Monday, November 22, 2010
Goat Project: Working with women
It's interesting working with women here because you're never quite sure if they understand what you're talking about or if they are just agreeing with you to appease you. Before buying the goats, I held workshops for the women on financing and goat care. The whole time they seemed distracted and aloof. I was skeptical as to whether they actually paid attention to any of it. The night after the first session, though, one of my women's groups came to my house to talk about what was said because all but one hadn't shown up. The one woman sat there with me, describing all that had been said and gave feed back. It was amazing! Despite having yet another exhaustingly long meeting late at night, it helped me end the day feeling far more fulfilled.
Even during a project targeted exclusively toward women, men always seem to find their way into leading roles, the same roles that push the project forward. Once the women had made their financial contributions and participated in the workshops, we went to market to buy 25 pregnant goats. I asked the help of the local veterinarian of the village. Basically I wanted him to approve the goats that the women chose. Instead, he said it would just be easier for him to go and bargain for all 25 goats himself.
Later, when we realized we had extra money, the vet insisted on giving a workshop on goat maintenance himself. He did not believe the women were fully knowledgeable on the subject despite spending their entire life caring for goats and the previous small workshop that we had for them. In front of him, the women assented to everything he said for the most part. When with me, however, they adamantly stated that they wanted to buy 25 smaller goats with the remaining money and would buy the goats themselves. It was difficult to balance the opinions of an expert and those of my women. I did not know what would be better for them in the long run, what would lead to a sturdy, sustainable project.
In the end, I wanted to empower my women so I listened to them and bought the 25 more goats. Once we reached the market, they did not seem to make much of an effort to go out and select the goats. Here is when my American mentality got in the way because I became anxious to take action. Then the vet showed up unexpectedly and moved things along. Within the hour, we had 25 more goats. Looking back, I am still unsure whether I should have spoke up for my women and said they could handle it. Alas, my fear of losing all the good goats before they could step up, take charge and choose was too great.
Swearing in of the New Newbies
Before I could attend the first bi-weekly meeting with each of my women's groups, I had to leave for Niamey for the new volunteers' swear-in ceremony. The ceremony was nice, and it was wonderful to have new people coming to live in our region. Seven new volunteers came out to Zinder. We timed it so that we would meet them in Zinder with a nice welcome meal and then see them off when they left for the first time to their villages.
Getting back to ville
After arriving back in my village, I found out that the villagers and those of the surrounding villages were in the midst of a cholera outbreak. What happens during a Cholera outbreak? Well, in my village, the streets were mostly empty, everyone staying the one housing areas. When you saw a group of people, it was most likely for a funeral (2+/day). The little work that existed previously in the village was reduced. Many did not go to work save some men who had to harvest their crops. Next to no one came for our usually vibrant market day. The health hut, which I was not allowed to go near, erected temporary housing for the sick to come and stay. As for me, I had to bleach and filter ever bit of water I used, refuse any food offered to me by my villagers, wash my hands more than usual and make sure all food I ate was well cooked and/or well bleached. Of the people that died, I personally knew six of them, but none were close friends (thank goodness for my friends).
A little over a week after I arrived, the epidemic in my village seemed to be clearing up. Nigerien health officials approved the steps taken by regional health care providers, and they declared my village safe again, with only a few more outbreaks in surrounding villages.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Monday, August 2, 2010
Pretty soon, our older sister group of volunteers goes back to the United States, the new group gets prepared to become new volunteers, and we are suppose to become the veterans of the crew. Yikes! I kind of find that more terrifying. I do not feel like I have learned enough here to be a legitimate resource of knowledge. My Hausa has also not improved as much as it should have this past year. Fortunately we still have the small agriculture group that arrived the October before us. They are a small group, only two in Zinder, but they will be the true veterans for a while at least.
