration of the new Siamou written language – planned and funded by the Siamou people – will be held in January. For Lillian Haas, the installation of new solar panels would be even more reason to rejoice.

Donations for the ministry of Lillian Haas and other Canadian workers in Burkina Faso can be sent attention to Mennonite Church Canada Witness, 600 Shaftesbury Blvd., Wpg., MB R3P 0M4. Or donate online at: