Friday, December 12, 2014

Tri-Village Spelling Bee

Due to a generous donation from my Grandma we were able to hold the first ever Spelling Bee with 7 different middle schools from my village and the next two closest ones. Over 70 students participated and there were over 100 attendees. TETO (Togo English Teachers Organization) has held a spelling bee in Lome for the last several years but this year there will be a regional and national spelling bee. Most teachers and students have no clue what a spelling bee is, and so to prepare the students to have a chance at the regional (Maritime) competition we wanted to practice with a smaller one locally. To teach and adequately prepare students and teachers for the spelling bee I created a word list for each grade level based on the national curriculum, worked with my English teacher Mr. Koura to hold trainings about spelling activities and the rules and procedures of spelling bees.

My director, myself and Mr. Koura

Our spelling bee was a success! We did, in typical Togo fashion, get started a bit late and so photos of prizes and such at the end were rather difficult because of light and students needed to start their walks and bike rides back home. 

a student waits to spell a word with announcers, Mr. Koura and fellow PCV Olivia
part of the crowd
more of the attendees
winners from each grade level many of which are from CEG Zafi! people generally don't smile in photos here which is why they don't look more excited :)

Thank you, grandma!


Friday, December 5, 2014

International Volunteer Day

Peace Corps had the honor of celebrating International Volunteer Day at the Palais du Congres in Lome where we enjoyed comedians, singers, dance performances as well as fantastic speeches by current volunteers from different organizations.

Dance and music performance at the ceremony
Greatest of all we got to see over 500 Provonat volunteers (Togolese volunteering for Togo) swear-in!
Palais du Congres- Lome


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Latrine Progress!

Look at the awesome work that been going on in my village! They have been busting their butts to get this latrine built!



There's a chance we may be finished with construction before Christmas! Thank you to everyone for your donations and support. This couldn't have happened with out your help. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

" If you are more fortunate than others, it's better to build a longer table than a taller fence."

Most of our Thanksgiving group including my host family and teachers from school

The kids got pretty hyped up on sugar from the sodas
These pictures are from our thanksgiving celebration yesterday which definitely had a very Togolese spin on the turkey prep. 

Live turkeys are scary. I was happy to turn "gobble" into dinner. They amazing apprentices at my house took care of making him edible
Olivia and I still managed to enjoy stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn bread and pumpkin bread, so overall a it was a great day.

Olivia and "butter" (margarine :(    )

If you can make your table a little longer this holiday season consider donating at www.pathwaysTogo.org . Pathways Togo provides scholarships for Togolese girls and women of exceptional need and merit. Thank you and happy Thanksgiving.

In white- my director, in the striped shirt my work partner and fellow English teacher and me!) 


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In Service Training

I had honor to be the In Service PCV trainer for the 2014 English and Gender Education volunteers. Part of the week included visiting local schools to do practice "Men As Partners" sessions which also fell on International Men's Day!

Girls getting right to work!

The groups had different prompts including "I'm happy to be a man because..." 
We had to end with some games!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Latrines are lifesavers

Here's a great article from the New York Times about the importance of latrines and stopping open defecation practices. Thank, Dad for sharing! Construction for our middle school latrine is underway- thank you everyone!

