Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pen Pals

We're going to be pen pals with our hometown high school French class during our two years here. Here's our first letter to French students at Ankeny High School!

10 Octobre 2010

Bonjour les classes de français! On va commencer en anglais et après un peu de francais.

Our background
James graduated from Ankeny High School in 2000 and spent three years at Drake University, eventually deciding on a business degree. Around that same time, Julie graduated from Ankeny High and they both started at Iowa State University. Julie knew ever since her high school trip to France that she wanted to study abroad, and James just couldn’t miss out on the opportunity as well. They both spent a semester in the northern city of Amiens, France practicing French, learning about the culture, traveling, and of course, studying once in a while. James graduated from ISU in 2005 with degrees in Finance and Management and worked in corporate finance at John Deere for two years in Moline, IL. Julie graduated in 2007 with an accounting and finance degree and after a brief tour of the U.S. and Europe, she and James moved to Minneapolis where they spent the next two years working in finance – Julie at General Mills (maker of Cheerios and Yoplait yogurt) and James at UnitedHealth Group.

Now, they will call Africa home for the next two years as Peace Corps Volunteers.

Peace Corps in Burkina Faso
John F. Kennedy started the Peace Corps in 1961 as an international development agency that operates under the U.S. government. The three goals of Peace Corps are:
  • To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  • To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of people served.
  • To help promote a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans.
Peace Corps volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds, range in age from 18 to 80, and work in sectors like business, education, agriculture, environment, and health.

There are four sectors currently serving in Burkina Faso: Secondary Education, Small-Enterprise Development (SED), Girls Education and Empowerment (GEE), and Health. While each sector has its own job description and goals, they are all interconnected in their roles in development. Projects are community driven, ca va dire, villages express their needs and projects are chosen based on feasibility and motivation. Training is done separately for each sector, but once a volunteer arrives at site, he or she can work on projects from any sector.

Julie is serving as a volunteer in the Girls Education and Empowerment sector. A GEE volunteer’s goals is to empower women and girls and to increase the enrollment and retention of girls in school. This is a very difficult task as many families cannot afford to send their children to school and need the entire family to help in the fields and around the house. Most girls in village spend their days getting water, pounding corn to make to (pronounced “toe,” a common dish in Burkina Faso), preparing meals, caring for younger siblings, doing laundry by hand, and working in the fields without the aid of machinery. Some of Julie’s potential future projects include: securing funds and managing the construction of our village’s partially finished school, girls clubs and camps, working with the women’s associations/micro-credit clubs, partnering with the community health clinic to increase usage, and holding formations on basic hygiene, importance of and methods for family planning, and how to avoid malaria.

James is serving as a small-enterprise development volunteer. SED volunteers work with individuals and larger associations to improve business practices and management, start new income-generating activities, and grow existing small businesses. James’ potential future projects include:  working with the village campement to increase tourist traffic, helping repair the canals that provide water to the rice fields, developing new small enterprises like a tourist boutique, agriculture projects like Moringa tree plantings and drying of mangos, and assisting the rice cooperative with their management skills. Note: Moringa trees are fast-growing, have highly nutritious leaves, and are an important resource in fighting malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa. When comparing pound by pound, Moringa leaves have twice the protein of yogurt, three times the potassium of bananas, seven times the vitamin C of oranges, four times the vitamin A of carrots, and four times the calcium of milk.

Secondary Education volunteers teach math, physics, chemistry, and IT (basic computer skills) in the lycees and colleges. Many also lead less formal English language classes.

Health volunteers typically work in villages and in conjunction with the local public health facilities (CSPS). Common projects include sanitation (using latrines, handwashing, etc.), nutrition, family planning, general health education, and baby-weighings.

Our home in Karfiguela
While most of Burkina is a dry, Sahelian climate with lots of red dirt and sand, we are fortunate to live in the lush, green south. The village of Karfiguela (population ~ 1,000) is located 8 kilometers from Banfora in southwestern Burkina Faso and is surrounded by sugar cane and rice fields. Our village is Muslim with animist traditions and was settled long ago by people in search of fertile land to grow crops. Farmers grew corn, millet, and garden crops such as tomatoes, onions and cucumbers until the 1970’s when a Chinese group came to Karfiguela and built sophisticated cement canals and taught the villagers how to cultivate rice. Now much of the livelihood of the village is dependent upon rice production. The group also constructed several buildings where they lived and worked in the outskirts of the community, and we now live in one of those houses from the 1970’s! Our home is cement with a metal roof, and like the rest of our village, we do not have electricity or running water, so we use headlamps and candles at night and get water from the nearby pump.

The village is organized into clusters of mud-brick huts with thatch roofs (except for the occasional cement and tin roofed house) connected by narrow dirt paths.  Large families live in each cluster and  since the houses are usually one room and used only for sleeping, the courtyard is the heart of the family. Everything happens in there – families socialize, prepare meals, receive guests, dry crops, and care for their animals (goats, sheep, chickens).

While Burkina is not known as a must-see destination, Karfiguela is near two of the top attractions in the country – the Cascades de Karfiguela (beautiful waterfalls) and the Domes of Fabédougou (unique 1.8 billion year old rock formations that formed when there was an ancient sea in this region). Because of its favorable location near these attractions, our village gets some tourists (mostly Europeans and mostly French), and since people are more used to seeing foreigners, children don’t cry at the sight of a “toubabou” (Jula word for foreigner) but do tend to ask for cadeaux.

L’école a Burkina Faso
Le premier d’Octobre était le premier jour d’école a Burkina Faso. Le premier jour, il n y a pas des cours et tous les élèves nettoient les salles de classes. Aussi, les parents des élèves coupent les herbes entre les bâtiments. Le jour d’école est 8h – 12h et 15h – 17h avec une repose entre 12h et 15h. La repose est pour le déjeuner et parce qu’il fait très chaud pendant l’après midi. La système d’éducation est un peu comme la système de France. Dans l’école primaire, il y a 6 nivaux: CP1, CP2, CE1, CE2, CM1, and CM2. Le succès est très difficile pour les étudiants à Karfiguela. Il n’y a pas un collège dans notre village, donc,  il est nécessaire pour les élèves qui continuent leurs études d’aller au Banfora ou un autre village, Tangrela.  L’inscription pour un élève est 2,000 CFA ($4) chaque année est malheureusement beaucoup des gens au village n’ont pas l’argent pour l’école.  Aussi, il est nécessaire pour les élèves d’avoir les stylos (les Bics), les cahiers, les règles, et les habilles propre.  Les élèves qui peuvent aller à l’école, c’est difficile de faire les devoirs. Apres l’école ils ont beaucoup de travail (spécialement les filles) à la maison, et sans l’électricité, il n ya pas les lumières pour étudier. Julie espère qu’elle peut travailler avec le village et avec les enseigneurs pour améliorer les problèmes d’école.

La langue Français a Burkina Faso n’est pas le même qu’en France.  Le Français est la deuxième ou troisième ou peut-être quatrième langue pour la plupart des Burkinabé et beaucoup parlent juste la langue locale (Moré, Jula, Karaboro, etc.) et un peu de Français, sauf on a fini l’université. La grammaire n’est pas stricte et aussi, ils utilisent les mots différents.  Par exemple, on dit «bœuf » plutôt que « vache » et « porcs » plutôt que « cochon. » Aussi il y a beaucoup des mots d’argot, d’Arabe, et de la langue locale.

We attempted to do some in English and some in French! Again, let us know if there is anything you’d like us to change going forward and please send us questions or general topics that we can answer and discuss in our next email!

A bientôt!
James & Julie

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