A monthly newsletter of The West Cascade Peace Corps Association in Oregon's Southern Willamette Valley
From 2008-2010, I served as a Health Education volunteer in Mali. In September 2011, I arrived back in Mali, this time as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer. I now live in Bamako, Mali's capital, where I work on a USAID youth development project called Projet d'Appui aux Jeunes Entrepreneurs (PAJE-Nièta).
The project works in 4 Malian regions – Koulikoro, Sikasso, Kayes and Tombouctou—and accompanies youth in gaining the skills and training to become successful entrepreneurs. We place Malian volunteers in rural villages, where they teach youth Bambara literacy, functional French, math, and work readiness lessons. Our youth then choose a trade by conducting a feasibility study and then receive training in that trade. The idea is to provide youth with the knowledge and skills to become economically independent and allowing them to remain in their villages.
Living in Bamako is a very different experience to living in a rural village! I have running water, electricity, internet, and I work in an air conditioned office, at a computer, every day. I feel that I still have the chance to take advantage of Malian culture, while living a lifestyle that is closer to what I am accustomed to in the States. It has also been fascinating working on development at a much higher level. Most of my colleagues grew up in Bamako and have very little idea of life in rural villages – at meetings, sometimes they ask me what life is really like in a village! And as a USAID project, we are held to very tight constrictions in order to meet USAID indicators that seem to be constantly changing. Of course, my favorite part of my job is going out into the field and meeting with the youth and volunteers in our project. In this office in Bamako, it is very easy to lose track of who you are trying to help and why – life here can feel very removed from life outside of Bamako.
Traveling outside of Bamako is becoming more difficult unfortunately due to increasing insecurity in the North of Mali. The influx of fleeing Libyans (and their arms) into Mali's north, the growing presence of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and an upcoming presidential election in April suggest that the situation will not improve anytime soon. After two kidnappings and one death in one week (in Tombouctou, and Hombori, a village just north of Mopti, and south of the Niger river, previously uncrossed by AQIM), some international organizations are pulling out of areas of Mali. The US embassy continues to discourage past Mopti, but Peace Corps volunteers are still at their sites, and no one has been evacuated after this last round of kidnappings.
Foreigners and Malians alike, however, are not at ease. When I arrived in Mali in 2008, PC had volunteers as far north as Gao, and we were still allowed to travel to Tombouctou. While I still feel completely safe in Bamako, there is no doubt that Mali faces a new set of challenges today.
Cassady was a major presenter at the launch of the National Center for the Promotion of Volunteerism in Mali. She described the occasion in an email on 12/07/11:
"Monday, December 5, was the International Volunteer Day. There was a very big ceremony here in Bamako to celebrate and also to launch a new Malian corps of volunteers being sworn into service. The Malian corps of volunteers was created after UNDP helped Mali pass a law creating such a corps. At the ceremony, attended by the American ambassador, the Japanese ambassador, many ministry officials, and Mali's president Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT), I had the chance to give a speech on the experience of being a PCV in Mali. I gave the speech in Bambara, and I have to say, it stole the show! I have also attached the English copy of that speech, and you may prefer to use that in the newsletter."
Since few of us know Bambara the speech is reprinted below in English. You'll recall that Cassady gave a brief talk in Bambara at the March 1st downtown rally in Eugene to celebrate the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary. Fortunately, a young woman from Mali was there to translate Cassady's talk into English.
Reflections on Volunteer Service by Peace Corps Volunteer Cassady Walters
Monday, December 5, 2011 – Centre International du Conférence de Bamako (CICB)
Excellence the President of the Republic of Mali,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to speak at this ceremony organized on the occasion of International Volunteer Day and the launch of the National Center for the Promotion of Volunteerism in Mali. Today we recognize the work of volunteers all around the world, and honor them for the good work that they do in service to others.
This year we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps around the world, and the 40th year of the Peace Corps in Mali. In April 1971 the Peace Corps signed an agreement with the Malian government, which facilitated the arrival of the first volunteers in the country. Since then over 3,500 American volunteers have served in over 1,000 Malian communities. Today, there are 155 volunteers serving in 5 of Mali's 8 administrative regions, and who work in key technical sectors including: agriculture, education, environment, food security, health, small enterprise development, and water sanitation. In addition to these volunteers, 41 more trainees will be added to this number when they complete their training and swear-in this coming January.
