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.
Posted in Upcoming Projects
Tagged brother, Burkina Faso, cfprem, courage, diploma, education, graduation, guest speaker, host family, international, leadership, Peace Corps, success, university, volunteering
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.
Posted in Upcoming Projects
Tagged africa, b-12, b-6, Burkina Faso, community, global, grant, iron, life cycle, linkedin, malnutrition, mission, Peace Corps, plan, project, protein, rural, soy, Tcheriba, think, tofu, vegfund, vitamin, wanpot
WanPot LLC is up and running on ETSY.com. In my post Creation of WanPot LLC, I described that this is a venture to sell handcrafts I make through the skills I learned from local African artisans when I was in the Peace Corps. The funds received through items sold will go to help the very artisans that taught me these skills to improve their technique, attend trade shows, and training in small business management, bookkeeping etc.
Please check out my site on etsy at http://www.etsy.com/shop/WanPot or click on the I SELL ON ETSY button to the right of this page.
Thank you and please remember to like the site.
Posted in Upcoming Projects
Tagged african, art, artisan, bookkeeping, buy, ceramics, etsy, fabric, funds, handcrafts, handmade, llc, Peace Corps, pottery, sell, shop, training, wanpot
November 1 is known as simply the day after Halloween in the United States. However, in West Africa specifically Burkina Faso, it is known as ALL SAINT’S DAY or Jour de Toussaint. I took the opportunity to go visit my host family in Koudougou which is 100 km west of Ouagadougou. I took the first bus which is at 6 a.m. in the morning and arrives in Koudougou at 7h15 (pretty fast right). I arrived approximately 1h15 later to sunny blue skies and my host brother waiting for me at the bus station. November 1 is also his birthday so the visit was even more delightful. I also took this time to work on my chicken farm where we are in the process of laying the bricks. I hopped on the Moto with my host brother who is also appropriately named Toussaint (all saints in French) and we made our first stop to Toega a village a few kilometers outside of Koudougou. Toega is the location of my chicken farm and I wanted to check on the progress along with put in some physical work. Once arriving in the village, it is customary to greet the elders of the village before arriving at the work site. So that is what we did we greeted the elders for about 10 minutes and walked over to the work site. There I found the fruit trees that were planted, the laying of the bricks and the expansion of the foundation. I was pleased with the progress and the effort the village is putting in even during the harvest season.
Afterward I had a lovely lunch with my host family as we laughed and reminisced about my first encounter with them during my Peace Corps training. Wow time flies and the two years as a volunteer seemed to have gone by even faster.
Please enjoy the photos.
Posted in Upcoming Projects
Tagged all saints, birthday, bricks, chicken, construction, family, french, halloween, holiday, koudougou, Peace Corps, sky, sun, village, volunteer, west africa