31 October 2011
Yes, that's right. I'm back in the United States. If you don't know this already, then you don't know me, at least not personally.
Or possibly it's just that I'm a bit rubbish about getting in contact and I've been a hermit for the last month.
In any case, I'm in San Francisco, housesitting for my friend L's sister. L is here as well, also recovering from completion of service in Togo. We keep trying to set ourselves up to apply for jobs and grad school. But all we accomplished this past week is watching the entire second season of Glee. http://www.gleethemusic.com/us/episode/audition
That's not entirely true.
We've done some exploring.
We went down to Fisherman's Wharf http://visitfishermanswharf.com/
and walked up Pier 39 http://www.pier39.com/index.cfm
We wanted to find some seafood and were very nearly seduced by the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. But luckily L had brought along a box of Wheat Thins in her enormous over-the-shoulder bag. So we pushed off our hunger and hiked up to Little Italy to check out a fantastic little restaurant called "Sotto Mare" http://sottomaresf.com/
This place is fantastic. The fish was fresh and delicious; they adapted their menu according to what they'd been able to catch the day before. Service was quick and friendly. We sat outside in the lovely sunshine and didn't realize how popular the place was until I wandered inside after the meal for the restroom. Every booth was full, and people were sitting at the counter. From the banter between waiters and patrons, I'm sure this place has a lot of regulars.
After lunch, we hoofed it back to the car and decided to check out the Scenic Route http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/49-Mile_Scenic_Drive, or at least as much of it as we could stand before falling asleep. (Amongst all of the Gleeking and sight-seeing, naps have been another common activity)
02 August 2011
26 July 2011
So the boy students all left this morning. I got to be a counselor this week! This picture is of my cabin counselors – Irenee and Peter. Irenee just finished his first year at university and he has been involved in Camp UNITE since 2008, when he was participant. In 2009 and 2010, he played the role of “Pagi”, a character that dresses up in bizarre clothes and incites the participants into explaining the things they’ve learned each day so that they can win back a plank on the “bridge to a healthy life.”
Peter is our “Young Leader”, a former participant who has done a lot of work in his village with a peer educator club who has come back to tell his story and encourage the current participants to keep working when they return to village.
We were the counselors for the cabin Anaconda. We made up all sorts of songs and dances as “king of the river”. Brilliant.
I also facilitated a session with another counterpart, Honoré, on Adolescence and Reproduction. It was awesome because I got to do the tour of the walk-through female reproductive system. (The second picture we’re inside the uterus) What started out as a crazy idea has really proven its worth. Both the participants and the other counselors (several of whom are science teachers) loved the model. They found it really easy to understand. Plus it’s fun!
23 June 2011
We've got one week left to raise money to afford Camp UNITE
If you can even spare $10 dollars, that would help!
To make a donation, please send a check to:
The UNITE Foundation
P.O. Box 57378
Washington, DC 20037
Checks Payable to: The UNITE Foundation
(we're working on an online donation button - hopefully next year!)
27 May 2011
Fridays are always a busy day for the organizers in charge of logistics at Camp UNITE.
One of the best things about camp is the chance to get young people and Togolese professionals together from all over the country.
But it can also be a logistical nightmare.
Trying to figure out how many cars we need to rent, bargaining with the taxi trade association, handing out extra transportation money…
With our budget constraints we can’t rent whole cars, we pay per place in the cars, which means we have to rely on the drivers to be nice and willing to be flexible. This takes some convincing (and sometimes extra t-shirts to make them happy).
And the participants and counselors that go all the way north… They have the toughest time. The drivers pretty much refuse to go north of Kara (which is the capital city of the region of Kara). It’s another 3 hours to get to the capital city of the region of Savannes, north of Kara, and we have to figure out a way to get everyone all the way there.
Transportation in Togo is not like transportation in the developed world. There is literally one 2-lane highway that runs up the center of the country. With the lack of infrastructure and capital, the government has never made the investment to ensure the durability of the road. Someone explained to me that major highways in the states are about 3 feet thick- layers of gravel and asphalt that getter finer as they reach the surface, with a final layer of tar to get it all to stick together.
