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School Garden and Nutrition TOT

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso The Adventures of a Peace Corps Violist 2013-02-28 23:03:06 So finally after months of preparation we have a functioning school garden! We have onions, lettuce and tomatoes. We bought the supplies at the end of September, but the fencing did not get put up until January, and shortly after … Continue reading →

Men As Partners conference 2013

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso Gidget Goes to Burkina 2013-02-27 17:47:00 The Men As Partners 2013 conference took place two weeks ago, February 11 to 15 in Léo, Burkina Faso.  I believe I blogged about the conference we held last year, but I thought I’d follow-up and write a few words … Continue reading →

Open Doors

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso Notes from the Sahel 2013-02-24 15:07:01 Setting up a home is a tricky thing—it’s the fantastic alchemy of searching out random objects and settling in with them.  In my case, it’s taken a little while.  I was trying to figure out why this was, for I usually make great efforts to establish myself wherever I am.  Unfortunately, I really have no … Continue reading »

9 Months Left, But Who's Counting?

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso Dancing to Life in Burkina Faso! 2013-02-24 09:09:00 You just cant make this stuff up. The journey from Christmas at home to everyday life in village.

Speaking english in NY's JFK, French in Paris' CDG, and then Moore in Ouaga's CDG all within 24hrs really impressed upon me the importance of thinking/being global. Taking a 10hr bus ride to village over dirt roads and through military check points impressed upon me the importance of patience and good bribes. Biking miles from the bus station to my village, with all my baggage, made me wish I had stayed in America. Being chased/greeted by a horde of half-naked children as I biked into my village reminded me why I was here. Finding a snake in my courtyard, scorpions in my house, and a dead lizard in my shower made me phone a friend. Running and hiding from baton wielding young male tribal initiates (les circumcises) makes me think twice about questioning village traditions. Vaccinating 300 small children against contagious maladies made me feel like I was making a difference. And finally being too exhausted to eat or move makes me appreciate the fb app on my new phone. 

Life is good! And that was just my first week back at site after holidays in America Land. 

I've now been back in the Faso for about 2 months since Christmas (16 months total) and have about 9 months remaining of my service. Time flies by, and I would be lying if I said that I was not even a little bit worried about finishing all of my projects. These next 9 months will fly by but I think it's about time to start thinking about next moves. 

Options... In no order
1. Foreign service officer- I've registered for the test and am taking it in June. (management)

2. Grad school- Studying for the gre and looking at schools in Africa (univers of capetown, accredited year long masters programs for $5000).

3. Third year with Peace Corps?- Womp.

4. Working for an international NGO- Maybe, looking for possibilities now.

Things are getting pretty serious on that note, but more pressing/interesting are the projects I'm working on now in village.

1. Internship program for high school students. Students are performing HIV/aids, malaria, and hygiene demonstrations in village while gaining work experience at my CSPS (village hospital)

2. Tofu production. I won a small grant for women's groups in my village to help them take over the Tofu game/market.

3. Liquid soap fabrication. Exactly what it sounds like.

4. Shea butter products. Making and selling Shea butter products at my CSPS to raise money for the hospital. 

5. Youth leadership and citizenship conference. Pulling together these two conference has been time demanding, but we finally got the grants written and the projects on track. Youth leaders will be trained on how to effectively evaluate and respond to the needs or their communities. This should take place in late May in two separate cities, totally 48 youth leaders. Again, we need your donations! Please help us out! 


6. Handwashing stations. Building and maintaining handwashing stations at local elementary schools. (Dirty kids learning that soap and water make a magical combination)

Miscellaneous. Baby weighing and food distributions 4 times a week leaves me exhausted! 

Despite what you may have heard, Peace Corps is not all fun. We also like to have a bit of fun. Volunteers came together about two weeks ago to play in the International School of Ouagadougou's annual softball tournament. Although we had a blast, it's also rather safe to say that hippie PC volunteers are not the most athletic of individuals. Although we did not win a single real game, we did however succeed in the development of the egos of several teams of 12 Y/Os. 

Next weekend, about 9 volunteers will be coming out to chez moi for a one night and two day safari in the "world famous" park "w". (what, you never heard of it?) Lions, cheetahs, elephants, monkeys, zebras, and crocodiles are all on the menu...

Point of concern: guide tells us that the usual car is booked so he's getting a pick up truck and putting benches on the back for us. He assures us that elephants don't usually charge, lions mostly only come out at night, and the benches will keep us safe and comfortable. 

Either way, life is getting pretty interesting. Pictures have been/ will be posted on facebook. Check it out!

Peace Corps Burkina Faso B.A. Psychology with GIS & Religion Minors
University of Maryland, College Park
Alpha Phi Omega E-mail: williams.patrick11@gmail.com

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso The Adventures of a Peace Corps Violist 2013-02-19 10:44:31 Recently it’s been a very frustrating/challenging time in village. I was supposed to have a nutrition training of trainers to go along with the school garden…Everyone was there, except we had no French to Moore translator. I could do the … Continue reading →

Men As Partners

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso Ça va aller 2013-02-17 18:42:00
First of all, thank you to those who have expressed concern about the recent events in Mali. We are safe here in Burkina, although some volunteers in the North of the country have been offered site changes due to the increasing influence of Al Qaeda and the influx of refugees. The American embassy continues to have regular security briefings and is keeping us updated on the situation. Throughout my service in Burkina Faso, the issue that resurfaces daily as one of the biggest development challenges is the severe level of inequality between men and women. It is so deeply rooted in the culture that even talking about making changes in this area is taboo. And the longer I live and work here, the more I believe that this is not merely a peripheral issue. Rather, it is through solving this problem that we will realize greater economic prosperity, educational results, and health outcomes not just in Burkina Faso but in sub-Saharan Africa more generally. UN studies and global news headlines echo this conclusion. For example, studies have demonstrated over and over again that educated women have fewer, healthier, and better educated children. One of the most effective tools we have for lowering the rate of both infant mortality and maternal mortality is educating our girls. In terms of economic development, women represent more than 50% of a country’s population and are therefore crucial to making a country competitive. And when women do have their own income they spend, on average, 80 cents per dollar that they earn on their family (men put 30 cents towards the family on average).
But most development approaches which aim to foster gender equality ignore the key demographic essential to this effort—men.
In Burkinabe culture, men are the decision makers. The change in women’s status necessitates male involvement because men possess great influence as the heads of their households and communities. It is with this idea in mind that Peace Corps sponsors a “Men as Partners” conference where interested volunteers bring motivated male counterparts from their villages to discuss women’s empowerment.
Over the course of four days, we discussed some of the controversial issues relating to gender equality in Burkina Faso including the spectrum of violence (sexual, physical, psychological, and economic), family planning, and the division of labor in the household. Many of the topics were sensitive, such as “dry” sex as a form of sexual violence and whether or not rape was possible within a marriage. The Burkinabe homologues will bring the importance of gender equality back to their sites and educate their community members on this issue in both formal and informal settings.

To demonstrate women’s heavy domestic burden, we had a relay race with a men’s team and a women’s team. One person from each team had to run over and grab an item that represented a task that their particular gender was responsible for (a cooking pot, bucket, and spoon for the women and a beer bottle and agricultural tool for the men). The members of the women’s team also had to do the entire race with a skirt attached.
Acting out a skit for the rest of the group. Here, we acted out the scenario using aggressive communication, as opposed to passive or assertive.

Leaping Toads

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso one foot in front of the other 2013-02-13 20:32:49 Having looked ahead in the curriculum when I’d sat down to plan out my year I knew that I had a unit on introduction to graphing coming up. I’d spent much time trying to think of things that I could do that we could graph, and would be interesting for the students. I’d considered trying [...]

So you want to take the Paper Based GRE?

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso The Adventures of a Peace Corps Violist 2013-02-09 18:12:05 So after taking the GRE today in Ouagadougou, I decided to talk about it and share my experiences. These are things that you should keep in mind during the test. Testing conditions were favorable. We each had our own large … Continue reading →

Photos from Orodara

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso Shannon's Adventures in Africa 2013-02-08 15:15:00 Greetings from Orodara, long time no blogging. I can blame that on my 45 day home leave but really it's just me being lazy and uninspired to write anything. So I went through all my photos from Orodara and pulled out a couple to show off a few things. I took all these in November of last year, so right now things are a little more brown and dustier.
This first photo is a direct look out my courtyard door. You can see to houses. The one of the left is a really nice family and the one on the right is under construction, so lots of banging noises and workmen hanging around.
This photo is of the path going by my house. The yellow wall on the left is my wall. The tree over hanging is is a huge mango tree, that just starting making mangoes. 

This photo is of the small shop near my house where I get my eggs, bread, occasional soda and other random needs. 

 This is a sign right at the entrance of the hospital where I work. It shows all the different buildings that make up the hospital grounds.

This is a photo of the building where I work. The woman in blue is giving a presentation on nutrition to all the mothers sitting there with their babies.

