On Saturday evening, 27th May, 2006, Dada Rudreshvarananda was flying a small plane with one passenger returning from the north of Burkina Faso to Ouagadougou. He had contacted the control tower at Ouagadougou airport requesting permission to land. That plane never arrived. It had crashed about 80 km north of Ouagadougou near a town called Kongoussi.
Dada was born in France in 1949. He joined Ananda Marga in Laos in 1975 and by the summer of 1976 he had completed his training as a monk and wholetime worker of Ananda Marga in the training center in Sweden.
His first posting was in Africa. He was told he could choose any country he wanted. He decided on West Africa, perhaps Ivory Coast where they speak French, thinking that that would be easy for him to work since he was French-speaking. It took him a while in those days to collect his air ticket fare from friends and supporters to go there. Finally he managed. But when he arrived at the airport he was refused entry despite his intention and strong resolve to do service work in Africa.
Again he had to collect for his ticket. When he had enough money he went to the airlines office and told them that he wanted a ticket to Africa. They asked him for which country. This time he said that it did not matter. They issued him a ticket for Congo and everything went smoothly on his arrival. As soon as he was out of the airport he threw away his passport. He was in Africa and that was where he would stay and work. His spirit was that he was determined to stay in Africa despite the inevitable hardships and dangers he knew he would inevitably encounter there.
He was a pioneer – the first representative of Ananda Marga in many of Africa’s poorest countries. During his 30 years as a monk with Ananda Marga he spent more than 20 years in Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia and finally Burkina Faso, which was to become his legacy.
After working in the Ethiopia famine of 1985, which brought the spotlight of the world onto hunger in Africa, Dada and AMURT Africa decided to enter into community development work. They selected Burkina Faso as the poorest country in Africa at the time. He arrived in Ouagadougou with no contacts, and with his team went to the Burkina Faso department of health to offer AMURT’s services. The officials explained that the need was greatest in the north-eastern province of Oudalan, and they suggested that AMURT help construct a hospital in Deou.
The construction of the hospital in Deou was the first in a long list of development projects that Dada headed up in Burkina Faso. Over the next thirteen years Dada gained the respect and affection of the tribal population throughout the remotest regions of Oudalan province, implementing a string of projects including well-construction, cereal banks, cooperatives, communitygardens, literacy drives, reforestation, road construction, cooperatives, training of health promoters, and most recently the safe motherhood and midwifery program. He also founded the Ananda Marga master unit in southern Burkina Faso in the village of Bisseri.
In 1999 Dada was tranferred to the USA. Again he made work for the poor his priority and started neighborhood-watch programs and a food bank in south-central Los Angeles. Following a brief visit to Burkina Faso in 2004, where he was again received warmly by the villagers, he had a deep realization that his heart was in Burkina Faso and was transferred back to the desert regions of Oudalan province.
Since 2002, AMURT in Burkina Faso has cooperated with the department of health to provide primary health care to the remote villages through the training of village health promoters and the Safe Motherhood and Midwifery program. Dada put his energy into expanding this program onto another level. He also arranged an ambulance for the Deou hospital. The last ambulance, also given by AMURT, had been stolen by desert pirates more than six years before. In the remote areas, a means to bring the seriously ill to hospital saves lives.
Following the famine in the Sahel regions of Burkina Faso and Niger in 2005, Dada resumed the cereal bank program for food security. Failing rains threatened the area with famine once again in 2006.
Dada spent about 15 years in Burkina Faso in total, concentrating his energies in the remote desert communities in Oudalan province, with his headquarters in Deou. In this area Dada made a profound impact on the communities. He loved and respected the people there and in turn was known and loved throughout dozens of villages.
At the memorial service in Deou, the depth of the people’s feelings for Dada was overwhelming. Delegations came from every section of the community. The first to come was the representatives from the Mosque, with whom dada had always shared a deep feeling of spiritual unity and loyalty. The association of cooperatives, the women’s cooperative (which Dada had helped to start), the traditional chief and his entourage, the local government, all the civil servants, including army, customs, police, education, agriculture etc., sent their representatives to offer their condolences and speak about their feelings for Dada. Even the Catholic church, whose members in Deou can be counted on one hand, came to express their sympathies. The biggest contingent was from the health sector, represented by in-charges and staff from the medical centers in Deou, Gandafabou and Boulekessi, and all the village health promoters and village midwives that AMURT has trained over the last four years. Two midwives from Fadar Fadar, up near the Mali border, arrived the following day. They had journeyed on foot for two days to give their respects to Dada. Small delegations of two or three from many villages came to represent their communities.
Dozens of neighborhood women joined together and came as a group. Many told their stories about how Dada had helped them with medicines and saved the lives of their children, arranging medicines and sometimes emergency treatment and evacuation to the provincial hospital. An older man, who with Dada’s help had been trained to construct wells, was deeply moved. He told the story of how he was losing his sight and Dada had sent funds from the US for his operation. He said, “If love could save a person from death, Dada would live forever because he had so much love.” He told how he had felt desperate upon hearing the news of Dada’s accident, unable to even speak to his family. Many parents told of how Dada had paid for 80 poor school children to advance to the next class. In this area, with one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world, education is very precious.
Dada was a great personality in Ananda Marga; pioneering service work in remote areas and working with the poor and neglected on a grassroots level for true community development. His absence will be deeply felt. Le Pays, the leading daily newspaper in Ouagadougou, published Dada’s photo and obituary after his death. The headline read, “The Monk that Loved Burkina”.
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