Club Informatique des Jeunes de Farende – Brian Tepera (Written July 16)

When applying to DukeEngage, I was particularly drawn to the Togo program after reading that students had come and installed a cyber cafe right here in the village of Farende the previous year. I knew I wanted to work with students in the cyber cafe in some capacity but was far from being set on one idea. Upon our arrival here in the village, I was shocked at how uncrowded the cyber cafe was for most of the day. In fact, I came to learn that there are really only 2-3 people who regularly use the internet here, none of which are students. This beautiful cyber cafe that Duke students had built a year prior has essentially become just a cell phone charging station for the village. For my project I’ve set out to try to change that, and hopefully draw young people to all the incredible things that one can do with computers.

At first, it seemed odd to me that no young people took advantage of the cyber cafe right down the street from them. The usage fee wasn’t huge by local standards, and the questions I was asked regarding the cyber indicated that students were certainly curious about computers. As I spoke more with the youth in my homestead, I learned that the main reason most people stayed away was simply because they had no idea how to use a computer. It seemed strange at first that in a full year, no one had gone in and at least tried to figure it out by playing around with the internet or something basic. The more I thought about it though, the more it began to make sense: computer literacy is instilled in Americans from such a young age that we seem to take it for granted. But for Togolese students with no prior experience whatsoever, using a computer is as foreign for them as it was for me to come and eat fufu for the first time. Sometimes it’s just better to have someone who knows what they’re doing show you the right way to do things the first time around.

At our initial meeting with all of the village youth where we introduced our projects to gauge interest, I was satisfied when I was handed a list of about ten students who were curious enough to give my project a try. We set up meetings on Sundays and Thursdays for about an hour. Going into my first meeting I expected maybe half of the initial ten to show. I write up a rough agenda to follow with what I thought could be covered in an hour: introduce the different parts of the computer, show them the internet and how they can find anything that interests them using Google and other sites, and maybe give a brief introduction to email if time allowed it. When I arrived at the cyber, I was surprised when there were already 3 kids waiting outside, 30 minutes before the class was supposed to begin. By the time the class actually started, there were close to 10 people who were there to learn. I was thrilled, and began my first class. Almost immediately after we began I realized that I had grossly overestimated the amount of material I could cover in this first meeting. Simple things that I hadn’t thought to talk about (which fingers you use to hold the mouse, the difference between a right and left click, and knowing that you have to click on the blue, underlined words to open a link, just to name a few) came up in questions and confusion and I struggled to revise my itinerary on the fly. I ended up covering just two major websites, Google and Wikipedia, and showed them a music video on YouTube at the end. Though I covered far less material than I anticipated, I left feeling very optimistic about the class, because of the great enthusiasm of the students. When I showed them a music video of a popular song at the end, their faces lit up and their eyes were glued to the screen. I could tell that the desire to continue to learn was certainly present amongst the students.

My next meeting coincided with an impromptu political really here in Farende so turnout was much lower which disappointed me. I thought that the kids might have decided my class wasn’t so interesting after all and stopped coming already. But nonetheless, at my next meeting attendance was back to what it was at the first and we continued with the lessons. At this meeting, after reviewing much of the material from the first time, I gave the kids a little internet scavenger hunt. I would read questions aloud and 3 teams, divided between the computers, would race to find the answers. We started with simple questions such as, When was the president of Togo born? and Who won the World Cup in 2002? The kids struggled at first but by the third or fourth question they had gotten a hang of how to get to Google, type in a search phrase, and read the results. At the end of the class, I noticed that the students had begun searching for other things that interested them – one student searched for Socrates and others looked up pictures of African leaders. It thrilled me to see the kids searching for things that they wanted to read about; that they were already doing this just a couple lessons into the course amazed me. I almost felt guilty having to tell them to log off the computers at the end because they had just really gotten into their searches. But again, I left with great optimism, due to the excitement of the students.

As the next couple lessons continued, attendance continued to steadily increase each class. This was a good thing, I thought, and I didn’t want to turn anyone away, but it had reached the point that there were too many kids to cram around just 3 computers. I met with the owner of the cyber to discuss dividing the class into groups and meeting more days of the week. We decided to divide the class into 3 levels, based on age, and each level would meet one hour a week on Sunday, Monday and Thursday. The plan sounded good to me. The kids had expressed their frustration with searching, due to the fact that it took a long time to find and type all the letters, so we were beginning to move on to typing. Being in smaller groups for the start of this would be perfect so that everyone would be able to get lots of practice time with the typing program.

