Monday, June 8, 2015

TOMS Shoes and Coming to the End of My Service

The Beoog Biiga program that I have been working with at Catholic Relief Services for the past ten months works to support children at community-based preschools, bisongos like the one my community and I started in Silmidougou, and at elementary schools in Central North region of Burkina Faso. This project, funded by the US Department of Agriculture has been in place since 2011. The second phase of this program, which started in 2014, is focusing on improving education quality while still trying to improve the number of children that are in school. With this in mind, we decided to start a partnership with TOMS shoes to distribute shoes to students that successfully came to school throughout the school year.
Our program was given enough shoes by TOMS to give them to all the students in our project zone that are in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade. We have focused on these grades because they have the highest dropout rates. We have been going around the zone to distribute the shoes.

Students that were given TOMS shoes. They walked almost 10 kilometers to come collect their shoes.
On a quick side note, I did my final visit to Silmidougou, my site for my first two years here, during one of our distribution trips. We working in the area and so I made plans to spend two nights and spend some time saying goodbye to everyone. It was extremely hard to say goodbye, but we were all able to talk about all of the great fun we have had together and all of the wonderful activities that are still going on in Silmidougou (including the bisongo – thank you everyone that helped support that project!).

Wend na ko-d nindaare Asseta! See you next time Asseta!
Alright, back to TOMS. The goal is to give the shoes out in future years to students with an attendance rate of over 90 percent to support children that are truly making an effort to come to school.
The program has been a huge challenge for me since my boss gave me the opportunity to have a lead role in the project. I wrote the application, including doing the market analysis where I interviewed over 20 shoe vendors and almost 80 parents to find out whether there is a need in our communities for TOMS’ shoes. 
Also, now that the shoes have arrived in Burkina Faso, I have been leading the distribution, creating the awareness raising information (on how to properly wash your feet, how to wash the shoes, and why it is important to wear shoes). It has been a very challenging project, but so far very successful. As this is my last week at the Catholic Relief Services office, I am sad that I will not get to see it to its conclusion, but I am certain that the rest of my team will do a wonderful job completing it!
My time in Burkina is coming to a close and while this is a hard to face, I know that there will be opportunities in the future to see these wonderful people again and follow-up on the activities that we have worked together on.
I hope to get another post written up about the other activities and things I have been doing since the revolution in the fall. It has been a whirlwind of activity! But for now, here are just a few pictures I took of things I will miss from Silmidougou (and Burkina in general).

Goodbye little ones that pick their nose

 Goodbye tô and snot sauce (dried gumbo)

Goodbye breakfast beans and rice (benga)

Goodbye naked children

 Goodbye dangerous ways of biking your two year old

There are less than two weeks until my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer is finished! What an incredible three years it has been!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Update on Burkina Faso and Me!

Hi everyone,

After a crazy few days, things have calmed down. I was allowed to go back to my house last night and I had a good day at work today.

I want to tell a couple of quick stories and found that the best way to do this was in timeline form! (I’m not quite sure how that became the natural way I wrote this)

Sunday, October 26th: A friend of mine, that just finished her service as a Peace Corps volunteer, was biking from my house to hers and found the road blocked with university students burning things, throwing rocks, etc. One of the students came up to her and said, “It is alright, we aren’t mad at you, you are safe. I will walk you through the barricade.” He then takes her through the barricade and explains to her why they are protesting and how the aim is against political leaders, not foreigners. On the other side of the barricade, she got back on her bike and got home safely.

Monday, October 27th: Women hold a non-violent protest where they walk around with their cooking spoons to show their dissatisfaction with the situation (by the time they started this protest, I had left my house).

Tuesday, October 28th: Big protest, tires burned, over 200,000 (some estimates have it closer to 1,000,000) Burkinabe came. I stayed inside my friend’s courtyard, hanging out at her pool!

Graffiti against the referendum was to be to change the constitution. Literally: no to the referendum

Wednesday, October 29th: I move to the transit house, people are still protesting the referendum scheduled for the next day.

Thursday, October 30th: I watch from the roof of the Peace Corps office as they burn down the national assembly and as the protesters burn down big politicians’ houses across the city. It was really intense, but once again, they knew who they were aiming at.

Friday, October 31st: Went onto the roof with the two other volunteers that were in Ouaga to see a few more places burning. We hear motos coming down the street and see them all pull up in front of one house (not even the nicest house). They talk to the lady outside and she runs inside and comes out with her kids and the dog. By this point, there are about thirty motos outside. As soon as they come out, all thirty guys run in and loot the house. They ride off on their motos with everything from wood panels and mattresses to political party shirts (that they later burned in a public place) and the plumbing. We found out later that the house belonged to a former minister.
As the guys drove off with the stuff, they smile and waved at us.

Saturday, November 1st: Burkina gets its third president in 48 hours. The entire population of Ouaga comes out and cleans up the mess that was created in the two previous days.

Sunday, November 2nd: I go with the two other volunteers to get some more food at a little store nearby. All of a sudden two of the people that work there come running in yelling in Moore, “close the store, close the store!” Within two minutes, the staff had brought in the generator and everything they display outside and had pulled down the metal grates on the doors. They locked us inside as rioters and the army come flying down the road. We discussed how it was not a bad place to get locked inside; there were pringles, wine and AC! About ten minutes later, they tell us that they need to close and that we need to go home. They almost didn’t allow us to buy our food!
Somehow we had the worst timing of leaving the house as two other people attempted to announce themselves president at the national television station. 

