Friday, October 7, 2011

Peace Corps at 50

 Peace Corps is 50 Years Old

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps. As many of you know, it has placed volunteers in 139 countries around the world.  For those who are not already familiar with the goals of the Peace Corps I will quote them here:

Peace Corps Goals

1.  To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women

2.  To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served and

3.  To help promote a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans.

The celebration in Burkina Faso

To celebrate this anniversary there were special events throughout 2011, with a big celebration on September 24, around the world.  Here in Burkina Faso we had a three day “Peace Corps Fair” in an effort to inform people in Burkina about the work volunteers are doing here.  On the first day of the fair there were two special events scheduled, the swearing in of a new group of volunteers and the arrival of a group of people who rode on a bike tour of Burkina Faso to raise money to help volunteers fund small projects at their sites.

We arrived bright and early 6:30 AM or so to set up our displays.  It was cloudy and we all hoped it would not rain, but it did.  As is often the case here, the rain was preceded by a strong wind, full of dust. The wind continued as the rain fell, and the result was that the tents and tables that had been so carefully set up were just about destroyed.  Maybe you can get an idea of the damage in the picture below.

As we ran for the building, many of the carefully prepared poster displays got quite wet, and some escaped from people and blew away in the wind.  We waited out the rain and tried to dry off things as best we could.  Eventually we all went to the auditorium for the swearing-in ceremony. 

There are a few traditional things that happen at these events.  One thing they always sdo is to have representatives of the new volunteers, who have been studying local languages for several weeks, say a few (or a lot of) words of greeting in several of the local languages. This volunteer was one of those giving greetings.  He is dressed in a traditional chief’s costume because his stage mates had voted him chief of their stage.

Another traditional aspect of the event is cultural entertainment.  This time there was a dance troupe and musicians who played the balophone and drums.  I am told this particular group dances in the style of a city called Bobo-Dilasi. If you watch the video on, you get a much better idea of what the dancing was like. (By the way, I am not in the vidio)

Also there are speeches by important people, in this case, the Directorice of the Burkina Faso Peace Corps, the American Ambassador to Burkina, and the Prime Minister of Burkina.  The prime minister presented this gift to the Peace Corps to honor this 50th anniversary.

Peace corps presented baskets to the Prime Minister that contained tree seeds, representing the commitment of the Peace Corps to plant 50 trees in each of the 50 towns and villages where volunteers serve, and a million trees over the next 5 years.  Trees are an important element in the fight against the desertification of the country.

After a reception honoring the new volunteers and the people who rode through that rain storm to get here by the end of the ceremony, we set up for the fair.  Here is what things looked life when the blown over tents were re-erected or replaced with new ones.

The group I work with here, Pengdwendé had a table highlighting some of the projects of the association that I am not involved with, making shea butter, growing onions, and recycling the small plastic bags in which people buy water.  Because safe drinking water is not always easy to find, water is packaged in these little plastic bags and sold on the street.  When you buy one, you bite off a corner, suck out the water and throw the bag away.  You see these bags all over the ground, along with the black plastic bags I wrote about before.  These water bags are made from a thicker kind of plastic and they happen to be recyclable.  The only problem is collecting them and getting them to a recycling center. Here is a picture of out informational display about the organization surrounded by the folks who worked at the tables.

I was at a table telling about the soap opera project.  Pengdwendé has a community radio station in my town and cooperates with five other community radio stations in producing informative radio broadcasts.  These six stations agreed to broadcast the soap opera Cesiri Tono, a soap opera aimed at informing people about children’s rights and the tragedy of child trafficking. In the soap opera one of the characters is a boy who is given to child traffickers by his parents because the tell the parents they will give him a good education and they tell the boy he will get a bicycle.  He ends up working long hours under very harsh conditions on a cocoa plantation, but is finally saved from this terrible life by one of the other characters. Because it is a melodrama, there are lots of other problems in the story line, including forced (arranged) marriages, violence against women and children, prostitution, and alcohol abuse. As I have mentioned before, this program is in Djula, the trading language of much of West Africa, and was written and produced in Mali, the country where my daughter, Janet, served as a volunteer 1983-1985.

As I may have mentioned before, the exciting news is that Population Media Center, the group that helps countries conduct the research needed, to write, produce and broadcast the program, and do a follow-up evaluation, has received funding to do not just one, but TWO soap operas here. The reason for doing two is that the target audience here are the people of the small villages who probably do not speak or understand much French. Among those people there are a total 14 different languages spoken, which is the reason French is used as the official language and is the language used in schools. There are, whoever, two languages that are spoken more than most of the others, Djula and Moore. Those are the two languages that will be used in these new soap operas.

I guess that is enough about the fair except to say that, in spite of what looked like a total disaster on the morning of the first day, it was a great success, with lots of fun and information for those who visited. It was organized and run by the volunteers, with the support of the professional staff, and it was, in my opinion, an outstanding event.

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