This is another photo of the building where I work. The yellow doors lead to the room where all the mothers stay. It's sort of like a dormitory setting.

 Last but not least is a photo of some neighborhood kids climbing the papaya tree next to my house. There is one up at the top of the tree. They get up there so fast it's super entertaining to watch.

Substitute this.

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso The Adventures of a Peace Corps Violist 2013-02-07 16:34:11 If I were the Minister of Education in Burkina Faso, one of the changes I would make to the educational system would be a network of substitute teachers. As stated in earlier posts, there are really no substitute teachers here. … Continue reading →

Pollock-like Photo?

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso Euphemistically Speaking 2013-02-05 19:54:00 The new plan for delivery of the local paper went into effect on Sunday.  Initial apprehension about the limited home delivery dissolved when the change seems to have been handled well by the paper.

There has had to be a slight adjustment to the morning schedule, but the varying options for reading the electronic version on the days when a physical paper is not delivered have proven to be surprising.
It was while reading the Sunday paper that a photograph was noticed in the Starts section that is reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting.   The photo was taken in New York City at a sample sale where discounted leftover designer merchandise can be found.   See if you agree.
Here is the photo:

Here is a Jackson Pollock:

What do you think?

The End

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso  Chad & Tana Peace Out 2012-11-20 07:14:00

It's good to be back home with two middle-aged ladies who claim they know us.

Thanks for keeping up with us for two years.

Christmas, Mawlid, Birthdays, and other things like Strawberries!

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso Adventures in Africa 2013-02-04 06:44:00
A run-down of recent happenings of life in Burkina:
ChristmasOur Christmas celebration in the Sourou Valley was a lot of fun.  While last year I stayed in village, went to church Christmas morning, and ate greasy rice for lunch with my Christian neighbors, this year I left my village and went by bike to nearby Yo and Toumbila (villages of Brook and Careth, respectively).  Christmas Eve was held in Yo, where Brook had prepared chili, cornbread, and an assortment of cookies.  We stayed up rather late, drinking hot cocoa and wine, chatting, and eating an insane amount of cookies.  Then we all piled into her cozy house, found a spot on the floor, and covered ourselves in blankets (it’s cold out!!  It drops down into the 70’s, you know!).  The next morning, while wearing sweaters and wrapped in blankets, we had hot cocoa and more cookies for breakfast, along with bouille (porridge).  Soon after, Molly and I biked the 30 minutes back to our village to pick up some supplies for Christmas dinner that day in Toumbila (Careth’s village).  Christmas Day was the marché, and we not only wanted some yummy things for dinner with the gang, but also for ourselves, so we had something of substance (i.e. veggies as opposed to simply rice or just boiled corn paste every meal) to eat until the next marché, in five days.  By noon we finished our grocery shopping….and our Christmas gift shopping.  Yup, procrastinating happens in Africa, too, and Molly and I had forgotten to bring white elephant gifts to the party.  Thank goodness for the marché, where you can find ANYTHING your heart desires.  Mesh shirts with bedazzles and OBAMA GIRL written on them?  Yes.  Huge, sparkly dollar sign earrings.  You bet.  Various cheap little plastic trinkets from China that will break within a day or two?  Guaranteed.  The typical African marché has no shortage of ideal Christmas gifts.   When we got to Toumbila (just a little past Yo), we helped with preparations for our Christmas dinner.  Chicken noodle soup, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, cranberries, and bread were on the menu, along with wine and other cocktails.  After eating way too much, we had our white elephant gift exchange and ate some candy canes and peanut brittle.  I ended up receiving the perfect gift – crocheted fingerless gloves made by Careth!  Had anyone else received them, the gloves would’ve been thrown in a box somewhere and forgotten about.  Who wears fingerless gloves…especially in Burkina Faso?  But I, on the other hand, can make perfect use from them…back in the US, anyways.  Like when I’m playing my clarinet or trumpet outside and it’s cold.  So for me, the perfect gift.  Thanks, Careth!   Soon after opening presents, I began to feel sick.  Just like in America, it is that time of year when everyone is sick; Burkina is no exception.  It might have been from eating too much, and maybe it was just a bug I had caught.  But either way I wasn’t feeling so great.  I had a fever and headache and muscle aches.  No throwing up, thank goodness, but not in any mood to socialize with everyone else, either.  So I laid myself down inside the house and spent several hours napping, shivering, sweating, etc.  My parents called me to wish me a “Merry Christmas” and rub it into my face that they were eating homemade ice cream.  It didn’t help my attitude that everyone outside was drinking cocktails, laughing, eating delicious rum cake and spice cake made by Careth, and telling stories.  Fortunately, the next morning I felt much better, and everyone had even set aside a little bit of cake for me.  The rum cake was excellent topped with maple butter that Elijah’s parents in Vermont had sent.  For breakfast, we had crepes topped with homemade jams (raspberry-pear-plum; strawberry-rhubarb; mango) courtesy of Careth’s family, along with chai tea.  Yup, when volunteers get together, we make sure to eat well.  If there’s anything we focus on in Burkina, it’s food.  And eating as much of it as possible (provided it’s good and flavorful, unlike typical village food).  We spent the afternoon lounging around, imagining we were at a spa and putting facial masks on our sun-damaged faces as well as soaking our feet.  So refreshing.  And finally, once the heat of the day had passed, we headed home!  Christmas = success.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s DayNew Year’s proved to be quite the celebration(s).  Everyone was celebrating, of course.  And so that meant that I was invited to a lot of parties.  Starting around 5pm, I left my house all prettied-up in a cute white and purple sleeveless dress made of traditional fabric, and I made my way to different neighbors’ courtyards, along with Molly and Careth, who were along for the adventure of greeting my neighbors. We were served popcorn and salad and goat head soup and oily over-cooked macaroni and Cokes and candy and more.  At Molly’s friend Omar’s house, we were served a tasty salad drenched in sweetened condensed milk, and I have decided that it is the best thing ever.  When I get back to the U.S., my salads will be drizzled with the thick, sugary milk.  Best salad dressing ever!  Omar also presented us with rabbits – cute, cuddly rabbits that Molly named “Mr. Fluffer Butter I and II”.  But these bunnies weren’t for hugging….they were for eating.  And Careth was horrified and Molly distressed.  I just laughed…but was also kinda sad.  It was interesting that Omar wanted us to the see the rabbits live, before they were on our plates. “I want that you look into their eyes,” he said.  Well, with the bunny situation and the fact that it was only 9pm and we still had several other houses to get to before midnight, we headed out and said we’d come back later to eat the rabbits. (We never did make it back for rabbit, but can only assume that Mr. Fluffer Butter I and II are in a much better place now).  The finale of the night was at the major’s house.  All the functionaires (teachers, nurses, vet, etc.) who had stayed in village rather than leaving for the big city were there, dressed in their best.  Music was playing.  People were dancing.  And when we arrived, just before midnight, we feasted: garlic grilled chicken; salad with parsley dressing; green beans; bread; beer.  Considering I had been eating all evening already, I was ready to burst after stuffing my face with all the goodies provided at the functionaire party.  Then the dancing really started.  We danced for several hours and by 3am, we were ready to call it a night.  We went back to my house and passed out til the morning.  And then the parties started all over again.  By 11am, we were once again out and about, wishing people a happy new year and eating their food.  By the time we were done celebrating for those two days, I’m pretty sure Careth, Molly, and I had consumed at least 6 different salads each!  But you gotta eat it while you can – in a month or so, salad season will be over and there will be nothing to eat except onions, mangoes, leaves, and boiled flour paste.  Yummy.

Band from MaliOne night there was a band from Mali performing in our village at “La Flore,” the awesome bar-dancing restaurant right next to Molly’s house.  With the recent war and struggles in Mali, all music has been banned.  And that is extremely sad.  I can’t imagine a war against music.  But it’s happening.  According to http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/23/mali-militants-declare-war-music : “Islamist militants are banning music in northern Mali, a chilling proposition for a country where music is akin to mineral wealth.”  So, musicians in Mali can’t perform safely in their own country, and so many have left, going to nearby Ghana, Cote d’ivore, and chez moi – Burkina Faso!  The band was fun to watch, with a traditional drummer, electric guitar, bass, trapset, kora (kinda like a local guitar), keyboard, 4 female singers, and 2 male dancers.  Molly and I even got up on the “stage” to dance with some of our friends for a song!
Muslim FuneralSo an old lady died.  I don’t know who she was and why/if she was important.  But she did die, and so a funeral was held, and it was a pretty big deal.  Molly’s homologue Abdoulaye invited all of us to the funeral, and so by 8am, Molly, Jason, Sierra, and I were biking over to Abu’s house, ready to experience a Muslim funeral.  Basically, it was a really laid-back even, where we just sat around and shook hands with people we didn’t know.  Omar, Molly’s friend with the rabbits, is Abu’s nephew and so we sat near him and he made us tea.  Around noon we were served some oily rice with a piece of goat meat.  Naturally, they gave us the “best” parts of the meat, so instead of an actual piece of meat, we received a random assortment of liver, intestine, heart, etc.  Mhhmm mhmm.  Speeches were made in the afternoon, and then there was dancing.  A “professional” group was performing for the funeral, and that was really fun to watch, despite the clouds of dust that were kicked up, making it hard to see or breathe.

