Saturday, August 28, 2010

Swear-In Ceremony!

The big day. Finally here! After 9 weeks (and 11-12 weeks for a few) of intense training in language, sector-specific technical training, cross-culture, medical & safety and security, the newest group of Peace Corps Burkina Faso Volunteers swore in on August 27th at the new US Embassy in Ouaga. This was by far the biggest (and nicest!) Swear-In Ceremony we've had, particularly because it took place at the new US Embassy. You walk in and it's seriously like America. Bathrooms with motion-sensored soap dispensing machines, cold water fountains (had to teach a fellow Burkinabè colleague how to use it) and the like! Many dignitaries showed up, including Madame Chantal Compaoré, the First Lady of Burkina Faso. The drinks (wine!!) were a-pouring and the good times just kept coming.

I'll just keep this short and let the pictures speak for themselves...enjoy!

Some of the GEE Tech Team! Evan, Dame (GEE Tech Trainer from Mauritania, Kim, Diallo, Jessi and Emily). Good work, team!

Shannon (Peace Corps Burkina Faso Country Director), Madame Chantal Compaoré (First Lady of Burkina Faso) and Deborah (Chargé d'Affaires of the US Embassy -- Acting Ambassador). Madame Chantal's skin is lighter than mine! Insane!

Madame Ouattara and I. Love her! She's seriously like my aunt.

Sabrina! My GEE partner-in-crime since May. I loved working with her! Plus...West Coast!

The new GEE Volunteers with some language teachers and PCVFs. Holla!

SOUTHWEST Volunteers, whaat up! <3

My loves, Emily and Jessi. Really, I had such a good time working PST and got even closer to my fellow training groupmates.

Asian glow! But seriously, it's Shannon, our Country Director and I. Good work!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Homestretch (round II), tree planting & crocodiles.

Remember this a year ago? I was in the trainees' shoes, waiting for PST to end as quickly as possible so I could get the hell over to my site! It's funny how things never really change.

So yes. The homestretch. It's here and it's an atmosphere full of anxiety/sadness/happiness/etc. all combined into one big clump. Tech sessions are coming to a close, trainees' language levels in French and local language have improved dramatically and people are starting to realize that the next 2 years of their service are ahead of them.

For me, it's been both enjoyable and exhausting. Exhausting in that the preparation since May and the execution of it all these past few months (planning sessions, facilitating sessions, answering questions 24/7, being known as a constant resource, etc. etc. The list is really endless!) have been constant. Many times, I'd get frustrated but realize that I just have to go with the flow as this is a new experience for everyone (Trainees and PCVF/Ps). This training group, however, has been quite the exception. The first training group in Peace Corps Burkina Faso history where we've had all 4 sectors (Secondary Ed, Health, Small Enterprise Development and Girls' Education and Empowerment) all come at once. We've also moved to 3 different training sites in a matter of 9 weeks (Ouahigouya, Ouaga and Koudougou) but regardless, everyone's spirits have been up (for the most part) and they're all another addition to the PC/BF family.

At the end of the day though, I realize how much I truly enjoy doing this. Working PST has made me more appreciative of my life here in BF, the obstacles I've had to overcome and the successes that have kept me going. It's hard not to put yourself in their shoes and remember what you went through a year ago.

I also feel so proud of them! I've seen them since the beginning and have noticed some crazy growth these past 9 weeks. Seeing them conduct their club meetings, coordinate their youth camps, teach Life's utterly amazing! And to think of the great work they'll do once they get situated at their sites.

Jessi, Emily and I. Love these women!

GEE Tech Team, Week 7. This was one of my favorite weeks because the trainees got to put their knowledge into practice -- final Girls' Club meetings, Youth Camps, teaching Life Skills and conducting their needs assessment meetings with the parent associations. Huzzah! By the way, our two GEE Tech Trainers/Coordinators are Awa and Diallo. They're so amazing!!

In the midst of all of this, International Youth Day in Burkina Faso was celebrated with a huge Tree Planting Extravaganza in Dori. Because there were so many people, the tree planting itself took less than 20 minutes! But it was a great event to meet other Burkinabè youth and other volunteers (Japanese, French, etc.) here in Burkina Faso. It was also great to develop an even better rapport with the Burkinabè government and it seems as if the Minister of Youth and Employment absolutely loves the Peace Corps. It's great!

Free shirts and hats...and ready to work!

Some of us Peace Corps Volunteers who could attend the Tree Planting. The woman in the middle of this picture is Dr. Claude, the Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD) for Health.

