Emmaus International

Aïcha Bintou Sissoko represents Emmaus International in Burkina Faso.  She works for the organization Pag-La-Yiri, which means “woman is the foundation of the home” in the Mossi Language.

aicha bintou BDShe has been working there since 2000, and she never imagined how much she would grow from the experience.   We met her at the World Assembly 2016 in Jesolo.

What were you doing before you started working for Pag-La-Yiri?
I worked in advertising before. It was a different world; I worked for a communications agency, and I ran the agency’s office in Bobo-Dioulasso. And so I went from commercial marketing to social justice. My academic background is in commercial management, and I discovered a completely new reality.

What was it like in the beginning?
I found the work fascinating because I felt useful. My work helped people; this captivated me and I felt like my ideas contributed to change – people were invested in the changes that we could bring them; we were sometimes able to change people’s lives, because our target public was very poor. I worked with rural women with no education; no land; who had no income generating activities. These women were helpers. They helped their husbands grow food; but didn’t have anything of their own.  They were a physical labor source that helped their husbands keep the household running. Change came on gradually as I worked with them, teaching them how to read and write; about agricultural techniques and how to promote hygienic practices in their everyday lives; how to make water potable. These women have experienced a transformation. They are transformed, and they are flourishing.

When you joined Emmaus, you discovered Abbé Pierre. What does he inspire in you?
I discovered the Abbé Pierre in Alfortville.   I came to a meeting and, well, every evening I joined everyone in prayer.  I’m not Catholic, but when I discovered his writings, his voice, he became a point of reference for me.   I have several of his books; he inspires me a lot.

Why do you think his message still feels so current?
The Abbé Pierre was proactive; he was able to imagine a world that didn’t exist yet. In the past, people were focused on a material form of economic development. The Abbé Pierre was focused on the value of people before we all knew that people are the most important development resource.  Today, everyone recognizes that.   If we invest in people, they can do anything; we don’t need to give them material goods, a person will figure things out on his or her own.   This is the ideology that our association promotes.   We help women who have not had access to education; this is the foundation of our activities.   For us an illiterate woman who has not had any education cannot benefit from an income generating activity.  This is why we combine technical training with literacy courses for young women.     Today, women who couldn’t even read in their own language are being recruited by outside employers; they teach literacy to other people; they are coordinators; they supervise activity leaders; they lead themselves with no fear; this warms my heart.

How have discussions at this World Assembly changed how you see Emmaus in the Future?

We’ve focused on both global ideas and local realities.
I think that every day actions should be our priority; but I also think that it’s important to get out and express oneself in a wider context.  We’re here to share our experiences and explain what is happening in our communities; and, with that, learn how to use our strength and our power as an example to position ourselves and to better capture the attention of politicians and decision makers, to show them how much injustice there is.   Without their attention, we won’t succeed.   This is an important opportunity for us to come together to express our voice.   Over the last five years, we’ve taught women to become involved in many things, including politics.   We have several trainings including “leadership” and “having a political voice,” – this is a central part of our organization.