When the first day of the new groups started I instantly noticed that things were easier to handle. Each class was now 6 students rather than 20 and the kids were able to focus more on the computers in front of them. The younger kids in particular were really into the program, RapidTyping. I only wish I had decided to divide the class up a few classes earlier.

For the past 3 classes now the kids have been able to work on their typing and their results have been much improved. Heading into this last week, I hope to work with each group to introduce Microsoft Word and then create guides for each of the programs we’ve worked with, so that after leaving the kids can continue to practice while looking to the guides to answer any questions. In addition, McKenzie has been working with Alice, the woman who works at the front desk of the cyber, and Elie, the man who built and owns the place, to train them in many of the same programs. The hope is that by the end they will be well enough trained to be able to continue the classes with the students. This will both help the students continue to learn more about computers, while also encouraging them to continue to come to the cyber, so that the next year doesn’t end up like the last with just a couple regular customers.

In addition, we’ve reached an agreement with the village’s cyber committee to begin allowing free internet on Saturday mornings for young people. Between 9-12 all students are allowed and encouraged to come for a free 30 minute session where they can do what they choose on the computers, rather than just always coming to be taught and watched by someone else. Again, the goal of this arrangement is to encourage the continued use of the cyber by youth in the village.

Going into these final days, there’s a lot that remains for me to do, but given all of the positive signs I’ve seen from the students throughout the last few weeks, I am really excited to spend these last couple classes with them and to do as much as I can to set up the class to be able to continue after my departure.

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Microfinance des Jeunes de Farende

As you may understand by now, as a dedicated reader of our blog, the nature of each of our projects this summer werecentered aaround the  issue of youth migration from the villages of Kuwde and Farende. Whether it is to Nigeria, Benin, Ghana or other parts of Togo, the young adults travel seeking  “l’adventure” and a way to make money, often to pay their school fees, though are sometimes instead exploited for work, manual labor, and even sex. Our projects this summer worked towards mitigating these negative outcomes of youth flight by bringing adventure and a way of making money to the villages, and giving students an alternative to migrating that is, perhaps, less risky. From Caitlin’s writing class, Brian’s computer class, and my microfinance project, I feel that we were able to engage the youth in Farende in a way that was effective and hopefully, sustainable. It was =an absolute joy to work with and learn from the motivated, driven, and enthusiastic young people in the village over the course of our projects,
I saw my own work come to fruition when this last week, we launched Microfinance des Jeunes de Farende. We selected seven young adults who will receive loans in a first cycle of the initiative to start businesses ranging from selling fertiliser to marketing soy cheese. Cyril will oversee the follow up and repayments, and the program will continue throughout the year, selecting more loan clients every few months.

Already i feel this project has been a success. When we reached the point of giving out the first cycle of loans for MJF, we learned of one bright, energetic young man who had gotten a girl pregnant and had planned to travel to another country for the summer to try to make money to pay for her, as well as his school fees, by working in the fields. However, when he heard of the opportunity with microfinance in the village, he stayed home and wrote a strong application to recieve a loan. So now, this summer, rather than risking being exploited for labor and paid very little, this hardworking young man will be to raising and selling chickens using a loan that MJF gave to him.

I am hopeful that this microfinance initiative will only continue to grow and make an impact on the lives of youth of Farende. It has been truly a pleasure to work and experience life in the village this summer..

Signing off for now..,;.YOTO

Le Collectif Littéraire des Jeunes de Farendé — Final Thoughts on Farendé’s New Writers’ Society — Caitlin Moyles

My writing project with the aspiring writers of Farendé is nearing an end, and our classes over the past two weeks have been busier than ever as we prepare to publish the writers’ finished works on their own class website. The group is now comprised of seven writers (up from the three regulars, Théo, Essotam, and Jules, who have been coming since day one) and is called Le Collectif Littéraire des Jeunes de Farendé (CLJF,) a name we chose from seven options in a dramatic blind vote. Mackenzie also introduced the beatnik snap as a form of applause after a writer reads their work aloud in class, which I think, along with the prospect of posting their writing online, has boosted group cohesiveness, spirit, and attendance to an all time high. Besides having individual portraits taken for the web site, writing author bios, and typing up their final, corrected poems, tales, and essays, the students were treated to a performance of Kabiyé poetry by Jesper Karma, who sang three poems to the rhythm of two bottle caps which he tapped together. We’re also hosting a closing ceremony, a literary salon at the cybère, at 6 pm on Saturday. Family, friends, and the community at large are invited to hear the authors read their favorite pieces aloud, enjoy refreshments, and see the website unveiled.

