Tuesday, July 30, 2013
July 15- Months 9 and 10 Work Post
I’ve been in Benin for a bit more than a year now, an official volunteer after training for exactly 10 months. It’s hard to believe that it’s been so long. I celebrated my one year arrival in country anniversary, June 27, in the best way I could imagine – welcoming the new group of 52 volunteers to Benin. Myself and another volunteer were selected to be their trainers during orientation week. It was a hectic time, running around making sure everyone got to the various interviews with program staff, had headshots taken, signed paperwork, got food to eat… all while answering question after question. The new volunteers are wonderful, and their enthusiasm renewed my excitement for being here as well. This is really a pretty neat thing we’re doing. For now I’m back in post, but I’ll be traveling back south (where all the training takes place) in about a month to do technical training with the Environment volunteers.
In village, the days of sitting around and wondering what to do are a distant memory. Now, I’m always having to decide which projects to keep rolling and which to leave on the back burner. The ones that are my priorites right now: a latrine-building project and a rice test plot.
The first step in getting a home ready for a new volunteer in my area of Benin is often building their latrine. This was the case for me; I was the very first person to use mine. Interest in latrines has been growing, and some community members independently contacted my counterpart asking his advice on how to build them for their families. We’ve decided to apply for Peace Corps funding to do a latrine project. The community has formed a committee to help direct the project, seven individuals representing all the different ethnic groups in Peonga. We’ve gotten a quote from a mason of the costs to build a latrine, and my counterpart and I took a “latrine tour” to count how many people currently have them and see which models are the most popular. The next step is to meet with the committee to establish the details of the project, such as how much each person will be expected to contribute towards costs, and then I have a lot of writing to do to finish the grant application. What I like most about this project is how it has been very community led. I’ve been doing my best to ask lots of questions in meetings, and people have been eager to share ideas for how things should go.
I’ve already written a bit about the training I attended about the System of Rice Intensification a few months ago. Well, the rice season is starting in village, and I recently spent the morning measuring out three 10mx10m test plots with Goropeno, the farmer with whom I’m testing the system. He’s collecting manure to apply to some of the plots, and we’ll be planting soon. There’s a lot of interest in this rice system among other volunteers as well, and I’m actually on my way to a nearby volunteer’s post right now to help him set up a test plot. If you’d like to learn more about SRI there is lots of information available online, for example at this site: http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu/
And other projects…
Of course there is other work going on as well. I continue to work in my garden plot, and just re-planted a lot of it with things like green beans, beets, cucumbers, and the long shot: peas. I know peas are a cool-weather plant, but it seems pretty cool to me right now – or maybe it’s just no longer unbearably hot. And I bought the seeds in Benin (albeit in Aravan, the expensive WalMart-like store for expats in Cotonou). If they work it will mean amazing culinary adventures are in store – I’ll keep you posted! Pretty much all of what goes on in my garden plot is experimenting. It may not be making the biggest difference in my community, but it’s fun – and if I stumble on something that works really well I can easily share it.
In earlier posts I mentioned my “female role model” speakers series I planned in Peonga. It was a great success! I’ll post photos in another post. I’m going to keep being involved in girl’s education efforts. I’m bringing two girls from Peonga to camp GLOW (girls leading our world) in Parakou, a week-long sleepaway camp. And I’m getting started on planning the Take our Daughters to Work program in Parakou for next year.
There’s also an environmental camp in Parakou this summer, and I’ll be bringing 4 kids. I chose them by holding an essay contest at the secondary school. Each student was asked to describe why it’s important to protect the environment, and then state an environmental problem in Peonga and propose a solution. I chose two kids from the 6e (youngest) grade, and one each from the two older grades (5e and 4e). Two are boys and two are girls. They seem like really neat kids, and I look forward to getting to know them better at camp and then work together next year – perhaps with an environment club.
And finally, I’ve found a new Fulani language tutor and am starting language classes again. My new tutor, Vivian, is terrific. She teaches Fulani women how to read and write in another city during the year, but is back in village for summer. I’ve already had three lessons with her, and my language is progressing a lot.
I’m sure there’s much I’ve forgotten, but that’s a taste of what I’m doing for now. More later!