Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Funded Peace Corps Project

Below is a message from my son, Ted, who is three quarters of the way through his stint in the Peace Corps in Togo, Africa. He would like to do two "funded projects" which is Peace Corps lingo for special projects financed by folks at home. If you would like to contribute, please send a donation by writing a check to me, Dan Gurney, in any amount to:

Dan Gurney
re: Ted's Peace Corps Project
P.O. Box 2255
Sebastopol, CA 95473

Here's Ted's message:
I hope this message finds you well. It has been quite a while since we last spoke and I want to update you on my travels and experiences with the Peace Corps.

It has been a year and a half since I embarked on my journey. The first three months of service were spent in the Girls' Education and Empowerment training program. Training consisted of French language classes, cultural classes and technical training, teaching us possible project ideas. After a swearing in ceremony, I was put in a taxi and sent to my village of service.

My new home is called Seregbené. It's in the plateau region of Togo, about 300 km north of Lomé and 15 km from the border with Ghana. It is 34 km from a paved road and electricity and 98 km from running water and internet access.

I live alone in a three room house. I collecting rain water from my roof for drinking and washing. I cook on a small gas stove and read at night by the light of a kerosene lamp. During the last rainy season I planted a small garden in my front yard, and plan to do the same this year.

Seregbené has a population of about 700 people. The village is nearly 100% ethnically Akebou. Due to the region's isolation and homogenous population, a dim view is often taken towards strangers. I find this sometimes hinders my work, but at the same time provides me with an excellent opportunity to increase the understanding of American culture among the Togolese. Each day I try my best to integrate into the rhythm and pulse of the village, visiting farmers fields, spending long afternoons at the once-a-week market, and drinking palm wine under the mango tree.

My work centers around education and women’s rights. I work at the local middle school (7th through 9th grades but students aged 11-25). I teach Life Skills and health classes. I have trained a group of Peer Educators who help me spread the message of family planning, safe sex, gender equity, women’s rights, study skills, self confidence and public speaking. I also do similar activities with the seamstress and hair dressing apprentices.

While my work centers around youth development, I also work with Village Savings and Loan groups which bring access to micro-finance credit even in the most rural settings.

I have also collaborated in tree planting projects, nutrition awareness campaigns and soccer matches.

Although work is sometimes slow, it is rewarding and I am glad I joined the Peace Corps.

In 6 months, when I close my service, I plan to attend graduate school in education somewhere in the west, probably University of Washington, University of Oregon, or U.C. Davis.

At this point, I would like to present two funded project ideas. The two Village Savings and Loan groups that I work with suggested that they would like to do a collaborative project among the members of the respective associations.

One group (25 people, 20 women and 5 men) proposed the idea of building a storeroom where members of the group could store cash crops and grains. The ability to store their crops would make it possible for them to collectively sell the crops when prices rise thus adding to their profits. Profits would go to their Savings and Loan association which serves as a village-run bank.

The other group would like to collectively raise goats. With 37 members, they would be able to share the maintenance of the fencing, grazing areas and housing structure. Profits realized from raising the goats would be invested in their association.

Both of these two projects could be realized with a sum of $1000 - $1300. The two associations, the village, and myself would be very grateful for any donation. To contribute, send a donation to my parents who will then transfer your donation into my Togolese bank account here in country.

Internet access is scarce but I will do my best to send updates.

Hope all is well.


Ted Gurney


Paul C said...

How interesting to read about your son's community and educational development work. The pictures provide a real sense of the vital work going on there. Best wishes.

The Pollinatrix said...

Thanks for sharing this, Dan. It's always wonderful to see what real people are doing in real places.

It must be very rewarding to see your children being such mindful, active people.

Delwyn said...

Hi Dan

What an experience for your son to have as he launches himself into adulthood. It will mark him and shape him for life.
I have been wondering about communication. Did he learn the language or does someone there speak English?

You have raised two wonderful offspring...

Happy days

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Paul. Thanks. Ted joined the Peace Corps to give back a little bit to the world. His studies at UCSB in Global Studies gave him the understanding that we enjoy a very luxurious standard of living in the material realm. He wanted to see what life is like from another perspective and this is it!!

Dan Gurney said...

Our children, both of them, give us ineffable joy. We are very happy with both of them and love them beyond telling.

Dan Gurney said...

Delwyn, I have to say that's very perceptive of you to wonder that. Perhaps the fact that Ted's standing at the back of each group and off to the side?

Where Ted lives the people speak a tribal language which is tonal and is organized differently with regard to syntax and grammar. There is no one in the village who can teach him the language, so he only knows the small number of words he's been able to pick up. He cannot communicate in it.

The colonial language started off as German, but after WWI the Germans relinquished this colonial holding to the French. So French is the colonial language. Ted took about a year of French in college. French is his day-to-day language. So Ted, unlike many Americans of his generation is trilingual, English, Spanish, French.

Not all villager know French, however, so he's pretty isolated geographically, culturally, linguistically, and socially. He's the only white guy in a village of 700!

He'll come back to the US with wisdom far beyond his years.

Lori ann said...

Hi Dan,
How lucky the people of Togo are to have your son, he is making such a difference in their lives. And how lucky you are too, to have such a wonderful son. All the best to him now and at graduate school in the future.

Dan Gurney said...

Thank you, Lori ann. I like the way you sync up with what I'm saying. Yes, I feel extremely fortunate that our children chose to have my wife and me as their parents. They have given us countless blessings for which I feel grateful.