In the meantime, the 2009 volunteer stage (my group) get to help train the newbies. I am helping with the fifth week of training. During this week, trainees find out where they will be spending the next two years – Site Announcements. In addition, they have a workshop on a participatory development framework called PACA: “Participatory Assessment for Community Action”. It’s a relatively long and tedious workshop, but the emphasis on community participation in volunteer projects is important. Moreover, like any administrative body, Peace Corps needs to legitimate itself by having theoretical frameworks and processes that embody those frameworks. Peace Corps needs to prove that its program brings about desired outcomes to development. Practices such as PACA can help to set measures of success, which can facilitate assessment of the program. So, for the fifth time in my service I will sit through a description of PACA. Hopefully the language trainers will perform a mock PACA session as they did during the preparatory week we had before the trainees came. In addition to being highly realistic (I could see that exact conversation happening in my village), it was incredibly entertaining. I think it would be educational for the newbies.
So I spent one week in Niamey preparing for the new trainees to arrive. We did several team building exercises and had discussions concerning potential dilemmas and solutions during training. They changed the program schedule since my training. In the middle of training, trainees will break into groups of three and spend ten days in a bush village with a language trainer. The hope is that this intensive language training session will prepare trainees even more for life in their villages and provide additional time at the end of training to start an additional language, either national language or French. This experience will be particularly beneficial for hausa speakers who, up to this point, have only had training in the village of Hamdallaye, which is in a Zarma speaking region of Niger (very few Hausa-phone families).
Back in Ville
Before going to help trainees, I spent a good amount of time in my village. School is out, and teachers have left my village and gone home for vacation. I now realize how many kids also come to my ville for junior high because now they are all gone. Many kids also go to other family members for vacation. In my mayor’s family, for instance, most of the smaller children have gone on vacation to other villages, visiting his older daughters in their homes. Hence, any education projects are not feasible. Because it is rainy season (i.e. farming season), doing projects with adults can be difficult as well. In my village, men are almost always out in the fields during the day. When they come back in the afternoon, it is mostly to rest and pray. Since crops have already been planted, women mostly stay at home doing their usual work. Their usual work is incredibly time-consuming and abundant, however, no matter what the season. Considering all of this, I am taking a summer break of my own and not starting any new projects.
My goat project is progressing nicely despite the timing. It is probably advantageous that I am working with women in this case. While they are busy, perhaps more so since they are missing some of their child labor due to vacation, they still are showing a lot of effort with this project. [SIDENOTE: Thank you, thank you, thank you everyone who helped by donating money and good wishes to this project.] The project is now fully funded stateside, and my village women are close to collecting their portion of the project funding. We will be able to buy the twenty-five pregnant goats in just a few weeks. For the workshops prior to goat purchase, I am now collaborating with a Nigerien NGO representative from Aquadev, a Belgian NGO that does various kinds of development work. I am really excited to work with the Aquadev rep. He has a lot of experience is doing development workshops, particularly micro financing workshops with women. When I go into Zinder next, we are going to meet and organize the workshop curriculum. After my return from training the newbies in Hamdallaye, we will conduct the workshops and buy the goats. I will be tracking the project’s progress by attending the women’s group meetings every two weeks, when they pay their bi-weekly dues and discuss any developments such as goat births. Then in December, we hope to hold follow-up workshops. I’ll make sure to keep everyone updated.
I have continued giving computer lessons to those interested. I actually ran into one gentleman who is extremely interested in getting a few tutorials before he goes off to University in Niamey. He just passed his Bac, the large exam at the end of high school which dictates whether you graduate and can continue school. He has never used a computer and is afraid of how much this will hinder his studies. I really hope I can help him get the fundamentals before he starts school.
Mostly I have just been hanging out with my villagers. There have been a lot of births recently, so I have been attending many baptisms. No matter how much I try, I do not think I have successfully argued why one should have less than ten children. Villagers always argue that if Allah wants them to procreate and if they give birth to ten children, then that is what Allah wants. No logic can defeat Allah in this case. “Allah provides”. I find this argument very frustrating, and I do not understand it. Then again, my villagers may think I’m a blasphemer and crazy for saying that “no, Allah won’t provide for everything and everyone; He’s only one deity”. It does depend on your point of view. I will not give up, however. Perhaps approaching the problem by arguing for birth spacing IS a more effective solution. If women space their births, hopefully they will end up with fewer children thanks to biology. Although making that argument makes me feel like a lawyer, trying to find a loophole in the procreation bylaws.