Getting My Hair Braided
Got my hair braided! .....yes it hurt horribly, and yes it took 4 hours, and yes the hair artist was breastfeeding her toddler while doing my hair (you can see her boob and child's hand/head behind me in photos), and yes i lost a LOT of hair in the process and will lose even more when it gets taken out in a few days (or weeks?), and yes this is all my REAL hair (not a weave or mesh, thank you), and yes I have had my hair like this for 2 weeks now and thus not washed my hair for almost 3 weeks.... love africa....I guess I’m becoming a real African now.  My hair’s all fixed up, just like everyone else.  And whenever anyone sees me, they comment, “Ah! Ta tete est jolie!”  (your head is pretty!)  I decided to get my hair braided for my birthday, and also because I haven’t had my hair braided “African style” in over a year.  So I figured it was time.  It’s been nice for the most part: it stays out of my eyes/face and  doesn’t need to be brushed or even washed, really…I just get it wet with water.
Beth’s Birthday (January 23)My actual birthday, the 23rd of January, was a Wednesday, and thus, I had school.  Four hours of teaching math to 240 unruly, smelly teenagers.  Not the best way to start a day of celebration.  Due to Molly not being able to get back from Ouaga – she had some of the ingredients needed to make my birthday food -- my celebration was postponed until Friday.  I spent my birthday relaxing a bit, reading a book, working in my garden, and then meeting my homologue at “Grilled Fish Place” (or more accurately, “Le Diamond” or also “Chez Zakaria”) for grilled fish and beer around 5pm.  We had some good conversation, and then I went back to his house where he proceeded to make me pasta while I took a look at his newly acquired computer.  Which, by the way, I’m fairly certain he bought only because I’ve been talking about the importance of education and technology skills for having a promising future in Burkina, and because I know how to “manipulate” a computer and can thus help/teach him during the next 6 months, and because he now has electricity in his house and so using a computer on a regular basis is more feasible.   His making me supper was a nice gesture.  I wasn’t hungry after all that fish and beer, but in Burkina, eating food is not considered a “meal” unless you’ve got a big plate of carbs (rice, to, pasta, yams).  Also, I had kinda been harassing him at Grilled Fish Place about women’s rights and gender equality.  This was especially interesting/applicable to him, since his wife and new baby haven’t been around in over a month.  Right before Christmas, Beatrice and baby went to Beatrice’s village to visit.  And in Burkina, visits often mean a week or two, as travel takes a long time and is spendy.  So, this whole time, my homologue had been living by himself, much like a bachelor again, having to cook for himself and do his own laundry and get water.  He was complaining about how hard it was to manage all the work his wife normally did, in addition to teaching, and I countered that with the fact that women in Burkina who are educated and work as teachers or nurses still have to do all the housework and childcare, even though they also work outside the home…   and so we got into a debate about gender roles and equality, blah blah blah.  Anyways, perhaps to prove that he’s not a complete sexist jerk, he made me spaghetti with a pretty decent tomato-veggie sauce (until he threw in the dried fish).  It was entertaining watching him try to cut up garlic and then ask me if it’d work to throw some green beans into the tomato sauce…   Overall, the meal was pretty good.  Not amazing by any means, but certainly not bad.  Besides, I’ve gotten used to the taste of fish in all my food by now.  So it doesn’t really bother me anymore…

Mawlid (Mohamed’s birthday)Mawlid is the fete (celebration) when Muslims celebrate the “Birth of the Prophet” Muhammad, which occurs in the third month of the Islamic calendar.  This year, it was observed on January 24, the day after my birthday.  I celebrated that evening with my neighbors (the courtyard of women, i.e. Batoma and her daughter Barkissa) and we had salad, macaroni, fish, and even a little chunk of beef for each of us!   Also mangos from Bobo, brought by friend who was visiting Lanfiera.  After eating it was time to pray (Muslims pray 5 times each day, with the last time being around 8pm), and all the women laughed and said I needed to pray with them.  I washed my face, hands, and feet, just like they do before they pray, wrapped a scarf over my head and covering my shoulders, and then mimicked my neighbors actions and movements, from the bending down to putting our arms in the air.  Afterwards, we made our way to the mosque, where everyone was running around.  Literally.  For the celebration ,everyone circles the mosque 7 times, either on foot or by riding a bicycle, moto, donkey, or cow.  It’s quite chaotic and dangerous.  I’m not sure how no one got hurt.  I was scared for my life a few times when motos spun out of control and skidded towards me.  I also ran around the mosque (on foot) 7 times with my neighbor, although I almost got trampled by a donkey!  Following the running, we returned to the courtyard to finish eating --- there was salad and bread to eat yet --- and around midnight we headed towards the mosque again.  Everyone found a place to sit on the ground and listen to the prayer leader read stories from the Koran.  Some people were making coffee or tea, and others passed out candy or peanuts.  This happened well into the night, until at least 3 or 4am.  But I was tired and so just after 1am, I called it quits and went back to my house to sleep.

Beth’s Birthday Celebration (January 25)My birthday party celebration was held on Friday, the 25th, just after Mawlid! We killed a mouton (sheep), made chili (American style...kinda), had a spontaneous dance circle, and all the women dressed in their best clothes and attempted to sing me "Happy Birthday" in French despite most of them not really being able to speak French. Molly and her homologue's friend from Ghana both were there to help me, thankfully, since 15 women and all their numerous children showed up despite me having only invited (and planned for) my six neighbors... oh well.

Football!!!!  (i.e. soccer)It’s soccer time!  The African Cup of Nations is in full swing, and there’s not a soul in Burkina who’d dare to miss a game against their Burkina Stallions.  People crowd 20-30 deep around a tiny 8 inch TV to watch these exciting games.  And there’s good news!  While Burkina usually tends to fail at most everything (sorry Burkina, but it’s true!  You ‘re a very poor country with not a whole lot going to your name…), they’ve been staying alive in these games, having tied twice and one once.  I watched their third game against Zambia in full with a bunch of male functionaires at the hospital, and they were so intense, screaming at the TV, throwing their arms up in distress when a Stallion missed an easy kick, etc.  When Burkina ended up tying with Zambia (I repeat: Burkina tied.  They did not win.  Nor did they lose.  But still, they didn’t win either.), everyone went wild!  Just like in America, when people are totally dedicated to their sports teams.  Also, I love watching the soccer matches, because the commercials are just as ridiculous as the Super Bowl’s ads.  Tonight, February 4, 2013, as I wrote this, it’s a big night for sports: the U.S. Super Bowl is happening AND Burkina is playing its 4th game of the cup against Togo.  In fact, Burkina has just WON, as in seconds ago, in overtime, beating Togo 1-0 and securing a place in the Cup’s semifinals!!!!  WHOO Burkina!  For once you’re not losing at everything!  I hear tons of cheering from neighboring houses, motos burning their tires, cars honking their horns….it’s gonna be a party for Burkina tonight!

Strawberry Season!Those who are so fortunate to be in Ouaga during the months of February and March can find strawberries.  They are delicious and big and red and juicy….and expensive.  But that doesn’t stop any of us from buying a kilo of strawberries anytime we see one of the ladies walking around outside with a big metal bowl on her head filled to the top with red berries.  A kilo of strawberries costs about $4, which I guess is pretty comparable to what you buy them for in America.  But for here, that’s expensive, considering that for the same amount of money I could buy 6 plates of rice and sauce!  I think I have paid for 4 kilos since I’ve been in Ouaga the last 3 days.  But they’re so good and such a nice refreshing treat.  I typically eat them plain, but some of my berries were mixed into vanilla yogurt, and a bowlful was cut up and sprinkled with sugar.  Before I catch my bus back to village in the morning, I’ll eat a nice breakfast…of strawberries, of course!

VRF that!

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso Adventures in Africa 2013-02-03 22:11:00
Every 3 months, volunteers must send in a computer report known as the VRF, or Volunteer Reporting File. In this computer file, we record all the activities we have done during the previous 3 months, how many people participated, how much it cost, what goals/objectives were achieved, how progress/success was observed and measured, paragraph responses to a series of prompting questions (such as "What are your current challenges?"), and any other comments, suggestions, complaints, or concerns we might have.
Most volunteers hate the VRF.  While it's not overly difficult or time-consuming (if one's focused, it can be thoroughly completed within 3-5 hours, depending on how busy -- or not -- the volunteer is at site), the VRF is still a pain in the butt.  There are a lot of buttons to click on, various squares where numerical data needs to be entered (i.e. how many females participated ages 15-24? males? under 15? how many succeeded? etc.), and the computer program itself may be prejudice towards you and for whatever reason not cooperate with your computer causing the computer to randomly freeze or not save all the data you worked so hard to enter.  Thus, most of us really despise the VRF and put it off for as long as possible, though we could easily be working on it on a regular basis, i.e. typing the data for a project immediately after the project is finished, rather than waiting until the day before the VRF is due and trying to remember everything that happened the last months and on what dates and how many people were there….
Well, for once I have not procrastinated too horribly and my VRF is finished – it’s not even due for another couple of weeks!   I won’t say that it’s the best VRF I’ve ever written, nor is it quality reading material, but I did respond to the open-ended questions with a lot of random topics that you might be interested in.  So below, as follows, is a portion of my VRF responses for the months of October 2012 – January 2013.

