Tragedy in Burkina Faso: Remembering Ahmed Kere

During the January 15th attack in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, buildOn had five adult American volunteers, one American staff member, and five Burkinabe staff members dining at Cafe Cappuccino, one of the targeted sites. At this time, all American buildOn volunteers and staff are safe and are now home with their families. The majority of our Burkinabe staff are also safe.

But it is with heavy hearts that we are now publicly sharing some painful news. buildOn staff member, Ahmed Kere, our Burkina Faso Trek Coordinator, was among at least 30 victims of this senseless act of violence. Ahmed played an invaluable role in buildOn’s work in Burkina Faso, helping to build 28 schools where 3,200 children learn every day. He believed deeply that every child deserves a quality education and a pathway out of poverty. His life of service embodied this belief.

Ahmed served others until the end, bravely standing up after the attack began and pleading with the gunmen not to hurt any of the people in the restaurant. He was likely one of the first victims of the attack and is certainly one of the greatest, most selfless and courageous heroes any of us in our movement have ever known.

The past week has been one of the hardest in buildOn’s 25 years of global service. As we worked to safely bring home our staff and volunteers, we learned of Ahmed’s passing. We communicated consistently with our global staff and boards, but out of respect for the wishes of Ahmed’s family, we chose not to publicly discuss this incident or Ahmed’s passing until his family had personally confirmed his death.

Ahmed is part of our buildOn family. The best part. The pain of this loss can not be diminished but neither can the joy and courage and compassion that he shared with everyone around him. Ahmed lived for our mission, he lived for the children and he lived for each of us. And now we will live for him.

In a few months, we will ask the community of Mourpougo to dedicate the school that he just broke ground on, and helped construct, to Ahmed. We will also dedicate a school in every buildOn country to Ahmed, and we will ask buildOn students from around the United States to dedicate a week of service to Ahmed. All to celebrate his life.

We would also like to recognize the bravery of the buildOn team of U.S. and Burkinabe staff, who performed heroically under extreme circumstances. They immediately fanned out across the city, posted team members at the scene of the attack, at the hospital and medical outposts. They also communicated frequently and consistently with each other and our team in the U.S. As a result, we were able to identify a secure location as a rally point, make the best decisions to protect their safety, communicate frequently with all families throughout the night. We also worked closely with the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso, the FBI and International SOS to ensure the safety of our staff and volunteers, which is always our number one priority.

While the pain of this event can not be minimized, we are heartened by the fact that Ahmed and our team made a lasting impact on the community of Mourpougo and on Burkina Faso. The school they built in partnership with the community will stand as a testament for all that is right and good in the world.

And we will not stop. We will continue to build schools in Burkina Faso, and in Mali, and in Nepal, and wherever education is needed most — because we know that education can defeat extremism and compassion can conquer hatred. Because in the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Our thoughts and prayers will continue to be with the Burkinabe people, especially the families of those lost or injured during this senseless tragedy.