Now for Something Completely Different
Thanks to rainy season, two of my arch-nemesis (yes, I have multiple) have returned!
1. The flies have invaded every square foot of air and surface in this country. It is highly disturbing. They are everywhere! There is a constant buzz in the air. As I walk through my village, they are attacking anything, everything and everyone. I walk past my butcher, and I can’t see the meat because of the layer of flies. I find it impossible to sit outside without going crazy. So I spend much of the day hiding is my semi-sweltering hut. Sadly, my hut is not the cool sanctuary that it was during hot season since now there is a nice breeze outside, but my hut does keep the majority of flies away from me. Moreover, these flies are a different breed than those in the states. They have no shame. They will go anywhere. Many go straight into my mouth or just hang onto my eyelid until the very last minute, making me whack myself in the eye. At this point, I am pretty positive they are playing with me. “Let’s play chicken with the white girl! Ten points to any fly that actually makes her bruise herself!”
2. I have also discovered while in this country that I really, really dislike frogs. Have you every heard of the species of frog that only come out during rainy season and then spend the rest of the year hibernating underground? They are about the size of my fist, are an endangered species, and are one of the first animals in a very, very long time that have caused me to scream at the top of my lungs. Why is it that I can calmly flick away a cockroach crawling up my leg but freak out when a frog jumps toward me? Well, they are a lot larger and slimier than cockroaches. The sound they make at night is louder than cicada’s in the U.S. on a summer night. I really dislike the way their throats go up and down as they breathe and how they climb up walls. One night I was lying in bed (outside) and saw one crawling up the wall just two feet away from me. Eee-gats! Most importantly, though, they are so incredibly dumb that they jump into your path as you walk. One of these days I am not going to be fast enough and step on one as it jumps under my foot. The idea of squishing a frog and feeling its bone and guts spill out is one of the creepiest things that I can imagine. Going back to my village on one of my bush taxis at night, I watched at least two dozen frogs jump into the light created by the car’s headlights and get smooched. I do not want to be callous, but no wonder they’re endangered.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
It is the end of hot season. For most of my fellow volunteers, their villages have had rain, which officially starts rainy season. As soon as a village has a decent rain, villagers go out into the fields and start planting in the fresh, wet soil (a.k.a. sand). They plant as much as they can in one day and then wait for the next rain to continue their planting. I was in the more southern regions of Niger this past week, just above Nigeria, visiting friends. They have already had quite a bit of rain. One area actually had rain over a month ago. The millet is already growing, and it looks amazing. So green. I hope this is a fortuitous sign for the upcoming growing season since the previous year was so bad. Needless to say, another year of famine would be disastrous. Sadly, my village has yet to receive any rain. Hopefully that status will have changed by the time I go back to ville.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
As stated in my previous blog, I am doing a goat project. Please see previous entry for details. Well the proposal has been approved. Yay! Now all I need is your help. I need to raise $1200. If you would like to contribute...
1. Go to http://www.peacecorps.gov.
2. Under "Resources for", click "Donations"
3. You can search for my project using one of the following:
- Last Name: Lyon-Hill
- Country: Niger
- State: Ohio
- Title: Women's Goat Microfinance Project
Hopefully the link will be up by Monday, June 7th.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Of course, when I have these thoughts, part of me yells profusely at myself because I am only here for two years. In the meantime, my villagers have to live here their entire lives. Even when I am here, I am not living like my villagers do. While I am guaranteed water no matter what (it’s in my village agreement), I am sure there are some people in my villager who are certainly not getting enough water, particularly when considering this heat. When ice or cold water is available, usually a couple times a week, I buy as much as I can. My villagers can’t do that. I also do not do half the amount of physical labor that the people in my village do. I spent one day sitting in the shade with friends in my market, watching five guys build a four-room, mud brick building to house small shops. They were still working by the time I headed home for lunch, and it was probably 105 degrees out or more.