In Togo, they wet the dirt and press it down.
Okay, there are some places where there’s a few inches of gravel and a layer of asphalt and tar. But the rainy season seeps through those few inches, erodes away the dirt, and creates potholes larger than the overloaded trucks.
It’s a tough road. It requires patience, good humor and a strong commitment to arriving at your destination.
Today we talked about objectives and leadership. An apprentice who participated in camp last year came back this year as a jeune leader. He explained that when he arrived back home, he had a tough time explaining to his community what he had learned at camp.
“My mother asked me for the money that I had gotten at camp. I tried to explain that I didn’t receive money, I received information. She didn’t understand. So I set my alarm for really early in the morning and I got up before my mother and I started sweeping the compound. She woke up and saw me and she laughed at me. She thought that I was just really excited about camp and would give it up soon. But I didn’t. I set my alarm early every morning and I get up and I sweep. She understands now that what I received is more valuable than money.”
Trying to change gender roles in Togo is very difficult – girls and women are in charge of sweeping, cleaning, cooking food, gathering water. This means that girls have less time to study for school, are late going to their apprenticeships, and don’t have the time to do income-generating activities.
This is why it is so important to get young men to take responsibility for gender equity. Without the buy-in and active participation of young men, young women cannot succeed.
The young men who participate in the camp for boy apprentices emerge as young leaders. With patience, good humor and persistence, they can start down the road to change people’s ideas and behaviors.
Want to try out some activities that engage men in gender equity and community change? Check out Engender Health’s Men As Partners curriculum. It’s a fantastic resource that we’ve integrated into our work at Camp Unite.
Donate to The Unite Foundation – we’ve still got $3000 more to raise before student camps in July!
Confiance en soi
Self-Esteem and Confidence
Through Camp Unite, I learned many new things that have transformed me into a new man. Why do I say that? Because at the training of trainers for the Camp, I doubted that I could succeed at the theme “Gender Equity” because it is so complex. But after we were introduced to the theme “Self-Confidence”, I became determined and my doubts disappeared and with courage I was able to present this difficult theme from start to finish successfully.
And so, I encourage all of you readers: men, women, boys and girls to have confidence in yourselves in all the circumstances in the world. There is nothing that is impossible.
Paul, Counselor at Camp UNITE - farmer from Zafi in the Maritime Region
I noticed in my community in Gando that many young people don’t have confidence in themselves, the key to success. Because we think that the best things will come to us if someone else gives them to us. But if we have confidence, we ourselves can succeed because there’s nothing in this world that is difficult impossible. It’s especially our girls that don’t have confidence
Seraphin, apprentice tailor from Gando in the Savannah region
Self-confidence is a good thing that every individual should have in their life. Without self-confidence a woman cannot accomplish a goal. Without self-confidence there isn’t a healthy life. All things are possible in life, ‘vouloir c’est pouvoir’ (‘where there’s a will there’s a way’). For that, I will encourage my fellow apprentices to hold on to their self-confidence in order to accomplish their objectives. In life, you have to face problems before you can win.
Brigitte, apprentice dressmaker from Tigbada in the Central region
You must practice self-confidence to speak in groups. I was too embarrassed to even speak at the dinner table. But Camp Unité made me get self-confidence and I know I can cross the bridge to a healthy life.
Factors of self-confidence:
Speak in public
Take strong decisions
Courage and concentration
Repeat each day “I can and I will”
SATSI Videva Tchifama
I speak to you about “self-confidence” which is to have the courage that your yes is yes and your no is no. You should share your ideas with others. I participated in Camp Unité 2011 in Pagala and I learned many things that I found interesting, especially “self-confidence.” I like that theme because before I was ashamed to speak in public. If you are in the same position as me, you must have self-confidence and have the courage to speak in public. Don’t lower your head. Thanks to the US Embassy.
DOTSE Kokou Ali, EPP Lonvo
26 May 2011
Every week at Camp UNITE, the participants get to meet a young person from Pagala, the village where we hold camp, who has been trafficked. It is devastatingly easy to find a speaker.
