Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Necessary Injection of Optimism

Things have been feeling a little dark around here lately. Looking back on some of these blogs begs a positive counterpoint. Because honestly, I am happy here for the most part. I have found my place and am enjoying an ever-growing work and social schedule. Life in Titao is good.

I have recently taken up some interesting projects which have somewhat restored my belief in what I’m doing here. I was introduced to the first by a colleague at the municipal high school where I now teach a beginner’s computer class. M. Sawadogo, the English teacher for the school, speaks beautiful English and believes passionately in the importance of the language and actively promotes it around town. He has started an English club at the high school, though at this point it is largely driven by his own energy. He would like the students to take a more active role (Sustainability! Yay!), but they are too shy. Having sat-in on a few meetings I think this is because the club is almost like an after-hours English class. I have been working with Sawadogo to make the club more fun, to give the students more of an opportunity to speak and take control using some of the techniques that were used during Peace Corps training.

Besides the club, he has reserved a time block at the local radio, Le Voix du Loroum, to present a program encouraging the use of English in the community, beyond the required classes in high school. He invited me to be a guest speaker on the show two weeks ago to talk about family and the importance of education. I helped him design the structure of the program and improved some of his grammar, but truly this is his gig and he is great at it. Saw begins by introducing the program, the topic of the day, and his very special guests. There ensues a discussion with the guests on the given topic to permit the listeners to hear real English in dialogue. He plays music periodically so we can regroup, with artists such as the South African Reggae king Lucky Dube, Simple, and well-known American stars like 50 Cent and Rhianna. After this Saw gives a short English lesson, providing key nouns, verbs, adjectives, and phrases relating to the theme of the day. The rest of the broadcast is reserved for listeners to call-in and chat or answer questions posed by Saw.

I count Sawadogo among my best friends in town. He is the perfect Burkinab√© counterpart, asking only for my collaboration and creative thinking, himself bringing to the table durable enthusiasm and ideas and taking charge of his own projects. While encouraging the use of English may not be part of the Peace Corps’ project plan in Burkina, M. Sawadogo’s English club and radio broadcast are projects which I know will be continued after I leave Titao.

Coincidentally, Titao’s radio is awesome. The government installs and supports local radios to encourage free speech and spread local information, and Titao got hers set up just this year. Everybody has a radio or a compatible cell phone, and since other forms of entertainment are either too expensive or unavailable, they are turned on and tuned in almost constantly. After doing just two broadcasts, everybody I know complemented the show and said they had listened to me. Awesome; I’m now even more of a local celebrity.

Another project I’m in the process of planning is very big and very exciting (at least to me). I recently met a man who last year organized a community-wide plastic bag pick-up contest thing (this sounds better in French). He wrote a proposal, went around town to the different structures and asked for support and donations. Almost everyone was implicated, all the way up to the mayor and the high commissioner. During the week of the contest, he said that the whole town is mobilized to clean up, everyone vying for the prizes for collecting the most plastic by weight (shovels, wheelbarrows, etc.). After the collection is finished, he gives the small plastic water sachets found to a French NGO which uses them as plastic pots with which to plant tree nurseries. However, due to their main work of promoting school gardens, they are not able to use most of the sachets that are recovered.

Bing Bing Bing! Hi there, I’m a Peace Corps volunteer with Environmental experience.

This year after the contest, I’d like to take the water sachets to each of Titao’s five primary schools and teach the upper classes, probably 5th and 6th grade, how to plant tree nurseries and take care of trees while they grow. I want to give two lessons, one in March right after the contest to talk about the importance of trees and how to seed a nursery. For this session, I’ll give each student a seed and a plastic pot and we will all fill them with the right mixture of dirt, sand and cow manure. Each student will be responsible for his or her own tree over the following three months. In June, around the end of school, I’ll come back and talk about the effects of plastic on the environment and the importance of recycling and will teach the students how to plant and care for their trees over the next few years. We will dispose of all of the sachets in the least harmful manner possible, seeing this clean-up campaign to its necessary conclusion.

I’d like to do these sessions with a Burkinab√© counterpart, either the teachers of the classes or an agent with the Department of the Environment and Sustainable Development, someone who can continue to do the lessons in the years to come. The problem with either of these entities is that their positions are temporary. Teachers and government workers operate under an illogical system of exchange, where one year you could be working in the north of the country, and the next in the east where you don’t speak the local language. I don’t get it but that’s how it is. I think I’ll go for someone local.

At this point I’m trying to figure out exactly what the best disposal method is for plastic. Everyone’s given me different answers. Any ideas? I’ll do some research when I’m back in the states. I’m also trying to come up with a good motivation for the kids to take care of their trees. Bonbons? A grade? A slap across the head if their tree dies (just kidding)? I’ll come up with something.

Well anyway, that’s what I’m up to right now. Keeping busy to stay happy, while still counting down the days until I go on vacation to the states to see and hold my lovely wife and if she lets me, everyone else. Oh, and eat bacon every day. And cheese. Yessir, life is good.

1 comment:

  1. Well Dan,
    Your writing is good for a laugh as usual, as well as inspiring some real thoughts in my brain currently chock full of enzyme names. As my semester reaches a crescendoing conclusion, I can't wait to see you! Lot's to talk about and lot's of good beer to be drank. Thanks for the optimistic boost here in Denver.