Friday, March 15, 2013

Get To Work!

Now I know I left off with my last post about grants, writing them specifically, and I know I stated that I would not write a grant for my waste management project and as for now I am still sticking to that but I could not have guessed that it would be this soon there after that I would be researching writing grants for other projects.
Everyone always says that projects come with time and you don’t necessarily have to find them, they will find you. I always thought it was volunteers that had copious amounts of projects that said this, until now. I have always had my primary project but as a volunteer you are always looking for secondary projects to take on not only as a time filler, because I believe all projects are worth more than just filling time, but as another way for me to extend my resources and knowledge to my community. Well this is the week folks even though timing could have been a little better, though I am not going to get picky; of course my APCD, Amar, was here in Vélingara last week to check on my projects and I was left stumbling with “eh, yea I have projects, uh”. Ok it was not that bad but I did wish that I had more exciting things to talk about other than English Club and my work creating a Pen Pal system, it’s important work in terms of cultural exchange but I want to make a real difference, one that could be measured.
So what are these projects that have seemed to fall in my lap you may ask? Well for starters after Amar’s visit he forwarded me a link to an online article describing a women’s group in Senegal that USAID (United States Agency for International Development) awarded more than $80,000 to for income generating activities. Out of all of Senegal the group just so happens to be in Vélingara and since I am the only Community Economic Development volunteer for miles the project was all mine! Well of course they already had a budget and plan of action but I still wanted to get involved, I was more or less excited about the possibility of being able to work with such a high budget project, it will be fun to see how finances are being managed. So I had the name of the women’s group and the name of the president of the group and I was off to ask around, literally, Vélingara to see if anyone knew this women or group. It took a couple of stops but I ended up finding one of the key people involved in the project, of course it is a male, and I requested a meeting. Later that day I met with him and the Senegalese contact for USAID who is the accountant responsible for overseeing the entire project. I was able to find out more to this mystery project that ended up being a garden with a substantial area of 1 hectare (about 2.47 acres). A few Fantas later I managed to convince the project leads that I could help with trainings, marketing, and management of the produce that is cultivated from the garden. So excited!
While on my journey to find the above mentioned women’s group I ran into a gentleman who was telling me how he works with youth for the entire Vélingara Department (which I guess could be equivalent to a county). I told him I would be interested to hear more about what exactly his work entails and we exchanged numbers anticipating to meet in the near future. Well, the next morning he called me and said he could be at my house in a half an hour which was great because it took no effort on my part and I could then see how serious this guy was about working with me. Well 25 minutes later he is not only at my house but talking to my family like they are old friends, which they were; small world but my sister was calling him her son which just confused me because he was much older but I was relieved to know that I could, at the very least, trust this person not to be a fake or creep. There are apparently 17 ASC’s (Association Sportive et Cultural), which are zones within the mission of the organization who work with keeping youth involved and, well busy nonetheless, predominantly during school breaks but also occasionally during the school year. We would only have a couple representatives from each zone come to the trainings which they would then take the knowledge they learned to hold their own trainings to youth in their zone but we would try to get more youth involved for larger more entertaining events such as concerts or soccer games. His request for me to partner with his project is partly to secure funding, of course. Since some of the youth have to travel upwards to a couple of hours to attend trainings we try to cover transportation costs and lunch, this should be easy to secure since it’s a relatively small amount and there are always grants available that help women and youth. My first request from him was to see if we could arrange a cleanup event of sorts since Earth Day is coming up next month (April 22nd) and I just so conveniently work in waste management. He loved the idea and I am so excited to kill two birds with one stone, cleanup Vélingara while getting youth and the community involved, genious. We also agreed to do some seminars or trainings to help youth with such skills as business, nutrition or environmental consciousness. Another very exciting project!
The last project that sort of appeared in front of me is working with a community of women in my area of town that want to become self-sustainable concerning rice. Here in Senegal a vast majority, I would estimate more than 70%, eat rice for lunch just about everyday. Considering that rice is a crop that can be grown in Senegal it is crazy to hear how much of it is imported, we are wasting so much money buying something that we are more than capable of supporting ourselves in.  I found out about this community of women through, none other than, the man that has Mogley the monkey that I have some pictures with. He told me he had a great project and, honestly, I used to think he was kind of crazy so I was skeptical. When I showed up to his house to hear about his project he had an Excel spreadsheet with information such as a listing of all the women with their identity and contact numbers, the number of mouths they have to feed, and the amount of land they currently use to cultivate rice. For an older (I would say mid 60’s) Senegalese man he is way ahead of the times concerning technology and I was so impressed to see how much of the information was actually documented and analyzed! I am going to try and help this community of women get a Food Security grant in order for them to expand the production quantity and if we can get a sure fire model maybe we can implement it in other parts of town.
So yes, life is good here in Senegal and I am already getting nervous about being successful in my projects with only about a year and a half left. I know this is entirely way too soon to be worrying about this but it is always in the back of the mind of a volunteer. Though I may not be able to help with every aspect of the above projects I hope that I can get my hands dirty with a few of them. I am here to help my community and I would love nothing more than to look back on my service and be able to honestly say, I really did all that I could and I am proud of my service. Now, GET TO WORK!


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

When Is Your Work Complete When You Work In Development?