Community Integration:  How integrated do you feel in your community?  How is your language?  What have you learned about cross-cultural integration?
My level of community integration continues to improve, as always.  But at the same, I think it has decreased in some aspects due to the fact that because I am so comfortable with my village and they so used to seeing me, I’m not always invited to as many things because they know I’m busy with school or have already seen a wedding.  Also, I’ve noticed more recently that it’s a little more difficult to strike up conversations and keep them going for an extended amount of time.  This is because I don’t have nearly as many things to talk/ask about, compared to last year when everything was new and foreign. I have seen many things throughout the past year and often already understand what is happening or what certain things mean when I now encounter them, and so I don’t have to ask. 
Also, new integration efforts with those I don’t know or who have newly arrived have been minimal, and I really need to try and address this.  It’s very weird when I’m the one explaining something to a Burkinabe (i.e. where the marché is or if the boutique sells a certain thing…)  I feel proud when I know things and can help Burkinabe, but it usually stops at that.  Sometimes I forget to tell people my name and what I do, because I’ve gotten used to pretty much everyone in village knowing who I am.

Challenges:  What challenges have you faced in your projects or in other areas of your Peace Corps experience?
While the beginning of the school year started off wonderfully (I had just gotten back from a 2-week vacation to Italy!), it quickly was full of challenges.  From struggles to getting a wall around my house to not have a director at the CEG, I’ve encountered plenty of problems and challenging situations the previous three months.  One of the most irritating challenges has been dealing with a lack of communication at the CEG.  Due to the uncertain situation with the director, teachers covering for the director, the secretary hardly present since she had just had a baby, and then the elections, there has definitely been a lack of communication this school year compared to last year, despite my language skills being a THOUSAND times better than they were at this time last year.  No one tells me anything unless I ask about it (but if I don’t “know” about it, I can’t ask…) and even if I do get some information, it generally is brief and unhelpful.  Many of the responses I’ve received have been “Je ne sais pas,” or “well, you should ask the director, but since there’s no director right now, you’ll just have to wait.”  I hate showing up to school only to find there’s randomly no school (my homologue’s response: oh, I forgot to tell you not to go to school today.), or instead of normal classes a presentation or speaker is being held.  I’m experiencing a similar situation with the mayor right now – he hasn’t been present for almost 2 months, and everyone insists there’s no one else who I can talk to in the office for my library project, and really, they’re correct, because I need official approval from the mayor and no one else can do that…  It’s extremely frustrating.
An additional challenge has been working with my groups/schools on our projects and grants.  For whatever reason, everyone’s train of thought seems to have turned and is now focused on getting as much money from me as possible for the least amount of work, even though they KNOW that for most the things we’re working on, there is NO money involved (for them, i.e. per diem or paid hours for volunteering).  I was/am interested in helping my CEG get a new latrine, to be used primarily by teachers and visitors, as well as the older 3eme students, but what started as a very organized project with everyone doing his task for researching latrines and talking to various organizations to gain verbal agreement for a community contribution has turned into a project that I am not going to support and we will probably not do unless something changes very quickly.  I gave deadlines, they weren’t met.  Or things were given to be half-finished at the very last minute.  I asked for a budget and list of specific materials/prices/quantities, I was handed a list that was questionable (literally, it was full of question marks: bags of cement 10 or 20?) and didn’t have a single price.  They told me that I could do that when I went to Ouaga, even though I told them I would not be researching any prices myself (or at least by myself…).  And then all the teachers refused to consider a community contribution coming from them in the form of everyone chipping in 2 or 3 mille, since it was their CEG and they shouldn’t have to pay for a latrine for themselves to use – the actual community should provide that for them.  So my response to all of this has been, “Well then, no latrine for you.”
And finally, my main challenges that have just arrived (after having already typed up the above information earlier this month) are the problems I recently discussed in person with both Diallo and Firmin.  My 5eme class has been quite awful since we returned to school in January, possibly due to the fact that 4 of the students were accused of stealing my sitemate's camera, and thus taken to the gendarmerie.  Because of the class's nonstop disrespectfulness, I talked to the other teachers, and this resulted in 2 male teachers entering the classroom (I had left) and beating numerous students with a tree branch for 20-30 minutes.  I fear this may ruin my rapport and classroom environment, instead of making it better.  But as I left for Ouaga right after this happened, I'm not really sure how my students are reacting or what our next class will be like.
Additionally, minor annoyances and comments such as "The APE can speak for you, since you work for the CEG and you and the APE are the same" (referring to the APE giving permisson for someone to take my bricks from my courtyard without ever having talked to me...) and "We will not celebrate your birthday with you if villageoises are there too" have been really discouraging.  At the moment, with the classroom problems, lack of communication, rude comments, etc. I am not very happy at my site and not really sure how to balance all these issues without offending people, but at the same, feel that I can't just "laisser" everything because these are fairly big issues, and if I just ignore them, they will either reoccur and/or my homologue and fellow teachers won't know how much their actions and words bother me.

Lessons Learned:  Describe lessons learned about your projects, community, or yourself.
*Don’t ever leave things unattended.  Always keep your eye on things.  As happens every now and then, a few of my things have gone missing.  Nothing too serious; just some pens, a bucket, clothespins hanging on my clothesline, my little solar-plaque for recharging my batteries, my outdoor thermometer (inside my latrine).  I’m reminded once again that I can’t trust anyone with anything, ever.  Even if I’m just running over to my neighbor’s house for a few minutes, I can’t leave anything outside – sadly, more than likely, it will disappear.  Even if the gate to my newly built wall is closed.  Even if my dog is “keeping guard.”   Even if whatever it is happens to be small and NAILED TO THE INSIDE OF MY LATRINE and essentially worthless to Burkinabe, someone will find it and take it.  It’s so sad.  But that’s the way it is.  Recently, my sitemate Molly had several problems with theft, including my own students stealing her camera when they stopped by after classes to “saluer” us and admire the murals we’re painting.  Even though it wasn’t my camera, they were my students and I was present during the situation, and thus, it was just as much my problem as it was Molly’s.  We never did get the camera back.  Also, even during our highly successful VSA camps, we had students who tried to steal things – crayons, glue, scissors, books, my soccerball, and our AIDS activity/game cards.  Why they wanted a cartoon picture of a pregnant women or a dirty needle, I will never understand, but there was a student who tried to take them…  When we collected all the cards at the end of the activity and saw that we were missing FIVE, we immediately told the students, but no one admitted to having taken the cards.  We (with the kids) searched everywhere and the students even organized themselves into a sort of body/bag search where everyone got patted down.  But still no cards.  When we threatened to tell their teacher, the kids got really nervous and began searching outside under rocks and in bushes.  Finally three cards were found hidden a black sachet in a bush behind the building we were holding the camp in.  Indeed, some students had plotted to steal our AIDS cards, with one boy having asked us for permission to go to the bathroom, but really having just hidden the cards so he could take them home later.  The moral of all these stories: watch everything, at every moment, always. 
*Be specific.  Make expectations clear.  Always be over-specific (is that even possible?) and clarify things more times than necessary.  There’s a good chance Burkinabe still won’t understand or will miss a major point of something you said.  A good example of this is when I asked my homologue to use his internet key to send an important email message.  It seemed like he understood me and told me after class we could get it at his house.  He then immediately picked up his phone, called someone, said a few words  in local language, then turned back to me and told me that for 30 mille so-and-so would drop of an internet key for me.  I was really confused – there was no way I was going to pay more than a couple hundred CFA to have 5 minutes of internet, certainly not 30 mille – and my confusion made my homologue confused.  Finally I realized he assumed I wanted to BUY a key.  I’m not sure how/why he thought that, considering I’ve said numerous times that I will NOT be buying a key, and also since I specifically asked him to use HIS key.  But had I repeated my demand more than once and over-explained what I was going to do and why, perhaps he would’ve understand and we could have avoided this whole mess and not had to call back whoever it was to cancel the key my homologue told him I was going to buy.  This rule of making expectations clear especially has been learned in school (or perhaps it’s just a strong reminder, as I learned about how important it is to be specific last school year…).  At the beginning of the this year, my students weren’t used to me, but I forgot this, and just started off the year assuming they could follow my instructions, my manner of speaking, etc. based off of how my students responded to me at the end of last school year.  But they couldn’t since they were all new students (I don’t have any of the same students as last year), and thus I had to “re-learn” how to be extremely specific with everything we do in class.
*People are counting on your presence.  Don’t overbook yourself.  There have been many holidays, weddings, funerals, and other gatherings throughout the last 3 months.  I’m invited to almost everything, despite not always knowing who I’m talking to or who’s getting married or what we’re celebrating…  But sometimes things overlap, or whatever I’m currently doing takes longer than anticipated and I am late or can’t make it another thing or a visit to someone’s house for supper when I said I would…  Even though things are generally very lackadaisical here with events starting an hour or two late, people always arriving at least 45 minutes after you agree to meet, and people canceling or forgetting about events altogether, apparently those “cultural rules” don’t apply to me.  I especially learned this on New Year’s Eve.  I was invited to so many neighbors’ homes and other friends’ celebrations that I ran into problems spending time with everyone.  Some people were just fine with me stopping by for 15 minutes, drinking tea with them, and not joining them for their actual feast and dancing around midnight, but many people were very hurt and disappointed when I told them that I had to continue or that I would try to come back later after I greeted everyone else that was on my list that night.  In fact, there were 3 families in particular that expected me to join them around midnight, but obviously I could only be in one place, and had told them that at midnight I would be with my friends at the CSPS.  They all saved food for me and commented to me the next morning about how I didn’t celebrate with them, even though I had stopped by their house for a significant amount of time earlier in the evening.  One even said that he had bought/killed a rabbit for our meal (i.e. for me), and that now I should give him some money for the rabbit and other food (a bottle of coke, a salad, rice) that was made for me but that I didn’t eat since I didn’t come back at midnight.  I had told everyone if I would join them at midnight or not, but of course no one actually listens or believes me, and so they were hurt.  It probably would’ve been better had I chosen one or two parties to go to, and spent the entire night there, and not passed by other friends’ celebrations at all.  Also complicating matters is that when Burkinabe say something will be ready in 5 minutes, they really mean an hour.  I should have known this, and so sometimes when people offered to make me tea or asked if I would “at least eat some salad before I continued to the next courtyard – it will only take 5 minutes), I should have politely refused and continued on my way.  Instead I would agree and feel obligated to make them happy by eating some of their salad or waiting for the tea, but then this resulted in me spending an hour with someone I had just stopped in to say hi to, and then arriving 2 hours late for someone that I had given a specific time to.  I actually felt very stressed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day due to this “overbooking” and arriving “late” (yes, Burkinabe notice when I’m not exactly on time, even though they are never even close to being on time…), and overall, quite bad about the number of people who were let down when I didn’t pass the entire evening or afternoon with them…even though they knew of my plans.  

