Well, some interesting things are happening on the bureaucratic side of Peace Corps, and I was asked to be a part of making them a little bit better for volunteers. Peace Corps Washington told Madagascar that we couldn’t have 4 sectors anymore, and so they cut community health. So in July, we only received new education volunteers rather than both health and ed. However, health is something we really need here in Mada. While we are on the low side for HIV/AIDS prevalence (score), we have a huge amount of malaria, particularly on the east coast, and waterborne illnesses due to lack of latrines and personal hygiene. Therefore, Peace Corps Madagascar decided to roll community economic development (my sector) and environment (the one I trained with) into one Agriculture sector with a focus on Food Security.
This has been in the works since before I arrived here, but we are just now implementing the new program with the group of trainees that arrived March 7. Before they arrived, we needed to figure out how exactly we were going to train them. So our regional advisor, Charles Miller, came over from Lesotho (small country completely surrounded by South Africa) to conduct a workshop for us to completely redesign training and make it more effective. Four volunteers each from health and AG were invited to come help design the new training. Though, true to Peace Corps form, we received a call about it 5 days before we were expected to be back in Mantasoa ready to go. Communication is not a strongpoint…
Anyway, so we arrived and got to work. I thought this would be like a lot of Peace Corps sessions, pretty boring and what was said could probably be summed up in about 20 minutes but lasts 3 days. I was so happy to be proven wrong. Charles was hilarious, and great a leading sessions (and playing a hilarious politically incorrect version of apples to apples with the volunteers after hours…) And the sessions really were tools for recreating training from scratch.
So after 3 days of hard work (and even staying after some days to really make sure we had everything done thoroughly, unheard of) we could say that the 4 of us, James, Eric, Elsie, and myself, along with our staff of Lucie, Hoby, and Stan, completely designed the training the trainees are currently involved in. The sector now focuses on improved agricultural techniques, particularly rice (surprise), small animal husbandry such as chickens and beekeeping, and improved nutrition through garden diversity. The business side comes in at the end, once the agricultural techniques are improved enough to yield extra product, the farmers will be ready to sell their product at the market. In addition, we will be teaching simple financial management so people save in order to improve their production. We like to sum it up as vary sy laoka sy tsena, which means rice and the “side dish” that goes with rice and market.
It felt really good to give feedback and see how it is directly implemented. I am so excited to train the new volunteers in April for 2 weeks! Also, proud moment for me I would like to share: because PC called so late to tell me about the workshop that I had to attend, I had already scheduled a big meeting with my silk weavers to talk to them about all my ideas for their cooperative. The meeting at already been rescheduled twice (stupid Prosperer) so I knew I HAD to be there. It was scheduled for Wednesday and they told me the workshop would go until Friday (it actually ended Wednesday afternoon, we worked fast). So they said they would drive me back to site so I could attend the 9 am meeting.
So Wednesday rolled around and I took off in a PC car at 4:30 am to try and make it back. Well, there was a bit of a miscommunication, because the driver stopped at the taxi-brousse station and said “here ya go” buuut I knew that finding a brousse and waiting for it to fill up would take me way too long and I would be late for my own meeting. So he started calling the PC training director to see about the miscommunication, but while he was doing that a friend of mine who drives a taxi brousse spotted me among the vultures trying to get me on their brousse. He took my arm, and led me to his brousse, shooing all of them away and saying I was his daughter, which I feel is true some of the time. He left at 7:30, not quite full because he knew I was in a rush (never happens, so happy) and so I made it back to Miarinarivo at 9:30.
Now, usually this would not be late, and I would still be sitting around waiting for people to arrive at 10. But I am so proud of my silk weavers, because I got through to them that things have to start on time, and they started without me! They actually ran on American time!! So proud of them for that. After that the meeting went smoothly and my part went well, even though I was exhausted which makes speaking a foreign language a bit more difficult.
Well, that’s all for now!