Cathy Seeley, Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Burkina Faso: Peace Corps Burkina Faso : Web Links for Burkina Faso: Cathy Seeley, Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso

By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, July 02, 2001 - 1:19 pm: Edit Post

Cathy Seeley, Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso

Cathy Seeley, Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso

This site is a collection of photos, information, and essays about my current (1999-present) Peace Corps service in Burkina Faso, West Africa as a secondary mathematics teacher. I am a grandmother who decided to pursue a challenge that has been percolating in my mind for 30 years, by joining the Peace Corps after my daughters were grown.

I came to Africa equipped with technology and a lot of ideas about how mathematics should be taught based on 30 years of work in Texas and the rest of the United States. Now I am living with reality on the other side of the world. Truly an adventure...

As an educator and parent, I intend this site to be a kid-safe and family-friendly source of information about people, places, and positive (yet challenging) experiences. Every now and then you will even find a math problem or some science info, as well as lots of geography and social studies stuff about a country very few people know. There are also some holiday menus, recipes, and miscellaneous odds and ends.

An underlined word or phrase in color is a link to another location, either here or somewhere else on the Internet.

Have fun!

Many of these pages have digital photos that may take a while to load, depending on your computer and modem. If you see a thumbnail picture (miniature), you can click on it to see a larger version of the picture.

This site is always a work in progress, so keep checking back.

This page was updated on 03-Aug-2000.

Below is some general information about my experience here, with links to other parts of the site, as well as links to other interesting and/or relevant websites.

Topics below:

Burkina Faso

Peace Corps in Burkina Faso



School (and strikes)

My philosophy of teaching mathematics

Ici on parle français!

Fellow Peace Corps Volunteers


Gratitude: I couldn't be living this adventure without the love and support of my family, friends, and colleagues throughout North America. Among the many friends who continue to provide all kinds of support, I am truly grateful to the folks at Unity Church of the Hills in Austin and the Dana Center at the University of Texas. I deeply appreciate all the individuals who care enough not to forget their friend in the Sahel. In the words of a friend, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso, like many countries in Africa, was colonized by a European nation, in this case, France. As a result, the national language is French. However, before French colonization there were more than 50 languages spoken by the various ethnic groups living in the area. In establishing boundaries of the French, British, Belgian, and other European colonies (countries) of Africa, the existing geographic areas of these groups were not taken into consideration. So, many languages are spoken throughout West Africa, and many groups live across a country's border from others in their group. The 50+ local languages in Burkina Faso continue to be spoken by its citizens.

Burkina Faso was known as Haute Volta (Upper Volta) as a French Colony, named after the Volta River. It was renamed Burkina Faso (Land of Upright People) during the presidency of Thomas Sankara, a revolutionary leader who died in 1987, but whose influence is reflected in many aspects of life in Burkina Faso today. The current president of Burkina Faso is Blaise Compaore.

Economically, Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. But it is rich in terms of its people and their attitude toward life.

Find out more?

For students:

Try a web search on "Burkina Faso" for more information. Many sites have information about population, government, geography, and so on, including and

How close to the equator is Burkina Faso? In what important time zone does it lie? Find the small numbers that represent the country's latitude and longitude and what these numbers mean. Are time zones and longitude related in any way? Use an atlas or encyclopedia (electronic or the good old-fashioned kind in books) or a globe, or search the web for information on latitude and longitude. The National Geographic site has maps you can search for time zones, and there is even a distance/latitude/longitude site where you can find the latitude and longitude of Ouagadougou and its distance from your town. Let me know if you find other sites where you can find this kind of information about Burkina Faso.

Peace Corps in Burkina Faso

Peace Corps volunteers served in Upper Volta from 1966 until 1987, when the government of Burkina Faso asked to have the program ceased while refocusing its development philosophy. During those 21 years, Peace Corps volunteers worked in education, forestry, small enterprise development, water, and agriculture, among other projects. Since returning to Burkina Faso in 1995, Peace Corps volunteers have worked in education and in community health programs. About 80 volunteers currently serve in Burkina, with roughly half in education and half in health. In the area of education, Peace Corps volunteers teach mathematics, natural science, physics/chemistry, and English.

Find out about the United State's Peace Corps program at their official government website. The Peace Corps Crossroads site (not related to the US government) links to various sites related to Peace Corps work around the world.

The American Embassy in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso now has a web site you might also want to explore.


I live in Ouahigouya, the fourth-largest town in Burkina Faso, located in the north central part of the country. My living conditions are considerably more comfortable than most of my fellow volunteers who have no electricity or running water in their remote villages. I have a large house with both electricity and running water, although no hot water (except during the hot season). The electricity and water work most of the time. I ride my bike or walk to go anywhere. I am fortunate in many ways--my life is simpler than in the US, but not really difficult.

This site can show you a lot about life in Burkina Faso. Take a look at the photos for a better idea of life in Ouahigouya or keep browsing the site for photos of other parts of the country. You can read one of my essays on the page called Reflections in the Dust. You might also enjoy looking at photos, menus, recipes, etc. from the holidays spent here with Burkinabè friends.

A cool site with information about the people and culture of Burkina Faso is located at This is a site linked to information about FESPACO, the Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou. FESPACO is an important cultural event known throughout the world.


The weather here seems to fall into three seasons: hot, rainy, or dusty. During the rainy season, there are wonderful plants and flowers in most of the country and lots of mud. During the kind-of-cool season (which is from about December through February), there is a lot of wind and blowing dust. It always seems to be hot at mid-day, although it gets REALLY hot in about March or April (as hot as 45 degrees Celsius or 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit). As I am writing this in December, the weather is just beautiful most of the time except for the wind blowing the dust. My skin is becoming quite dry and everyone goes around with a hoarse throat and/or a runny nose because of all the dust. The winds that blow in from the Sahara desert and turn the sky brown are called harmattan, and they really start blowing dust in January and February.