More importantly, I am not starving and suffering from malnutrition. Many, if not most, of my villagers are malnourished all year around. Now, during hunger season, conditions are ten times worse. The last rainy season was not very good, and not nearly enough crops were harvested. Even with subsidized food from the government and humanitarian aid from the UN and other countries, people are not getting what they need. This is the first time in my villager when I have been regularly asked for food by ten or more villagers a day; that estimate does not include everyday beggars or the koranic school kids who beg for food as part of their, for lack of a better term, studies. With the starvation and the heat, it seems as if the death toll in this country has jumped significantly. I literally hear of at least one death a day somewhere in or near my village. These are certainly arduous conditions. And yet, my villagers just go about their days, heads held high and proud. Sure they complain about their wahala (hardship and tireness), but who doesn’t complain in the U.S.?
Now for something completely different…
I am doing a relatively large project and, depending on the success of my proposal, I may need help from all you wonderful people in the states! Yes, I am begging for help and for that, I apologize.
The project is pretty much your basic income generating goat project. Here’s the official project description:
Niger is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world, ranked least developed out of 182 countries according to the 2009 UN Human Development Index. Among other things, Niger suffers from lack of human capacity, few natural resources and increasing desertification. This project will provide resources by giving goats to fifty women, who will then work together to breed and sell the offspring. Through workshops, the project will increase participants’ ability to breed and manage livestock as well as improve their knowledge of financial planning. While the community can provide the training, it does not have the means to buy the goats. Twenty-five pregnant, healthy female goats will be bought and given to fifty women, one goat for every two women to ensure initial cooperation and teamwork mentality. These women will work together, and once the goats give birth, each woman will then have at least one female goat to breed and sell the offspring. A portion of the money gained from this venture will go to the women and their families for food and living. The remaining profits will be saved in a group account to be used for other development projects. Within eight months, participating women will gain the knowledge and confidence needed to make good business decisions. They will have the means and know-how to continue their goat breeding business as well as pursue other income generating activities.
So here’s where I need help: fundraising. I have to raise a little under $1200. The fundraising for this project is run through a program called Peace Corps Partnerships, one of the most commonly used funding sources in Peace Corps. The community contributes at least twenty-five percent of all project costs (in this case, it’s 27% not including the cost of caring for the animals). The Peace Corps volunteer writes a proposal, which then goes through the country office and then the National Peace Corps office in Washington D.C. If they accept the proposal, they will put the project up on a website (I will give you the address when I can), where people can then contribute money online. Peace Corps Partnerships is funded through Peace Corps, so all proceeds raised for this project will go to the project and not elsewhere. You are also able to get a tax deduction from this contribution.
I feel fairly awkward asking all my friends, family and possible other random people for this. But I also figure you may feel more comfortable giving to charity when you know (100%) where that money will go (to my village via me!). Of course, my proposal is still waiting for approval from Peace Corps, so this whole project may blow up in my face even before it’s begun. However, I wanted to give you all time to think it over and ask me any questions that you might have. As soon as my project is approved and put on the website (knock of wood), I will be sure to advertise it anywhere and everywhere I see fit.
I would really like this project to be successful. My women in my village are so incredibly excited. They’ve even started raising their own funds to care for the goats. Originally I said they each had to contribute 1000cfa (about $2) each by the time we buy the goats. That is 100cfa a week for ten weeks. Of course they decided to start now. So by the time the project starts, they will certainly have more than the 50,000cfa that I specified as part of the community contribution on the proposal. Having heard from other volunteers about their villages’ lack of motivation, this demonstration of dedication has really inspired me. I love my villagers!
So there it is: another blog entry. I will try to make the next one more interesting. For now, sai anjima!