Today’s speaker’s name is Kossi. He was first trafficked when he was still a student, in about 7th grade. A man from Nigeria arrived in the village, driving a new motorcycle and offering jobs to strong young men and women. The man handed Kossi a 1000 FCFA bill (worth about 2 dollars, more than the average daily wage). Kossi didn’t like that he had to share a room at home and that he couldn’t afford to buy jeans and t-shirts like his friends. So he snuck out of his house and lied to his friends and family so he could join the bus of Togolese young people on their way to Nigeria.
The quote above describes only the journey. The months Kossi and his other companions worked in the fields were worse. They walked 15 km in the dark out to the fields to start work at 3am. Field work continued until dark at 6pm when the workers were allowed to make themselves food, many of them had not eaten all day.
“When it rained, we had to keep working. We didn’t have anywhere to take shelter or any way to get dry, so we just took off our clothes and buried them in the ground to keep them dry. And we kept working.”
As awful as his experience was, Kossi went back the next year. And the year after. He explained that the money was addictive. He would return with a lot of money, nearly 200 dollars, but then spend it all in a week as he made his way home.
And so he would go back, telling himself that this time he would find a way to save the money. Each time it was like Russian Roulette, he never knew whether he would survive the journey or die like the 4 friends that he buried.
The participants at Camp UNITE for apprentice boys are not young. Some of them are even older than me! They make decisions for themselves and have responsibility for their own homes. We are not worried that they would be sold by parents to unscrupulous traffickers.
Trafficking in persons is not that simple. Sometimes the person makes the choice for themselves. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act defines severe forms of trafficking as:
a. Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
b. The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.
It’s clear that these young men were recruited and transported based on a fraudulent idea of how much money they would gain and how hard/life-threatening the work would be. They were then subjected to debt bondage and near slavery.
But the borders are so porous and the ability to find and prosecute traffickers is so limited, that the state has very little it can accomplish. There are no services available for young men from 15-24 years old. This type of indentured labor will not be eradicated until both the state and social services have sufficiently developed.
The young men must also be able to earn a sufficient wage in country. Kossi’s story ended well, but not because of any money he earned in Nigeria. He explained
“I started to save my money. I learned to cook for myself so I didn’t have to buy prepared food. When I saved enough, I bought phone cards to resell. Each time I made a profit, I learned to save it and invest in my business. Now I have a small shop where I sell gas to moto drivers and phone cards. None of this money was from Nigeria. It was all from my earnings in Togo. You can do it here, but you have to make plans and budgets.”
Donate to the Unite Foundation
24 May 2011
Au Camp Unité
Pour les jeunes togolais
Au Camp Unité
Je veux aller
Et si j’y allais
Ma mère dirait :
Tu deviens jeune leader quand tu es …
au Camp Unite !
It’s the 10th anniversary of Camp UNITE !
We’re already having a fantastic time. One of the most exciting things for me is that I have internet while I’m here!
So I’m able to put up a blog. My goal is to give you a little update every day, hopefully with a picture, but I’ll post the text and then add the picture – it took me 90 minutes to download an 8MB email attachment today. Very very slow.
Here’s my blurb for today, it’s about our camp last week:
Camp UNITE is known affectionately as ‘peer educator boot camp’. For six weeks each summer, a team of Peace Corps volunteers and Togolese counterparts organize a camp to train young people in life skills from self-confidence to goal-setting. The initiative began in 2001 as a camp for girl students, addressing drop-out rates and unplanned pregnancies. Evolving from the original Life Skills manual to include sessions from EngenderHealth’s Men as Partners program and USAID’s Mentoring Guide, the program at Camp UNITE expanded to include both boys and girls, focusing on empowering and equipping the next generation’s leaders with the knowledge, skills, and support to influence their peer in a positive way.
