Hosting Development

On my previous post “Finding my way through Service” (on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140917151341-42414239-finding-my-way-through-service?trk=mp-reader-card) a reader commented and his comments again brought me to reflection.  His comments were centered around the fact that my time abroad working/ volunteering has not helped anyone except me.  The reader discussed his interactions with Peace Corps volunteers over the past several years; and how he did not see much good or development coming out of such organizations.  I reminded the reader that development is not always tangible. Development can occur with knowledge and resource sharing.  Human resources are often overlooked when we think about development.  Nonetheless, his comments made me reflect if there has been an impact due to my presence in the developing country in which I reside (Burkina Faso).  As it turns out I didn’t have to look nor reflect so far or so long before the answer surfaced.

Many of you may not know, but usually when Peace Volunteers enter into a country, we are placed with host families.  These families are an important if not obligatory part of the program.  The host families help integrate the volunteer, and serves as a support among other things.  In my situation I forged a great and lasting relationship with my host family.  We shared many great and some sad experiences together.  However, the most remarkable of my time with the host family were the days and nights we were able to have “causerie” (chats/ dialogue).  It was during that time that I shared my experiences of school, and forging through tough times in my education.  It was during that time that my host brothers and sisters shared their frustrations with the education system in Burkina. It was during that time that we shared notes on similar life experiences as a student.  It was during that time in which we learned from one another.  However, I think what was most remarkable to them was the will I showed to be successful in the harsh conditions.  To endure a heat that was unimaginable to me, along with all the other uncertainties was something that stuck in their minds.  There was one host brother at the time who was not in school and was trying to make his way working.  I had many conversations with him regarding education and its importance.  I listened to him as he reminisced about being in school when he was younger.  I had no idea the impact our conversations would have on him in the near future.

About a year and a half ago, the same host brother that was out of school called me saying that he saw me on television presenting graduation diplomas.  The university is called CFPREM International and I was asked to be a visiting professor/ collaborator where I perform different activities such as judging English competitions, providing career counseling, and lecture.  Based on what my host brother saw on television, he went to the university and there he saw a photo of me with some of the professors.  He did his research on the different programs and eventually enrolled.  On October 11 I was asked to once again present diplomas at the CFPREM International graduation.  When I arrived I saw my host brother dressed in his graduation regalia.  But what I didn’t know was that he was not just a regular student graduating.  It was during the course of the graduation ceremony that I learned that my host brother was not only the class president, but also valedictorian.  He graduated at the top of his class, and won so many awards that at one point when the announcer called his name he was shocked that it was him again.  He received a scholarship to continue his studies, and an offer of employment.  He later told me as we were taking photos that our conversations served as an inspiration. He stated that no one else spoke to him about the real importance of education. Lastly, he stated that sharing my experiences of also struggling as a student in America helped him realize you can still be successful even in the face of challenges.  All he needed was a push, a story different but same as his own, and a physical example plus his will.

When I think about development, and especially my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, it is the human relationships that come to mind.  Unwittingly my presence in this country has put a lasting effect on someone and many others just as they have put a lasting effect on me.  What my host brother has gained is beyond development as he can start to break a generational cycle of poverty.  The implications of his actions will be felt for generations to come.IMG_0297IMG_0294 IMG_0289 IMG_0286

Competition for English

Community engagement can come in various forms.  Service is one of the best ways internationalesawyer engages with the community.  Service is a vast domain and can include simple participation in town hall meetings, or formally serving on a board.  Recently internationalesawyer was asked to serve as an expert panel judge for an English competition among university students at CFPEM International located in Ouagadougou.  This is not the first time that internationalesawyer has partnered with this university.  In the past the director of the school approached internationalesawyer to be a monthly guest lecturer to business students. The objective there was to give lectures in English and organize career counseling (i.e. practice interviews) to students in fields such as accounting.

