Sunday, October 14, 2012

Do Ma Def Benin Att...I'm Doing Another Year!

October 20 officially marks the end of my two years of service in the small town of Pakour, Kolda, Senegal. Unfortunately, I won’t complete those two years in Pakour. On September 5th I arrived in Thies, Senegal where my journey first began August 11th, two years ago. Since that day I have, to use an almost criminal oversimplification, gained some perspective. Never could I have imagined that cultural and language differences that formerly frustrated me to no end would now be a thing of the past.

In 22 months in Pakour I planted or facilitated the planting of over 12000 trees with more than 60 farmers. These trees will continue to produce cashews, mangos, guavas, papayas, and pomegranates long after I leave. The thorny species will continue to protect farmers’ fields and gardens from goats, sheep, cows, and monkeys for years after I say my goodbyes.  I rode a donkey in 115° F heat 100 km across the region of Kolda to raise malnutrition awareness and teach the importance of the locally available super nutritious tree, Moringa oleifera. I led trainings in tree nursery establishment, outplanting techniques, and how to cook a leaf-based mosquito repellant lotion.  Mike Goldman, a volunteer friend of mine, and I gave a chuckle and peaked the scientific curiosity of anyone with a radio and 30 minutes to listen to facts and stories of the day. My service also contributed to the infrastructure of Pakour by giving 630 students and 25 teachers the dignity of bathroom facilities on school grounds, ending a 3-week student strike. When I leave, my counterpart and good friend Moussa Diallo will continue to use the resources and skills given to him through the Master Farmer Program to teach “best practices” in gardening, field crops, and agroforestry.

Many things have been accomplished in the 22 months I worked in and around Pakour, Kolda, Senegal, but now I take my skills to a new arena. My new job as Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL) officially started on September 26th with the arrival of 58 of some very qualified and motivated trainees clean and fresh from America. Starting with the training group’s Pre-Service Training (PST) I will be I will be at the Thies training center training the trainers on how to best extend Agroforestry techniques to Senegalese villagers in multiple languages and with a culturally-sensitive air. The focus of PST will be to welcome and guide the volunteers-to-be with just a bit of technical training, while the main focus will be to support them on the more treacherous and difficult road to cultural integration; their In-Service Training (IST), five months into their service, will be more of an intensive technical retreat. I have spent many meals going on at great length about my experiences travelling, living and working amongst the people of Senegal. I look at them, and strain to reflect back on how I was in their shoes.  Our Training Manager admitted in a recent staff meeting that "often their [PCVL's] opinions are taken more seriously...because they've been through it all." It is this knowledge from experience we will focus on for the next two months.

During their training they will, as I did, split time between their training family (for a language/culture focus) and the Training Center (for some more technical training). The part of training I look forward to the most however is Volunteer Visit when I will be able to take my replacement down to Pakour to show him what I've been doing for the past two years, introduce him to Moussa and the work partners, and discuss with him what Pakour would like from him.

Upon the completion of PST at the end of November, the trainees will be installed at their sites, and I will be home for a long-overdue 1.5 month vacation.


  1. Congratulations on your 2 years! It really speaks volumes of your experience, the fact that you've decided to stick around for another year. Best of luck to you, hope you have another awesome year!