Find out more? For students:

How hot is 30 degrees Celsius really??? Want to know what the weather is like today in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso? Check it out at: The site even links to a nifty satellite weather map. But you might need to convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit temperatures. Click here for a short reminder of how to use algebra to make these conversions, including a quick mental shortcut for making a rough estimate. For more general weather information about West Africa, click here for a site that seems to be in the process of development, but might prove interesting.

School (and strikes)

I teach mathematics at the LYCÉE YAMWAYA in Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso. The school is the third largest in the

Between mid-November and the Christmas holidays (1999), our students went on strike for four weeks over a change in the requirements for university entrance. The strike was led by upper-level students, who felt that the system should continue to rely on the rigorous BAC examination as the primary entrance requirement for university study. The government had passed a change that would have required students to take yet another test, thus diminishing the value of the BAC and further limiting university enrollment. Furthermore, it would have caused students to have to take yet another test after the grueling BAC. However, in December 1999 the government announced that it would return to the previous system. Thus, it appears that the students were successful in non-violently communicating their concern. Meanwhile, the strike gave me plenty of time to take pictures and develop this website!

Later in the year, we had more strikes--a total of about two months during the school year. Some days were student strikes, some were teacher strikes, and a couple of days the government closed schools to avoid possible problems. People continue to express their opinions and concerns through strikes, remaining generally non-violent. Concerns have ranged from wanting make-up time at school to better prepare for exams to protesting the elimination of a teacher housing allowance. But this country continues to be a great place to live and work with great people!

Take a look at some photos of my students or a photo of one of my classes. Or learn a little bit about Burkina Faso's educational system and a typical day at school.

My Philosophy of Teaching Mathematics

As a mathematics teacher and educator for the past 30 years, I have studied a lot about how children learn mathematics, and I have seen and used techniques that work and many that don't. I have also been fortunate to work with many talented teachers, university mathematicians and mathematics educators, and others deeply interested in and knowledgeable about helping children and young people understand and use mathematics in powerful ways in their lives. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has many resources to help teachers accomplish this goal. Other good sites for mathematics resources for teachers or home educators are the Texas Statewide Systemic Initiative's Mathematics TEKS Toolkit and Swarthmore College's Math Forum.

I think enabling students to solve a wide range of mathematics problems should be our most important goal in mathematics teaching. I believe all children can learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide if we use what we have learned about how people develop mathematical proficiency, and I believe they should learn these basic computations. I believe it is equally important, however, that they know when to use which operation in real situations they will encounter. I believe that technology is an important tool for doing lengthy calculations and for allowing students to learn mathematics through tools they might not otherwise use, such as graphing calculators that let students see functional relationships or calculators and computers that let students explore number patterns or organize data. I think mathematics teaching should include much more than computation, so that students also can use geometry to analyze the physical world (as many other countries emphasize), use statistical processes to organize and understand information (of increasing importance with the amount of information we receive every day), and use the symbolic tools of algebra to make generalizations and deductions.

Sometimes schools, teachers, and students lack the kind of technology I think is important. In my life as a teacher here in Burkina Faso, we don't even have enough textbooks for every student, let alone technology, and there are so many students in every class (60 to 100) that it is impossible for every student to receive individual attention. Implementing what I believe in this environment is truly challenging. Nevertheless, even here, teachers are working to improve the system by emphasizing realistic, sometimes complex, problems in a direction similar to the direction I see in the United States and in other countries around the world.

Ici on parle français

Burkina Faso is part of French-speaking West Africa. I teach math in French to students whose first language is one of the many local languages spoken in Burkina. In addition to speaking French (which is their second or third language), most of my students speak Mooré, the language of the Mossi group. In my spare time, I am trying to learn to speak a little Mooré.

Fellow Peace Corps Volunteers

There are approximately 80 Peace Corps volunteers currently serving as teachers and community health volunteers in Burkina Faso. I frequently see about 10 volunteers from this region, since my house is a central gathering point with electricity and showers (cold but convenient).

Friends and families of my fellow Burkina Faso Peace Corps volunteers may want to check out some of the photos in the 'Fellow PCVs' section of this site. Be sure to see all the linked pages.


Let me know your impressions of, or suggestions for, this site. Thanks also for letting me know if any links are outdated or inappropriate.

Send email to:

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By hauwa on Monday, September 29, 2003 - 10:29 am: Edit Post

like to know more

By Ben ( on Monday, March 29, 2004 - 5:12 pm: Edit Post

I want to meet some colleagues who teach English as a Second Language, to share experiences and tips.
Visit my site at


By Lungi ( - on Friday, December 03, 2004 - 10:55 am: Edit Post

I have been looking online for a list of all NGOs in Ouaga, but cannot find one.
Could you help me?

By nicolekambou ( - on Wednesday, January 11, 2006 - 8:58 pm: Edit Post

This Nicole Kambou former Teacher in Peace Corps Burkina Faso. I leave In OK and is studying to become a nurse. I just want to congratulate you for the efforts you put in your website and all the values and respects you have for my country.
Love and prayers
Nicole Kambou

By Anonymous ( - on Friday, June 29, 2007 - 8:02 pm: Edit Post

Do you know Rebecca Hedges, Peace Corp volunteer who arived this month to teach?

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