Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tools for Change

Burkina-Faso, Administrative Divisions
I had honestly thought I was done with the inspiring posts for the season, but one more came my way at the Penny University  on Monday night, a discussion group I have been attending mostly faithfully for what seems like forever. This week we had not one but two guest speakers who are working on innovative projects in Africa. Ron Swenson has visited before. He is an enthusiastic supporter of the idea of podcars as a preferable means of public transportation, and is becoming interested in the possibility that African cities may be more ready for such a change so was headed to East Africa to talk to some movers and shakers about that. I'm thinking Ron's ideas may fit in to a future blog post, so I think I'll leave that there for now.

Our other guest was Pierre Yamleowo Balma, who comes from Zao Village in Koupela, Burkina Faso, West Africa. It was his luck to become one of the few children designated to go to school, and his path eventually led him to Santa Cruz, where a former Peace Corps volunteer in his village now lived. On one of his visits to the area, he and his friend were taking some stuff to the dump, and Pierre saw many still usable tools that  had just been thrown away. To him this looked like amazing wealth, but he was told that neither he nor anyone else was allowed to just rummage through the dump. These articles were off-limits. He would have to find another way to acquire our cast off belongings. 

One thing led to another, and Tools for Change was born. Coordinating with a music festival called Reggae on the River which takes place every year on the Eel River up in Humboldt county, Tools for Change designated a drop off space for used tools, as well as other ways of donating, and on November 17th of this year, a 40 foot shipping container full of tools bound for Burkina Faso left the Oakland port. It is bound for Ghana, as Burkina Faso is a landlocked country. There is a sizable port fee and then the cost of shipping the tools over land. As Pierre explained it all of the tools have been engraved with the word "Common", because the intention is shared use by the whole village of 3000 people. Pierre's idea reaches beyond simple charity. To quote from an article from the Redwood Times about a visit he made to a the Garberville Rotary Club, there is an inspirational aspect.  He wants to be able to tell his people, “These were the tools of Americans. They used them to build their country and we can do the same here and become independent and prosperous.”

As Pierre admits, the whole idea is an experiment. If it doesn't work, he seems like the kind of guy who will try something else. But if it does, well, Zao Village is only one of many, many poor village collectives in Burkina Faso, and America has an awful lot of discarded tools. 

Tax-deductible monetary contributions, which may help with getting this load of tools to journey's end as well as future projects, may be sent to:

Mateel Community Center
c/o Tools For Change Program
P.O. Box 1910
Redway, CA 95560


  1. So glad to read another inspiring-project post. Love this one. Tools are good!

  2. Yes, and another thing we take pretty much for granted,at least at the level of hammers and such.