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Teaching others about Sphere: The journey of four new trainers in Burkina Faso

Participants of the Training of Trainers workshop in Burkina Faso. Photo: Illiassou Adamou


Every year, a committed group of some 120 Sphere trainers across 50 countries is responsible for spreading knowledge of Sphere standards among field practitioners, policymakers and government officials around the world, advocating for the importance of human dignity and accountability in humanitarian action. This year, their ranks will grow bigger as a brand-new group of educators graduated the Sphere ‘Training of Trainers’ program in Burkina Faso. The program was co-organised by Sphere, the CHS Alliance, Groupe URD and the H2H Network.

This energetic group of nine people – who come from local and international humanitarian agencies and have very diverse backgrounds – was selected among dozens of experienced professionals who attended a series of Sphere workshops in Burkina Faso and Niger in early 2020. Invited to further their training, they completed a four-day dedicated course during the summer. After facilitating their very own Sphere workshops for the first time in September, they are now ready to disseminate information on humanitarian quality and accountability and promote Sphere standards in their country.

Sphere talked to four of the program’s graduates to find out what it means to become a Sphere trainer.


What prompted you to sign up for a Sphere training in the first place?

Boureima Lionel Ouedraogo: In 2010 I attended a diploma course on international cooperation and humanitarian aid, during which we discussed the 2004 version of the Sphere standards. Due to the recent humanitarian crisis in Burkina Faso (a first of this magnitude), I felt the need to strengthen my knowledge of the Sphere Handbook in its new edition.

Kadi Anabebou: My husband works for an international NGO in Burkina Faso. He told me about a book he was given at work – a publication that we ‘must read in order to do good humanitarian work’. I admit that I wasn’t really interested; if I have never heard of this Sphere Handbook, I thought, it must be something purely theoretical. A few months later, he told me he had applied to attend a training on that same book and said I should apply as well. I still wasn’t convinced but ended up sending my application. Ironically, I got selected while my husband did not (but he was happy for me and encouraged me to go). That’s when I began researching about Sphere, downloading the Handbook and googling everything that came to mind on the topic. I eventually got very excited about the training.


How was the training program organised?

Kadi Anabebou: The initial Sphere training took place in January 2020. The atmosphere was great, but at the same time the training was content-heavy. From the setting to the presentations, I have never participated in such a well-organised workshop. At the end of day one, I told my husband that missing it would have been a big mistake!

W. Carine Michelle Kabore/Zoubga: The future trainers were identified among the people who had attended the January training. The Training of Trainers program took place in August; it allowed to consolidate knowledge of Sphere and learn how to transfer this knowledge to other actors in the humanitarian community.

Odette Badiel: There were four trainers in the workshop, three in the room and one connecting from Geneva through videoconference. The trainers were very experienced, which allowed us to tackle the entire Handbook in only four days. I learned some animation techniques that I did not know and strategies to learn from the audience. 

Boureima Lionel Ouedraogo: The Training of Trainers workshop included three phases. The first one which focused on the content of the Handbook, in particular the history of Sphere, the foundation chapters and the four technical chapters. The second phase focused on “andragogy” (the science behind teaching adults), delving into workshop preparation and facilitation techniques. During the last phase, we simulated the delivery of two training sessions.


Of all the knowledge you acquired during the training, which do you think is the most important message to keep in mind?

W. Carine Michelle Kabore/Zoubga: The success of a training event depends on good preparation; protection is fundamental component to any humanitarian intervention, whatever the sector.

 Odette Badiel: The most important thing for me is learning to coordinate among humanitarians. I found that while we do apply Sphere principles in our work, at times we make mistakes that expose or stigmatise the people we assist. I also noted that the concept of accountability was not understood at all by practitioners; thanks to this training, I now know that responsible management of power by humanitarian staff is included in the definition.


How will you make use of your Sphere training skills in the future? 

Odette Badiel: I intend to apply the Handbook recommendations more thoroughly in my work and share what I have learned with my colleagues. This will have a very positive impact on the people we assist.

Boureima Lionel Ouedraogo: This training allowed my organisation and my country to acquire an internal Sphere trainer. I will be able to share my learning not only with my colleagues and FAO partners, but also with the wider humanitarian community. Professionally, the knowledge acquired will be of great use to me at all stages of the humanitarian program cycle. 

Kadi Anabebou: The process has already started. I spoke with my colleagues about the Sphere Handbook (none of them had heard of it before) and encouraged my colleagues in the regions where the training had taken place to apply for training. I had planned to take advantage of my field missions to share information on the Handbook and encourage social workers to read it, but COVID-19 made it impossible until now. In October, I invited members of Burkina Faso’s National Council for Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation (CONASUR) to attend the final day of the training program, an “information day” on the Sphere Handbook. I am hoping to organise more activities with them in the future.


What piece of advice would you give to professionals who are also considering participating in a Sphere training?

W. Carine Michelle Kabore/Zoubga: Strengthening your knowledge of Sphere is more than a necessity to better fulfill your mission in the humanitarian field!

Boureima Lionel Ouedraogo: For me, the Sphere Handbook is the “memento” of the humanitarian worker. I call on all humanitarian actors, especially those with adult education skills, to attend a training. This is how the Handbook can be disseminated as widely as possible.


Ms Kadi Anabebou is a Burkinabé government officer working at the General Directorate of Sector Studies and Statistics of the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family and Humanitarian Action.

Ms Odette Badiel is an employee of the Danish Refugee Council. A sociologist by training, she provides emergency support to internally displaced people in Burkina aimed at their reinsertion.

Ms W. Carine Michelle Kabore/Zoubga is a project management specialist. Previously in charge of protection and psychosocial support at the Burkinabé Red Cross society, she is currently responsible for the development of gender equality and humanitarian programs with the Canadian Center for International Study and Cooperation (CECI). She focuses on supporting vulnerable groups in unstable settings.

Mr Boureima Lionel Ouedraogo is a Cash Transfers expert at the local branch of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). He been co-leading the Cash Working Group in Burkina Faso since 2014 and is a certified trainer for the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP).