Monday, June 6, 2011

Happy 11 Months!

Since getting back from the States I’ve spent the last 5 weeks at site without leaving. It was something I felt that I needed to do because since I’ve moved to this site I haven’t had a chance to spend a long stretch of time without leaving. When I was in Nioro I only left once and it makes a huge difference in terms of integration and getting work done. One thing that I’m doing that isn’t very difficult but very time consuming and hopefully helpful, is going to every house that is currently housing a student teacher and asking them if I can include them in a list with their name, the number of rooms, the number of students that can stay per room, the price, whether or not there is electricity and whether they have to draw water from a well (there is no running water anywhere in Tominian but there are spigots around the town where people can get treated water). This will allow new students to find a place more easily and give them bargaining power for a house. Not all students can afford to pay a lot of money, and so some are willing to rent houses that don’t have electricity and spigots outside. It will also help the house owners to find students to rent the houses because by being on the list, students will know that they exist. Unfortunately I have gotten resistance from some house owners for writing their names down. More often than not, they think I’m going to give it to the government and that they’ll then have to pay taxes on their houses (almost all houses look unfinished because the law says you only have to pay taxes on finished houses). Many times I’ll find the women at home, and they’ll say they are the house owners, but as soon as I tell them my purpose, they tell me no, they aren’t house owners, their husbands are, or that the house owner died (that was a funny one because I then asked her if she buries the money she receives for the house). Also, most of the house owners don’t actually live in or around the houses that they are renting, so finding them has been a challenge. I’m worked on this off and on for about 2 weeks and I’m still not done. The students themselves love the idea and feel like it will definitely be help, which has kept me motivated. Also, it’s has really improved my Bambara because I have to talk with so many different people and has gotten me out in the community getting to know a lot of people. This is an example of a project where if I couldn’t speak the local language, there would be absolutely no way for me to do it, much less on my own. As I said, they become very suspicious of my motives, and the fact that I speak Bambara makes them trust me and understand me more easily. Most of these people are uneducated and so maybe 10% have been able to speak French.

Although spending 5 weeks at site was fun and good for work, but I also had frustrating moments, especially around week 3. One of the things that gets to me is when they tell me how useless my work is. It seems like more so recently, but a couple people have tried explaining to me the difficulties and make it sound as if what I am doing won’t work. This takes a lot of patience to listen to and explain my motives, especially when it happens more than once a day. I built a tippy-tap, which is a handwashing station, I’ll post pictures, and a student from the professional school asked what it was for, and when I told him, he proceeded to tell me that nobody wants to wash their hands like that because of cultural norms and that nobody will ever change that and regardless of what I was saying he was extremely pessimistic about it. I understand these cultural problems, partly because every time I explain things I hear the same cultural explanations all over again, but my stance on it, and what I try to tell them, is that if I don’t even try to change something, nobody will ever change anything anyways. So yes, most people will not begin washing their hands this way, but I understand this and the only way to begin something is to try, and if I don’t try, then I might as well go home. The other time (in the same day) was when I went to the assistant director of the CAP (the center for pedagogy who takes care of problems within the schools and gives advice), to ask him what kind of solutions or ideas he had about a problem I was trying to overcome. The problem being that many of the middle school kids come from villages around Tominian and have to walk 3-10 km each day to do so. Well, if their families are too poor, or don’t care, they don’t eat breakfast or lunch and still have to study all day. So the only meal they eat during the entire day for the entire school year is dinner. I have been trying to come up with a sustainable solution to this problem but it’s not easy, so I went to ask his opinion. For the next half hour, I listened to him tell me how poor everyone is and how difficult life is Mali is and how everybody in this town is lazy and nobody is going to do anything. Very productive in my opinion… I understand that Mali is poor, I understand that it isn’t easy, I understand that the students parents are poor, I understand that nobody wants to help these children individually, I understand that other students and parents will not necessarily be nice to these students or their parents because they will feel a sense of ownership and un-payable debt and that there might not be a single solution to this problem, but if I don’t even try to find a solution, then these kids will continue to be hungry for 9 months out of the year… during the day at least. I might have found a small solution but it will also be time consuming and I have to make sure that there isn’t any corruption. There are many associations or groups in town, and each of these associations or groups gather money either every week or every month depending on how often they meet. My idea, is to find one association that will take this on as their project and be like a “leader” association. I’ve identified one, but they have been slow getting back to me. Anyways, what they would do, is ask different association if they would be willing to increase their contributions to the group by 100 CFA or 20 cents (typically if they meet once a week they collect 500-1000 CFA, and if they meet once a month they collect 1000-2000 CFA), so adding another 100 CFA wouldn’t be that big a deal for an individual. However if these groups have 30 members and meet once a week, it means that they could pay for the lunch of 4 students for a month. That’s if they pay the minimum and the students receive a minimum. This also does not take into account weekends. Anyways, this is much easier than asking a single individual to pay for a student to eat lunch. We’ll see, but if I can get this properly organized which implies sustainability, and accounts for the 100 students that can’t eat lunch, then I would be very happy with my service.

With the rains coming, everybody is getting their fields ready but this also means that hungry season is coming. There period of planting and harvesting is usually a very difficult one because not only is everybody working very hard in the fields, but there is very little food left over from the year before.

I also just realized that I have spent my last 3 birthdays out of the country and will have spent a fourth by the time my service is over.


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