Development Work       
  1. work aimed at helping a country become more competitive across many overlapping sectors, from health, to education and many places in between with an end goal in creating sustainability
I have been thinking a lot about sustainability and development work while working in Senegal and each day I come up with a different conclusion. On good days, as you can just about imagine, I think development work is great and we really are making a difference, while on bad days I question what I am doing here and doubt that I am even making any difference at all. Of course I know I am making a difference at some point it’s just a question on if it was the difference that I intended on making.
Our project has been running as smoothly as one can ask but there are still bumps in the road that I want to sort out; they should have pretty easy and realistic solutions.
We submitted out 2013 budget and letter of intent to the Mayors office last week hoping to get funding from the 2013 Velingara budget since the budget has not yet been finalized, even though its March. Everyone at the Mayors office thinks our project is a great idea and that our city is in great need for this type of work; it’s just a matter of finding funds for it amongst all of the other expenses the city holds. We submitted a budget of all of our expenses but Amadou and I have both agreed that if we could even get them to pay for our personnel costs that would be a win in our books. And of course, I should have never looked at it after we submitted it, I found items that were rather important that we forgot to include such as food for the donkey. I guess he isn’t going to be eating this year.
As of late we have found a handful of customers to add to our ever growing list of clientele in hopes to start breaking even and one day begin to earn a profit. We are still working on getting all of the households to pay each month; right now we are at about 18% of households who are not paying on a regular basis and once we get that number down to zero we will have the numbers to be in the green and out of the red. At the moment Amadou, and a tiny bit of help from a couple of other people, goes around to each house each month to collect payments. This is a task in and of it self and takes almost a week to complete. He is constantly being told to come back later, and that is if the person who pays the bills is actually there which is usually never the case. We are hoping, fingers crossed, to open up an office space in the center of the market within the next month so that customers are able to come to us to pay. This would hopefully give Amadou more time to focus on the customers who don’t pay rather than those who do.
Sunday we had an appointment at the garage (transportation hub) in town to install trashcans. We were supposed to do a cleanup beforehand to help them start off on the right foot with keeping the garage clean but of course things did not go as planned. We arrived at 8:30am with trashcans and supplies in hand only to be met with questions regarding the security of the trashcans. I have never really thought about this before, I am not sure if it is a large issue in the states or not, but apparently trashcans are a high commodity here. They are used to store about anything imaginable with food and water for animals at the top of the list. We purposely puncture holes in the bottom of them for this very reason but its nothing a little cement can’t fix. On top of the questions about security we were also met with a debate on price. We have had a couple of prior meetings with the officials from the garage and I tried to bring up the issue on how much the service would cost them but the topic was always set aside and I was told it would be discussed later (I knew I was right and should have settled on a price before we showed up ready to work).
This setback makes me question how serious the garage really is about our project and left with the question, when exactly is your work complete when you work in development? If the garage officials actually want to change the appearance of the garage, and they say they think it’s a great project, then why won’t they take the appropriate actions to ensure that it’s successful? Are they waiting on me to get fed up with waiting on them so that I both fund the project and do all the work on my own? Peace Corps has been in Senegal for 50 years and at what point do we consider our work done and leave Senegal? I could easily write a grant for funding from some European or American NGO and be financially set for another year but that is not what I want my Peace Corps service to be, the American that came and gave us lots of money, which is what a lot of NGO’s become seen as. I want to convince the local government and population to believe in what I am doing and see the positive change that will come once their city is clean. With this I am officially declaring that I will not write a grant for this project during my service. If we want assistance it will be something that Amadou can do on his own and manage even after I am gone. Don’t worry I am sure there will be more posts in the future about my run in with the theory and practice of development.
As of right now I have put on my designer hat and came up with a few sketches on how to secure the trashcans so that Amadou and myself can bring them to a metal workers for quotes. A few initial thoughts were to have the trashcans become the responsibility of a few store owners at the garage to bring in and lock up each night until we come up with a more permanent solution, which would work but being that the officials are apparently more sayers rather than doers they want to not rush into anything and take more time to think about all the options. Poppycock that’s what I say.
So far a few of the ideas that I have are:
·      Incase the trash cans in a single or double wide storage shed (metal or wood) with front doors that lock and a hole on top directly over either one or two trashcans
·      Create a metal cage for either a single or multiple trashcans that can be then chained to a permanent object. The cage would have a front door that locks to empty the trashcan(s) and again a hole/holes on top
·      Fashion a metal ring that would go around the trashcan and another to go from one side up and over to the other side (to prevent lifting the trashcan up). A lock would secure the top bar and would be able to be released to empty the trashcan
·      Dig a hole, throw cement in it, and cement the trashcan in the hole to the ground (not my favorite idea but cities actually do this because its practically free)
I am thinking that these are all basically decent ideas it’s just a matter of determining which would be the cheapest to create yet last the longest, I don’t want Velingara to have to be replacing trashcans every five years.
On other news Amar, my APCD (Assistant Program Country Director) who is in charge of the whole CED (Community Economic Development) program in Peace Corps Senegal is coming to do a site visit tomorrow to see how my projects and living situation are going. I am sure this could be done in an hour but he has the whole day reserved for me to introduce and showcase work partners and projects. I am hoping to use him to influence both the garage and the Mayors office to get more serious about our requests and our services; I think he will be a little more persuasive than I have been in the past since he has the whole Senegalese male thing going on.

Until next time my fellow readers. Take care and thanks for reading. Cheers.

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