Friday, April 9, 2010
Toe… I don’t know if being in Niger has lowered my expectation in terms of accomplishment, but I do feel like I have accomplished much in the last few weeks. Here we go…
Several volunteers in the Zinder region brought 1-4 girls to Zinderville for a week long workshop. Most of these girls were junior high age and (happily) still in school. The first day we made name tags, played games and had a health fair. I really hope to do a health fair at some point in my village now, but I would have to improve my health vocabulary. I was helping out at the food station, where we taught the girls about three different food groups: starches, meats and fruits/veggies, and why each is important. In the starches section, I was suppose to explain how these foods provided durundakum (energy), but I often screwed up the pronunciation. The following days were filled with other classes such as civics education, geography, learning about women from around the world, sensibilization mural paintings, practicing good study habits, and going to the radio station to tell what we’ve been doing and greet our villages. Greeting one’s village and friends is very important and exciting to most Nigeriens. Each girl was able to go up and say, “Ina son gaida…” (I want to greet…) and then they would spew off a list of names. Normally Hausa radio seems a bit tedious because of this aspect, but in this case, the girls’ greetings were adorable. Overall, the entire girls camp was a great success. The volunteers who organized it, those who came a year ahead of me and my stage mates, were amazing! I only hope that we can do as good of a job, if not better, next year.
My village has started a kindergarten in town, and the director/teacher asked me to see if I could find funding for school supplies. Since this is exactly the kind of work I want to do – providing assistance to community organized and run projects – I was thrilled to help. Luckily the community was not simply asking for handouts. With any funding project, the community has to contribute at least 15% of total project costs. My villagers had already planned to build the kindergarten facilities (a grass hut), each family was paying 100cfa a week per child for the teacher’s services, and the local primary school was already helping out by providing some supplies such as a chalkboard. I did hold a meeting with the traditional head of my village, the sarki, to reinforce these obligations. I emphasized that without this, there’s no money. I also tried to point out that this is a one time thing and that if supplies needed to be replenished at a later date, another solution would have to be found, namely starting a collection or looking for an NGO that specializes in school funding projects.
Several of my villagers have clearly expressed to me that they are motivated and want to do projects, but they simply lack access to funds. This kindergarten was such a case. When talking to my mayor about this problem, he explained to me why funding is such an issue (besides the obvious fact that it’s a poverty stricken country). In most developed countries, government support is provided for many community development projects. My local government cannot provide this assistance. Its tax collecting capabilities are limited. Because people have never benefited from public assistance, they do not see the point of paying taxes. The few taxes that are collected, are traditionally collected by the sarki. According to several villagers, in the case of my village at least (although this may be the case for many others), the sarki and my mayor are from different political parties, which has caused some animosity between the two. As a result, the sarki refuses to give the tax money he has collected over to the local government (or so I am told). Most of the tax money that is collected then goes to the department capital, where in theory it should be redistributed among the various communes (my village is the head of one of those communes). This does not happen however. Of the ~25,000,000 cfa that should go to my mayor’s office for the past few years, they have received less than 7,000,000 cfa.
So this is the situation that my villagers seem to find themselves in. Since I am a white person who can read, write, and who has access to resources that most villagers do not, I am definitely inclined to help financially if I can. I just hope this whole thing does not blow up in my face, i.e. the funds I do get for these projects do not go to the projects and end up being pocketed or wasted on personal expenses. There have been many cases where a volunteer will do a project, such as finding funds and building a water pump, and the village doesn’t take care of it or takes the money for something else. The percentage community contribution is meant to create a sense of ownership for the village so that they are more willing to maintain and cultivate the project. This contribution is sometimes ineffective. The end result is a failed project. I guess the kindergarten will illustrate how much my villagers are actually motivated and how much of their motivation is just talk.
