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In Burkina Faso, a personal mission to make a difference in a community – Merck.com

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Colleagues from Merck found a non-profit organization to provide essential resources to a village in one of the world’s poorest countries


Difficult life experiences have united two Merck colleagues – Jules Millogo and Cathy Hoath – in an effort to create opportunity and break the cycle of poverty in the small village of Konkourona, in the South African country of Burkina Faso. ‘West.

Homelessness, hunger and disease in Konkourona

Konkourona is where Millogo, Director of Medical Affairs, Global Vaccines, grew up with extremely limited access to health care, education, clean water and bare necessities. It was also where he saw six of his siblings die of preventable diseases. Millogo’s father was a strong supporter of education and sent him to the nearest school in another village, a few hours’ walk from Konkourona.

Despite many community traumas growing up, Millogo graduated from medical school and began his career in a province of Burkina Faso far from Konkourona, serving as the only doctor for a population of 250,000.

“I managed to overcome bouts of homelessness, hunger and infectious diseases that often accompany extreme poverty,” Millogo said. “I grew up knowing I had to make a difference in Konkourona and bring opportunity and hope to the people who live there.”

Establishment of the Konkourona Alliance Foundation (KAFO) to fight for opportunity and equity

When Millogo joined Merck, he met Cathy Hoath, senior director of international regulatory affairs, vaccines. Hoath was born at Booth Memorial Hospital for Unwed Mothers in Philadelphia, after her teenage biological mother was kicked out of her parents’ home and couldn’t find a job or an apartment. This experience fuels Hoath’s drive to fight for equity and opportunity – for women, children, and all who want to create a better life for themselves and their communities in the United States and around the world.

In 2019, during a meeting with the World Health Organization to register our company’s Ebola Zaire vaccine in Africa’s highest risk countries, Millogo and Hoath began discussing ways to support development at Konkourona. A few months later, they co-founded the non-profit organization Konkourona Alliance Foundation​ (KAFO), Inc.

“It was the perfect convergence of my professional and personal worlds, giving me the chance to fight for more opportunity and fairness for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Because remote villages like Konkourona are often referred to in development efforts as “the last mile”, they named their effort “The First Mile Development Program”. The people of Konkourona are KAFO’s highest priorities.

KAFO lays the foundation for education

Millogo and Hoath have met many like-minded people – both within our company and beyond – who have become supporters of KAFO since its inception. And they made good progress in Konkourona.

Konkourona children sitting in a new classroom

New classroom with desks and textbooks for each child

KAFO built three new classrooms – reducing class sizes from around 90 to 45 students – as well as an office and teachers’ quarters. He also renovated an existing building to make it a library.

About 400 students are now receiving support, ranging from books and tutoring to tuition and bicycles, so older students can make the two-hour journey to the nearest senior school.

Students make academic progress

Previously, only one or two students per year went to college. Today, in just a few years, more than 80 students are pursuing their studies in college and beyond.

“In 2020, we started providing books to every child because there were not enough. We also opened the school at night — the only place in the village with electricity — and offered tutoring services. That year, 20 children passed the college entrance exam, which is unheard of in any school in this sub-region,” Hoath said. “Over the past two years, 63 additional students have moved on to middle school.”

Eric, an outstanding student in Konkourona, Burkina Faso

Eric is a mentor to young children and a role model for what can be accomplished with opportunity and hard work.

One of those students is Eric, who couldn’t afford college tuition. His father died and he had to help his mother, so he got a job on Millogo’s brother’s farm. Now, thanks to KAFO’s sponsorship, he is going to high school. He also helps support the long-term program by mentoring young children and working with the field crew to secure books and bikes.

He now thinks about what he might want to study at university – a dream that wouldn’t have existed just a few years ago.

“We have high hopes for this caring young man,” Millogo said.

Improving access to health care and drinking water

Maternal and infant mortality rates in Burkina Faso are among the highest in the world. In addition to a lack of health care resources, the villagers also had very little access to drinking water.

“One of the biggest problems we face in Konkourona is waterborne diseases,” Millogo said. “People drink water from wherever they can find it – open ponds or other sources contaminated with human and animal waste and other pathogens.”

Little boy in Konkourona with water pot

Clean water is now widely available for drinking and bathing

Working closely with the Mami Siara Na Association, a community-led organization created in 2019 to partner with KAFO to lead and support development efforts on the ground, the team has now built three water towers , three community fountains, a health center for mothers and children, a separate facility for primary care, a pharmacy, latrines, housing for health workers and an incinerator.

“Access to drinking water in Konkourona is practically a revolution.”

“And the health care facility, where we can provide essential maternal care, vaccinations and primary services to children and community members – like care for illnesses, injuries, etc. – will have a significant impact. for this community in so many ways,” Millogo said. .

Ensuring economic development and hope for a better future

New pharmacy in Konkourona, Burkina Faso

The new — and first — pharmacy in Konkourona

Improvements in education and health care have also boosted local economic development. There are new jobs in Konkourona to ensure continued access to education, health care, water and sanitation, not to mention those related to construction activities.

Over the next five years, Millogo and Hoath plan to build a middle school, technical high school, and high school, along with housing for the teachers at those schools. They also plan to expand the health center.

“We all take part in this program and learn every day how to do new things – things we don’t have experience in – to progress in Konkourona,” Millogo said. “We are fortunate to have received so much support from so many people to help make these important visions a reality. And we’re just getting started.

Learn more about Konkourona Alliance Foundation – Empowering a village and how you can help sponsor a child.

  • Millogo plants one of 1,100 native shade and fruit trees donated by KAFO to provide an alternative food source and replenish what has been lost over the past decades.

  • A worker installs nearly $500,000 worth of equipment and supplies in one of the health center’s new buildings. Green fences surround two of the 1,100 trees that KAFO planted earlier this year as part of a reforestation effort.

  • Villagers celebrate the opening of the new – and first – health center.

  • At a celebration for the new health center, Millogo expresses his gratitude to people around the world who help support KAFO’s efforts in Konkourona.

  • New latrines built around the health center will help keep the environment clean by encouraging people to make the transition to better sanitation.

  • The librarian of the first library in Konkourona talks about the variety of books that are now available to the villagers. Previously, the only type of book available in the village was a small supply of textbooks.

  • Konkourona consists of approximately 4,000 subsistence farming residents, who use almost any crop or livestock to support the farmer and the farmer’s family. This farmer grinds grain for storage.

  • Walking is the main means of transport in the village, but wealthy families have bicycles. Thanks to sponsorships, students now have access to bicycles to make the two-hour journey to higher schools in other villages.

  • Donations from Care and Share Thrift Shoppes will help hundreds of people in Konkourona (left to right: Sarah Bergin, Executive Director of Care and Share Thrift Shoppes, Hoath and Millogo)

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