Saturday, February 12, 2011

Recent News

2 weeks ago, I was in Bamako for the Food Security Taskforce meeting. I'm the representative for the San area. Technically San is in the Segou region, but because the regions are so big, we split them up in two parts- San and Segou. For a country to be "food secure", it's population must have access all year round to food of both caloric and nutritious quantities for daily activity. Most parts of Mali are not food secure. There is a period in the year known as the "starvation" period, where all the grain harvested at the previous harvest season is gone, this usually coincides with the period of farming. Throughout the rest of the year, many parts of Mali is also considered "food insecure" because they do not receive the proper amounts of nutrients in their diet. Malian cuisine is about quantity, not quality. You will never see a Malian eat a salad, regardless of the quantity, and then say that they are full. For them, lettuce, tomatoes, etc... are considered Toubab food and have no affect on their meal. If they have not eaten rice, millet, or couscous, they have not eaten. Often their caloric intake may be substantial, but they rarely eat meat (it's expensive), and will almost never have vegetables, so they are susceptible to disease and malnutrition. Adding ground baobab leaves to their sauces is the most common way to add nutrients and minerals to their diet.
So the Taskforce, is a group of volunteers that have gotten together (this was started a couple years ago) to work on compiling information/projects, and resources, as well as advising the Peace Corps Mali administration on what aspects to train volunteers. Being rather new, we had to essentially define our role and figure out the next few steps and increase enthusiasm with volunteers to work on food security projects. USAID is working with Peace Corps and providing a substantial amount of financial support for Peace Corps projects in this area. The thing about food security, is that it transcends the "sector" boundaries. In Peace Corps Mali there are sectors: education, water sanitation, health education, environment, and small/medium enterprise development. Yet food security involves every sector. If people do not know how to properly wash their hands or use soap, they may not be food secure. By getting an association of women together to make a community garden you are working on food security on two fronts. In one sense you are helping increase the amount of vitamins that can be locally bought and consumed, and another sense, you are increasing the income of women which will allow them to buy imported rice or food during hungry season. A project that could involve education is a cereal bank. This is a project that I hope to do in the future with a CGS (school board). A cereal bank is where a group buys grain during the harvest when it's cheap and resells it during hungry season where grain is scarce for a profit. They can then use the profits for buying school materials or improving the quality of the classrooms. This project can also be sustainable because theoretically they should be able to buy grain again soon after selling it and slowly grow in the amount of grain they buy and the profit they make. But to do this, they need to have access to a good granary, ensure proper accountability among members as to where funds and how funds are used, and get members involved with the selling of the grain at the proper time.
Anyways, it was a productive meeting, and outlined a couple key things for us and the administration. What I will be planning is what we're calling the "Poverty Fast". Not sure when it is, but what it is, is a week, or a couple weeks, where we (any volunteer), or anybody back home, live under the level of poverty, which I believe is defined as living with under $1 a day. For me that represents 450-500 CFA. When I do it, I'll definitely let everyone know. It'll be much more difficult for everyone in the States, but if you want to try you'd be more than welcome to join us.

The past week though was really crazy. I made my own world map mural. Doing it by myself took a really long time. I spent at least 3 hours making the grid, 3 hours drawing, and then more like 7 or 8 to paint, label, and touch it up. Fortunately I had access to the room at night, so I worked on it then. They really appreciated it and think it's really pretty. I plan on later showing the history/geography student teachers how to make the map themselves and going to the high school where they can practice it. The ones that come, will get a photo copy of the instructions. This will allow them to reproduce it in school rooms when they go elsewhere in Mali to teach. Mali has a lack of resources, and if they can learn how to make a map that stays on the wall, they no longer have to give a copy of the world to every student, they can just point to the map and explain their lesson. This was at night. During the day, I was planning a massive tree planting on the grounds of the IFM. I went to each class and explained that they had a choice of 5 trees for their class and gave them a list of trees, and told them they would receive a small plot of land where they were to dig thee 5 holes and plant the trees and told them what day/time we would start. The traditional way of doing things here, is that the administration organizes something, then one or two people plan it out, and then the day of, they tell the students as they finish classes that they have to go plant these trees. The students are never asked their opinion, if it's what they want, or told in advance. As a result, the students later complain about how the administration does things and never takes them into account even though they are the ones expected to do the work. This is the way they wanted me to do this. I refused and I originally wanted to take my time, where we would have several days, or over a period of several weeks where we would have a session on how to do the PLASA method (an amazing way of planting trees that allows us to plant trees in the middle of hot season and only have to give a liter of water a week to the plant), and a session on how to properly make fencing with branches (because animals eat the trees since they aren't tied up), and then dig the holes, water/fertilize them for a while and then plant the trees. Buuuttt... they told me to accelerate the project. They wanted to do it as soon as possible, but I'm going on a trip (which I just started today and will talk about in a bit). Therefore, if I wanted to be involved and have the students properly involved, I had to do it Thursday. So Wednesday, we went and bought the trees, I made out a list for the time slot the classes could have so that everyone had time with the dabas (digging tools), and so that things would run smoothly. Buuuuttt.... more than half the professors left for a training session that day, so very few classes had class, and of course they didn't want to leave and come back, so they said they wanted to dig the holes immediately. And the ones that did have class didn't listen to the time slots anyways. So I had 10 dabas for over 70 people all trying to get their holes together at the same time. For the next 3 hours, I ran around the IFM grounds telling classes where to dig, assigning jobs for people to get branches for fencing, rocks for the PLASA method, explaining the PLASA method as quickly as possible, making sure the dabas got to the next group as quickly as possible, making sure each class (the classes that didn't specifically ask for trees didn't get any, we're planning on doing another planting later with 40 more trees) got the trees they asked for, trying to explain to classes why they didn't have tree (because they didn't respond), checking the holes, answering questions about taking care of the trees afterwards, and at the same time receiving criticism by the administration who said that the fencing was bad and the animals would eat all the trees, and that we should have dug the holes, watered and fertilized for a week before actual planting and because we didn't all the trees would die and all the IFM money was wasted. Anyways, it was a very hectic day, but I think overall it went well. The students were very enthusiastic and felt invested because the 5 trees they planted "belonged" to them which means that they will be more willing to take care of the trees in the future. Last night, at least 8 of the trees had been completely stripped of leaves, which is rather disheartening, but they were in a very vulnerable position on the grounds, and I think with enough watering they should survive.
My moringa trees (the magic tree that will save the world, I'll post more about this later when I'm not as tired and I'll post a powerpoint presentation about it another time) are growing alright, so I'll do a proper PLASA training when I plant those.

So right now I'm on my way to Senegal for WAIST - the West Africa International Softball Tournament which is just a big gathering for all Americans ex-pats. Hopefully I can stop by the Gambia at some point as well. Should be back at site by the end of February. Also stopping by Nioro for the festivities of Mohammed's birthday and hang out with my old host family for a couple days. So many travels ahead, should be fun.

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