Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Practicalities of My Job (Pt. 1)

Life as a Peace Corps Senegal volunteer is not all fun and games. It's also not just getting to know Senegalese culture or your assigned language. There are three parts to our job here, one is to understand and become acclimated with the culture and people of Senegal, and to teach Americans back home about the culture. The second is to teach the Senegalese people about American culture, show and tell them how you've lived, how you live, and do things. The third and most important is to use your knowledge and technical skills/training to help those who are untrained or less knowledgeable: aka "Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women."

I've just been installed, but I have been speaking to my host father (the village chief), the school director, and my counterparts in the medical field about what my village needs. The village is small, about 800 people, so the people that live here, these people, know what the village needs. The big problems of our village are (1) a lack of educated people: a dearth of men and women educated past high school. (2) Very high levels of malnutrition: out of all the children aged 0-5 20% are malnourished and around 20% of babies aged 0-12 months are underweight.

I've been thinking about how to tackle the malnutrition levels. I've been writing a plan d'action, and so far it goes a little somethin' like this:
  1. Start a School Garden with the help of the students at the village school. Plant a Moringa Olifera nursery, a very resilient tree nicknamed the "never die" tree (the Pulaar call it Nebedye). Gram for gram, Nebedye contains 4 times the calcium of milk, 7 times the Vitamin A of Carrots, 4 times more iron than spinich, etc. The leaves can be dried and pounded into a powder which can be added to anything. Which leads to...
  2. Harvest Nebedye, create Nebedye Powder and fortify the school's lunches with it. Which leads to...
  3. Buy a large cooking pot for the school so they can cook lunch in a timely manner; as of right now they don't have a pot and have been borrowing one from whomever is able to bring one. Sometimes they can't get one on time and lunch is served hours late.
  4. Paint murals at the school about nutrition. Currently, the lunch at the school is always Maffe Gerte, or Peanut Sauce. While full of protein, peanut sauce and rice every day is hardly nutritious enough for the kids. And this is why I must...
  5. Plant a vegetable garden bed at the school with the help of the school children. I can teach them about nutrition and gardening while using them for manual labor. I've collected many seeds, and have brought some from home. To do this I must...
  6. Build a strong fence for the garden. This is to keep out the many cows, sheep, donkeys, goats, dogs and chickens that wander my village.
This plan is in the works. The education problem I'm working on as well. So far I want to teach English to any children that would like to learn. Also, the adults of my village keep asking me to teach them. For the children, I can start an English Club. I can teach English, and at the same time I can use activities and other teaching methods to speak about gender equality and the strength of girls and women/the importance of education for women. I'm sure I can find ways to sneak in lessons on gender equality, reproductive health, maternal health and environmental education, among other important topics.

For the adults, it'll be hard to teach them about these topics. I think I may just throw stuff at them and see what sticks.

So ha! I do do work here, but for now I just plan. Seeda Seeda, slowly slowly in Pulaar. Seeeeeeeeeda Seeeeeeeeeeeda...


  1. I am glad to hear that you are not only eating mangoes and hanging out in a hotel. Nice plan, now implement it, try to make a good impression on your village, you are there to improve their lives. As the saying goes " Give a man a fish he would eat for a day, teach a man to fish he will eat for the rest of his life."

  2. Costa,

    Seems like a good plan. The challenge is in bringing the plan to fruition. You will need to prioritize the items and lay out the action steps required to achieve your individual goals including a time horizon. You will also need to ascertain the costs involved with the various aspects of your goals.

    Knock off the easy kills first e.g. "the Pot". You travel to the main town often so enquire as to the cost of purchasing a very large Pot. Similarly, determine the costs of the material and tools needed to build the fence around the garden. Also, what will it cost to create the Nebedye powder? You certainly will need some tools in this regard. How long will it take for the Nebedye tree to grow, mature and produce the leaves? You could be looking at years here, true? Finally, don't forget to build in the costs of hiring a donkey and cart in order to transport the items purchased to your village.

    You can then lay all of these costs out in your Blog in order to begin a fund raising campaign.

    Keep well,


  3. Hi Costa,

    I was beginning to wonder if you were really planting gardens and working on water projects. I am glad to hear that you will be busy with real work.

    I think you should consider asking the manager of your favorite local hotel to donate a large pot to the school. Is that allowed in the Peace Corp?

    How do people in the village support themselves finacially? What have the villagers done to help themselves? Does the government provide any assistance? Just wondering...

    I will tell you a gardening secret. You should bury some camphor balls in the garden to stop animals from digging up your plants. They hate the smell! Check with Pete and Mee Ngor. Pete will confirm the information.

    Did you use anything from the box I sent your way? I hope you ate the pound cake before the expiration date.

    Take care of yourself. Don't become either malnourished or under-nourished.

    Have fun then hurry home.

    Love you,

  4. Everything is a bargain. If people want you to teach them then they have to do something for you.

    "I will teach you if you help me do ______."

    That will sort out people who really want to be taught things they don't know. You are valuable to them, and I bet they can be very valuable to you.