Planned Activities:  What activities do you plan to undertake in the next few months?
These next 3 months will probably be some of my busiest ever, although I’m sure the months preceding my COS will prove to be even more chaotic and stressful and busy….  Here’s what my plans are for the next 3 months:
1. Teaching Math to 5e and 6e2. Camp VSA (day camps with elementary students focusing on different topics, such as environment and health)3. Planning Camp HEERE (food coordinator; workbook/manual development, community/school liaison)4. Planning Camp GLOW (Dedougou)5. Music Club; Girls Volleyball Club at CEG6. Reading Clubs (tutoring) at primary school with “Bouba et Zaza” books7. Paint Library with sitemate Molly Morrison; work on developing a community library association8. Buy books and supplies for my grant project “Literacy Through the Arts” – organize with teachers and school directors9. Tree pepineres

Peace Corps Goal 2: Sharing about America.  If you have done something in your community to help promote a better understanding of Americans or your own heritage, or ideals you care about, please share your story below.
Almost every day, something about America is passed on from me to students, friends, and neighbors.  More recently, with the holidays that have passed (Thanksgiving and Christmas), this includes a variety of food items: cakes with frosting, mashed potatoes and gravy, Chinese stir-fry, chili, veggie burgers, peanut brittle, and more.  I love baking and cooking, and trying out my favorite recipes from home and seeing if they’ll work here, or what I need to modify/substitute to make something similar or comparable to something I eat with my family back in America to celebrate the holidays.  For my birthday (January 23) I had a “fete” that consisted of American food – or as close to “American” as I could manage in village.  With the help of my neighbors, I made a huge marmite full of chili, 8 loaves of corn bread, 100 pieces of peanut brittle, a bowl of caramel popcorn, salad with dill dressing and croutons, a cold pasta salad, and peanut-honey glazed eggplant.  We drank pink lemonade, enjoyed a great meal with monster cookies for dessert, and then I performed a piece of music on my clarinet.  It was the first time many of them had seen me with my clarinet.
An additional sharing about America experience includes a visit from Anders, a “vrai” American (as opposed to me, who hasn’t been in America in almost 2 years…), who was visiting Molly during October.  He and Molly spent a morning in my classrooms, first observing their math lessons, and then answering questions about himself that my students had pre-written in preparation for his visit.  The students had to write their questions in both French and English, Anders responded in English, and Molly and I translated his responses into French so the students could better understand.  Anders’s classroom visit also included a small lesson on the USA.  I brought maps of the world and America, we showed pictures of our respective states (Minnesota and Colorado), talked about general geography and distance between countries in the world, etc.  At the end of each classroom visit, we learned a song in English and then went outside to play Tug-o-war.
Also, with the help of my sitemate (Molly), I organized a series of “American Holiday” afternoons with my CEG students.  One Saturday, around October 31, we learned about Halloween, carved Jack-o-lanterns out of watermelons, tasted candy corn (sent from America), bobbed for oranges, pinned the hat on the witch, had a witch’s broom relay race, and performed a skit about trick-or-treating and eating too much candy which led into a nutrition sensibilisation. In mid-December, we had a Thanksgiving and Christmas party.  We made hand-turkeys, talked about how Americans start preparing for Christmas as soon as Thanksgiving is over, drew typical holiday images on the chalkboard that the students copied into their notebooks (i.e. snowman, Santa Claus, candy cane, etc.) and explained the meaning of each one.  We also played American Christmas music in the background and then made Christmas cards with a message written inside in English.  Molly and I then sent these cards to our family and friends back home, along with a letter written from us and an explanation of who had made the cards and why. 

