Board Member Chris Hemmig's Visit to Goural
Journey to the Village
My visit to Goural, one of four Youth and Hope pilot villages, was the highlight of my recent trip to Mauritania in March of 2018. Before the trip, I connected with Youth and Hope partners in Nouakchott and arranged for them to purchase school supplies for me to deliver to Goural.
Goural is a few kilometers outside of the town of Aleg, the capital of the Brakna region, and about 255 km east of Nouakchott along the Road of Hope. Even though Aleg is relatively close to Nouakchott, the trip took over four hours due to the abysmal road conditions as well as the numerous police checkpoints that strictly monitor the movement of goods and people along the road.
When we finally reached Aleg, I met up with Ibrahim Ba, Youth and Hope's contact in Goural, and he arranged for a taxi to take us to the village. Ibrahim was my host in Goural, and I spent most of my time in his house as his guest. As a community leader, he is Goural’s local liaison for Youth and Hope, keeps records of donation deliveries, and facilitates the distribution of materials.
An Evening in Goural
The extreme heat arrived early to Mauritania this year, and so we spent the mid to late afternoon hours staying out of the sun and talking. Despite my rusty Pulaar, we still covered a lot of ground in our conversations. We talked about my experiences in Mauritania and how I got to know Houleye Thiam and the Mauritanian community in Columbus. Ibrahima told me about life in Goural and about his own experience as a refugee in Senegal. He returned to his village in Mauritania after fleeing the border conflict of the early 1990s.
He also talked about the challenges that Goural students face in receiving a quality education and the deep appreciation that they have for Youth and Hope's support in providing school supplies. Y&H helps families offset their most significant costs of sending their kids to primary school. Goural’s school has six grade levels where approximately 200 children study primarily Arabic and French.
Unlike some rural schools, Goural has a full complement of teachers--one teacher for each grade. Teachers are government-appointed and placed in communities they are not familiar with or where they don’t speak the local language. Most Goural teachers reside in Aleg, resulting in a disconnect with community and frequent tardiness or absence.
Many students leave their studies before completing primary school, and many of those who do finish their sixth year do not progress to middle and high school. Children able to continue studying must travel to Aleg and afford the costs of transportation, food, and lodging in addition school supplies. The odds are heavily stacked against Goural’s students; high school and university diplomas remain out of reach for most. Nevertheless, the community highly values education and does whatever possible to make it a reality. Many of Goural’s female leaders came to greet me during my stay to express their gratitude for Youth and Hope's support.
Visit to the School
The morning after I arrived in Goural, Ibrahima and I visited the school, where the students gathered and played in the courtyard, waiting for their teachers to arrive. My presence created excitement and we immediately drew a crowd of curious and energetic children.
Ibrahima gave me a tour of the classrooms, ranging in condition from adequate to defunct. Village donkeys and goats occupy one classroom with severe roof damage, while the community waits for sufficient funds to repair it.
After touring the school, it was time for me to return to Nouakchott. Ibrahima accompanied me to the public transport garage where I found a ride and, as is customary, he made sure to call me when I got to the capital city, to make sure I arrived safely.
This visit gave me a valuable perspective on the difficulties facing Mauritanian rural communities with respect to education. My visit also reminded me of the incredible warmth, grace, strength, determination, and wisdom of those people who struggle to survive in such a harsh environment.