Standing up for home, from the Yare to the Volta

This year's Shine! winner has used her time in the UK to aid her country. John Morgan reports

April 29, 2010

Studying international development on a leafy campus in Norwich set one student on a £100,000 fundraising mission to help farmers in her home country of Burkina Faso to grow food on land parched by climate change.

Rose Marie Melissa Ilboudo, an undergraduate at the University of East Anglia, was named International Student of the Year at the British Council's International Student Awards - known as Shine! - last week.

Her "letter home" describing her experiences of living and studying in the UK was judged to be the best and most inspiring by a panel of representatives from the British Council, the National Union of Students, the UK Council for International Student Affairs, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Times Higher Education.

Ms Ilboudo, who is from the Burkinabe capital of Ouagadougou, raised £100,000 for two non-governmental organisations that train farmers in the West African country to maximise scarce water supplies.

Coming to the UK - first to study English in London - was a shock for the 24-year-old.

Challenges such as negotiating the Tube and dealing with identical- looking houses resulted in her getting lost on her second day.

"It was a completely different world," Ms Ilboudo said. "First London rush hours, then moving to Norwich. I thought: 'It's so quiet here. But it's nice - I will get used to it.'"

Her "letter home" - written in just one hour after she found out about the awards with the deadline looming - says: "As we are from a poor country, I felt that studying development is important for us as Africans.

"I am hoping to be (one) of the people who will help in making a change in Africa."

At UEA, Ms Ilboudo began volunteering with Christian Aid, delivering presentations on the effects of climate change in Burkina Faso that impressed Eldred Willey, the charity's area coordinator.

She highlighted the work of two NGOs, Reseau Marp and ODE, in training farmers in water-conservation techniques and micro-irrigation methods, which dispense water drop by drop.

The groups also provide resilient crop varieties that can cope with shorter rainy seasons.

Ms Ilboudo said climate change had brought more droughts and floods to Burkina Faso, damaging the country's main economic activity - agriculture.

"Agricultural production this year declined by about 10 per cent," she added. "These are things that people are actually living through. In these cases, food becomes expensive."

Last year, with the help of Mr Willey and university friends, Ms Ilboudo mounted a fundraising campaign for the NGOs that included a half-marathon and a triathlon.

Within 10 months, they raised £50,000, which when added to matched funding from the European Union yielded a total of £100,000 for the NGOs.

This achievement led the Burkinabe government to invite Ms Ilboudo to the recent Copenhagen climate change conference as part of its official delegation, where she met the US president, Barack Obama.

Ms Ilboudo, who plans to return to Africa after she completes an MA in climate change and international development at UEA, has already seen the impact that the £100,000 she raised is having on 15 villages in northern Burkina Faso.

"Making the choice of studying in the UK made that dream come true," she said. "I want to stand up for my country and what I believe in."


A Durham University student who set up a centre in India for children with cerebral palsy was among the regional winners at the International Student Awards.

The 11 winners were chosen on the strength of self-penned stories highlighting their achievements as international students studying in the UK.

Among them was Susan Mathew, the North East regional winner, who left her husband and four children in India to study for an MA and a PhD at Durham's department of theology and religion.

When her family joined her, she was so impressed by the level of care provided to her youngest son - who has cerebral palsy - that she began to think about the challenges facing children with disabilities back home.

This led her to set up a centre in Kerala, where children with cerebral palsy receive free physiotherapy and counselling.

Yong Long Lim, from Singapore, hitchhiked from Coventry to Morocco for charity while studying at the University of Warwick. He picked up the award for the West Midlands.

Jordan Junge, the regional winner for Northern Ireland, left the US to study at Queen's University Belfast. There she gained first-hand insights into "subjects of conflict resolution and deeply divided societies" during her international politics degree.

Richard Chan, from China, went to study at Imperial College London at the age of 16, where he became president of the Chinese Society.

The regional winner for London, he organised volunteers to help in the aftermath of an earthquake in China's Sichuan province.

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