My job in Bante is to work in Community Economic Development. The host organization that the Peace Corps has placed me with is a tiny non-governmental organization called AVOSAH. My work partner and I make up the whole NGO along with a couple of people who show up every day to be unpaid secretaries. There is also a board of advisers but they are minimally involved.
With an organization that small, you may think that we have very specialized work. This is not the case. Among the goals/dreams for 2015 in the organization are: stop child labor/slavery, fix the garbage problem in Bante, open a sexual health center, open a center for young mothers, make sure every child is vaccinated, etc. Obviously we need make these dreams a little more feasible, and I’m working on ways to do that.
We also have several initiatives that are already going, including a rabbit raising business that drives me crazy. The rabbits are literally pooping away money while they are not being sold. If not for the 12 year old boy who takes care of the rabbits, I would have no hope. But this kid is smart and motivated and he makes me proud. Hopefully soon it will be a thriving business.
I have a couple of groups of women who I am working with to start some sort of income-generating activity. We’ve talked about gardening, chicken-raising (GOD NO PLEASE I HATE CHICKENS) and some other activities as possibilities. Seems like a good way to spend my time, but each time we are supposed to meet either I am sick or no one shows up. When a meeting does work out I often have extreme translation problems because most of the women speak no French and I can basically only greet and shop in local language. My interpreters sometimes say what I say and sometimes say whatever they think is the best thing to say. I’m usually not sure which is happening.
I’m planning on starting a business club with some school dropouts this month, and there is popular demand for an English club, which I will do as well. I’ve warned everyone that my understanding of grammar is dismal, but I guess we can just have conversations, watch movies, and read comics. Sounds fun, no?
Partially because I’ve been sick so much and partially because I am just horrified by hygiene here, I want to start a hand-washing initiative in schools and restaurants. There are simple hand-washing stations that a local welder could build and sell to schools and restaurants. I will help with marketing (THINK OF ALL OF THE DIARHEA YOU WILL AVOID!!) and hopefully it will take off. As of now, there is nowhere to wash your hands at the local schools and at restaurants (where you eat with your hands) most places offer you a bowl of water to wash your hands with but no soap. It is a big problem.
Women’s and girl’s empowerment is something that I also want to work on. In the coming months, I’d like to start either a girls’ soccer team or a girls’ club. There are a lot of inequalities between the genders here, and there are many serious problems that stem from it. There are many many young mothers in Bante, which means many girls drop out of school or have to take a long break to have their babies, and also means that their quality of life and financial independence are compromised. High school teachers sleeping with their students is pretty normal here and it makes me sick. Prostitution isn’t talked about much, but it is pretty normal here too. People don’t understand why I get so upset when we are talking about these things, which makes me even more upset—how can they not be as upset as I am? So you can see why I feel the need to do something with girls’ empowerment past trying to be a role model in my everyday life.
I have some other ideas and dreams, but we’ll see how it goes. It has been hard to get things started, as I’ve been sick a lot, my work partner has been out of town a lot, and right now we have a French volunteer who will only be here a couple of months so we are trying to put a lot of energy into her projects. But. In the next couple of weeks I plan to launch several things, and try to re-invigorate the things that I have already launched. Hopefully it works.