In India, Latrines Are Truly Lifesavers

The mural on the wall outside of Chandramani Jani’s home is more message than art. It depicts a sari-clad woman relieving herself behind a bush, looking worried as a man advances. A large thought bubble suggests the woman wishes for a toilet of her own, clean and complete with the privacy of a door.
To Jani, a 34-year-old sarpanch, or elected village head, in the hilly Koraput district of India’s Odisha  state, the mural represents a personal mission. She boasts that ever since she had toilets built in her village of Chakarliguda last December, no one in her community defecates outside. A few steps behind every home in the village, well-maintained latrines stand amid kitchen gardens and chicken coops.
“Before we had toilets people used to search for a place to squat. Now it’s easy access,”she said. A few elderly women were hesitant to use the new toilets at first, “but now even they’ve gotten used to the comfort.”
Jani’s pride is not unfounded. The success in her village is rare despite India’s repeated attempts to stop open defecation, a serious risk to health and safety that is on newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda. More than 620 million people in India defecate outdoors — a much higher rate than in poorer countries like Bangladesh or those in sub-Saharan Africa. Exposure to fecal matter is a leading cause of diarrhea, which kills 600,000 people in the country each year, a third of them children. And as Gardiner Harris reported in July, open defecation and rapid population growth fuel bacterial growth that contributes to malnutrition and stunted growth in 65 million Indian children under the age of five.
The impact goes beyond health, as the mural on Jani’s wall displays. Women, who venture farther from their village than men or children to relieve themselves face additional threats to safety. The link between defecating outside and security was further emphasized by advocates like Wateraid after a fatal rape of two teenage girls in Uttar Pradesh who were walking to a field to relieve themselves earlier this year.
When the government started building toilets en masse in 1999, under an 18 billion rupee ($300 million) initiative to eradicate open defecation by 2019, authorities came up against a problem that has plagued developmental solutions from oral rehydration therapy to mosquito nets: people just weren’t using them. The Research Institute for Compassionate Economics’Sanitation Quality, Use, Access and Trends (SQUAT) survey, which interviewed 22,000 people in five Indian states on sanitation habits, found that 40 percent of households with a working latrine have at least one member who continues to defecate outdoors. That’s partly because, in rural India, defecating far away from the home is considered cleaner than using toilets, said Payal Hathi, one of the authors of the SQUAT survey,
“It’s not enough to build toilets, because even in households that have their own latrines, people do not use them,”said Arundati Muralidharan, a senior research fellow at the Public Health Foundation of India. “There are massive social, cultural norms and behavioral practices that we are looking to influence.”
Changing those norms will be a major challenge for Modi, who has pledged to end open defecation in the country by 2019. In October, he started a nationwide sanitation drive called Swachh Bharat, or Clean India Campaign, which promotes hygiene and sanitation. But any new initiative will have to avoid the fate of the thousands of government-built toilets that remain unused— one major reason a recent study in The Lancet, a British health journal, found that a toilet-building program in Odisha may have had little impact on health.
Jani made it her personal mission to make sure people received and used the new toilets in Chakarliguda, a poor tribal village with relative low literacy levels in southern Odisha. She understood the value long ago, when she built a latrine outside her hut, but the villagers only knew that their families were getting sick from unclean drinking water.
When the leader learned that the district administration would be providing toilets to select villages last May, she knew that she would have to sell the idea to her community first. Although Chakarliguda wasn’t initially picked for the sanitation campaign, Jani, who left school after seventh grade, fought with district officials, repeatedly visiting their offices and drummed up community support from her neighbors.
In July 2013, district sanitation officers worked with Jani and a few young community volunteers to start an intensive campaign called “triggering.”In order to educate and “trigger”community ownership of toilets, the team staged street plays and regular workshops that explained how open defecation was making children sick. (As with most villages in the Koraput region, diarrhea and malaria were the two biggest ailments in Chakarliguda.)
They also used waste mapping and calculations, two viscerally provocative methods that have proved effective in Bangladesh. Sanitation officials had villagers mark on a map where they defecated, and then demonstrated how excrement moved from the fields into their drinking water and food. They also calculated the total weight of human excrement, which for Chakarliguda — a tiny mountainside hamlet of less than 300 people — came out to 52 tons each year.