With a new friend, Frederic, planting some trees.

Working that daba! Note the Peace Corps logo on the back of the tee shirt.

This may looks disgusting but it made for a good photo. =)

In other news, the last weekend before Swear-In, our whole GEE team took a trip about 25 km to Sabou. There's a lake filled with sacred crocodiles but I felt as though they were accustomed to the massive amounts of tourists. It started off with one of the guys that worked there luring the crocodiles with a dead chicken at the end of a long piece of rope. Eventually, it would really the crocodiles in and...well...we all got to take pictures next to it!

Sacred crocodiles in Sabou. I'm touching its tail! Holy @%#$!

The whole experience itself was a little anticlimactic BUT I enjoyed it nonetheless and it's just another thing I can check off my list.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Moringa and MSC!

The couple of weeks that I have been able to return to site during this vacation have gone by quickly. What with PST and everything else that's been going on these past couple of months, I still want to keep busy, even if school is now over and everyone has either left to go to their families or is out working the fields (rainy season = cultivating season).

The week before demyst when I was home for a couple of days, my Moringa nursery was sprouting with many leaves. Amazing! Many thanks to Kadidja, one of the leaders of my Girls' Club and probably my favoritest kid!

Kadidja and I with my Moringa nursery. Look how fast they grew in a matter of 3-4 weeks!

Me teaching Kadidja the "slide baby" hand game. I just figured out that it's a fun activity that the kids can do anytime AND practice their numbers in English!

After demyst, I had to leave to work a week of training...I come back and find that the (stupid) goats had eaten ALL the Moringa leaves! Grrrr! Fortunately, Moringa grows relatively quickly but it got me all worried because I was going to do a sensibilisation (community awareness session) with my counterpart, Jean, on the importance of planting Moringa and the high vitamin/nutrient content in its leaves, particularly for malnourished babies and children.

Kadidja and her little sister, Mariam, playing the "slide baby" hand game. In the background, you can see my Moringa nursery all destroyed (stupid goats!!).
Regardless, I still needed to do this sensibilisation because I received a small grant for this (thanks Food Security Committee!) and want to follow through, regardless of any setbacks. So Jean, my counterpart, and I decided to work with two women's groups.
One women's group that meets every Wednesday is in a village about 2km from my house (closer to Jean's house). They weigh their babies (in cooperation with a small community center built by the European Union and the Red Cross) and make enriched porridge for their babies. Unfortunately, most of the babies there are either slightly or severly malnourished. Jean told me about this opportunity and said it would be a great way to introduce Moringa and promote the environment at the same time. Sweet! So I ended up helping to weigh babies and then Jean and I introduced Moringa.

Baby weighings!

It's hilarious...the babies are either terrified of me, complacent or get really giddy and happy.
Jean talked more about the agricultural aspect of it, and with the help of some of the people who coordinate this every Wednesday event, we chose 20 women to give the Moringa plants to. Throughout the month of August while I'm off finishing the rest of training, Jean would check in periodically with these 20 women to see how their Moringa plants were growing and to ensure they were well protected.
Giving the Moringa plantling to one of the 20 women we chose.

Me with some of the 20 women who received the Moringa plantlings. See y'all in a month!
When I come back to site in the beginning of September, it would be part two of this sensibilisation where someone from the CSPS (village medical center) would speak more on the high nutritional value of Moringa and how this could positively alter a baby's health.
The other women's group I want to work with is actually at the CSPS itself. Every Thursday, I weigh babies as a secondary project and thought it would be good to gather some of the women I've been working with for a while now and do this same type of sensibilisation with them as well, so we were thinking when I come back in September, this would be a day-long event.
In other news, my Mid-Service Conference (MSC) just happened. ONE YEAR IN BURKINA FASO! One year as a Peace Corps Volunteer! Absolutely insane. It was mostly medical tests and dental clean-ups, interspersed with a day full of sessions where we discussed our successes/challenges during our first year and some of the things we'd like to accomplish during our second year. I felt really empowered coming from that, motivated to start all the new projects at my site and continue the ones I've found most successful. Jon and I are lucky enough to live so close to each other and have made a pact to do more collaborative work together. Holla! More so, MSC made me realize how close-knit our training group is. I love these people! Seriously, they're yet another group of people I can now consider a part of my (extended) family.
The GEE fam, all smiles. Check out Evan and Devin!

...and I like to title this the "awkward/uncomfortable" picture. Hahaha. I love us.
Year two -- let's go!!