Bila Victor was born in the village of Guirgho in the late 1800’s a few years before the arrival of the French colonists in that region of West Africa in 1898. He was the second-born son of the chief, Naba Quiliga, and the only child of his mother, who passed away giving birth to him. As a young boy, Bila received the loving care and affection of his other mothers, the chief’s many remaining wives. He was destined to grow up in the village and assume his role as a nábiiga, or prince, as expected for a son of the chief. As fate would have it, this was not to be so for Bila.
When Bila was about 8 or 9 years old, the white Catholic missionaries were trying, without success, to establish regional schools to teach young African children to read and write, as well as to expose them to Christianity. They were unable to attract children to attend their schools because many of the Africans mistrusted them and feared what the white missionaries might do to their children.
To alleviate their fears and encourage attendance, the missionaries appealed to and were able to convince Moro Naba, the Emperor of the Mossi people, to decree that all chiefs must select a son to send to a missionary school as an example to the people. When the order was received in Guirgho, the chief agonized because he did not wish to put any of his children in harm’s way, but a decree from the Emperor could not be ignored. After consulting with his advisors, it was decided that Bila was the expendable one. As second son, he was not destined to become chief, and his birth mother was not alive to protest and protect him. Therefore, he was the logical choice to go. Bila was literally hogtied and sent far away to the white man’s school with the real expectation that he might never be seen again.
Several years later, Bila returned to Guirgho as a young man who had learned to read and write. He was among the first generation of Africans from Burkina Faso to have acquired these skills. He became a nurse, because at that time Africans were not permitted admission to the colonial medical schools. He was stationed at various health care facilities throughout the region and eventually settled in the capital city of Ouagadougou. He married one wife, Helen, and together they had 7 children. Bila recognized the value of a modern education, and so made sure that all his boys and girls went to school and were expected to do well. He convinced some of his younger siblings in Guirgho to go to school, as well.
Fate once again selected the path for Bila when he died of tuberculosis at the age of 54. Because of his emphasis on education, all his children became successful in their respective careers. His third son, Frederic Guirma, became newly-independent Upper Volta’s first ambassador to both the United States and the United Nations in 1960 (the country officially changed its name to Burkina Faso in 1984). Friends of Guirgho was inspired by the legacy of education and service of Victor Bila Guirma. Fate may have played a role in denying Bila his birth mother’s protection against the village elders but, his embrace of school created the opportunity for his grandchildren along with their friends to reach back to Guirgho to help provide opportunities for others.