Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Projects

We’ve posted quite a bit about the culture and geography of Burkina Faso and the Peace Corps, but we’d like to share the projects that we’re currently working on. We apologize for not writing sooner, but you’ll soon see why we’ve been us so busy!

In February, I attended a Peace Corps organized latrine-building training with two members of our community. They gained hands-on experience with pit-latrine construction and learned valuable information on hygiene and basic sanitation. With the materials and knowledge obtained during the training, the two community members are currently constructing latrines in village.

The first step towards finishing the village primary school is underway. Julie is managing the construction of five latrines at the school. In addition, she is also constructing hand-washing stations and murals to help remind kids to wash their hands (with soap!) after using the latrines and before eating school lunch.

In other primary school news, the US Embassy in Burkina Faso has potentially approved our village’s request to complete the primary school! The generous donations from families and friends coupled with the US Embassy grant, should allow the village to make significant progress on the school – roof, floor, and more desks!

Grant money received from USAID (United States Agency of International Development) will be used to repair the canal that feeds water to the rice paddies and winter garden plots. The Rice Cooperative and I are very excited to begin work which will ensure adequate water supply to the fields in the future.

I'm also working with, a peer-to-peer microfinance organization (similar to, for those of you familiar) that helps link entrepreneurs in developing countries with affordable loans from investors in the U.S. and Europe. I'm serving as a liaison between Zidisha and an African bank as they set up their lending program in the country.

Zidisha’s first loan in Burkina Faso will most likely be made to Siaka, my counterpart in village. I'm collaborating with Siaka to realize his goal of opening a small restaurant at the Cascades of Karfiguela – a very popular tourist attraction. We’ve been busy preparing budgets, business plans, menus, and advertising strategies.

Julie meets two times a week with a group of primary school girls (equivalent of 5th grade in the U.S.). She discusses important health topics with them like hygiene, sex education, and family planning (it’s never too early!). They often play soccer but since the ball is ruined (1 ball for a village of kids doesn't last long), Julie is teaching the girls various income generating activities (IGAs) like popcorn/cookie production and sales to raise money for a new ball. This provides a great way to educate the girls on basic business (and life) skills like marketing techniques and calculating profit margins.

Julie works with the CSPS (Centre Sanitaire et Promotion de Santé, the village health clinic), too. During days when baby weighing and vaccinations occur, Julie uses the opportunity to speak with the women about family planning, hygiene, and nutrition. We’ve both helped with the polio vaccination campaigns in our village, which allows us a great opportunity to go door-to-door and visit each family’s courtyard.

Since Karfiguela happens to be located at a popular tourist attraction, the village has a campground/hostel in village. I've been working with the campground manager and the owner to improve marketing, bookkeeping, and customer service. I'm also re-designing their website and creating advertisements which will be displayed in France and Burkina Faso.

La Vie Chère (the expensive life) is the term Burkinabé use when inflation and high food and energy prices cause staple items to become too expensive to purchase. I'm working with an entrepreneur in Banfora to expand his line of recycled tire footwear (called La Vie Chère shoes) to create more American and European styles to sell to tourists. I've also helped him with basic bookkeeping, marketing, and creating new lines of products like recycled inner-tube wallets, clutches, and (hopefully!) computer bags. Gomsa, the shoe artisan, would love to sell the recycled tire flip flops in the U.S. and Europe, so we’re looking into selling internationally. For more pictures, click here.
Julie and I are both members of the Peace Corps Food Security Committee. The committee serves as an information exchange network for volunteers with the goal of improving the access and availability of quality food. Julie is in charge of communications and manages and reviews grant applications for volunteer projects related to water and sanitation. In March, I attended a Food Security conference in northern Ghana which was sponsored by Compatible Technology International, a Minneapolis-based group where we volunteered before Peace Corps.

During our rare free time, we’ve experimented with a variety of products that community members could benefit from or sell. We’ve made a natural insect repellent using neem (a common tree in Africa) leaves, soap, and shea butter. It's mango season, so we’re trying out mango wine and mango jam recipes and drying fruit to be sold or eaten when they’re out of season. We've probably had the most fun testing the food with our neighbors and friends.

More soon! We promise.

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