Dear incoming 'stage' of Peace Corps trainees to Togo,
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!