What does it mean to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali? It means leaving your family, friends, and country to arrive in a village where you know no one and barely speak the language. It means becoming a part of that village so that not only do you understand the development needs of that village, but you also know the village inside and out. You attend baptisms and funerals, weddings and celebrations. You arrive knowing no one, and you leave with a family.
I now serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, where I work with the Projet d'Appui aux Jeunes Entrepreneurs, another project with a focus on volunteering, but from 2008-2010, I lived in Tene, a village in the Segou Region on the road to Mopti. I served as a Health Education volunteer. I worked closely with my homologue, Aissata Konaté, a matrone at the Tene CSCOM, and I collaborated with many other community health workers, including CSCOM staff and community relais. Peace Corps volunteers do not arrive in their villages with a development plan. Instead, volunteers take time to get to know their village – what its strengths and weaknesses are, and how a volunteer might be able to help. Rather than assume anything about their villages, volunteers carry out assessments and talk with community leaders to find out what the village's need are.
In Tene, malnutrition proved to be the most pressing problem, and there was one particular case of malnutrition that I would like to share with you that ended up shaping a new initiative in the fight against malnutrition in Tene: When Alimata would arrive on Saturdays to be weighed, I could barely stand to look at her. She was, literally, skin and bones. Her skin was taught across her cheekbones, pulling her mouth tight and her eyes were listless. It made me cringe to pick her up to weigh her and measure her arm, to feel the unnatural lightness of the two year old and the closeness of her bones to my hands. Alimata was one of many cases of severe malnutrition I and my Malian colleagues at the local health clinic had started to treat weekly as part of the malnutrition program we established. But Alimata's case was by far the worse, and at her weekly weighings I watched with despair as her weight dropped ever lower. After several weeks treating Alimata with Plumpy Nut, a peanut butter based and vitamin enhanced food that is supplied free to malnourished patients by UNICEF, we had seen no positive change in Alimata.
The head of the clinic, Yacouba Doumbia, decided it was time to refer Alimata to the nearest hospital about 50 kilometers away. I had thought that the referral would be the obvious solution -- at the hospital, Alimata would receive better treatment and would soon get healthy. But her mother's reaction proved me wrong. Kadia already walked 7 kilometers to the clinic every Saturday with Alimata strapped to her back, and she balked at the idea of going all the way to the hospital, where she would not only have to pay for transport but would also have to pay for food and lodging for herself.
The real difficulty, however, lay in her husband's approval. He refused to let her go -- who would cook, clean and pull water for his bath without Kadia around? Kadia simply could not take her daughter to the hospital -- it wasn't an option. "Fine," said Doumbia, "We have done all we can for you. If you refuse our referral, we will be forced to drop you from the program." For me, it was a terrifying moment. Doumbia clearly felt like he had done all he could and the case was now out of his hands. But Kadia stood before me close to tears, helpless, with a two year old in her arms who would surely die if she walked out the door. There had to be a better solution. And there was.
Doumbia and I came to an agreement, and the next day Alimata walked all the way back to the clinic, this time with Kadia on her back and bowls of millet, peanuts and beans on her head. That morning, we taught Kadia how to make ameliorated (enriched) porridge with local ingredients, and everyone laughed with relief and giddy excitement when Alimata began to drink the porridge as if she would never stop. Kadia continued to make the porridge throughout the week, and on Saturday, for the first time, Alimata's weight had gone up instead of down. Our success with Alimata and the ameliorated porridge put an idea in our heads.