Around the world, most camps cater to students who, being already in the educational system, tend to be easily managed and are more obviously leaders in their society. In Togo, where only 58% of young people continue beyond elementary school, the population of young people who are not in school is very large. Therefore, Camp UNITE also works with apprentices – young people who have left school to pursue a certification in an artisanal profession such as carpentry or dress-making
On May 16 2011, Camp UNITE began its 10th anniversary of camp with a week working with female apprentices. For many of these girls, Camp UNITE is the first time they have ventured outside of their region. The 30 apprentices come from all over Togo, a country with approximately 45 ethnicities and a corresponding number of languages. They arrive shy and soft-spoken, embarrassed by the mistakes in their spoken French and unsure of how they should act. By the end of the week, though, the 30 apprentices put together an hour-long presentation for a nearby village, teaching valuable lessons about the importance of girls’ education and how to prevent HIV transmission.
On the final day of camp, after the abundant joy of the public presentation, the girls revealed how Camp UNITE had changed their attitudes. Many explained how they had never before stood up for themselves, how difficult it had been to say ‘no’ to men, and how dependent they felt. “Before I was very timid and embarrassed. I couldn’t speak in public and I thought of myself as a nobody, but Camp UNITE taught me that I’m a girl with gifts. So I need to get up and show those gifts… Unite showed me my value. The world needs me.” Viviane, an apprentice tailor from Tsevie.
check out unitefoundation.org
01 May 2011
As Peace Corps volunteers in Togo, we will inevitably be compared to the other international volunteers who pass through the country. We have a unique mandate and training that create a specific kind of daily life. As business development extension agents, we do not come in with loans, grants, or even ready-made trainings. We analyze the actual needs of the community and create change through engaging and empowering local partners.
It’s slow work and based more on individual relationships than on obvious changes in revenues and profits. Take the time to do participatory needs analysis (PACA) in your community and focus on learning before doing.
Peace Corps volunteers have been in Togo since 1962, filling the roles of development workers in many different domains. Of the four main programs in Togo (Natural Resource Management, Girls Education and Empowerment, Community Health, and Small Enterprise Development), SED is the youngest. SED grew out of an expanding awareness of the agricultural industry. As agriculture volunteers improved farming techniques, they discovered that no matter how well the crops were growing, if the farmer did not have a good business sense, they would not succeed. Over the years, SED has grown to include NGO management, artisans, and computer technology work, but it’s very important to remember its origins in agriculture. Everyone in Togo has a field. PCVs who take the time to learn about planting and harvest seasons can discover the rhythms of their community and be more effective – both in preparing training and in cultural exchange.
Being a PCV is also unique in the development world because we place a huge emphasis on cultural exchange. PCVs are representatives of the United States in their host countries. As individuals leaving their home to live inside another community, PCVs have a special opportunity to learn new customs and embrace new traditions that they can then bring home to share. Facilitating this cultural exchange is an essential part of being a PCV.
There is no other job quite like being a Peace Corps volunteer. The freedom to set one’s own schedule and objectives is as liberating as it is frustrating. Goals should be set early, but must be modest in ambition and generous in timeframe. It is important to recognize as well that the involvement of work partners, from local counterparts to the program APCD, will depend on the motivation and communication of the PCV. Develop the skill of ‘managing up’ and learn how to best make use of the resources that your supervisors and counterparts can provide.
Above all, PCVs have to be humble and able to laugh at themselves. Leave behind your grand ambitions to discover what the community really needs. Stumble your way through local language in order to really communicate with women and other marginalized groups. Try ‘weird’ foods and wear local styles. Enjoy yourself!
12 April 2011
The woman scowled at me, the multitude of wrinkles furrowing into deep ridges on her forehead as she queried, “What are you going to do with those? Are you going to sell those?”
I choked back a laugh as I glanced down into the bag full of smelly muck I held in my hand and answered her solemnly, “No madame, I’m going to bring this to the trash heap.” I paused, then continued thoughtfully, “ If you would like to take it to sell, you can do that.”
She squinted at me, peered into the bag, and then looked at the woman on my right, a young female volunteer from the local clean-up association. And luckily my companion got the hint and started explaining what we were doing in Ife, the local language.
