Our first three months at our sites we are only supposed to be doing a study of the community. Really this means it is a time for new volunteers to get an idea of how the community works, begin to get integrated into the community, and to try to understand some of the ins and outs of the culture. I am now quite sure I will never fully understand the culture, but I am getting some insights by just looking and listening. During this time we are supposed to have some community meetings to try to get people to talk about what they have in the way of resources and what problems exist. After three months we have to write a report about what we have learned and propose work for the next three months.
Peace Corps development philosophy
The Peace Corps development philosophy is to work with the community to identify needs and to help the community find their own solutions to their problems, not to impose an American solution on them. We also are not here to give them money to solve their problems. There are a lot of foreign aid programs and Non Government Organizations (NGOs) giving grants, but Peace Corps has always been about sustainable development. If you hand money to people to solve a problem today, the next time there is a problem, they will go looking for another hand out rather than figuring out ways to tackle the problem with existing resources. If the sources of funding dry up, people will not have the training to think for themselves about possible solutions to their problems. When the community comes up with a plan and it is successful, there is a feeling of success and empowerment that is supposed to carry over to more development after we are gone. It is that old “give me a fish and I eat today, teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime” philosophy, which I believe whole heartedly. Also, I have seen a number of unused buildings that I am told were built by well meaning NGOs without consulting the local community. After the NGO left, the program that was supposed to happen there died too.
Right now I am doing my study of the situation. I have just been trying to get a bit integrated into the community while waiting for school to start October 1 or 15, depending on the school. I hope to have some meetings with representatives of parent groups and with students, but it is not clear how that is going to get organized. For those of you who have been asking, no I am not yet working directly with girls. I currently intend to have a girls’ club for living a healthy lifestyle at the high school level. I hope to motivate club members to share what they learn in the club with younger girls, naybe as mentors, or maybe running girls’ clubs themselves. Many of the younger girls do not speak French well enough for me to be able to communicate with them, but they really are the target group. After my study of the situation I may have a different plan.
Speaking of School…
Can you imagine walking into school and being taught in a foreign language? Unless the parents have taught the child French at home, that is the situation, because the language of the home here is Moore or Jula. That is the reason French is used in school. There are about 14 different local languages spoken here. Even though Moore is spoken more than any other, it is still used by less than 50% of the people. French is the language of the colonial days, but it does not privilege one group over another.
If walking into school hearing only a foreign language is not bad enough,, imagine being in a class with 100 or more other kids in a room with no lights (no power at the school) and sharing a desk with two or three other kids? It amazes me that people are able to learn anything here. No wonder a lot of kids quit school. This year there is actually a new program called BRIGHT which is a program to create 15 bilingual schools. They will start in the first year with about 10% French and 90% local language, and by the 6th year it will be almost all French. It is rather like what they try to do in bilingual programs in the states. It seems very reasonable to me, but then, I am an American, so who knows?