Monday, November 3rd: A good quiet day. Everything seems to be getting better.

Tuesday, November 4th: The US embassy gives the all clear and I am cleared to go home. I remember that I had turned off my electricity and water, but had stupidly not cleaned out the fridge! Gross.

Wednesday, November 5th: Got back to work and everyone is so excited about their country’s future. When I asked a collegue of mine about his week his response was, “I had a week full of hope for Burkina Faso. The horizon looks less cloudy now.”

The main takeaway is that Burkina and I had a crazy last week, but thing are looking brighter!

Love you all,

Friday, October 31, 2014

I'm Safe in Burkina Faso

Hi Family and Friends,

I am sure that a lot of you have seen and heard about Burkina Faso in the past few days. I just wanted to let you know that I am still safe. I'm staying with the two other Peace Corps volunteers in the transit house (there is a door to the Peace Corps office). We are safe and secure, so please do not worry.

While I am excited that the world knows a little bit more about Burkina Faso (Mom said that Burkina is on the front page, above the fold), I wish it was in better circumstances. The protesters are still meeting in large numbers, I know that earlier today, there were over 200,000 protesters meeting near my house (remember, I am not there, I am safe on the other side of town). Burkina's president, Blaise Compaore, stepped down earlier today - which is what the people wanted. However, things are still in limbo.

Send good and positive thoughts this way! Looking forward to seeing some (or hopefully most of you) when I get home in three weeks!


Monday, June 9, 2014

First Year at the Bisongo!

When Catholic Relief Services brought up the idea of a community-based preschool, it was the first time anyone in my village had ever heard of such a thing. It was an overwhelming idea for the community but something they wanted to try. After years of their children struggling in elementary school and not a lot of free time for their mothers, they knew that they needed to do something for pre-school aged children. Within three months of the idea being discussed, the chief of the village donated a permanent hangar and two roomed granary to be classrooms and storage space. The community fixed the hangar with money they collected from the community (a dollar from each man and 50 cents for each woman). Three community members offered to teach at the school. 

Preschool teachers clean up a donated classroom for the start of the school year; members of the management committee prepare for a general assembly; a member of the management committee helps mix cement for construction

The grant helped fix the two roomed granary that became a classroom and a storage room. It also went to building two latrines for the students and teachers to use, a kitchen hangar for preparing food for the students, painting the classrooms, and securing the storage room. This has helped meet the infrastructural needs of the preschool that would have been out of reach with only community contribution. 

The kitchen hangar built for preparing food for the children’s lunch; finishing up the roof of the granary; putting in the doors for the latrine

 Classes started the first of November with 153 children between the ages of three and six. The class days consist of outdoor games, singing, dancing, puzzles, playing on the playground, and eating lunch. The teachers have done a great job trying to make classes interesting and fun. It took a little bit of time for them to work in sync with one another, but once they did, there was no stopping them. 

Christian and Sophie lead the class in singing; Mamounata and Sophie teach the class the number one; Wenceslas tries out one of the puzzles

 At community meetings and at the market, I have parents come up to me and the other teachers saying how happy they are that their child is at the preschool. They say that their kids love coming to preschool and have been teaching them the songs they learn, dancing the songs they feel confident doing, and counting everything there is to count. They are not nervous that their kids will be going to elementary school anymore, they know that these children will succeed because they are prepared for school. Of course, like any parent, they are also very happy to have a little free time to do their own work without their energetic children running around.

Kids get excited for a photo opportunity; Nafi eating donated couscous from the American people; Fati hanging out in the tire obstacle course

Instead of describing the entire school year, I want to tell you about two of the children at the preschool and how they have changed during the year. 

Little Inoussa (age four) was the only kid from his neighborhood to sign up for preschool. The neighborhood is located over four kilometers from the preschool (he walks to and from school with a group of elementary school children from his neighborhood). He did not know any of the other kids and felt very uncomfortable in class the first few weeks. There were a lot of activities he was unwilling to play and spent the first hour of the day crying that he wanted to go home. Within a month, Inoussa had found a group of friends at preschool, was the first to get involved in a game and was the loudest singer in the class!

Inoussa the first month (first two pictures) was very unhappy to be at bisongo; he was engrossed in this book; Inoussa with his new pals at preschool

 Five year old Abséta was the star of the class. She not only learned the songs and learned to count, but she would help younger children learn the games, songs, and lessons. Abséta made a point of not telling the other kids what to do but helping them get to the end with a little help. She helped lead activities and was the biggest cheerleader when a little kid did something the first time. Next year, she will be starting elementary school and I am sure she will be top of her class again!

Abzéta has fun leading a song, counting, and playing on the slide

The school year has come to a close. The main source of income, farming, starts up with the rains and the kids will play in the fields while their parents work. The kids and teachers were sad for the school to close for the summer, but they are excited for next year. I had one mom come up to a teacher and me saying, “My daughter is still waking up each morning packing up her stuff and trying to go to preschool even though the vacation has already started. She loves the activities and cannot wait until you start up again next year.” These kind of  statements from parents and children makes this project so important.

Wens and Abdou playing the drums; Gerard and Prisca matching; me playing with kids
The community-based preschool was a new concept in our municipality, it was new to the mayor, the chief and all of the community. Within three months of the preschool opening at my village, three more were created in other villages within the municipality. I just found out that there will be four more opening at the start of next school year, two in the municipality town. It is an exciting start to a huge movement have communities helping  their children be safe, have fun, and learn!