From 2008-2009, Dr. Ann Francois traveled to the African country of Burkina Faso, intending to teach and research her book. However, what she took away from this trip extended far beyond the office or the classroom.
In 2008, Francois traveled to the Birkinan city of Ouagadougou to teach American Literature and Poetry Criticism at the University of Ouagadougou. Although she loves teaching, Francois’ main reason for being in the country was to research the topic of her book: the return to Africa from the perspective of noted female writers.
It was then, as now, important to Francois to express the sense of rootlessness felt by female black citizens the world over after they were forced from their homes and communities in Africa centuries ago. In addition, she has made it her mission to change the negative stereotypes that have developed over the past few centuries and that still fuel racism today.
As a Haitian citizen, Francois traces her roots to the Africans who were forced to develop the land in Haiti for the Spanish. She presented a number of papers on this subject to the American Cultural Center and the United Nations during her time in Africa.
As a recipient of the Fulbright Grant, Francois took it upon herself to be the cultural ambassador of the United States during her time in Burkina. She felt it was important to get to know the citizens of her host country.
One particular student adopted Francois as a type of surrogate mother and took Francois to her village nearly five hours away. It was a primarily Muslim town where women and girls wore religious garb that covered them almost completely.
Though she respects the Muslim faith, Francois was especially moved by the difficulty that girls faced in the village. Most of them were expected to marry young and never go to school.
One particular woman in the village had converted to Christianity. As a result, she had to fight for her own higher education and for custody of her daughter. Moved by the woman’s determination, Francois decided to sponsor her daughter. For one hundred dollars, she was able to pay for all of the girl’s school expenses, including books and uniforms.
“I saw this as a way to pass on the blessings and gifts that God had bestowed me with,” Francois said. With that in mind, she decided to become a mentor and advisor to two additional girls, paying their school expenses as well.
In 2011, Francois published “Rewriting the Return to Africa: Voices of Francophone Caribbean Women Writers,” the book she had been working on while in Burkina Faso.
Francois maintains that her time in Africa was the most intellectually stimulating experience of her life and is looking forward to the next academic challenge.