We enlisted our community health workers to begin ameliorated porridge demonstrations, at which mothers would learn how to provide better nutrition for their children and the porridge would be sold and provide a small profit for the community health workers. The demonstrations took off and the porridge was a hit. Due to the large size of Malian households and the hierarchy over who controls the money, it was simply easier and more practical for women to buy ready-made porridge for their children then to make it themselves. Women wondered why we were not selling the porridge daily. Others, from far off villages, asked if the porridge was available in powder form so that they could take it home, boil water, and have an easy way of providing nutritious food for their children all week long. With the help of Mama Traoré, one of the community health workers, we dried peanuts and millet and beans, ground them, and packaged them into ameliorated porridge powder to be sold at the clinic. Each bag sells for 100 Franc CFA, or about 20 cents, and makes more than enough porridge to keep an infant full all day long. On her way to the clinic, a huge bowl atop her head filled with bags of porridge powder, women and men call out to Mama, asking for one, two, three bags of powder. On vaccination days, mothers carefully pull out 100 Franc CFA pieces from knots in their clothes to buy porridge. And on Saturdays, Kadia walks all the way to our village, Alimata strapped to her back, in search of porridge powder.
This story is an example of the transformative work that Peace Corps volunteers can accomplish. Usually placed in rural villages, Peace Corps volunteers have access to communities that are far away from aid structures. And because they are embedded in the community, Peace Corps volunteers are often the best placed members of the aid community to identify that community's needs and act as a liaison between supporting government and aid structures and the community.
As an American, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali has been an extraordinary experience for me. After two years in Tene, I saw healthy behaviors improve, malnutrition decline, and a new HIV/AIDS facility built at the CSCOM. I learned much about Mali and the development process and all of its challenges and rewards. More important to me, I left Tene leaving a Malian family behind – people that had become mothers, grandmothers, brothers, and best friends. I was given the gift of being accepted into Tene's community, and as a proud member of that community, I did my best to assist Tene in finding the best path towards development.
I could not be more excited that Malians will now have the same opportunity as Americans to serve their country here in Mali. In my new role as a Peace Corps volunteer assigned to work with PAJE-Ničta, I recently had the opportunity to interview several of the Malian volunteers who have now been living in villages for six months, serving as PAJE volunteers. What struck me was how similar our experiences were as volunteers – challenges were the same: integrating into the village and finding motivated villagers to work with – and the rewards were the same as well: Peace Corps and PAJE volunteers have the opportunity to work with a community to make a difference and are incredibly valued and appreciated by their communities.
For the future Malian volunteers who are here today, I would like to congratulate you for being selected to serve as a Volunteer to assist your country. You are, in a sense, a manifestation of the ideas and engagement that helped to found the U.S. Peace Corps in 1961. In arriving to this point, you show a desire to work for a noble mission, to facilitate the development of your country.
I must be honest in saying that your volunteer service will not be easy. Thus, to help you get through those difficult times, I would remind you to be patient, keep an open mind, and never lose site of the values that brought you to this point. Take into account the value of your mission, and be ready to smile when the going gets rough. According to my experiences here in Mali, I can assure you that the tasks that await you are big, but they will be rendered a little bit easier to accomplish thanks to the assistance of your partners in the host communities in which you are going to live and work.
I join my Peace Corps colleagues in their enthusiasm to see what you are going to accomplish here in Mali, starting today. While your motivation for becoming a volunteer was largely based on individual efforts, today it becomes a public promise. I promise you that you will never forget the moments spent with your host communities, and I promise as well that the Malians with whom you are going to live and work will never forget you. I would also like to wish you the very best for success in your mission as a volunteer.
All over the world the call to volunteer service is increasing. During his visit to Ghana in 2008, American President Barak Obama challenged youth by saying, "you can service your communities and apply your energy and education to create a new resource and establish new connections around the world. You can conquer illness and put an end to conflict, and make changes from the ground-up." In addition, U.S. Senator Harris Wofford, who was also one of the co-founders of the Peace Corps, has said, "imagine if by being a volunteer, working in service to others and for community well-being, were the common experience of every single youth in the world. Imagine the changes that would be possible in this world, and in each country around the world, if we were to unleash this 'people power'." It is in this spirit that we, the volunteers of the world, decided to service, to help improve the quality of life of each individual with whom we work.
I would like to finish by sincerely thanking His Excellency, Mister President of the Republic of Mali, as well as the Ministers and other officials representing the Malian government, for their support of the actions and activities carried out by Peace Corps volunteer during the past 40 years. This support is a testimony of your interest in the Peace Corps, volunteerism, and above all, friendship that exists between the United States and Mali, which continues to reinforce itself over the course of time.
