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Life Itself: Windows On The Life Of Europeans; Family Bertaud …

  • February 17th, 2011
  • Posted by EUEditor

valence-aerial.jpgTwo French teachers, Monique and Pierre Bertaud, have passed up an easy retirement to spend their time now traveling to work in the desert interior of Burkina Faso, in Africa.

bertaud-couple.jpg bk-landscape-2.jpeg They are bringing the chance of a good education to hundreds in need.


The city of Valence (city population 66000) on the Rhone River 100 kilometres South of Lyon offers a contented existence to Monique and Pierre Bertaud who retired from their jobs as a primary teacher and high school English specialist there, at the start of the last decade.


An airy environment with some clean air industries, (the glowering Cruas nuclear power plant offering some sobering thoughts in the background), the city is watched over by the dramatic ruins of the Chateux Crussol (picture) on the adjacent scarp.

As the “porte du Midi” it offers handy access to the Riviera, the mountains, the wilds of the Ardeche across the river, very decent products of the Cote du Rhone wine growing region all around, and a short trip by TVG to the bright lights of Paris.

Guidebooks say, truthfully, the quality of light at Valence is different to other places, and on your way South the temperature starts becoming higher there, “bringing with it the scent of eucalyptus and pine”.

It beckons long-term residents entering a retired life to stay at home and perhaps make just occasional trips away.

For Monique and Pierre Bertaud there is some of that, as the time away divides equally between the conventional, and the far-less-so: Camping holidays and Winter ski-ing with the grandchildren in France, and then, long working forays at a small settlement called Kantchuri, in the African dry country.


How did all that come about?

During the years 1994-2003, a dozen young French people, most often from among the disadvantaged, would be taking part in the building of a high school at Kantchari, a desert town in Burkina Faso, (in the East near the border with Niger), which today has close to 800 students.

burkina-faso-africa.pngIt was a project under the aegis of the Federation des Oeuvres Laiques (federation of lay-persons’ projects), which also had a project for constructing a library for the school, all part of a program of social solidarity.


From 1997, Monique and Pierre, the retired French school teachers, took over the training of these groups of young people and the organisation of the construction sites.

They were able to manage the daily activities of the workforce while establishing excellent relations with the general population of the area, notables, and local partners in the project.

bertauds-library.jpg2003-05. The Bertauds with the help of several friends were able to get the library finished (picture),  after a pause in construction caused, as they put it, by problems they encountered in relations within the local area. The building, furnishings, and books and documents now kept there, are all in place thanks to their tenacity with the project and the good will of numerous friends and supporters they would contact, and call in for help. The library has become an asset for the whole of the local community, the only such facility in  that whole region of the country.

Pierre Bertaud launched a project to build a hostel, opened in 2004, which can take in 90 boys and girls; a place to stay for children of the back country, moving long distances from home to be able to get an education. With his wife and their friends they financed the first stage of work, the main furnishings, drilling of a well and construction of a water system.

bk-landscape.jpeg2005 – Formation of the “Friends of Kantchari”, to carry on. In 2005, the Bertauds and friends created the association, “Friends of Kantchari”. Providing much from their own resources, they had been circulating word of their progress, accumulating a list of willing contributors. Since that time, they say, the organisation has “never ceased making its investments in the educational field”. They have regularly increased the library collection, which has works for all tastes, though mainly for the young. They have also regularly upgraded the standard of the hostel and seen to its maintenance, and built quarters for staff. All of their investment has been for this one educational complex, along with the funding of 25 international scholarships a year, and the planting  of many trees and shrubs — in all amounting to expenditure of €100 000 (A$135 000;, 17.2.11) up to this time.

bk-capital.jpegThe high school. The Friends of Kantchari are committed now to developing and improving the high school. A home was built for the headteacher in 2008. During 2009 all of the classrooms and the administrative building were entirely renovated and the electricity put on. A teachers’ common room, an office and two shops for school books were all financed. A copying service was made available to the teachers and at the end of 2009 ten computers. The construction of new toilet facilities was done in record time. (Involving the largest hole ever dug in the region; this latrine system greatly helped with hygiene). Sports facilities are now being built.

bk-markets.jpegThe ambition of the Friends of Kantchari organisation, given  strong local demand for education, is to build up the capacity of the school to take in more children. Since the start of the 2009 academic year, a first building stage saw two new classrooms erected, furnished and electrified. A second stage of two classrooms went up the following year. Two others are to follow this year and next, more than doubling the capacity of the school.

Primary schools. The association has now undertaken to build three schools in the bush close to the township of Kantchari, during the present three year period 2010-12.

The first, at Toundi, with three classes, was finished last December, a new school will follow at Touobouli this year, and the third at Tandri in 2012.

Monique and Pierre Bertaud and carious members of the association regularly travel to Kantchari where they have numerous friends and partners in the project. Their commitment and determination has enabled them to bring about an improvement in the working conditions of many students and teachers.


They were decorated by in honours lists by the government of Burkina Faso, in 2006 and 2010, being elevated to the highest grade in the national system of titles — Chevalier de l’Ordre National. The land-locked country, traversed by the Volta River, has 15.75-million inhabitants.

The Friends of Kantchari has been officially recognised in France, as an “organisation of national interest” – “association d’interet general”.

Many other awards, rewards and satisfactions can be imagined, for two Europeans capping a career of work for the young at home, in a tranquil setting within the heart of France, by offering their talents and their kindness much further afield.


Valence; Monique and Pierre Bertaud at wok in the library, Kantchari high school; Burkina Faso landscape; Chateaux-Crussol, via Valence; Burkina Faso in North-west Africa – maps; the library, Kantchari; Burkina Faso landscape; capital city, Ouagadougou; market scene, Burkina Faso.