I have gotten my first round of pen pal letters almost done! Girls in my junior high school have written letters to girls from my home town junior high. We have just now gotten replies, and I am excited to go back to my village and read the letters with my girls. Even with me translating the letters into French, some explanations will be required. For instance, many of the American girls said they liked to play outside. This seems like a perfectly normal activity in America, but here one might ask, “Play outside? As opposed to what?”. Life here is spent almost entirely outside. If one is inside, it is mostly to sleep at night during cold season or rest when the flies are annoying and it’s actually hotter outside. The buildings here are definitely a lot smaller (one room usually) and don’t even have what we would think of as traditional windows or doors. Little stuff like that is going to be really fun and interesting to talk to my girls about.
I am heading back to my village in a couple of days with some fellow volunteers to do a health mural at my doctor’s office. I plan on painting three different images: 1) a women holding her child for the doctor to give the kid a vaccination; I want to have little pictures illustrating the different times that a child needs vaccines (this is a wonderful idea brought by my artistically talented friend Audrey. Thanks Audrey!); 2) a family with three children who are of different ages to illustrate proper family planning; 3) a pregnant woman sleeping under a mosquito net because pregnant women are actually far more susceptible to malaria, and their babies are at higher risk of death. Hopefully the mural will take only a few days to paint, but will then be used numerous times as visual aids for health sensibilizations. Inshallah!
Since coming back from a fellow volunteer’s town where we did participatory development workshops using theater, my plans for radio in my village have changed somewhat. In Sarah’s village (the volunteer who we visited), we took women’s and men’s groups, and asked them to act out a common problem about village life. Some of these problems dealt with health, cowife issues, lack of food, and problems inherent in the microloan system. We then asked them to think about possible solutions to these problems. The point was trying to visualize these problems as a group in order to better understand them and their potential solutions. For the most part, the results were interesting and informative. Some groups understood what we were trying to do and came up with very detailed, enlightening skits. Others did not quite understand and either mimicked the examples given or went into diatribes describing why they need money. Hausa villagers are not often exposed to activities which encourage creative thought and acting. The idea of thinking in abstractions is a foreign concept in many cases. For instance, if I were to get a group together, ask them what projects they want to do, and then provide an example of a project, they would most likely choose the example I just stated rather than innovating their own project ideas. By using theatre to express real life problems, perhaps abstract ideas and concepts can be merged with reality, creating a bridge of communication and collaboration in some respect. That is the idea at least.
I am hoping to take this experience and translate it into radio shows. I had already decided that using groups in my community, particular the young girls group I am working with, to do radio shows was a good idea. My Hausa is still fairly mediocre. There are some things concerning pronunciation at the very least that I know I will never get. So working with groups to convey messages such as hygiene, family planning, supporting your government, might be the better approach. If they can make these skits up themselves and do them over the radio, that would be even better.
In other news
On the other side of things, I haven’t spent much time in my village. Most volunteers tell me that both I and my villagers should get use to me coming and going. It’s natural, particularly when I am working, trying to get projects off the ground. I am hoping for a cool down soon, though. I hope to spend the majority of this coming month (as in all but two or three days) in my village. People also say that volunteers can’t do much anyway in the upcoming months because the heat makes you not want to move, you’re villagers are probably beginning to starve because supplies are starting to run low from the previous harvest, most men are somewhere else try to work and earn money, and it’s summer break for the kids. So really, it will be just me hanging out in my village, doing what I can.
With any luck, my mayor’s office will get funding for writing a community plan, and we will travel around our subregion (kind of like a county) and talk with communities about their needs and resources. This process may be hampered, though, by the recent political changes. As of April, all elected officials have been stripped of their titles and disbanded. In reality, the elected terms of these officials, namely the mayors, expired a few months ago. With President Tandja changing the constitution and then the military coup, the term was lengthened. But now the new regime has decided a let go all of these officials and have the local governments run by civil servants until new elections can be held. One would think that this would have a large impact on my work. Since there are no civil servants even in my mayor’s office, only elected officials, the local government should technically not exist for the time being. My feeling is, however, that my mayor and the elected commune officials may ignore this official disbanding for the most part. It is not like they were even paid to work in the first place. They recognize that their commune needs help developing and establishing infrastructure. I do not think that this motivation will end just because the national government says they may not officially work. At least I hope they will still show effort.