“We basically showed them how they were eating and drinking” their own waste ,said Kasi Prasad Nayak, who oversees water and sanitation in the Koraput district. “And that had a lot of motivational impact.”
Triggering is a component of the ongoing national toilet-building program, known as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, or the Total Sanitation Campaign. But so far, the success of such programs — which are allocated 15 percent of the total campaign budget — has varied wildly. Unlike building toilets, triggering is an abstract effort that’s hard to oversee, and the money for it is often unspent. But, as the case of Chakarliguda shows, the right investment in local leadership goes a long way in changing a community’s attitude.
Here, Jani’s campaigning won over most of the village — important because the health risks of open defecation remain unless most of the community has switched to latrines. To persuade holdouts, the sarpanch used a more aggressive, less kosher, approach.
“I told my people that if they didn’t build toilets and start using them, they wouldn’t get their subsidized rice or pension from the government,”she recalled with a laugh. The villagers knew it was an empty threat — a sarpanch does not have the right to withhold welfare benefits — but it nudged them into compliance.
Every family was on board when the village received toilets last December. The government covered most of the cost and sent engineers to guide them, although households were required to build their own toilets and contribute 900 rupees ($15) toward construction. Free to customize, some families invested in tiles and water storage units, while others expanded theirs to include a bathing room.
Dena Kila, a local resident in the village, said her family bought extra cement to make a solid latrine, and was now installing a pipe for running water. Sitting at her clay stove, Kila said building toilets kept the village pathways cleaner, and that more people washed their hands with soap. And women felt safer.
The project has changed daily habits for men, women and children in Chakarliguda, but has had much less impact in villages that didn’t use a similar community strategy.“I used to only go in the early morning and evening, when it was dark enough to not be visible,”she said. “I had to go in a group and worry about safety risks like wild animals.”
In 2004, a large nonprofit organization called Gram Vikas built toilets in the hilltop village of Phulband, also in the Koraput district. But 10 years later, most of the structures serve as sheds for lumber and live chickens. Devendra, a 25-year-old laborer and social worker from the village, said Gram Vikas conducted community activities while introducing the toilets, but there was little follow-up, and villagers soon returned to their old habits.
“We need to understand what is driving people to defecate in the open even when they don’t have to,”Muralidharan said of similar failed attempts. “Behavioral intervention needs to go beyond telling people to use toilets to really address some of these underlying factors.”
For Jani, the follow-up was essential. Throughout the process she led a monitoring committee to check in with villagers and their facilities. And she now regularly checks the latrines to ensure that families are using and maintaining their toilets.
This active leadership makes all the difference, said Kuldip Gyaneswar, a fellow with the Ministry of Rural Development who works with the Koraput district administration. While thousands qualify for the Total Sanitation Campaign funding, many Indians slip through the cracks because panchayat leaders and citizens don’t know that they are eligible to benefit. Meanwhile, Jani has become an expert on sanitation in her village and was invited to Delhi to participate in a Unicef-led discussion about promoting sanitation.
You need someone in each village to anchor the program, Gyaneswar said. “Wherever there are strong leaders they are working well.”Toilets built by community demand, he said, were far more effective than supply-driven measures by the government.
But more diverse, large Indian communities may prove more difficult a challenge than Chakarliguda — said Muralidharan.
“How do you transpose that success to an urban slum where you have highly mixed communities?”she said. “What can be the binding force in a heterogeneous community for an issue that really affects everyone?”
As the Modi administration prepares to invest millions of dollars in building toilets, they will have to address the challenges that come with a country of one billion people. But examples of success are as close as Chakarliguda, or, on a larger scale, right next door in Bangladesh, which has all but eliminated open defecation.
Hathi, of the SQUAT Survey, said that during a recent trip to the country, she was struck by how freely people discussed sanitation, and by how common it was for people to use simple, low-cost latrines that are difficult to find in India. While most people in India could afford the simple latrines found in Bangladesh, they don’t build them because they don’t prioritize owning a toilet.
“Everyone in Bangladesh is working on it. Here we are struggling to have the same kind of dialogue on sanitation,”she said. “It needs to start with Modi and it needs to come down to the local level. We need cricket players, politicians, sarpanches, Bollywood people — everybody.”

