Participating in Camp Glow, the Bike Tour and organizing the 50th Anniversary Fair made for a pretty hectic summer. I thought that life would calm down, but completing these activities motivated me to do some projects in my own community. I felt really great for my accomplishments this summer, but I wasn’t completely happy knowing that I hadn’t done anything that directly affected my village. Camp Glow took place in Kaya and the participants were middle school students. Since Forgui only has a primary school, nobody from my village could come to the camp. The Bike Tour made a brief breakfast stop in my village and then we continued on our way. The volunteers only had the chance to greet a few members of my family and then they whisked me away for 2 weeks on the road. The 50th Anniversary Fair took place in the capital, Ouagadougou. Most of the villagers have never left Forgui, so making a trip to Ouaga was far too expensive and unrealistic for them. I feel like I can only explain so much to my villagers about the work I’ve done so far, but it’s not easy for them to understand. From their perspective, I haven’t accomplished very much because they don’t see the work that I do unless I am weighing their baby or assisting in their pre-natal consultation at the CSPS.
Since arriving at my site and talking to other volunteers, I have been constantly adding to my list of project ideas. I never felt like I had the support in village to get any projects completed. I’ve recently begun collaborating with new people in my village. My pharmacist has turned out to be a great friend- he has no ulterior motives. He wants to help me with my projects and doesn’t want anything in return like money or marriage and a visa to the US like the other professionals in my region. I also began working with the primary school in my village and the director is great. He met with me and had already brainstormed ideas of how we could collaborate together on projects. He also supports all of my ideas and wants to help out in any way possible.
So, here are the projects I’m working on so far this year:
I am making hand washing stations for the village. They are a metal or plastic water canister with a faucet attached so people can wash their hands easily in villages with no running water. I applied for and received funding to build hand washing stations at the school, health center and market in village. I am experimenting with the hand washing station design by adding a “lost well.” This is a hole dug into the ground and filled with layered rocks in varying sizes. The lost well allows water to filter into the ground instead of gathering into a puddle of stagnant water, which attracts mosquitos and therefore malaria. Once the hand washing stations are installed, I will be doing lessons on hygiene and the importance of hand washing. I will also be demonstrating how to make liquid soap, which will then be used at the hand washing stations. I created laminated signs with images reminding people to wash their hands. This may seem like an unnecessary project, but people in village really do not wash their hands, which results in numerous cases of diarrhea and giardia.
I’m organizing a Girl’s Camp for winter break in December. It’s going to be a short camp; only 3 days from 8am to noon at the primary school in village. I am collaborating with my school director and the supervisor of my health center. We’re invited all adolescent girls to openly discuss puberty, adolescence, unwanted pregnancies, forms of birth control, menstrual cycles and future aspirations if they stay in school. Burkina Faso is a very male dominant society, where young girls are sexually harassed and abused and forced into marriage at a young age. The school system does not address sexual education and many females (including older women) are completely uneducated about their bodies. I want to encourage these young women to stay in school, to protect themselves and to value themselves. It will be like a mini version of Camp Glow taking place in my village.
I recently applied for and received funding for a Women’s Day celebration. March 8th is international Women’s Day and it is celebrated by the majority of Burkina Faso. It is one day where the women are recognized for their contributions to society. I was very disappointed the previous March to see that my village does not recognize the holiday. The villagers did not even know what Women’s Day was. After my girls camp in December, I am going to invite these young women to join the planning committee for Forgui’s first Women’s Day celebration. I will teach the girls how to conduct health awareness campaigns and we will prepare a theater presentation. I am going to let the girls run the event and pick the subjects they would like to address. We will also host a women’s soccer match; soccer is the biggest extracurricular activity here and women are frequently excluded from matches. The celebration will highlight women’s impact on our community. The planning committee will learn how to run the event themselves so they can carry on with the celebration annually.
After the girl’s camp and Women’s Day planning committee, I hope to start a Girl’s Club with the same girls. I want to meet with any girls interested after school every once in a while to discuss different health topics with them and to play soccer. The females in our community receive so few opportunities in Forgui, so I want to offer them a safe environment with me where they can relax and enjoy themselves. In the future, I hope to paint a world map at the school with these girls and start other projects with them as well. One project will be painting AIDS murals in December for world AIDS awareness month at the health center and the school.
The director and teachers at the primary school requested my help in building new school latrines. A latrine is like an outhouse in the US; it is a hole in the ground with a cement covering used as a toilet in Burkina Faso. The current ones at the school are inadequate; they are falling apart and were not built properly so they are unsafe. We found a latrine specialist who will build safe, functioning and durable latrines for the school. There will be one latrine designated to each of the 6 classes; the students will be responsible for maintaining their latrine. I will also be teaching each class the importance of using latrines; this will hopefully decrease the amount of people “relieving” themselves in public in the fields surrounding the school and my house. I am currently applying for funding for this project.
I am working with a men’s association that puts on health awareness campaigns. There are 30 men interested in participating. They drum and dance to gather an audience, then they perform a theater piece about a health topic of choice and show a film using a projector and car battery that they own. They have asked for my help with information on different health topics so I will be working with them. The have been inactive for 4 years and want me to help them become an established and functioning association again. This association is intriguing since it is very rare that men want to help inform the public on health topics.
I am looking for funding for stairs and ramps at my health center. Our CSPS is poorly designed. It is one long building, separated into 2 sides. The left side is the maternity; there is a consultation room for pre-natal and post-natal consultations and birth control options, a birthing room and an overnight room. The right side of the building is for all other health consultations with an overnight room for sick patients. There is currently one set of stairs located in the exact spot where a dividing wall connects the two sides. This poor placement makes the stairs almost impossible to use. The foundation of the building is about a foot off the ground and it is a big struggle for the elderly, pregnant women, sick people and children to access the building. I see children slip off every week and I myself have fallen off on numerous occasions. My community would like to build stairs and ramps along the front of the CSPS.
I am hoping to have a huge impact on my village in my remaining time there. I also want to help with the bigger picture, so I am organizing a Women’s Health Conference. I am a member of the Gender and Development (GAD) Committee, a committee comprised of Peace Corps volunteers interested in advancing the equality of genders in Burkina Faso and fostering opportunities for females in this country. We are planning a conference for volunteers and female counterparts from their villages. We will be discussing pertinent health topics such as hygiene, reproductive health, health services available and malaria. We are going to train the participants to be health advocates; they will learn teaching and communication techniques so they can bring this information back to their communities. The women will learn fun activities and games that they can use in their health sessions to grab villager’s attention and to leave a lasting impression on their communities. I am in the process of organizing this conference with our office in Ouagadougou and I am currently applying for funding from Washington.
Volunteers have access to different funding options for projects. There are grants we can apply for called SPA grants. They have a long application process in order to ensure that the projects are community initiated and not just a project a volunteer wants to take place. There are also requirements on budgets and allocations of funds. Volunteers can receive funding for projects in the following categories: Maternal and Child Health, Family Planning and Reproductive Health, Water and Sanitation, HIV/AIDS. It is not an easy process and can take months, but it is one of the only options for funding for projects. Our salary is not enough to fund projects; we only receive enough for living allowances. The other funding option is offered by my committee, the Gender and Development Committee. We raise money through events like the bike tour and silent auctions. Volunteers can apply for money to fund small projects relating to gender and development in Burkina. I have currently received two SPA grants, one GAD grant and am applying for many more.
I hope to complete all of the above projects and will write about them when I do! Thank you for all of your support J