Optician and business owner Paul Connolly may have no family ties to farming – but after his encounter with African priest Father Expedit Gnoumou, agriculture quickly made its way into his life. Paul’s optician business, located in Cavan, now helps to fund a farm school in Burkina Faso in Africa. “I am involved with a business initiative called the Economy of Communion, where businesses around the around the world would put some of their profits towards projects – either in third world countries or in poor areas of their own country,” explains Paul.
“I met an African priest a few years ago who was interested in developing a farm school, and I decided to direct my funding towards him, because it would enable me to have a relationship with the project rather than just contributing towards the fund. “
The priest would send me photographs and reports on what he was doing, and he was anxious for us to visit the farm school, so we could witness how the money was being spent. “We didn’t want to go out as the rich white guys, we wanted to go out and work. His response was ‘the bricks will be ready’, so that put me on the spot,” Paul recalls.
In the New Year, Paul headed off to Burkina Faso, which is listed as one of the poorest countries in the world, alongside seven other volunteers.
“We went out to Burkina Faso for 10 days and we worked hard with local volunteers to build the milking parlour. It is a midland country in West Africa and is listed as the second poorest country in the world, but because there is no famine or drought in the country the people survive pretty well, as the climate is very good.”
During their visit, the volunteers quickly realised that the generosity of the African people was second to none. “Everyone got along with the locals, who fed us well. We actually had to tell them to stop bringing us food, because they provided us with a main meal in the middle of the day and a main meal in the evening. They were very good to us.”
Young students, both men and women, attend the farm school in Burkina Faso called Complexe Agricole Temuwe.
“Some of those who helped us to build the parlour were students of the school. They attend the farm school to learn how to step up a level in terms of farming, in the areas of growing crops, eggs, meat, poultry and milking,” explains Paul. “The school has an egg-production facility and a piggery, they have a herd of cattle, and they grow crops.
“Farming gives them a net, so if things were to go bad in these countries – either due to a drought or disease – they are not suddenly tipped into disaster. This way they will have built up an accumulation of food or cash from selling, so they can survive and have a better quality of farming, which is something to fall back on if things get tough.”
The farm school, which opened its doors four years ago, has classrooms for practical teaching, and being able to witness the impact of his donations keeps Paul energised. “It spurs me on to continue with this, because I can see that it is doing a lot of good in the local area,” he says.
“Other people have been contributing as well. Some have been donating cash on a regular basis, but we want to prove that farming can be selfsustaining and can make money, so we only want funding up to a certain point. The priest wants to be able to say that this school is making enough money to run itself, therefore that will verify to the locals that farming pays.”
For students who wish to get farm management experience, opportunities are present in Burkina Faso. “The priest would love if someone volunteered to go out for a year and be a farm manager, because he gets tied up in the day-to-day running of the school. Whereas he would like to get more involved in the development of projects,” explains Paul.
“If someone from an agricultural college was interested in a year’s volunteer work in Africa, it would be a good place to go because they could run a farm school for a year and allow the priest to develop it.”
For this project, farming equipment is gold, and the kindness of Irish farmers has been humbling. “We were able to generate publicity through newspapers and radio interviews, and I am really pleased with the response and generosity of farmers,” says Paul.
“We collected a plough in Mayo and we were offered a tractor and a number of milking machines. If anyone has milking machines that have been reconditioned in the last few years or other equipment that would be of use on the farm, it would be great to receive.”
The donated equipment gets put in a container and is then shipped to Ghana. “From Ghana, the farm school will have to get it transported to their location, which is 400km or 500km away. We will have to return to Burkina Faso when the equipment arrives, to assemble the milking parlour and show them how it works.
“Eventually, we would like to ship milking cows to the farm school, because while they would be familiar with Friesian and Jersey cows, they wouldn’t have many. “This is a long-term project and we are keen to keep it going.” CL
If you would like more information or to donate, contact Paul on 087 9356756