With regards to the cybère’s library, I’m wrapping up the book catalogue and writing a list of contacts and action items that a future Duke student might use to get the library up and running. I have interviewed the director of the schools, David, about which books the library lacks and how the schools could incorporate the library into their curriculum. I also spoke with David and the pastor at my host family’s church about collecting donations at the churches in Farendé and in Kuwdé, in order to raise money to buy new books. Unfortunately, I won’t be here to oversee the completion of these tasks, but I’m glad to leave a base upon which a future student can build. A well-stocked library with active community programs would, I believe, greatly enrich Farendé.

I couldn’t be more pleased with the enthusiasm, dedication, and hard work that my students have put into the writers’ society. I came here uncertain that my project would even get off the ground, due to what I feared would be a lack of interest in reading and writing for pleasure. However, it proved to be the opposite. They have not only written a lot and well from the inspiration they find in their daily lives in Farendé, they have also participated in our discussions of a wide variety of well known English and French literature – the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Albert Lozeau; the stories of Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck; and excerpts from Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu and Céline’s last novel, Rigodon (1961.) Although there won’t be anyone to keep CLJF going after I leave (at least until next summer!) I want to encourage the students to keep writing and email me their pieces, which I would love to read and discuss with them. I’ll also show them how to find reading material online, which will enable them to satisfy their thirst for literature until the library is complete.

Thank you to everyone who made my project possible—in no particular order, Jesper and Elie Christophe Karma, Cyril Moutak, Charles Piot, Mackenzie Cramblit, and DukeEngage. You’ve all helped me learn that giving of one’s time, energy, and passion, combined with a mutual willingness to learn about new cultures, is a reliable recipe for any successful project. Peace, Togo! It’s been quite an adventure. 

Brad – Anacardium trees

My DukeEngage experience has been a good case study in holistic thinking. Because my peers and I are inaugural members of the Togo DukeEngage program, our independent projects have the potential to serve as a framework for the program’s future.

My project focuses on the anacardium tree, a potential biofuel and cash crop. This week I interviewed a man in Koudé who currently has a small plantation of these trees on some of his land. Following the interview I found myself thinking harder than ever before, at times to the point of a headache. A few questions that have arisen: what is my role here, what negative/positive effects can the project have on the community, what work can future Duke students do? Other questions around cultivating the tree specifically arise as well: is there great enough a market for large scale growth, how can loans be given for families to buy seeds/how will these loans be repaid, how can I organize my project differently from ones that have failed in the past? Certainly I will not answer all of my questions in one week, some I may not answer before the trip’s end. However, I feel just the constant thinking I have done on this trip around how culture, history, finances, politics, etc affect development projects is an invaluable experience. I have now gained firsthand experience that development is not simple and requires deep thought. If in the future I have more time and money to carry out a project somewhere, I will remember my experiences here, especially the lesson that critical holistic thinking is key to any success.

Farende Writers’ Society, Project Update—Caitlin Moyles

The Farende Writers’ Society is only three weeks old, and our participants are already making steady progress in improving their creative writing skills. Of equal importance, I have begun interviewing students, adults, a woman who studied history at the University of Kara, and teachers about youth culture and literacy, in order to better understand the cultural context in which my project has taken root. My interview with Alice, a lady who studied at University of Kara, was invaluable in helping me see the practical value, in the local context, of learning to read and write well. Most university graduates who remain in Togo, she said, hope to get well-paying jobs for the Togolese government or NGOs. In order to be selected for these jobs, the university graduates have to do well on a written exam in French. French is everyone’s second language in Togo, so students who love to read and write, and who have had a lot of practice starting at a young age, will have a much easier time with understanding the questions and writing articulate answers. French literacy is key to “moving up the social ladder” in Togo, and the Farende Writers’ Society can help students discover a passion for reading and writing while they’re still young.