Trying to explain why we were out in the middle of the city picking up garbage (and worse) was an unexpectedly amusing challenge. It was a perfect way to spread the word about the work of the Peace Corps-->
About 60 Peace Corps volunteers and 15 Peace Corps staff participated in regional urban clean-up days between March 19th and April 4th. But even more importantly, about 150 Togolese volunteers led the way: identifying key urban areas that would most benefit from the clean-up, accompanying PCVs to approach local authorities and mobilizing friends, relatives, and associations to wake up early and pick up trash.
The regional clean-up days of course had their own frustrations as well as joys as PCVs navigated the personalities of local authorities or ran out of gloves and found that some ‘volunteers’ drifted away when they realized they weren’t going to receive a cadeau. But this single day of trash pick-up sparked new collaborations between volunteers and their regional capitals as PCVs encountered city authorities, developed radio station contacts, met regional representatives of the ministry for the protection of the environment, and found local associations already doing clean-up work.
Suggestions to volunteers on how to keep the momentum going:
The Ministry for the Environment and its regional directors were particularly enthusiastic about promoting this type of work and would love to collaborate with volunteers hoping to pursue waste management projects. Speak to APCD Paul or PCVL Rose to get the names and phone numbers of the prefectoral directors.
Associations like Jeunes Voluntaires pour l’Environnement (JVE) and/or small non-profits who work for the environment exist in most cities, although they may need some new energy.
Speak to your village chief about organizing a Journée de Village Propre. You may be surprised to find out that they already have regular clean-up days.
Get involved with the local group of women who clean the market; it can be a great way to intervene and encourage them not to dump waste into local streams.
I have just uploaded this from my brand-new at-home internet connection.
This is a completely bizarre feeling. It’s not terribly cheap, and certainly not unlimited, but it’s amazing to have it at my fingertips. Especially after last week.
I restored my computer to factory settings last week. I’m not sure whether it was viruses, bumping over terrible potholes on a moto, or what, but my computer had been fully Togo-ed.
By which I mean it was completely out of commission. The large majority of my files are backed up, I may have lost a few days’ worth of work, but by that time my computer was moving so slowly that that work is negligible.
In any case, my newly virgin computer was quite exciting. As I reinstalled Microsoft Office and iTunes, etc. I enjoyed the speed of the process and the chance/obligation to re-organize from square one.
After the reboot, I went to a local internet café and I started up my Outlook, only to be crippled by the years worth of emails trickling in 1MB every 90 seconds. Literally. I realized that I needed to seriously address my information possibilities. As I head into a serious career search, not to mention location search, I’m going to need a lot more information. Hence the USB key modem.
This is really exciting.
But at the same time that I revel in my newfound information access, I am reading a Bloomberg Businessweek Technology article discussing Kinect. A piece of hardware/software that I’d never heard of before picking up this 4 month old magazine.
I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
03 March 2011
…Yet democracy is impossible without a great deal of altruism and idealism. One a strictly realistic basis, it would be hard to avoid starkly Machiavellian conclusions, accepting democracy in the same role as communism before it, that of an ideological smoke screen of crass calculating egotism. There is certainly enough of that all around, and perhaps has always been. The Founding Fathers knew it well: the elaborate system of checks and balances they built into the American Constitution attests as much. They were, though, willing to hope that humans are also capable of responding to ideal motives, of finding self-fulfillment in self-transcendence. Not the brash young graduates making their first million as advisers to post-Communist governments but the young women and men serving in the Peace Corps are the bearers of the democratic ideal.
From an article entitled “The Faces of Democracy - Looking to the Twenty-First Century” by Erazim Kohák in Kettering Review, Fall 2005.
Happy 50th Birthday to the United States Peace Corps.
I joined the 50th anniversary committee for Togo, which may help to explain my absence from this blog. I thank all my loyal (2) followers for cajoling me into contributing more frequently. I decided to share with you our plans for our celebrations. And invite you to check out other ways to celebrate, so there will be plenty of links in this entry. As the most software-savvy member of the committee, I’ve been putting together the announcements to volunteers and staff in our monthly newsletter, so I’ll just expand on that:
Togo celebrates the
50th Anniversary of Peace Corps
26 February 2011
Interview with Peace Corps on TVT
We’ve already begun celebrations, starting with an interview with Country Director Carolina Cardona and the Program Director for Girls’ Education and Empowerment, Rose Kpomblekou on national television on the 26th of February. My fellow PCVL, L, was featured as well, taking the reporter and camera crew to her village. She only received notice the evening before the visit, but admirably mobilized her community to welcome the crew and show off her counterparts and their shared accomplishments.