Monday, October 27, 2014

THANK YOU!

You guys are more amazing than I can even say! The latrine project is officially fully funded!

The money will be transferred sometime in the next few weeks , at which point we will start making the cement blocks required for construction and digging the pit for the structure. We'll take a break while I'm home for Christmas and people fête (party)/here and then start strong again in the New Year.

Thank you all for your amazing support, I can't even express how excited we are about this.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Help Us Build A Latrine At My School!

All right guys, the time has finally come. I'm asking for money.

We are building a VIP (ventilated improved pit) 4 stall latrine at my middle school here in Togo. Currently the students go in a field which has health and school attendance implications, especially for the ladies. Also, there's snakes in the field.

Even if you donate 20 bucks it makes a difference.

If you donate more than a 1000$ I'm more than willing to paint just about anything on the side- logo from your college alma mater (with their permission), name it after someone you love, (or since it's a poop house, perhaps someone you hate?), paint the whole thing your favorite color, etc.

Donate here or go to www.PeaceCorps.gov , donate to volunteer projects, see all volunteer projects, and then choose Togo 4 stall latrine project.

Please share this with anyone else you might know and be able to help.

Additionally if you are a member of Rotary International, Lions Club, Kiwanis or any other charitable giving group, please let me know if your group may have an interest. Thanks in advance for all your help!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Happy International Girls' Day!

Because I wasn't able to do anything in village for International Girls' Day I'm sharing it with you!



The coin featured in the image above is the 25 CFA coin. Twenty five CFA's buys you 1 bean beignet, a half liter of "pure water" (a cold water bag), or 3 oranges. Women keep the coins tied up in the corner of their wrap skirts (pagne). Change is always scarce and coins are guarded in a game of chicken of whether the buyer or sell will produce the change. All day these coins are handed back and forth and I've only just now learned who is featured on this all important coin. 

This is Madame Miriam Konan Dicoh, the first female chemist of Cote d'Ivoire. I've been handling these coins daily over the last year or so, but never stopped to really look at the image (often it's rubbed too smooth to really it it well anyway) . I'm always searching for great African role models for my students, and I know how we will be starting the girls' science club this year at my school.


I will likely be hitting up people for donations in the near future for the latrine project happening at my school, but if the spirit of the International Girls' Day moves you-
Please donate to www.PathwaysTogo.org which is the only organization working nationally in Togo to provide need and merit based scholarships to girls. Once girls are accepted they remain in the program until the end of university. 50 dollars can support a middle school girl's year of education. Thank you. 




Or if you're looking for something Stateside, support one of my favorite organizations- Girl Scouts


Friday, September 26, 2014

Kakum National Park, Ghana

From Cape Coast we took a day trip to Kakum National Park. While the park is much bigger than what we saw, we mostly went for the canopy walk which gave some great views, was a fun experience and it was just nice to be in an actual forest again! 




Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cape Coast, Ghana


Our visit to Cape Coast was short but fruitful non the less. One of our first stops was the old Fort or "castle" where from slaved were held and sent across the ocean. I was really impressed by the guided tour and it added a lot to the visit. There was a pretty lame 20 cedi fee to take photos, but between the blue skies and water I decided to just fork over the money- and in the end I was glad I did. 






Right next to the old fort is where the fishermen set out from. Luckily the stink of fish doesn't waft around Cape Coast too much- yay sea breezes! 



We also to a walk to the top of Fort William lighthouse which made for some pretty spectacular views. 





Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Nok Caves at Nano

While up in Savannes I got a chance to take a trip to the Nok Caves. Built into the side of the hill are little grottos and caves that people used as hiding places during raids from the 17-19th centuries. 

Nice view, no?

A waterfall on the cliff side that provided water for the people hiding out there

The circular things are little granaries that were used to store food

Traditional houses up north and pretty greenery
All in all a great trip up north!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Site Visit Chez Amelia

Les grandes vacances finally gave me time in the school year to see more of Togo. I took advantage of our mid service conference and the free ride up to Savannes afterward with other volunteers and finally got to see Amelia's village. And Amelia lives in a vrai village. While I say my post is a village, I have 7000. Hers is 700- and that's after walking 4km. The families around her only total 100. 

Despite the small population the market is full of tchakpa- a alcoholic millet brew that tastes a bit like hard cider and a requirement of a trip up north.

Lots of corn. And Amelia. 

She has some of the most beautiful views from chez elle

So much greenery! The advantage of visiting during rainy season

Many of the people in her village still live the traditional mud brick and thatched houses. These are far less common down south and are often rectangular rather than square if you do find them 
Amelia was a gem of a host and it was really fantastic getting to see a very different slice of life here in Togo, especially with such fantastic views. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why working for girls' education is important

Mid Service Conference

Here we are and we've made it one year! There were many times I thought about quitting, but I'm really glad I've stayed. My service is only half done, as is my work.
One year means a chance to meet up with everyone again at our training center. A chance to talk about work, our successes and failures, and just an opportunity to hang out all together.
Most of all good people, good times and good food. I'm so happy to be a part of such a wonderful and fun group of people.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Keeping back Ebola with Gris Gris

Gris Gris is something, at least in loose translation for the american mind that is equivalent to voodoo, juju or good and bad vibes.

Gris Gris in Senegal was always considered protective; metal bracelet talismans for newborns all the way to the hunched over elderly.