I would also like to thank the American Ambassador to Mali, as well as her colleagues from the U.S. Mission, who always shows their limitless enthusiasm and support of our volunteers.
Excellence Mister President of the Republic, Madame Ambassador, Excellences Madame and Mister Ministers, Dear ladies and gentlemen representing national and international institutions, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating this first contingent of 100 Malian volunteer and in wishing them all the best for a fruitful work that they are about to begin with their host communities.
Thank you for your attention.
Eugene residents finding Peace: The city is a recruiting hotbed for the Peace Corps, the worldwide volunteerism agency
From The Board
In December the board awarded $300 to "Gender Empowerment Weekends" in Ukraine. One of the project's organizers is PCV Anne Falla who is from Newberg, OR and a recent OSU graduate. Anne was especially pleased to receive support from fellow Oregonians in WCPCA and also from students at her high school in Newberg. The project was fully funded by the end of December. We wished Anne great success with her work and look forward to some updates from her. She sent the following description of the project.
"Our village plans to host two gender empowerment weekend camps, a TOBE (Teaching Our Boys to Excel) weekend camp followed by a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) weekend camp. Our goals are simple - to promote healthy gender ideas and eliminate gender-based discrimination for the youth of two local regions. "Each weekend a new group of 30 students will arrive to our Second School and explore new ideas, define their old ideas and walk away being stronger leaders because of it. Girls/boys will be discussing leadership, gender oppression, job and resume skills, body image, sexual health, healthy relationships, HIV/AIDS, self-esteem...all while playing games, making new friendships from around the region, and tie dye! All information will be given in Russian or Ukrainian, but English will be encouraged- so youth will be mastering those rusty English skills as well. "We know from past experiences that GLOW/TOBE camps are effective in promoting gender equality and we are personally excited as a community to be hosting such camps at our site."
Many thanks to Leslie Mittleberg and Dale Morse for hosting our December 4 pot luck. We enjoyed each others photos and stories from Peace Corps days gone by. Some highlights: Howard Schuman in Thailand being mistaken for James Bond, Dorothy Soper in Ghana petting a crocodile, James Cloutier in Kenya heading out on a government issued Triumph Tiger Cub, Keith Beyer in Poland dressed for sub-zero temps, Josette Green dancing in Costa Rica, Joe Hindman at camel markets and other exotic locations in Mali, Joyce Leader in Congo drinking from a calabash , Jack and Mary Meacham in Turkey... uh oh, Maggie forgot to upload those photos, the lovely view from Dale Morse's latrine in Nepal, Serena Parcell's women's group in Swaziland, Tim Rake's lore from Senegal (had to be there), and Wayne and Rolly Thompson at Machu Pichu, before it became a major tourist destination.
Stay tuned for our Program Calendar for 2012. The next pot luck is tentatively scheduled for February. See you there!
WCPCA membership holds at about 140 of whom about 100 are dues paying. Others have joined in one of two programs for which we don't charge dues. Students or those joining for their first year are exempt from dues. Of course we hope that they will continue to support the organization and pay dues eventually.
We have kept the annual dues low, $15 for an individual or $22 for a family, to encourage membership. The first figure matches that charged by the National Peace Corps Association to those who affiliate with WCPCA through that group. Members receive an email from the membership committee to let them know when their membership is about to expire. We urge members to renew to sustain the organization and our work in this community as well as our support of humanitarian projects throughout the world.
In 2011 about $1,400 was paid to WCPCA in dues. This sum covers the cost of WCPCA's business and outreach activities in the community. Funds to award grants come from our calendar and tee shirt sales as well as distributions from our endowed Beryl Brinkman Memorial Fund. These three sources of income are vital for the organization to continue its present level of activity.
Please do renew your membership! Support our work and also make certain that you will be listed in the updated membership directory that will be issued in early February. The directory will list only members and will be circulated as a .pdf file only to the membership.
International calendars....a few are left. If you missed getting one in the fall, consider buying one or more now at a special reduced price. We have only twenty calendars left and have reduced the price to $8 per calendar or $6 per calendar for purchases of five or more.