1 March 2011
Anniversary of President Kennedy’s Executive Order
to establish the United States Peace Corps
As I keep reminding myself with looming deadlines - oh wait, I already missed the 1st of March?! - it’s okay. Just because Kennedy signed the order, doesn’t mean Peace Corps is born. There still isn’t any money. And let’s face it - congressional appropriations are the lifeblood of government programs. So keep a look out for 22 September, when the US Congress signs up for the Peace Corps. Of course, I’ll be back in the states by then. Party in DC!
18-25 March 2011
Week of Service: Togo Propre
PCVs will work with the local trash collection association in their regional capitals to pick up trash. Wearing bright stage and formation t-shirts, PCVs and their counterparts will attract a lot of attention. Take advantage of the chance to challenge stereotypes about volunteers, answer some questions about Peace Corps, and mobilize local associations to keep up (or restart) their trash-collecting work.
Contact your regional coordinator for more information!
I’m pretty proud of this one. The first meeting I attended of the 50th anniversary committee was in early January. Committee members told me of their plans to host a soccer match between Peace Corps and the US Embassy. They must have realized my confusion when I tilted my head sharply to the side, raised my eyebrows and asked, “What exactly is our objective with these celebrations?” They hadn’t found a venue yet for the game, or even contacted the Embassy, but, in my eyes, the key ingredient that was missing was a purpose. It sounded like a lot of fun, but how would this event help Peace Corps to highlight its achievements and reach a broader audience of Togolese?
A veritable cyclone of searching ensued as they scratched their heads and tried to come up with the exact goals and objectives for using the funds that we’d received from Peace Corps Washington for our celebrations. A phone call to the regional security officer (presumably because he was the most experienced American staff member in the building), fumbling searches through paperwork and emails, then a lull. In the calm, I suggested we find those objectives and return later to continue the meeting. There is no point in taking action and making plans if they do not match with objectives.
I quickly tracked down objectives in my email and on Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary website. I prepared a French translation of them and asked the Committee chair, S, to reconvene the meeting. Now we were ready to go:
Utilize the 50th anniversary as a platform to support the agency’s mission and legacy by honoring our past, demonstrating our effectiveness, and inspiring the next generation of volunteers through education and engagement.
Utiliser le cinquantième anniversaire comme une estrade pour soutenir la mission et l’héritage du Corps de la Paix en honorant notre passé, en démontrant notre efficacité, et en inspirant la prochaine génération des volontaires à travers l’éducation et l’engagement.
One of the suggested ways to celebrate was by organizing a day of service, specifically to coincide with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The deadline was too close for that day, but I presented the idea of having a day of coordinated service across the country. A service project that would not require volunteers to go far from their villages, but would be highly visible and effective: a trash clean-up.
This is a huge problem in Togo, one that various volunteers have tried (with varying success) to address on a village level. From various anecdotes, I knew the publicity value of having a bunch of Americans go out and bend down in the streets to pick up discarded rubbish in front of the community. It would inspire endless questions - a perfect opportunity to engage local community members in a discussion about Peace Corps and its goals.
Furthermore, as I developed the idea with the Program Director for Natural Resource Management, Paul Sinandja, he explained that he would not only help me equip the teams for the clean-up, but would also put each regional group into contact with a local association in charge of rubbish collection. He hoped that through this initial contact, he might be able to cultivate relationships with associations that would facilitate future placement of volunteer into bigger cities to work specifically on the problems of waste management - an area that Peace Corps Togo has yet to address officially.
Well, this has gotten long, so I’ll leave the rest of the activities for next week. Enjoy some youtube video links:
Peace Corps in Togo
Interview with an African-American volunteer who served in Togo
The Many Faces of Peace Corps
A volunteer’s experience in village