What happens when an outside source not only believes in you, but supports your cause? You are able touch the lives of a few to many.
This is exactly what occurred that allowed me to execute the Soy/Tofu project. I was doing online searches and networking via Linkedin.com during my hiatus from my internationalesawyer blog when I across VegFund.org merit based awards. This award for the perfect fit for a particular project I had in mind from several months prior. The pending project which was my soy/tofu project was a relatively low costing project compared to larger ones. Although, relatively low costing, funds were still needed to start it up. Also it is a project that has great lasting impact on the community and its members.
My project was on promoting soy based food products to members of a rural community in Burkina Faso, West Africa. In addition, to promoting soy products, I included an element of animal protection and veganism. Why because in the village where this project was launched, the majority of children suffer from either mild or acute form of malnutrition. Families are heavily dependent on their harvest to feed them for at least 6-7 months out the year. Furthermore, children and adults alike do not get the vitamins that are required to live strong and healthy lives. I learned this first hand as I spent 2 years living in Tcheriba as a Peace Corps Volunteer. By the end of my two years, I was severely vitamin deficient. I lacked protein, iron, B6, and 12. I learned first- hand what it means to have a low vitamin diet. My eyesight decreased, I lost all muscle tone, was always lethargic, exhausted, and the smallest activity rendered me completely useless physically. Finally when I had a full medical exam, what I feared was confirmed; “you are vitamin deficient and need to have a vitamin rich diet.” Having discovered this, I knew that something must be done to combat this in the village. Although, I was no longer living full time in Tcheriba, I still had a duty to serve others help themselves (one of Peace Corps’ mission). This is when I started to put full thought into the Soy/Tofu project.
In addition, people in this rural village have poor nutrition, and little to no income (especially women and children). The ones that cannot afford meat either go without, or go to extreme measures (i.e. eating donkey meat or lizards) in order to obtain sustenance. I long discussed soy/ tofu products, however needed to do more research to see the feasibility. Most importantly, I had to assess the willingness of the population to try something new (which is often the hardest part). I thought about how I can present the idea of soy for many months. Having lived and studied in this village, I knew what the needs were, but needed to connect them into a meaningful communitywide outreach project. Finally after much reflection and discussion with community members, it came to me…people want to make money and eat better. They can’t eat better because they don’t have income or low income and they are not aware of how to eat better with the resources they have access to. Therefore, I combined all the ideas (soy/tofu product making for nutritional and IGA objectives, while teaching about animal protection and soy benefits). This is where VegFund.org came played an integral role in the implementation stage of this project. I applied for one of their merit based awards and in a relatively short period of time, I was granted the award. I wasted no time in starting the project because the planning and analysis stage was thoroughly completed before even applying for the award.
Many of you who read my blog are aware that I am a community outreach/ organizer. I have talents that I put to use, plus I build on these talents through serving the community. Learning is an ongoing process and we should not limit ourselves. In an effort to streamline my activities I have created WanPot, which is a formally organized entity, that house all the projects in which I work. WanPot serves as a bridge to associations (especially women led organizations) that lack resources by connecting them to those resources. For instance, a local women’s association (Association Kamba Yinga) approached me to help write a grant for agri-business. The organization has no English speaker and of course the grant has to be in English. Not only do I help, but I also keep this association as a contact for community outreach projects which I run.
The goal of WanPot involves connecting people to information, resources, and building relationships through leadership in the “common good”. It is a forum for where I use my talents in the domain of community outreach/organization to help others achieve their potential. What’s more, monies that I receive for the work I do, I reinvest it in associations and projects. It becomes a cycle of give and take. For example, a grant that I was recently awarded goes to help a rural African community to generate income through tofu and soy product production. WantPot is my interpretation of collaboration and leadership in action. It is a way to generate money for projects that benefit communities without always asking for donations for these projects. This way communities are completely involved in the process and gives them a better understanding of the effort it takes to fund a community project. Thus far I have collaborations with the following associations:
Association of Women Pottery Makers of Tcheriba, Springboard for Higher Education, the International Bilingual and Professional School in Ouagadougou, and MISS.ORG. It is my hope that the partnerships will grow.
With this in mind Internationalesawyer who is the creator of WanPot is seeking your feedback on the logo design. Please take a few moments and vote on the logo design that you like the most. I selected a focus group to narrow the choices; these are the top three out of six.
Internationalesawyer’s work in the community gets recognized and is asked to collaborate on different projects. One such project that internationalesawyer was consulted to organize was Springboard for Higher Education. This is a collaboration that started more than a year ago in 2011 with a simple statement followed by a question: “I like your dedication and leadership in community organization.” “Are you interested in a youth development project?” I swiftly said thank you and of course I am interested.
