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.