Here is Togo, especially in my very Christian host family, Gris Gris is a destructive power most often used to hurt people. Actually, a lot of it just comes from the fact that its animism and not Christianity and people view Christianity as a sign of the western world and being "evolved" rather than the traditional animist and voodoo here.

As reports of Ebola continue each day,often creeping closer to Togo, I figured j better beef up security measures. I asked my host family where I could get Ebola Gris Gris. The conversation follow:

Me: Mom, I need Gris Gris against Ebola. I don't want to leave Togo like the volunteers in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia had to.

Mom: You don't need Gris gris against ebola , Anna. Gris Gris won't protect you.

Me: I don't care that I'm american, I still think Gris Gris would help.

Mom: Anna, Gris Gris won't protect anyone from Ebola. You just need to avoid sick and dead people and not touch bats or eat agouti (bush rat).

Me: I still think it wouldn't hurt to get some Gris Gris.

Mom: Well, I'll pray really hard at church for Togo.

Me: OK. Wait. How is prayer different from Gris Gris?

Mom: ...

Most of my Ebola hysteria has past (after many long conversations with other volunteers about what we would do if we got evacuated, a packed bag brought down to Lomé, and I gave away a bunch of stuff to my host family- Ebola scares clean a house even better than finals week procrastination).

It's still at the back of my mind, but in village, away from most media or communication, it slips even further away. A worry for another day. And so far, here in Togo, we're fine.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pathways Togo

At my middle school here in Togo, the sixieme (6th grade) class is 50/50 guys and girls. By the time you get to troisieme ( 9th grade) there are only about 12 girls in a class of 55.

There are many reasons why girls drop out; sexual harassment, school fees, pregnancy, a lack of familial support, because her school fees were used for her brothers education, etc. Pathways provides scholarships on the middle school, high school and university level based on need and merit.

Many scholars on the high school and university level have said that they would have stopped their studies a long time ago if it wasn't for the financial and moral support of Pathways.

Today kicks off the start of the Pathways conference for our middle school scholars and their mentors, with the high school conference following.

There is only one paid staff member of Pathways Togo, a Togolese counterpart who works in the office year round. Every other person working with Pathways is here as a volunteer. This allows for your donations to make a bigger impact. This year 9 new scholars were added to the program who, as long as they keep their grades up, no longer have to worry about how to pay for a school uniform or how to pay for university in years from now.

If you have some money to spare, consider donating to help another girl secure her education and future.

Donate at www.pathwaystogo.org . Donations are tax deductible and will help make a huge impact in the life of a Togolese girl.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Have you ever seen the sunrise turn the sky completely red?

People always think I'm silly because I'll just stand outside and look at a sunset or the stars at night. They don't realize that the number 1 rule for Peace Corps Volunteers is "do what makes you happy."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Post Visit V2.0

These two weeks mark the very stressful and somewhat scary walk into the unknown for the new group of future volunteers- also known as Post Visit.
Stage or training is a bit like being wrapped up in bubble wrap and being spoon fed for 10 weeks. In contrast, being at post is being shoved out of the birds nest on a high high cliff and hoping you fly. This two week post visit gives the trainees a chance to test their wings a bit first.
Many of the COS-ing volunteers are focused on their upcoming return to the USA and all the worries that accompany that and aren't necessarily in a great headspace to welcome the new and shiny trainees. In addition, camps are in session and people have been pulled away for that as well. All this to say that I have three future neighbors by me and I get to show them around a little bit and help them settle in.
One the the three, Luke , is at a new site and in a small village which means they very VERY excited for his arrival. I got to go over, check out his house and make sure it was ready for him. But the part that was way more fun was being there for his arrival.
The village pulled out all the stops and they held a proper ceremony for him. We danced, listened to many speeches, danced, listened to speeches and danced. And then we danced a little more. The village got a big kick at seeing me a Luke trying out traditional dances. And because they pulled out all the stops, it's forever in memory because they had a photographer and film being taken of the whole thing.
More than anything it showed me how far I've come in the last year. It's a really nice feeling to be able to take the lead, know what's going on and be able to help out the new volunteers. I could actually greet everyone and a little bit more in Ewe, I knew the format of the program and my dancing has improved. :)
I'm really happy to have made it this far and very happy to be here for the next year. I've certainly had more than my share of doubts about being here but I'm very content with my decision to stay and continue my work, moving towards bigger and better projects.