 Success Story:  Provide a 2-3 paragraph story about the difference you and your counterparts have made in your community.  Describe the situation, community background, process and implementation of the project, and what results were achieved.
One of favorite recent successes was putting on Camp VSA (vie, santé, et avenir – “life, health, and future”) with my sitemate, Molly Morrison.  We held two consecutive day camps, each camp inviting 22 CM2 students: 11 boys and 11 girls each camp, i.e. 44 students in total during the 2 camps.  Both Camp VSA were three days long (Thursday-Saturday) from 7am to 3pm, and featured the same program/topics and schedule of activities.  The first camp, December 20-22, was for CM2 students from Lanfiera primary school, while the second camp, December 27-29, was for Guiedougou primary school.
A typical day started with everyone arriving by 7am, students helping “set-up” the camp by sweeping, laying out the nattes, and taking out the hand-washing station and soap.  We then ate a simple and quick breakfast (bread with a cup of hot milk-tea), and then did warm-ups, which consisted of singing, dancing, stretching, and some running and jumping-jacks.  By 8:30 am, we started our first lesson, 9:30 was art/craft time, 10:30 was lesson #2, and at 11:30 we had a few minutes of free-time and personal reading time until lunch at noon.  Following lunch there was recreation time, during which we set out some balls and jump ropes; additionally, each day there was one group who had to clean up after lunch (i.e. wash dishes and refill water).  Next we had 30 minutes of group story time, then did some more warm-ups and singing before our third and final lesson of the day.  At 2:30 pm, the small groups got together to prepare a skit on a topic we had talked about that day, and then at 2:45 they presented their skits.  We closed the day at 3:00 pm by singing a song or two, cleaned up the camp site (put things back in the house, swept, locked the door, etc.), and then said good-bye!  
Overall, the camp was a great success in each and every way.  Each one of our lessons (hand washing, dental care, environment, nutrition, gender equality, HIV/AIDS, malaria, future planning) went extremely well, especially since we were prepared and had an activity or hands-on prop/demonstration that the students could use to better participate.  Furthermore -- an additional aspect of this camp that I am very satisfied with -- there was very little cost involved, with the majority of expenses falling for the food that we provided.  Starting the day off by eating and drinking something was a nice touch, as well as eating lunch together, but had we opted not to feed the kids (i.e. the children return home to eat from 1pm until 3pm, and then return for camp again from 3pm to 5pm), I think that would have worked just as well, and then camp would have cost next to nothing!  Our camp model just goes to show that impactful activities in a “camp” setting can occur without the need for lots of money, staying somewhere overnight, paying transportation costs, etc.  In fact, camp was so successful (and “easy” – in certain ways, of course!), that we plan to do another set of camps in the next few months, both in our villages, as well as nearby villages with other volunteers who have asked us to help them put on a day camp.
One of my most memorable moments of Camp VSA was when we did the gender session.  It was a rather simple and basic introduction to sex versus gender, and we started by splitting the boys and girls up and having them brainstorm a list of roles/work/activities for boys and then for girls.  After 15 minutes, we rejoined and each group presented their two lists.  We then had a small discussion on whether each group had written good lists, if the girls wrote something “untrue” about boys, etc. and proceeded to explain the difference between sex and gender, which led into our activity.  We had a variety of professions and hobbies written on index cards (such as doctor, president of Burkina Faso, breastfeed a baby, write a book, cook a meal, play a drum) and the students had to decide whether their specific card was for men or women, placing the card under the appropriate heading.  For the most part, everyone agreed with every card placement as it was happening (i.e. doctor is for men, cooking is for women), but every now and then someone would disagree with a card (professor is for men – “No!  Women are professors, too!”), but our rule was that the person placing the card put it where he/she wanted, and everyone else had to wait until the end to discuss if they wanted to change a card.  By the time we finished placing all the cards, there were definitely some students who were riled up about the “incorrect” placement of cards, and this led perfectly into our actual discussion on gender equality.  “Are there women teachers?” “YES! --  NO!” “Think of your school, are there men who teach?  Yes, there are.  And are there women?  Yes.  So where should we place this card?  Under men or women? …. Oh, so perhaps ‘both’ is the best answer.  We need to create a new heading – things both men and women can do.” 
The majority of cards fell into the “both” category without too much of a problem or too many students disagreeing, although we still had to “prove” each card for them so that they completely understood and also to help those students who didn’t agree: “Actually, girls CAN play a drum.  We saw that this morning when Barkissa led us in our songs.  So it’s not just boys who play drums.”   Interestingly, the girls got very upset when we told them that cooking was for boys also.  The boys didn’t want to cook and insisted it was solely a task for females, and the girls weren’t interested in “letting” boys prepare food, either…but at the end, they did agree that both males and females could make something to eat, if they want/need to. 
The most debatable card was “president of Burkina Faso.” The boys were literally distraught and in shock when we told them that in other countries in the world (in Africa, in fact!) there exist women presidents, and one boy even cried.  The girls felt empowered, but the boys wouldn’t have it and kept shouting, “No, girls can’t.  Never.  Burkina will NEVER have a female president.  It’s not possible.  We won’t vote for her.”  Kids were shouting, almost ready to hit each other if someone disagreed, and they got so involved and emotional during the discussion that things almost got too intense and a little out of hand.  We had to implement a talking stick: only the person holding our special stick got to talk, and everyone else had to remain silent, raise their hands if they wanted to say something, and, if necessary, cover their mouth with their other hand to prevent from blurting/yelling something out.  We also had to have the boys on one side of the room, remaining on their natte at all times, and the girls on their natte located on the other side of the room.  They were just so passionate about the topic, that they started physically expressing their ideas or discontent when they disagreed.  But, in the end, they finally agreed that anyone could become president someday, even of Burkina Faso.
This session was very influential, for both me and the students.  I have no doubt that this lesson provoked some thoughts and ideas and questions that they had never ever thought of or even heard of before!  Their minds were shocked – their worlds were blown.  Overall the girls were very excited, and yet interestingly, at the end, a few of the boys seemed a little sad and discouraged about what their world was coming to, almost to the point of tears (Women who can be president?  Men who do laundry?  Craziness!  We men can’t let that happen!).  I was extremely surprised at all of the emotions this session brought to the surface, and how EVERY student got involved and wanted to have a say or share an opinion on what was happening.  They rarely get the chance to be so involved in their normal classrooms, especially on such a “taboo” topic, so it was nice to see them open up so quickly during this session and share their true views.  The gender session, along with the rest of Camp VSA, was definitely a success; quite possibly even a highlight of my entire Peace Corps service thus far!

Community Library Project

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso Adventures in Africa 2013-02-02 19:56:00 The following is an email that I just sent out today to many family and friends to encourage donations for a library in my community.  But for those of you checking this out because of my facebook prompt, or for anyone else reading my blog, it applies to you as well!  Please consider making a donation and help my village kids have books to read!  Thanks so much!

Dear family and friends,
Bonjour from Burkina Faso!  I hope this letter finds you well and enjoying the winter weather.  There are certainly days here in sunny, dusty sub-Saharan Africa that find me wishing I was back in Minnesota, standing outside in sub-zero temperatures surrounded by blowing snow flurries… but for now I guess the “chilly” nights of the current cold season – with night temperatures dropping to a frigid 65 degrees – will have to suffice. 
This letter is actually comprised of two separate letters: the one I’m writing right now, January 30, and the one that was written the first week of January but was never sent to you.  My original letter was meant to encourage donations for my project, “Literacy Through the Arts.”  But upon opening my email the day I planned to send you the letter, I was surprised with some very wonderful information!  An outside organization called “Friends of Burkina Faso” saw my project and wanted to help --- by FULLY FUNDING my project!!! *shouts of joy!*  And thus, instead of sending you a letter to request donations, I immediately got to work contacting the organization and Peace Corps Washington to confirm that this was allowed and to start the procedure for receiving my grant money. 
Many of you probably know about my project, whether from receiving a Christmas card from me, various emails, facebook status, or even a letter or email from Peace Corps Washington.  And some of you have already made contributions – thank you very much for supporting me and my African village!  But, because “Friends of Burkina Faso” will be fully funding the rest of my project, NO further contributions are needed for “Literacy Through the Arts.”  I repeat: please do NOT donate to my project.  In fact, within the next week, my project should be closed and taken down from the online website.  
Instead, please put that money towards my sitemate’s project: “Community Library” by Molly Morrison of Colorado.  As explained in the original letter (which I have included below), Molly and I live in the same community and work together on many projects.  My “Literacy Through the Arts” and Molly’s “Community Library” projects are our attempt at combatting literacy in our village.  And while my specific project no longer needs your financial generosity, Molly’s project – my secondary project – does.  So please help. 
In my original letter, I described “Literacy Through the Arts,” and so now I’ll present you with just a bit about “Community Library.”  I’ve also included some attachments photos of Molly and me in action at the soon-to-be library (any books or supplies seen in the photos have all been personally purchased by me and/or Molly): Molly and I painting an animal mural and a "reading tree"; a boy reading a children's book about HIV/AIDS after we did a lesson on AIDS during our day camp at the soon-to-be library building; girls reading together, Molly and I teaching a nutrition lesson under the big tree right next to the library building.

Project Summary: Almost universally throughout my village and the surrounding villages, there has been an acknowledgement that illiteracy is one of the most widespread problems. The school system is overcrowded and many students leave the classroom without having acquired fundamental skills like reading, writing or basic mathematics. Parents, teachers, and students have all expressed the desire for more educational materials that will allow them to learn outside of school. This project is designed to meet that need by providing simple furnishings and a modest collection of reading materials. We will have books in a variety of languages such as French, English and local languages. Maps, reference books, portable chalkboards, picture books, games and writing supplies will also be available to the village through the library which will provide additional learning opportunities. The library will not only be a place where villagers have access to books; it will also be a community center where awareness campaigns on health topics can be held, along with reading camps, girls clubs and Scrabble tournaments. The library will be focused primarily on providing educational materials to the community, but it will also place a high priority on making learning dynamic, engaging and fun by hosting awareness campaigns, tournaments, reading camps and clubs. This project is designed to meet a serious need in the village and to make learning accessible and enjoyable for the whole community. The community will contribute by repairing the building and constructing a latrine and hanger. They will also donate their time and energy to keep the library open and functioning, as well as to run reading camps and clubs.
Amount Needed: $3,180.50
Donating Online:  Go to www.pcburkina.org, click on the “donate” tab, look for Molly’s project under “volunteer projects” and donate!  Or, similarly, you can go to www.peacecorps.gov/donate and search for the project by typing in any of the following information criteria.    Project Name:  “Local Community Library”                Project Number:  13-686-010                Country: Burkina Faso                Volunteer Name:  Morrison M.                Volunteer State: CO (Colorado)

Additional instructions for donating, along with other information you might find helpful, can be found below in my “original” letter from early January.  Anything that applied to my grant also applies to Molly’s (i.e. in terms of how to donate, us not receiving the money until ALL of it has been donated, etc.).  But, if you have any other questions or comments, please feel free to contact me or my parents.  Also, if you’d like, here is Molly’s contact information: morrison.molly@gmail.comhttp://yesandnoplease.blogspot.com/  Molly has some pretty good stories on her blog (some of which include me), and she also provides further details about the library project, while also throwing in a few funny lines.  Well, at least I found them to be hilarious….but maybe that’s only because I live in village, eat boiled flour paste with slimy leaf sauce most nights, speak a random ensemble of languages and words that I  don’t always understand myself, and find these days, that most everything and anything is good for a laugh.

From both me and Molly, thank you so very much for your support! 
Elizabeth Hauth

P.S.  One last time, just for clarity’s sake, I will say again:  Please do not donate any additional money to “Literacy Through the Arts.”  Instead, put your contributions towards “Community Library” by Molly Morrison.  Merci beaucoup!