Three students are regular participants in my writing classes, and we welcome drop-ins, in the hopes of increasing in number. The students began by turning in bi-weekly writing assignments about their daily lives, which we read aloud and discussed seminar-style. Obviously, their lives in Farende are very different than my life in the U.S., so their choice of subjects never ceases to captivate me, whether they write about participating in a funeral ceremony, cultivating a field, dancing at a Christmas celebration where men and women cross-dress, letting a baby get too close to a fire so he or she will learn from experience not to touch it, or a love interest who cooked one young writer some delicious fou-fou after a study session. Once we got started, the first order of business was helping the writers improve their descriptions. We practiced describing objects as if we were blind, to encourage them to employ all five senses in their descriptions. We have also practiced using metaphors, similes, onamatopea, and synesthesia, as well as rhythm, poetry, and the different phases of the writing process. Right now, we’re working on brainstorming, free-writing, and creating first drafts. A couple of the writers have already improved significantly, and I am heartened that they keep coming back with more original writing to discuss.

Last week, I realized that researching youth culture and literacy is important in order for me to understand my project in its cultural context and work toward its sustainability. I began by interviewing random people in the market, asking simple questions such as, do young people in Farende read for pleasure? If not, why not? What do students read in school? What’s your favorite subject? Do you have to share books with other students? What do you like to do in your free time? Would you check out books from a library if Farende had one? Another new component of my project is cataloguing the 300-some books that Eli, the local entrepreneur who first envisioned Farende’s internet café, has stashed in his office and hopes to turn into a functioning library. In order to get youth into the library, I’d like to collaborate with teachers who could assign students book reports and research projects. I also need to ask teachers what they think the current selection lacks—most of the books were published between the 1950s and 1980s! Along with the rest of Duke Engage in Togo, I would love to help the internet café become a center for writing competitions, typing classes, chess or Scrabble tournaments, and the village’s hub for educational programming. 

Brad – Farming!

I have begun cultivating with the farming collective in Kuwdé. This experience is one I looked forward to throughout our spring independent study. First, because I hoped to try my hand at tough fieldwork and see if I could keep up with the Kabiye men; pleasantly, the men, including my home stay brother, agree I haven’t done half bad. Second, I looked forward to this experience because it offers an intimate view of the line between the communal and individual work culture of the Kabiye. In this community group micro finance products have historically failed, a puzzling fact considering men work together collectively in the fields. As I begin my project with anacardium (a tree that yields an income-generating seed that can be converted to biofuel), I will consider why group projects have failed in the past and how to go about my affairs in an efficient but historically cautious manner.

Microfinance in practice – Emma

  The whole process of creating, reworking, editing, and writing up the skeleton for a microfinance organisation has been exhilarating..though recently I’d begun to question whether or not a small microfinance scheme in Farende could really work. I found my answer today, when Cyril invited us to a meeting of fifteen women who operate a lending program among themselves..every Tuesday at 1, the women gather behind the big cement Affaires Social building, in a small mud hut. They filtered in this afternoon, one by one, to lay down their money that was borrowed to run their small businesses, mostly selling food or drinks in the market. In this whirlwind, I saw sums up to  the equivlant of $40 – on a faded wooden picnic table. Every person paid their loan back on time, and in full (including interest, of which part of was kept as “savings” for the woman to withdraw later on), with the exception of one woman. This particular woman showed up to the hut late, with a lesser sum in hand than she owed. Upon seeing this, a number of other women erupted, shouting loudly in Kabiye and pointing accusing fingers at her. This exchange clearly illustrated to me that in a system where people have no collateral to lay down to take out a loan, a sense of accountability to repay the loan is kept through peer pressure. Surely, after all that yelling today, the woman would try harder to pay back on time and in full next week.
It was such a dynamic, engaging, experience, watching these women unfold their hands to proudly reveal and lay down on the table wrinkled money that was then counted, and shoved into a plastic bag by someone who would carry it to the bank later to be deposited into an account shared by all fifteen women. Just last week alone, the women deposited nearly $200 deposited into this bank account. It made me incredibly hopeful to see these transactions taking place and the processes of microfinance being carried out by this women. Fingers crossed, we’ll be able to create an initiative with the youth that is as sustainable and strong as the one I saw today.

Nathalie – Health Insurance updates

Over a month in to our trip and we’re all finally really busy with our projects. I’ve been working at the clinic (Casse de Sante) in Kuwde every week day morning. My daily routine has been the following: wake up at 6:30am, take a bucket bath, have my oatmeal, walk down to the clinic with my host father (10 minute walk down a steep path), and continue analysing the insurance system data. At 11am, I take a break and walk back up the steep path to my homestead and help my host mother prepare my lunch. After eating, I usually spend some time reading under the trees, sometimes I return to the clinic and other times I hike down to Farende (1 hour hike) to see the other Duke Engagers and spend some time at the internet – catching up with the news, my friends, and trying to brainstorm ways of improving the health insurance system at the clinic.