When approached to be a judge for the English competition, there was only one answer…YES! The competition included an essay and oral presentation in which competing students from CFPEM were given topics that ranged from improving the school system in Burkina Faso to the current epidemic of Ebola affecting West Africa.  As one of the 3 judges, we made the rules and criteria. The 7 candidates all had 5 minutes to present their topic, and then 1 min 30 seconds for each question.  The candidates were scored on criteria that included grammar, verbal and non-verbal communication, and dress.  This was no easy competition as the stakes were high.  Some of the prizes included scholarship money, tablets, and even a laptop.  For all the candidates English is either their third or fourth language. In some cases the fifth language they speak.  To write a 3-5 page essay on serious topics such as youth employment and healthcare is no easy feat.  The candidates all gave their very best effort which showed in the scores.  However, the judging was not easy as well.  We were objective as possible and what made it easier to be objective we did not have prior contact with the candidates. All the judges knew was their essay by number.

The English competition was held on a Friday October 10th.  The results were strategically released at graduation the following day.  Out of the 7 candidates the first 5 took home prizes.  Nevertheless, those who did not win a physical prize, still won as they gained experience in oral presentation, essay writing, and the spirit of competing.

Planting for Fun and Service

Three weeks ago a group of Ouagadougou-doers made a community service trip to a city about 3 hours or almost 200km northwest of Ouaga called Ouahigouya. Internationalesawyer is a part of a group that is also known as Burkinabe-alumni-association. This group is in association with the United States Department of State and is an International Exchange Alumni Program in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Internationalesawyer is able to participate in this group. Peace Corps and Fulbright and many exchange programs qualify to participate. Internationalesawyer, a member since 2011 finds the Burkinabe- alumni- association is an excellent opportunity to continue to serve in various communities in Burkina Faso. The passion of service continues with this group. On August 9, 2014 we had an outing to do a tree planting and campaign awareness in Ouahigouya, where there are very few trees.

We left early on a Saturday morning with some members of the US Embassy of Burkina Faso to plant almost 200 trees. There is an enormous lack of trees in this city due to the climate, which is unfavorable to producing trees. This city has a history of drought and locust; moreover, some inhabitants still practice cutting trees for firewood and charcoal. We decided to pick two areas to plant trees of different varieties. This included mango and baobab trees. We received permission from the local mayor’s office and they helped in the effort by providing some materials for digging and extra womanpower for the planting. In all we had roughly 75 people, however once we entered into the city streets to plant along the medium, several children joined the effort. Abdoulye the leader of the group used this as an excellent opportunity to give impromptu campaign awareness. The children answered questions about the environment and the value of trees for our lives. This was a perfect entry, as we walked to the mayor’s office to continue the program with the group of women who helped plant trees. The members from the US Embassy and the President of the Burkinabe association alumni group held an informal discussion with the audience on women’s rights.

Additionally, communications officer of the Burkinabe association alumni group gave an animated speech in one of the local languages, Mooré. The speech used audience participation and was greatly appreciated by the women who only speak Mooré and not French. The speaker discussed marital rights, child protection, and women’s rights in Burkina Faso and how they relate to women living in rural areas such as in Ouahigouya.

The program was successful and we all left satisfied especially since the mayor’s office will take the responsibility to maintain the trees. We are still hungry to help other communities that are looking for support in these types of events.
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Invite to Influence

I am excited to have been invited to be an influencer on LinkedIn. My first post is featured and can be accessed at http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140630150029-42414239-from-crisis-to-unemployment?trk=object-title

Video

Impromptu Capacity Building

Impromptu life

Some middle school to high school girls ran into me while in village and asked if I could help them understand their menstrual cycles and how to track it.

Community is needed

Hello Community, LIFE

WANPOT has created a crowds funding for our project to make a big impact at the community and national level.  We have pooled our resources and still have some ways to go.  LIFE is an educational program that will inform girls and teachers in various life skill matters such as gender violence, and sexual reproduction health.  However we have a peace building curriculum and after school activities that include clubs and the arts.  All activities are for social and cultural building.  The link for further information is: http://gogetfunding.com/project/life-3Image

Volunteering for the 21st Century

Volunteering for the 21st Century.