Email: emhauth@gmail.comBlog: http://elizabethhauth.blogspot.comSkype: elizabeth.hauthPhone/text message: 226-77-27-02-93
Mailing Address: 
Elizabeth Hauth
US Peace Corps - Corps de la Paix Americain
01 BP 6031 Ouagadougou
Burkina Faso (West Africa)

***My original letter is as follows:
January 6, 2013Dear Friends and Family,
Bonjour!  And Happy New Year!  I hope 2013 has been off to a great start for you and your family.   If you follow my blog or any emails/letters I have sent your way, then you are probably aware of my latest (and biggest) project: “Literacy Through the Arts.”  I, along with the rest of my village, have been waiting since mid-November for project approval from Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington D.C., and at last, “Literacy Through the Arts” is good to go!  The account is finally listed online and is ready to accept donations from YOU!  I have a rather detailed project description listed on my blog (http://elizabethhauth.blogspot.com), and in addition, there is a project summary listed below.  Our goal is to have all the money (a total of $2,356) within the next month so we can start buying materials by the end of February and conduct the teacher workshops soon after.  Every dollar counts…please spread the word to anyone else who might be interested in giving!
Here’s some basic information about “Literacy Through the Arts” and instructions for donating online:
Project Summary:  By providing each of three local elementary schools with a set of one hundred age-appropriate picture books (primarily in French, but also in local languages) and basic “Literacy through the Arts” materials, this project aims to provide students with improved learning opportunities to develop their reading and critical thinking skills.  Additionally, this will be accompanied by a teacher workshop for the schools’ teachers and directors, strengthening their capacity so that they can successfully and creatively teach literacy.  This project addresses many of the community’s concerns, including: improving schools and children’s education; learning how to read; increasing access to books; incorporating health, hygiene, and other basic life skills into school curriculum; and training teachers.  The community and individual schools will be providing a significant proportion of the resources necessary for this project (25%), but in order for “Literacy through the Arts” to be as successful as possible with the greatest impact, outside aide is needed.  The potential outcomes for “Literacy through the Arts” are invaluable: books to read, students who succeed, and teachers who lead.   Considering that the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow, can we really put a price on their education?
Amount Needed:  $2,356.  (An additional contribution of almost $800 worth of labor/materials is already being made by the community/schools – a huge amount for them to give themselves.)  All donations are tax-deductible, and some employers will even match dollar-for-dollar any charities their staff give to, so please give what you can!**Your gift of just $10 will buy a book that is both culturally friendly and age and language appropriate.** For $30, you can provide a classroom with a basic set of arts materials – crayons, colored pencils, tape, scissors, white paper, construction paper, and string – that will be used to help facilitate students in learning how to read. **And your donation of $50 will sponsor a primary school teacher as he/she participates in the four-day teacher workshop, receiving new teaching pedagogy, improved instructional techniques (including non-violence methods), resources/ideas to combat illiteracy in the classroom, a professionally-printed handbook/manual with all workshop content, and a noon meal each workshop day. 
Donating Online:  Go to www.pcburkina.org, click on the “donate” tab, look for my project under “volunteer projects” and donate!  It’s simple!   Or, similarly, you can go to www.peacecorps.gov/donate and search for my project by typing in any of the following information criteria.                Project Name:  “Literacy Through the Arts”                Project Number:  13-686-008                Country: Burkina Faso                Volunteer Name:  E. Hauth                Volunteer State: MN (Minnesota)You can choose to donate anonymously, or you can give your name or other select contact information if you’d like.
Other Info:  Every single penny you give will go directly to my project; none of it is taken out to pay for Peace Corps salaries or headquarters’ costs, nor will it go towards my personal living expenses.  Once all the money is received into the account, it will be issued to me, and I will need to document each purchase and submit all receipts to account for every cent that this project dispenses.  Don’t worry – I won’t steal any money!  Also, I cannot receive or withdraw any of the money until ALL of it has been donated.  Consequently, if the $2,356 is not reached, my project will have to be reevaluated and meanwhile all contributions will be returned to the donors.   Furthermore, the account cannot surpass the amount I have requested, and thus, the account will be “closed” as soon as the $2,356 is reached.  If it so happens that you go to make a donation and our goal of $2,356  has already been achieved (or if you’re just feeling extra generous!), please donate to my sitemate’s project:  “Local Community Library” by Molly Morrison of Colorado, project number 13-686-008.    Molly and I live in the same community and are tackling the problem of illiteracy together -- I by working with the schools and teachers’ instructional methods, and Molly by establishing and furnishing a basic library of books and other learning resources accessible by the entire community and surrounding villages.  We designed the two complementary projects together and will be working as a team to accomplish both projects.  Please help fund our efforts!

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me via email (emhauth@gmail.com). I will try to respond as promptly as possible, but the internet isn’t always very reliable (or accessible) here in Burkina Faso, so it could be a few weeks before you hear from me…
Thank you for your time and support; it means a lot to me, and even more to my village.  Through your assistance and encouragement, my African family and friends will not only have the opportunity to read a book, but also to improve their lives!
Merci beaucoup!
Beth Hauth

Is there anything to be concerned about? Nah...

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso Adventures in Africa 2013-02-02 12:55:00 The following is an email response I wrote for someone back in America, who is going through the Peace Corps Application process and had some questions/concerns about serving in West Africa.  I realized that if it was useful for her, then it would be helpful for all others too, whether another future volunteer or friends and family wondering if we feel safe in a foreign country.  Enjoy!

