Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Project Updates.... not a witty title

Projects are stacking up and I'm starting to feel that I actually have a purpose in my community. The real big success story of the month was the Girls Leadership Conference that my nieghbors, Sam and Jenae, and I organized. We invited 60 middle school girls to talk about their dreams and ambitions. They learned about sexual health, HIV/AIDS, and STDs. 
We discused the many obstacles to continuing school and attaining their dreams: forced marriages, teenage pregnancy, rape, violence, domestic responsibilities, finnancial constaints, distance/accessibility to education, and unequal treatment when living at a relatives (to be closer to school). The second day the girls brought a parent to discussion their ambitions and challenges openly - this does not happen in the Fuladu. Awa Traore is an amazing facilitater and made this event possible, as did the working women in the community who shared their experiences with the girls and the local volunteers behind the scenes. As a volunteer it was really moving to see so many eager girls invested in their futures. A lot of times, the people here seem so withdrawn or indifferent to change and all out of hope. But our girls conference was all fire!
The foreboding sense of the inevitable gave the tree nursery training that my counterpart and I organized at the Master Farmer site a much different vibe. The training went well in general: the first morning my counterpart facilitated a discussion about the importance of trees, their uses, their propagation, and dabbled in agroforestry technologies a bit as well. The second day was hands-on review and set up of a tree nursery at the Master Farmer site: over 2000 tree sacks filled, mango bare root beds, 3 fruit trees planted, and a lot of advertising for live fencing. The training just got off to a 2 hour late start in good Senegalese fashion and was punctuated by tea breaks, cola nut breaks, and an hour pause to visit a baptism happening in the village.
And of course there was the usual peppering of complaints: I should have served breakfast; I should have bought more cola nuts; I should have given everyone money for participating. The latter is my personal favorite. Unfortunately, many organizations in Senegal pay their participants (a lot by village standards) to show up to causeries, trainings, and public information sessions. I can understand travel reimbursements and a per diem if the training is long enough and the participants are actually traveling to the event. But ours was a small, local affair consisting of just two 4 hour morning sessions followed by a free lunch. Try explaining that to a crowd of Senegalese though... It seems no matter how much work volunteers put into their projects in our region, there is always someone there to put them down and tear our work to shreds. If the criticism was actually constructive, that'd be alright. However, "give me money" is not at all constructive for anyone in my mind.

Besides these big events, the rains have finally come and I am busy clearing fields, baling hay, digging zai holes, the works. And then I am working with other volunteers to wrap up the essay proctoring and interviews with girl students at local middle schools for the Michelle Sylvester scholarship that covers tuition and school supplies for next year. Check it out here! Bunch of little projects on the back burner too, but not going to jinx them all yet... stay posted!
Cooking chili and polenta for Teneng (far left) my best friend's birthday, village style over the fire.

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