The project would later be revealed as Springboard for Higher Education. Springboard for Higher Education is an organization that mentors, coaches, and prepares students pursuing all levels of higher education in the United States (bachelors, masters, doctorate degrees). Springboard for Higher Education or S.H.E. is goes beyond the casual education advisory. They thoroughly examine the client to match them with the best possible institution that not only addresses their academic needs but their long term goals, talent, geographical preference, cultural and community interests. S.H.E. provides services that include document translation, English language preparation for ESL tests such as TOFEL and IELTS, applying for scholarships, and many more services that apply to the application process for attending university in the United States as an international student.
Internationalesawyer was asked to facilitate in the information sessions, provide English preparation, and advice on overall program implementation. S.H.E. has partners in the United States and is organizing a team of volunteers that can serve as extra support to international students once they land on American soil. This initiative is to encourage, inform, and support international students in navigating the educational system of the United States. One major concern of international students that I hear is they do not understand the process and become intimidated by the application demands. S.H.E is created to address these concerns by demystifying the entire process.
Please enjoy the photos of the first S.H.E. information session.
Once a month I am invited to have leadership discussions with university students in English (Burkina Faso is a Francophone country). The school’s dean invited me so that the students can have extra time practicing their English with a native speaker, and getting used to the American English accent. Moreover, the dean sought out someone who had interest in education, leadership, and international affairs. When I was invited to provide these services I was delighted. April makes the 4th month in which Internationale sawyer and the International Formation of Bilingual Professionals University have had this partnership. Furthermore, on March 16, 2013, I was invited to their graduation ceremony here in Ouagadougou. In addition to attending I was given the honor of presenting an award to a distinguished teacher. This was my first university graduation ceremony here on the continent of Africa. What made it more impressive were all the graduating students started with little to no English; and all of them took their well -deserved diplomas with full proficiency in English. One aspect of the graduation that I noted was all the students that gave speeches were deeply moved. They all cited God, family, and the extreme hardships of obtaining a college diploma. They battled illness, injustice, gender inequality from within their own family, poverty, and financial instability. I couldn’t help but to reflect on my own college graduation, some of those same emotions were shared. One key difference was these graduates fought for their right to education, while some in other parts of the world mistreat education and take that right for granted. I guess this is because our ancestors already did the hard part, while these present day students are still in the period of civil rights.
A good friend of mine that works at the US Embassy of Ouagadougou first sent me an e-mail June 11 saying that there was a conference at the embassy. The topic- Economic Potential in Africa with focus on Burkina Faso. One of the main presenters was the director of the House of Enterprise Clarisse Kyelem here in Ouagadougou. It was an excellent conference as we watched TED TALKS videos that were interactive. Each video had a different theme which varied from innovative green technology (i.e. wind, solar, and bio-fuels) to women entrepreneurs in the most unlikely of countries such as Afghanistan. Following each video there was a discussion among the viewers and relating each subject to Burkina Faso. This was an an important link to the conference, as each participant was able to listen, reflect, question, and contribute. Truly awesome to hear the ideas of innovators in an emerging market. The closing remarks were made by the United States ambassador to Burkina Faso Mr. Thomas Dougherty. What motivated the entire crowd in addition to the ambassador, was a powerful opening speech by Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala. She is a powerful speaker and was very clear in her message- If you are not doing business in Africa now, you will miss the wave. Despite all the news on Africa’s poverty, one thing is clear, there are Africans working for a better future and money is being made. Moreover, despite the reputation of Africa, people here want to do things for themselves; not be spoon fed or better yet breast-fed. The tides are changing albeit gradually!
Bienvenue! I am Unkonda Rasheda Sawyer, but have adopted the name internationalesawyer. I live and breath culture from around the world. Born in Liberia, West Africa, but raised in the United States.
The States is where I received my first taste of the world as a salad bowl (a mix of several different backgrounds). I travel to learn and immerse myself in cultures from around the world. Through these travels I learn the social issues that people in these countries face. I collaborate with community members to start up projects that improve education, small businesses and generate income. I provide cultural exchange and community involvement programs. I will entertain anything that is of interest that improves our lives.
My most recent internationale exchange was as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa. I currently reside there, however, through social networking am able to connect with communities across the United States, Africa, and Europe (with Asia, and many others soon to come).
I believe the best way to learn about people and their passions is to live the experience alongside them. My best projects are ones that are fully supported by communities and sustainable for years to come. New project ideas are always welcomed. You are free to e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) me if you have any questions, ideas, comments, or want want to collaborate. I love to chat with you.