Finally, I am back home in Kpekpleme once again. It’s really nice to be able to sit down and know where things are and not feel like I am intruding on someone else’s space or work. Stage training went well. I gave a session on One-on-One consulting skills and had my counterpart come and give a speech on the work we’ve done. If what he said is correct, he just received two orders for his natural insecticide amounting to $40,000 which is kind of astounding if you ask me. I hope for his sake that I heard him correctly. We also made another contact across the country for another distribution point. I’d say things with him are going quite well. I also taught the newbies how to kill chickens for one of the girls birthday. It was funny to watch them actually go at it. We made a great stir fry dinner afterwards.
Camp Espoir went phenomonally well in my opinion. We had 40 kids in total, all of whom have at been affected or infected by HIV/AIDs at one point in their lives. Indeed there were little 8 year old kids who had been infected and many who had lost parents or siblings to the disease. We held a candle lighting ceremony where they were able to share their stories if they wanted a safe place to share. It was quite heartbreaking to hear some of them speak. But in general moods were high. I gave a session on feasibility studies that went well and helped my kids (I was assigned the older boys) do an income generating activity. We had a fake market set up and the kids were all given a little play money to go around and buy the goods from each building. There was lots of singing and dancing and games and challenges, even a big scavenger hunt at the end that reinforced the lessons that were taught during camp. The week culminated in a dance where all the kids let loose and went crazy dancing. It was a blast. In addition to being fun, I believe it successfully accomplished its goals of bringing together those affected and providing a safe place to share with those who come from similar backgrounds while reinforcing basic ways to improve your life ie through hygeine, nutrition, etc.
Camp Unité also went very well though its focus was very different, a heavy emphasis on learning. In comparison with the one session I taught at Espoir, I facilitated 4 sessions at Unite. Mainly focusing on sexual harrassment and Income generating activities, both theory and practice. The program was packed with classes-a total of 4 per day- with very little down time. It was really great to see the kids learn things that they had never thought of before even though they are so basic ideas. The idea of gender equality was mindblowing to those who just assumed it was a woman’s job to do everything around the house. Few had known anything about time management or sexual harrassment. We had a person who had been trafficked when he was a boy to Nigeria for 5 years come in and give his story and advice on how to avoid this horrendous fate. It was quite horrific actually hearing his story. People killed by farming equipment because of poor conditions, being run over by cars during transport, getting paid once a year. The owner would withhold meat for most of the year and then towards the end would bring in a goat. The workers starved for meat who jump on it but without realizing that they had to pay a huge sum for the animal. Essentially, they were trapped for another year of work just to pay off the goat they had decided to eat. I think it did a good job scaring the kids straight and getting them to understand that trafficking is a very real reality in this part of the world and that they should not fall victim. Often times the kids voluntairily go with the promise of coming back rich, it is not just the snatching of children off the street as we often imagine back home. But anywho, I think the kids all learned a lot during the week. We had a lot of discussions and challenges to reinforce the ideas that were covered. We also had a talent show where each building showed off local dances and a parade in a nearby village. The kids performed sketches and dances in front of the community to teach them about a few select topics they leared about during the week. It was nice to see the kids go out there and have fun. Many of the Togolese counselors also had never seen many of these teaching techniques so it was good for them as well to learn and be able to facilitate session back in their respective villages.
Overall camp was both inspirational and exhausting. As a counselor you are constantly responsible for the kids and for camp espoir I had to constantly make sure there was no comingling of the boys and girls. Sessions were about 1.5 hours each in French and had to be coordinated with a counterpart which took lots of time. The songs and dances, while fun and great for the kids, were similarly tiring. I would definitely be willing to help out at one of the camps next year but I think doing two is a bit much energy and time wise (it requires being out of village at least 2 weeks per camp). The relationships formed with the kids and Togolese counterparts though are definitely worth the energy. It was very rewarding on the whole.
In other news, I think my dog is pregnant, though I can’t be sure at least at the moment. I’m adding on two rooms to my house-they are currently hammering away next door and installig a drop ceiling for me- and so I will have more room if she does indeed give birth to a litter of puppies though I cant say I’m horribly excited by the prospect of having no space and up to 6 dogs run around. And giving them away to anyone other than a volunteer would possibly mean it being eaten. Also, the new kids had their post visit aka their first week in their village before headed back to training. I think my new neighbor survived well enough though the word of the week seemed to be overwhelming. Hard to believe it’s been a year since I was dropped off in the middle of nowhere. We celebrated their surviving the week in the regional capital where my neighbor cooked a huge feast and we rented out the local soccer stadium and played kickball. It was a lot of fun. That’s about it for now. Hope everyone at home is doing well!! I’m off to go sleep off the past month.