It's great to hear that you're thinking about Peace Corps.  Hopefully I'll answer all your questions and give you some insight. My “story” below might be hard to follow and rather jumbled and disorganized, but I’m not going for grammar here, and unfortunately my time is limited, so I won’t be editing either.  Just whatever comes to mind is what I’ll type!  Enjoy!?!
First of all, safety concerns:  Overall, I feel very safe and comfortable serving in Burkina.  I don’t feel threatened in any way when in my village.  I can wander around any time of day or night, by myself, and feel fine.  I live by myself but I do have neighbors; my house has its own courtyard and I’m on the edge of the village so I only have neighbors on one side of me – not all the way around my yard.   I also have a dog, who’s a wonderful protector/guardian/companion.  Not that I really am concerned about anything, but it is nice to have a dog who barks as soon as someone approaches the house and would probably attack anyone who tried to break into my house without me there or harm me (some people say my dog is mean…but I think she’s just looking out for me and she has yet to do anything worse than growl at strangers until I tell her to stop or show that I’m fine with the strangers coming into my house).   Despite having had a few minor issues in my village, such as getting mugged in my market (I should have had my wallet in hand, not in my little bag slung over my shoulder…) and some random things stolen (pens, a bucket, candy, food from my garden), I still feel fine.  Especially since any issues I’ve had have showed me just how supportive and protective my neighbors and friends in village can be towards me.  Even working with the local police was reassuring and a good learning experience, after my wallet got taken and later when my house was broken into.  Ok, so I guess my house getting broken into is kinda serious haha.   It’s a long story but I believe I wrote about it on my blog.  Basically, some of my students got ahold of one of my spare keys and used the key to enter into my house and take money and food whenever I was not around.   Though I felt very violated at the time, it also made me realize how aware you need to be at all times, whether it’s properly locking your door or just not leaving a bucket laying around outside. Because you’re American, you’re a target, automatically.  Most people in Burkina wouldn’t dare do anything to hurt you and or make you feel unsafe.  But there are those people who see you as “rich” and thus able to sacrifice money/possessions so that they, poor villagers, can live “better” (or at the very least have a new bucket or buy some candy).  It is frustrating to understand this mentality, but it’s how they see things, and they don’t see it as wrong or think that it should even bother you, because you’re here to help them (helping is what volunteers do, right?).  So, coming from a person who’s had her fair share of safety concerns in village, I still feel safe and as if it is my home.  Any problems were solved directly in the village, and the Peace Corps bureau staff were also helpful and supportive.  The main lesson that I have learned, along with most other volunteers (practically everyone gets something stolen from them at least once during their service, usually a wallet or cell phone) is that I need to be aware and always vigilant of my belongings.
Then there’s the issue of safety/security in the sense of people who say weird things.  It happens.  There are people in village who are crazy.  Or then there's those people who are actually “normal” (probably someone working in a position of power) but they are totally unprofessional and inappropriate.  Just trying to see if they can scare you or what your reaction to weird remarks would be.  Anything from, “You need to give me money or I’ll….” to “Americans are terrorists” to “I love you, can I sleep at your house tonight?”  Again, I don’t feel threatened, but things like this do happen (especially if you’re a female) and mostly it’s just annoying, and sometimes even funny. 
Safety in the bigger cities is a bit more of a concern, but honestly, it’s not much different than being in a big, foreign city in America.  I personally haven’t had any problems whenever I’ve been in Ouaga.  You just need to be smart and take standard precautions – don’t go out alone, especially at night; don’t carry bags or things that can be easily snatched; don’t have large amounts of money. 
Safety, in terms of traveling, is also present.  Don’t get in unmarked vehicles (always take the green taxis).  Some bus companies are known for driving too fast or overpacking their vehicles, thus, a safety concern.  But once again, I’ve never had a problem traveling besides buses leaving 4 hours late only to break down an hour later or having to stand because there are no more seats.  It happens.  But it’s not a big deal and I’m not concerned.  Also, be wary of crazy motorcycle drivers – people don’t always abide to traffic lights and road signs like they’re supposed to.  If you’re walking, make sure a donkey cart or herd of kids is not heading right your way, and when you’re biking, be sure to wear your helmet.  Roads are bad and bumpy, and it’s possible you’ll fall of your bike and hit your head (this happened to my friend a few months ago and unfortunately she had a serious head injury and is now recovering in America).
Okay, and lastly with safety, is the concern of a war (or fighting/protests/rebellions).  It’s no secret that West Africa has been undergoing a lot of changes lately, from Libya and Cote d’ivoire to currently Mali.   I completely understand being reserved about serving in West Africa (so I guess Burkina or Ghana, maybe Togo?  Unfortunately there’s not many other  west African countries that still have Peace Corps haha…) and considering Burkina is quite close to some of the action in Mali, we are concerned.  But that hasn’t changed my life or my own security level.  I know that the first hint of a problem actually in my country will prompt my bureau staff to take action and keep us safe.  In fact, if anything, they are over-cautious.  Judging by the volunteer evacuations from Niger 3 years ago and Mali less than a year ago, Peace Corps is prepared and quick to act, if necessary.  There are current Burkina volunteers who originally served in Niger or Mali, but were transferred to Burkina after they were evacuated.  They said they didn’t even think anything was going to happen in their country – tensions and rumors were high, but no actual problems were visible – and were annoyed when told to pack up and go to their safety city, and shortly after flown back to America. And then, much to their surprise, a few months later, problems did erupt.  So, despite West Africa being a bit of a mess (and only living about 30km from the Mali border), I’m not too worried.  And should something go wrong, village is probably the best place to be – it’s very unlikely that extremists would raise hell in village: there’s nothing there for them, besides a bunch of dirty kids, mud huts, and some onion fields.  Any problems are going to break out in bigger cities or around universities first.  Also, as my villagers have told me, should anyone try to cause a ruckus in village, they’ll just get out their shotguns and drive them away.  No one’s gonna mess with their village or harm “their” American.
Secondly, Pre-service Training:  my training (stage) was almost 4 months long, so I had plenty of that!  I was definitely ready to get to site and be on my own after stage.  Your training will depend on (1) your sector, (2) how developed and practiced your specific program is (i.e. whether volunteers in the country have been doing that for three years now, or your group is the very first group to be trained in that program), and (3) the people working your stage (staff and current volunteers).  Training may or may not “prepare” you for your service or what you think you need to know.  One of volunteers’ favorite pastimes in Peace Corps is to complain about trainings and how it could have been better.  But that doesn’t mean training wasn’t good or effective.  It’s just that we like to point out weaknesses in programs (or we think we’re hot stuff and could’ve done the job better).  Also there is SO much to learn that, honestly, you will never feel prepared to be a “real” volunteer.  But you finish with stage, go to your village, and all of a sudden, prepared or not, you ARE a volunteer.  And it’s fine.  Anything you discover you need to learn or get additional training on can be done.  In fact, it’s even better to learn and train on things AFTER you get to village, because you’ll have a better idea of what your village needs, things they already know, things that you need to help them with, etc.  Pre-service training can’t do it all.  But it will give you the opportunity to learn a little bit about a lot of different things, develop language skills (the most important and fundamental aspect of training), and learn about the culture while in a protective and understanding environment.  I came into Burkina as a trained teacher but with NO French skills, so for me, personally, my stage was focused on learning how to speak the language, and I kinda ignored the other stuff, like classroom philosophy (I already had 4 years of that from college) and history of Burkina (you can only mentally grasp so much each day, since EVERYTHING is new and different…and also since you’ll probably be hot, tired, and possibly sick – it takes a bit to get used to the food/water).  Some people thrive during stage, but honestly, it’s a lot like high school and so most people hate it at the time; however, looking back on it, we realize that it wasn’t quite so bad…but it still kinda sucked.  Life in village as a “real” volunteer is a thousand times better and so if enduring 3 semi-horrible months of training is what it takes to get to being placed in a village and finally being able to work on your own projects for 2 years, it’s totally worth it.
In conclusion to everything, don’t be worried or anxious!  **Disclaimer:  my above paragraphs might have given you a corrupt impression of the life of a volunteer and may seem overly negative.  But I was just trying to throw it all out there so you have a thorough understanding of what issues you may face, if any.**  And so to that note, I will say that yes, things do (and will) go wrong and sometimes situations are scary, but for the most part, life is great.  And even when it’s not, there’s always someone there for you (Peace Corps staff, other volunteers, best friends in village, co-workers in village, etc.).  You’re not alone in facing these problems, and someday, those problems will make the best stories to share with friends and family in America.  Plus, there are far more positives than negatives in the life of a volunteer, and sometimes it’s easy to overlook all the good things or focus too much on someone swiping your wallet or men who say inappropriate things to you.  The majority of volunteers are extremely satisfied with their service and many of us talk about the possibility of extending our service (third-year terms), doing Peace Corps in another country, or continuing to work internationally or in development.   It’s no secret that Peace Corps is challenging in so many different ways that it might seem overwhelming, but like the old saying goes, Peace Corps is “the hardest job you’ll ever love.”  
Volunteer-service will change your life and entire perspective of the world, and so I hope you’ll decide to become a volunteer – who knows, perhaps I’ll even see you in Burkina in a few months!?

What I've Been Doing

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso 4,620 Miles from Home 2013-02-02 08:07:00
I guess a good question to answer is- after being on vacation what does a Volunteer do at the beginning of the second year? And, the answer to that is: much the same as I was doing the first year. The most frustrating aspect is that before I went to go work at PST (training) I had wrapped up all my projects, and then I went home; so, when I got back to site and I started to think about projects again (that took a couple days) my first thought was, “What was I working on?” But seriously, it’s really easy to lose momentum on things you weren’t quite sure what you were doing. But, as I’ve been able to reconstruct my projects in progress so far:
1)      Tree Planting: Ironically, the project that I’ve scoffed at the most seems to be the one I’m poised to make the most progress on. I don’t understand it either. But, my counterpart is pretty motivated to do this (I think tree planting might be part of his yearly quota as well) and we’re already well on our way to getting seeds, dirt, sand, and compost. 2)      It’s Condom Time- and HIV/AIDS mural: This project came as a joke until I figured out that it was actually within the realm of possibilities. It basically consists of the Power Rangers holding different condom brands and saying, “It’s condom time!” I tried to think of something involving Captain Picard but I’m not quite sure if, “Make it so” translates well. This would involve some sensibilizations about preventing HIV/AIDS and using family planning methods as well.3)      World Map- The principal at the middle school/high school in my village had a peace corps volunteer once upon a time who made a huge world map on a building, and he wants to do the same thing here. I told him that if he found the money (preferably by asking the Parent/student organization), I’d get the mural painted. 4)      Classes at the middle school/high school about health topics- Pretty self explanatory. Those don’t require much planning- I just need a schedule of when to show up. But it’ll probably be talking about things like family planning, malaria prevention, etc.5)      Classes at elementary schools- like the preceding project idea. Only a little more simplistic. Probably more hygiene and less sex related. 6)      CPR- This is actually turning into an incredibly frustrating project despite its incredibly simplistic idea. It also went from completely free to really expensive in the blink of an eye thanks to a rule that I’m not even sure applies in this case. However, we’re moving along a little bit at a time. 
Every 3 or 4 months I have to write this up for the Peace Corps anyway- but this is a little more entertaining. Copy and Paste: here I come!

The Crisis in Mali: A PCV Perspective

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso The Adventures of a Peace Corps Violist 2013-01-25 22:28:24 DISCLAIMER: The following perspective is the view of one PCV and does not reflect the views of the US Government, PCBF, or the Government of BF. First of all I want everyone to know that I am indeed safe in … Continue reading →

A rant about “Kalteen”

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso The Adventures of a Peace Corps Violist 2013-01-23 17:59:39 Disclaimer: The following post is a rant about a certain nut-based product that is distributed to mothers to give to their malnourished children that will be called “Kalteen bars” from the movie Mean Girls. PCVs and other development workers will … Continue reading →

Camp G2LOW Fada N’Gourma 2013!

Volunteer Blogs - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 14:35
Burkina Faso The Adventures of a Peace Corps Violist 2013-01-22 16:36:25 It’s that time of year again! Time to start fundraising for Camp G2LOW! Raise your hand if you have ever been to summer camp. I bet that the majority of my blog readers have at some point in their life … Continue reading →
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