Work at the clinic has been extremely interesting this past two weeks. I have looked through three pools of data that the clinic has collected since August 2011: (1) the people who are insured, (2) the people who are uninsured, and (3) the women who give birth at the clinic. The results from my analysis show that almost every family involved in the insurance system has benefitted from the system. Impressively, the insurance system is still self-sustaining. From the data on the uninsured people, I have identified six families that would have benefitted immensely from the insurance system since August 2011. From the data on women that have given birth at the clinic, I have seen that they are the ones that suffer the most because they have to pay the highest fees.

My goals over the next two and a half weeks:

Starting Friday, I will begin to interview two families who are uninsured and could benefit strongly from the insurance system. My aim is to try and understand why they haven’t already joined the insurance system and show them the exact amount they would have saved over the past two years had they joined the insurance system. I will continue to interview the other families in the beginning of next week. Next, I would like to interview some of the members of the insurance system to see if they have any feedback on ways of improving it, etc. I would also like to target the families that have dropped in the insurance system in 2013 and understand why they didn’t continue (did they think they were losing money?, were they not able to pay this year?, did they forget to sign up again?, etc.) Lastly, I would like to have a community meeting with all the women in the village that are still of age to give birth. I would like to make them aware of the insurance system and show them how much money they could save (especially when more than one person in a family is pregnant in any given year, since the standard insurance fee covers an entire family).

Some initial ideas for improving the insurance system:

Over the past few weeks working at the clinic, I have noticed that many people simply forgot to sign up for the health insurance in 2013. I have also noticed that if we were to incentivise pregnant women to join the insurance system, they would need to be able to join the system at any point in the year. Currently, the system only allows people the option of joining the insurance in January/February. This means that if the family forgets to join in those months and pay the 1800CFA fee, they have missed their opportunity of being part of the insurance system for that year and must wait an entire year to join it again. I have therefore thought of implementing a more flexible system in which people could join at any point within the year. This could give people the opportunity to join who might have forgotten to pay the fee at the beginning of the year or who might not have had enough money to pay in January/February. Furthermore, it could incentivise women to join the insurance system when they get pregnant, with the hopes that they will continue with the insurance system after their pregnancy ends (since babies get sick here very often). Hopefully this improvement in the system could increase enrolment and make it more appealing for people to join.YOTO

Budget proposals – Emma

    These past few days have been the busiest yet for me in Farende. I’ve been reading budget proposals from eighteen youth aspiring to start small businesses – everything from buying and reselling petrol to selling baked goods in the market – and trying to come up with an adequate scheme for a microfinance program that will provide them with the funds needed to launch their businesses as well as the incentive needed to repay these loans. Before these funds can be allocated, however, the budgets that have been submitted will need to be revised. As I’ve read through them, I’ve noticed many mathematical errors, and observed that most lack a strong description and plan for the project. So just today, Mackenzie, Charlie, and I brainstormed and have decided to hold a workshop this Friday to help propsective microfinance clients to come up with a business plan and budget that is thorough and accurate. The hope is that then, when people then resubmit their budgets this Sunday, they may feel better prepared to start the small business they have dreamt up. After the budgets have been resubmitted, Charlie, Mackenzie, Cyril and I will be conducting follow up interviews with the youth who have applied to receive a loan, and ideally through these conversations, decide on about five “clients” to grant loans to for this first loan term. Ideally, eventually all young adults who have written budget proposals will have the chance to receive funds…We’re hoping to set up the microfinance scheme so new “clients” have a chance to apply and reapply to be a part of the program every few months. They will just have to edit and improve their business strategies in order to show they will be able to repay the loan after its term is up.

It is exciting, needless to say, to see this project getting underway.

Group interview in Kuwde

Group interview in Kuwde

Program Director Charles Piot, language instructor Jesper Karma, and Duke students interviewing young men from Kuwde who have traveled to work on plantations in Nigeria. One of the interviewees traveled two years in a row, returning after the first trip with a motorcycle and after the second trip with cash. Today, he operates a moto-taxi service and a flour mill on the mountain. The flour mill in particular has positively impacted a large number of families on the mountain, who no longer have to walk the 4-5 km downhill and up to grind sorghum and corn flour, a staple of daily meals.