Well, even though the last month I haven’t had my computer, I still have made strides in focusing on what projects I want to pursue, so I thought I would give you all a brief overview.
Cooperative Fiombonantsoa—Silk Weavers
The silk weavers and cultivators have been my main focus, and I think they will continue to be. After discussing the problems they face, and spending time observing their business, I have decided on a few projects for them. First of all, they already have a production house on the major national road going to Ampefy, a major tourist town, and Tana. The government is currently working to finish the road between Ampefy and Antsirabe, making a tourist triangle between those two towns and Tana. The production house has a room that could be used for a small silk boutique that the weavers could use to sell to tourists traveling that road.
My proposed project is to help them build signs in Malagasy, French, and English to let tourists know to stop and browse. I want to to teach them how to be persuasive sellers, as well as conduct a pricing workshop so they are making sure they are putting the correct price for the amount of work. I also think it would be good to set up production so that tourists can see it, sort of an eco-tourism attraction.
I am also working with a friend to design a tag that will match the signs to put in with their product packaging. I just sent about 50 scarves to be sold at DC’s Eastern Market in January, that I want to put the cards with, as well as in the packaging when we sell the scarves on the Village Store website (when we get a new order I will tell you, but there are some money moving issues going on there right now). So, that is step one. Don’t think it should be tooooo difficult. But you never know here.
Step two will have a much more lasting impact on the actual production of the silk. Currently, the silk my weavers cultivate is called landikely, and is found in Madagascar as well as parts of mainland Africa and Asia. They weave with both the landikely and the landibe, which is found only in Madagascar. The two worms live on two different trees. My weavers cannot cultivate from May until November because it the trees the lanikely grow on are too cold and won’t grow. In addition, the cooperative gets their eggs from Kenya, and the eggs are too cold and won’t hatch. I want to develop a project to build greenhouses so the weavers can cultivate the silk year round and have a little more stability in terms of their product.
In researching greenhouses, I cam across a website that talked about a project at Penn State University working on affordable greenhouses in Kenya and Tanzania to promote food security, so my current stage is looking into that further. Truly excited to get this project off the ground, I think it will make a huge difference and can be used as an example for people to use greenhouses for farming other things.
Sekoly Harenasoa—School in Manazary
Manazary is a town about 18 km south of Miarinarivo on a horrible road. And I say that having only been on it in the dry season, it is about to get a lot worse. The director of the school, a woman named Beatrice, came to the first meeting I ever had in Miarinarivo back in May. She is incredibly hard working and passionate about what she does. So I go out there Fridays when I can (the only day there is a taxi-brousse) and talk to her abou the school. They have just over 100 kids, ages 3-12, and 4 teachers and 4 rooms that they rent on the first floor of someone’s house. What they really want is to build a new school. Minnie, the previous volunteer, helped them come up with a budget for a 10 room school house made out of concrete. They already own the land where they want to build it. Minnie went with them to talk to the head of education for the region in Miarinarivo, but that was no help. So I am currently trying to find grants that can help us raise the around $16,000 to build the new school. All project funding through Peace Corps caps out around $5,000, so I am trying to find alternative sources. More to come on that.
Cooperatives Mendrika and SASIVAMA—Rock Sculptors
These groups have been a bit of a challenge for me. They worked very closely with Minnie, and so the transition was hard on them. They didn’t have to go back to the beginning, since she helped them so much, but they had to find the patience to tell me all about their organization and deal with me still learning Malagasy. But, I am optimistic about the new project I have lined up for them come January. At Minnie’s suggestion, I applied to be the project for an MBA consulting class at the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business. They look for Peace Corps volunteers every year to develop project proposals that groups of students will consult on. January to May, these students will help me figure out how to market these very heavy granite sculptures, since it is so difficult to sell them to tourists.
Mpiompy Akoho—Chicken Farmer
This project is still a bit up in the air, but I am optimistic about its future. There is another volunteer and good friend of mine who is currently working with her town on establishing a very successful chicken farm with funding and training from USAID. I am hoping I can get her to come up and visit and help me give him advice on how to proceed. If not, I intend to go to her site (which I might just do anyway) and film the chicken farming they are doing and have the farmers give advice to my farmer in Miarinarivo.
ONN—Office of National Nutrition
I am really excited for this project, which just recently came into focus. The Office of National Nutrition for our region, Itasy, is located next door to my house. Minnie told me when I arrived that they wanted to work with me on something. I had no idea what I was going to do with them for awhile, but eventually went in to meet with them and found out that they are very interested in promoting moringa, a new super food plant that has all kinds of vitamins, minerals, protein, and calcium. They particularly want to focus in on maternal and child health, which is one of the project sectors of USAID, meaning I should be able to get funding from them. I met with them a few times, but just last week I decided to bring my French friend, David-Pierre, because he helps run a training center that trains on different agricultural practices. The meeting went very well, and now I think we will all collaborate on mass trainings on moringa at his training center. So pumped!
I have a good friend Miarinarivo named Toky who was taught English by a Peace Corps volunteer back in 2002. He since went on to get his masters degree in accounting and is now an auditor under the age of 30. He is very bright and very driven, and I had heard of a program called Atlas Corps that is pretty much the opposite of Peace Corpst, and I thought he would be perfect for it. Altlas Corps sends bright, motivated young individuals from developing countries to the US for a year for them to get a good experience working in the non-profit secotr. They must have good English skills and be committed to returning to their home countries to work and incite change. Toky is all of these things, and we are working improving his English and preparing the application for him to come to the US. I have never seen someone light up so much than when I told Toky about this program. He talks to me about it all the time.
Assemblee de Dieu and First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor
Last but certainly not least, I am still planning to do a partnership with my church in the states and my church in Madgascar. My Dad and I are going to develop a Sunday morning class for the kids in the states to create a mural for the church in Mada to paint on their walls. This will be coupled with short youtube clips from both the states and Mada about different aspects of American and Malagasy culture, so both parties get to learn a bit about each other.
Ok, so maybe it wasn’t so brief, but I have a lot of ideas in my head!! And I am excited to see them come into fruition. I know things will change a lot and there will probably be a lot of bumps in the road, but I am really ready to start seeing these ideas come alive little by little.