Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Best Game

I tend to get in the habit of writing about my experiences and I skim over the work that I am actually doing. I talk about how things make me feel, or I write about things in an attempt to better understand my surroundings or for the chance for those you of actually reading my blogs to better understand Senegal, even if it is just a little bit or through only my eyes. Well this post is different my friends. I want to tell you a little bit about a training that myself and my PTA (Program Training Assistant) Talla Diop held in Velingara, and by that I mean Talla did almost everything, all I did was find a bunch of people that wanted to attend, which doesn’t take a rocket scientist.
Talla explaining the rules of the game
I decided to have two trainings, one for the more educated or entrepreneurial types and one for the less educated. Almost immediately by creating these two groups we are separating the women from the men, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Since everyone that we wanted to attend the training were not educated, and since men have a complex in this society, we wanted to keep them separate to give the women a chance to actually learn and take something from the training and not just watch the men participate.
So what was the training? It is called The Best Game and it is adapted from a game that was created by the UN and played throughout many developing countries throughout the world. There are four stages to the game but Senegal for the most part is still in the first stage of the game, learning and understanding basic principals that most of us in the US learned in primary school. The game focuses on financial management and budgeting principals and puts it in a context that is very relatable to the Senegalese culture. The best part of the game is it can be adaptable for literate or illiterate groups and since most of the women in the afternoon training were illiterate this game worked perfectly.
Babies apparently always go to the market, when it
is real and just for fun 
The game starts out separating people into even teams. Each team is then explained the rules; 1) You are paid 200CFA the beginning of the month which is a Wednesday, 2) Thursdays are used to plan and budget your money for the next week, 3) Saturdays is market day, 4) Sunday is a day of rest and no work can be done, 5) you are a hat maker and each Monday you can buy materials to make your hats which cost 400CFA/hat, 6) Tuesdays you make your hats, 7) Wednesdays you sell your hats in the market for 800CFA/hat, 8) the 27th of the month you have to pay rent which is 250 CFA, 9) a new day happens only when the hour glass is flipped over and those days activities must finish before the sand runs out of the hourglass, about a minute, and 10) money can be deposited into the bank whenever you would like.
Rules are explained in detail and since there are four weeks in a month there are four
Quality control on "hats"
rounds to the game. The game starts out in the beginning of the month and everyone is handed money and, in a typical fashion, feels richer than they are in reality. This first round is great to watch once you know how the game works because you pick up on the more fiscally responsible decisions that some groups are making while understanding the less responsible ones from other groups. For example, when Jordan and I played with the more educated group in the morning training there was one other women who attended, so of course the men put her in our group. We sent her to the market the first Saturday where you can choose from food, cloths, candy, sunglasses, radios, watches and soccer balls for all varying prices. She had 50CFA to spend and she bought 20CFA of food, which was good, but the only thing that was 30CFA on the market board were sunglasses, so she bought them. Now I am not sure how sunglasses are going to better improve our “family” situation but she did not even think to not spend that money and save it for next week. Interesting train of thought and needless to say she was never sent back to the market. Also in the first round my counterpart Amadou, who was in a different group, was holding his pen when the hourglass was flipped over to Sunday, resulting in a financial penalty for working. Not exactly sure the intentions behind this rule but I think it just enforces that there are rules and we follow them, which I like! The first Monday everyone was unsure as to how many pieces of paper to buy to make our hats since we were unsure how long it would take to make a hat and all hats had to be completed by the end of the hourglass timer. I think we bought three but we should have used the first Thursday to better plan our expenses to determine how many hats we needed to make in order to support our lifestyle and profit to pay our rent at the end of the month. That is what the first round is I suppose, to make mistakes and learn from them. Once at the market on Wednesday we tried to sell our hats to Talla where they had to endure tests to ensure their quality (him bouncing them in his palm to make sure they didn’t become unfolded) and if they were not well-built he would then dramatically crumple them up and throw them in a trash can or over his shoulder in attempts to prove a point. It was great and everyone got a good laugh out of it and everyone quickly learned not to invest too much money in raw material if you were unable to create a quality product in a timely fashion.

Talla crumpling hats that were in the
production phase before the start of the day
As the weeks went on we grew stronger in the game since we knew what was expected of us and how serious Talla was about the rules of the game. People stopped spending their entire weeks budget on food, they invested more in the business and they were sure to build quality products over quantity. It was like everything that I was taught in school and it was refreshing seeing these somewhat foreign principals being used so casually and without trying to shove it down their throat; if only everyone could play this game, understand the concepts and apply them to real life we could wrap this Peace Corps thing up next week. Unlikely.
A couple of times throughout the game a card is drawn where a life event happens and, depending on your situation, you are either prepared for it or not. Of course the card that was drawn in both trainings, I think Talla planned it now that I think back on it, was that a thief was coming around and stole all the money that was not in the bank. The bank?! I forgot about that thing and so did every other group apparently. We had a savings, we were feeding our family, we were creating quality products but we were not putting money in the bank so three-quarters through the game we lost everything. Amadou’s group was already in the hole at this point, they had to borrow money from another group with an interest rate of 30% determined by the group and they chose them over our group, which was charging 100%.  This being said, they were a little less affected by the event but it was detrimental to those of us who actually had a plan. Another card was drawn during the women’s afternoon training where the kids in the family were sick if you did not buy enough food the previous week at the market. All the groups passed this test and I must say, the women were much better at listening and following directions compared to the morning session where the men were constantly being penalized for not following rules.
The Bank
If it came down to having to pay for something and you had no money you could sometimes borrow money from the bank, when Talla allowed it or he wanted to prove a point. The end of the month was approaching for both trainings and Talla required that each group pay back the loans that they had barrowed from the bank. Most of the groups were able to pay, without a problem, and life seemed to go on. But there was one thing, no receipts. The next day Talla requested that each group repay their loans that they held with the bank and when each group, screaming more or less, explained that they already paid it back he simply said, “oh ok no problem, can I see your receipt.” No receipts were shown, of course because he did not write any, and everyone had to pay their loans back for a second time. I could not help but sit back and laugh at how passionate everyone was getting and how they refused to pay again, but Talla stood his ground and demanded money from each group.
Out of both the morning and the afternoon session Jordan and I were the only group that actually had money at the end of the game. Not  only money left over but we were the only group that did not have an outstanding loan with the bank. This may have something to do with us being the most educated out of everyone at the trainings or that I had played the game before but I still forgot key lessons like keeping money in the bank. Damn, that one will stick with me forever, how could I forget that? Now comes my favorite part of the game- Talla had a little talk with the groups at the end of the game telling them the importance of being aware of your financial situation, budgeting and not spending half your salary on a weeks worth of food, investing in your business since that is how you earn money and keeping money in the bank. He was able to apply all of these important principals with examples directly from the game and everyone understood.
Talla (in the hat) and most of the women
from the afternoon training
It is amazing how people can got more out of this training that any amount of lectures that I could have given. It was prepackaged, easy to understand and conducted by someone knowledgeable and passionate in the topic. A truly great training for anyone working in development or honestly with any group that needs to improve his or her financial knowledge and responsibility. If you would like details on the game or would like to duplicate it feel free to message me and we can tailor it to your culture or individual situation. Thanks for reading, take care and until next time.


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