These beautiful calendars feature photos from past and present Peace Corps host countries plus extensive information regarding holidays throughout the world. They are an inspiring addition to any home, classroom, office, or bulletin board.
You will soon find the reduced price on the website. You can also order directly from Dorothy Soper by emailing her at email@example.com. If you can pick up your order at her house in Eugene, you'll avoid the mailing cost.
Calendar and tee shirt sales are WCPCA's main fundraisers. Your purchase helps WCPCA fund humanitarian projects, primarily Peace Corps Partnership projects. In 2011 we funded six projects for a total of $4,000 in awards. Help us continue this outstanding service.
I'm honored to serve a second year as the WCPCA president. I want to thank the 2011 board for its hard work and good cheer throughout the year as we celebrated the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary and continued to work locally to "bring the world back home" while keeping our membership informed of Peace Corps work throughout the world. We were especially pleased to receive the ongoing support of the membership in outreach activities in the community and on the U of O campus. Our awarding six grants totaling $4,000 to humanitarian projects is a fine tribute to the membership's support of our fundraising activities. I updated the membership on our work in the August newsletter and below you'll find a summary of our year's efforts. A full annual report for 2011 will be posted on the website at the end of the month.
I'm looking forward to working with the 2012 board which has several continuing board members. We welcome new members, Josette Green and Hannah Klausman, and say farewell to four retiring board members, Nick Bosustow, Jack Meacham, Wayne Thompson, Bob Watada. We also wished the departing U of O Peace Corps recruiter, Justin Overdevest, great success as he graduated and moved to Alaska.
At the December board meeting the new board reviewed the WCPCA activities of 2011 and began planning for 2012. Planning will continue this month. We ask the membership for ideas and also participation as we plan and pursue our work. Please let us hear from you. Board meetings will be the first Monday evening of each month. They will be announced in the newsletter and are open to the membership.
We'll have a frequent guest at board meetings this year, Easther Chigumira, a graduate student and Fulbright scholar at the U of O. Easther is from Zimbabwe and has asked to attend to learn about the board of a non-profit organization.
Our organization can look forward to a fulfilling year with activities to inform our membership about the Peace Corps and engage our membership in local events to "bring the world back home." There will also be time and space for networking and socializing including our hosting the northwest regional RPCV campout in the Coos Bay area in August. Join us to share your ideas and support!
WCPCA's distinctive 50th anniversary tee shirts designed by James Cloutier have enjoyed strong sales since their March 1st unveiling at the anniversary rally in downtown Eugene. There are only two shirts left, both size "medium," and the price is $15 per shirt. If you would like to buy one or both shirts, you can order from the website or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The WCPCA board organized the following community outreach activities to "bring the worldback home," the Peace Corps' third goal:
Other work included:
It has been a while since the WCPCA published a new membership directory, so the time has come to put out a new one. For those of you who were not members the last time it was published, you may be asking yourself, "What is this membership directory and why do I care?" Well, as you'd expect, the WCPCA membership directory includes the names, contact information and service dates of all WCPCA members. It also has short bios on many members, which allows you to find out that - for example - I'm always looking for someone who is interested in going cross country skiing or hiking with me. At the end of the membership directory, there is also a list sorted by country of where each member served. So, if you are looking for other WCPCA members who served in Benin, you can do so in seconds.
I'm sure that you're now dying to get in on this exciting opportunity. But how do you do so? Well, I'm glad you asked. If you aren't a member, the easiest way to join is to go to the WCPCA website and fill out the membership form. If you are already a member but haven't written a bio or your contact information has changed, you can update your information at on the contact information update page.
We understand how important it is to keep your contact information private, so the membership directory only is sent to members. If you don't want your information in the directory, you can either indicate this on the membership or contact info update form, or you can send an email to email@example.com. The membership directory will be published in early February, so if you want to be in it, you must become a member by January 31st!
The WCPCA board of directors for 2012 was elected at the December 4th potluck that was also the annual membership meeting. Jim Beyer acted as the nominating committee and put forth a slate of candidates that was elected by voice vote. The 2012 board is the following:
Dorothy Soper, President
At large members:
Ex officio member: