Hommes Comme Partenaires! (Men as Partners)

23 05 2011

Salut! Je viens de terminer avec l’atelier “Hommes Comme Partenaires”.  The conference was awesome! It took place in a northern city of Burkina Faso called Ouahigouya.  If you have a good memory, you will recall that it was the village where our first trainings where held when I arrived in Burkina Faso exactly 11 months ago today.  To say that it was interesting being back in Ouahigouya would be an understatement.  I couldn’t believe just how different everything seemed to me while all still being so familiar.  It’s as though I was looking at a memory of my past but through someone else’s eyes…someone better adapted to African life, more comfortable in their skin.   I really appreciated the experience of being able to see that village again now.  One night we went and had dinner at one of the very first places I ate, Madame Coulibaly’s.  I vividly remember that first avocado sandwich I ordered that day.  I remember being so nervous about ordering myself a sandwich and how proud I was afterwards when I realized she understood my demand and was indeed going to give me a sandwich.  Compare that timid scared Keith to the Keith who is now giving presentations, holding business meetings, and living everyday in French and Dioula, and even more foreign language.  It was incredible to see just how much I have changed in only 11 months.  Oh and for any other volunteers from my stage who might be reading this blog…yes Ouahigouya was still as hot as hell!!! I’m so grateful I live in the Bobo region where it’s less hot.

As for the conference, all I can say is AMAZING! I was truly happy with how the overall conference turned out.  Of course there were a few small bumps in the road, but I think as a group, we handled them pretty well.  I ended up being a lot more involved in the conference then I had previously expected.  I lead two sessions and helped in several more.  I think I added some good perspective and some useful examples/stories to help stimulate the conversation.  The Burkinabe counterparts that attended were also amazing.  They were open, engaged, and really excited about getting back in to their communities and bringing back some of what they learned.  It was great to see those “uh-huh!” moments on some of their faces as they came to some new realizations over the course of the three day workshop.  I think one of the greatest moments was on the last day when we sent the volunteer/burkinabe pairs out into the community of Ouahigouya to give small sensibilisations on topics that we had covered the previous two days.

This conference couldn’t have come at a better time, since you all know I was hitting a low point in relation to my motivation and feeling of accomplishment.  This workshop showed just how much I can do, even on a small scale, to change even one person; to be able to be an advocate for change in Banzon, one villager at a time.  I think after the success I saw during the Men as Partners workshop, I really want to try and use the new Technical Center that I’m building to hold sensibilisations on similar topics that we discussed.  I think Banzon would really benefit from some of the same lesson plans that we used.

So now I’m sitting in Bobo at the Peace Corps office getting ready to head back to Banzon tomorrow! Super excited to get back and just dig in with work and closing up some loose ends.  Tonight for dinner I made a really delicious spinach pasta with garlic gouda, chorizo, and provençale sauce. It was rather indulgent, and kind of expensive, but since I’m heading back to village I decided to splurge 😛

I’m hoping to make some moves with UDTER, my ADF associated women’s group, since I had a meeting with the Ouaga counterpart and we worked through some of the roadblocks.  Fingers crossed for that! Also I need to make the final push in setting up all the students who are going to attend Camp GLOW this summer.  I need to get a list of 32 students’ names and get their parent permission slips as well.

Well I guess that’s all for now…just wanted to write a quick update while I still have electricity and internet!

Really missing my family and friends these days, but also really looking forward to the next few months here ❤


Projects, camps, and grants…OH MY!

15 05 2011

]I wanted to spend a blog post talking about how I reacted to the whole scenario of my vacation mixed with the events that occurred in Burkina Faso while I was in France. After sitting down and writing it all out, I feel a lot better. I’m not sure if I feel the need to publish it anymore…I don’t want to just whine. I will probably send some people separate e-mails with a little summary of how I felt and that’s that.

So in any case, how is my work going? Well let me break it down for you by group/projects:

Faso Gnataga: The literacy campaign is coming to an end. We have successfully carried out the Dioula/Moore alphabetisation classes and, as a whole, our teachers and the auditors feel as though there was a strong attendance record and enthusiastic students. The financial accounting side of things were a little more shaky. I worked really hard with the association on trying to keep good track of expenses and receipts and overall this went well. The problems started when it came down to me trying to streamline their reporting process. They are rather stuck in their ways of doing things and when I tried to explain more efficient ways to get things done, they were adverse to changing it. Also, I was really frustrated that the work they kept wanting to give me was just busy work. For example, they keep a running handwritten track of their expenses and savings, and they asked me to re-copy their handwritten files in a newer clean book, exactly the same way, while they sat and watched. I did not come to West Africa, with hopes to bringing some kind of capacity to a village in need, just to sit down and re-copy itemized expenses while I sweat through all of my clothes. Anyway, this is something I’m going to confront them about, so we will see if this changes.

Also with Faso Gnataga, as many of you know I am working on a construction project to provide both Faso Gnataga as well as Banzon on a whole a new Center for Literacy and Technical training. I worked really hard on getting my grant application approved and through all of the necessary steps and it is now available on the Peace Corps Website!!! I have already reached out to a lot of you, or my boyfriend or dad or several of my great friends have forwarded it to you. It will be a great addition to Banzon and will allow Faso Gnataga to do continued development work even when the literacy campaigns aren’t in session. Please go and check out the website here and donate…any amount will make a difference. We are currently at about 37% funded so I still have a lot to raise. Please, please, please forward this on to friends and family as I feel really strongly about this project and think it will be a great addition to Banzon. See my project here: https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=686-144

Lastly, back in January, I applied for a small assistance grant from the U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso. Faso Gnataga and I would like to start a grain storage campaign where they buy grains (like corn, rice, sorghum, etc…) when the prices are cheap and then re-sell them during the season where their prices are higher. So my counterpart, Ouya, and I filled out the application and forwarded it onto the Embassy representatives. I believe that they have gotten through all the applications and chances are good that we will be getting that grant as well!!! So I’m super happy about that as the grain storage program will be a great way to create a sustainable stream of revenue for my association so they can keep building their efforts.

UDTER (Timpia): I don’t know if many of you know about my second host association. UDTER is a women’s union who buy rice in bulk from the community cultivators and transform it into what I guess we would call parboiled rice. This women’s group is rather successful, benefiting from already having two years of funding from an NGO, and who have also signed a contract with the African Development Foundation (ADF), a US Government program focused on building capacity for African entrepreneurs. So, what do I do with them? Well, I am basically there to help them keep on track with their accounting, financial reporting, and schedule. It has been somewhat confusing thus far with them because I’m coming in almost a year after they had signed this contract. Even now, some eleven months after, they only just received their first disbursement of funds and still haven’t received their initial formations, their computer and electronic generator, or other materials needed to upscale their production. Therefore, I have spent my time recently meeting with the ADF on ground representative to get a better feel for what’s going on, what is holding up their progress, and how to avoid these roadblocks in the future. I had a great meeting with my ADF counterpart on Friday morning! I was happily impressed with my level of comprehension of conducting a conversation about financial reporting and accounting in French, even though afterward I could tell I was really mentally fatigued haha. Right now, I feel a lot better about the whole situation and have a clear list of action items and deliverables to go back to village with. This should be a really rewarding and challenging facet to my Peace Corps experience, so I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops.

Men As Partners: Actually, starting this Thursday, I will be attending and help facilitating the first annual Men As Partners Workshop here in Burkina Faso. The purpose of this three day workshop is to educate Burkinabé men on how to become positive examples for other men in village to follow. By positive examples we mean men who treat women respectfully and equally, provide proper nutrition to their kids, practice family planning, and appreciate their children’s education. We will cover all of those topics with both Peace Corps volunteers and their chosen counterpart from village whom the volunteers thought would be good positive examples in the future. I’m really looking forward to this and will try and write a good summary of what happened after we finish this saturday.

Camp G2LOW: I am also participating in a great camp this summer. Peace Corps around the world has a camp called Camp GLOW which stands for Girls Leading our World. It has shown to be very successful and rewarding and thus many different countries have started their own programs in hopes to gain the same results. Our program stands for Girls and Guys Leading our World. For our camp, we are hoping to educate both young girls and young men! We think that if you really want to help create gender equality, not only do you have to start at a young age, but you need to include boys as well. Here is a quick blurb from the lead volunteer’s blog about our camp:

Project Description:

Excited by its success in other countries, Peace Corps Burkina Faso has decided to host its first Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). In hopes to become the 23rd Peace Corps country to house a Camp GLOW, we also want to make Camp GLOW even more unique by giving it a small twist to transform it to Camp G2LOW (Girls and Guys Leading Our World). There is no denying that, in Burkina Faso’s patriarchal system, there is a need to empower women, but it is our belief that the only true way to empower women is to educate young men, and teach them the importance of working with woman as equals. Camp G2LOW is a week-long leadership training camp geared toward school-age male and female students across the world.

Camp G2LOW -as it pertains to Burkina Faso- will focus on three subfields: 1) healthy lifestyles, 2) development of leadership skills, and 3) promotion of gender equality. In order to address the subfield of healthy lifestyles, camp counselors, which will include Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and host country nationals (HCNs), will lead educational sessions focused on proper hygiene and safe sex practices, as to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and lower the rate of unwanted pregnancy. To develop their leadership skills, Camp G2LOW participants will take part in activities to teach critical thinking and decision-making skills. Lastly, camp counselors will aid in the promotion of gender equality by leading sessions that focus on ending domestic violence, as well as working with members of the opposite sex as partners on the same playing field.

So overall, I have plenty of work going on right now which makes me really happy (aside from the bizarre busy work with Faso Gnataga). I’m slowly getting back in to that happy place I was in before I had left for Paris. I knew that it was probably a small bit of depression because I had just spent two amazing weeks in a beautiful city with my boyfriend, so I’m gladding I’m starting to get over it. I’m looking forward to the next few months of work as it should prove to be very productive and I can finally start to feel like I’m doing something measurable/tangible rather than just these very amorphous blurry goals I’ve been setting and reaching.

Also – I need to get back into my hardcore Dioula training. I have fallen off the wagon a bit, I mean don’t get it twisted, I can still chat it up pretty well and at a good level, but I need to step it up. I have been at site now for 8 months and it’s completely unacceptable that I’m not yet fluent 😛 haha.

Also, I brought back three great French grammar books from Paris so I want to work on that as well. Need to keep pushing this language learning so I can make the most out of my immersion environment while I still have it.

OK, I think that’s all for tonight. I’m so sorry I dropped off the radar for four months, I’m going to try and be better! I miss you all so much! Love and hugs xoxo

– Keith


Its been quite some time

4 05 2011

Hello hello!

First I am sooo sorry I haven’t written since December. I have no excuse except I didn’t feel compelled to write since I speak to a lot of my friends and family regularly. But now I feel the need to write about what’s been going on recently and how it has affected me mentally and emotionally. I will type it out once I’m in bobo this Friday. Until then know that I love you all and miss you like crazy.

Also please check out my Peace Corps project online and donate!!! Banzon needs your help!