Group interview with Farende youth

Group interview with Farende youth

Program Assistant Mackenzie Cramblit and Duke students Emma Smith (’16) and Caitlin Moyles (’14) interviewing high school students in Farende who have traveled outside the village looking for summer work.


Group interview with youth in Farende

Group interview with youth in Farende

Program Director Charles Piot and Duke students Brian Tepera (’16) and Bradford Ellison (’16) interviewed high school students who had traveled to Benin and Nigeria as seasonal farmworkers.

Emma – Farende Microfinance in the works

This past week, we met with the two chiefs of the villages we are
working and living in, Kuwde and Farende, and they graciously welcomed
us in saying things like “you will learn from us, and we will learn
from you”, and thanking us for coming. It seems this was the last
formal gesture we needed to really settle in, because soon after these
welcoming gatherings we began setting our projects into motion.
I have begun to strategize and plan out my project especially
intensely over the past few days. I will be working on creating a
microfinance initiative in collaboration with a kind-hearted young man
Cyril, and the Social Affairs office he is affiliated with. We had
a couple of interesting meetings this week, each with no fewer than
twenty young adults in attendance, to talk about microfinance. The
goal is that as these young adults finish their school careers, they
might start small businesses that will hopefully, through microloans
and their own hard work, grow into competitive and established
ventures. Though I did some extensive research before arriving, I have
tried to spend more time thinking about how my project will play out –
it is definitely a patient process. I’ve been continually reminded of
the importance of getting to know local contacts and the context of my
project in the community before diving in to it, and this is such a
valuable reminder and lesson in life. Nonetheless, I’m immensely
looking forward to getting started and working with the young
entrepreneurs here in Farende.

Caitlin – Farende Writer’s Society

In light of Duke Engage Togo’s interest in the phenomenon of youth migration out of Farende and Kuwde to southern Togo, Benin, and Nigeria during the summer months, I am in the beginning stages of forming a Farende Writers’ Society, to provide youth who choose to stay at home during the summer with a creative educational and recreational opportunity that they don’t get in school. I hope that if Farende has a more active and vibrant cultural scene during the summer, when the temptation to leave is greatest, some youth will be incentivized to stay in Farende to start small businesses and write about their daily lives on a Farende Writers’ Society blog, instead of fleeing the village to seek adventure elsewhere.

My work began last week at a town hall style kick-off meeting at Social Affairs in Farende, where the Director of Social Affairs, Cyril, pitched all of our individual Duke Engage projects to at least 50 students of all ages.  On Sunday morning, I met with five interested students, Patrick Katch (a published novelist who grew up in Farende,) Professor Piot, McKenzie, and Jasper, our translator and invaluable assistant, to discuss what we would like to accomplish, as a group, over the next five weeks. Professor Piot and Mr. Katch spoke eloquently about the simple pleasures of writing, the importance of discipline (keeping a journal in one’s free time is critical to learning to write well,) and the value of having the capacity and confidence to express one’s ideas to a large audience. Mr. Katch also gave each of the students a copy of his novel, Le fantome de Dekoukou, to read for inspiration—the novel is set in this area, and is an excellent example of how details about daily life add color to a narrative. The group agreed to meet twice a week, on Thursday and Sunday afternoons, to discuss one another’s work and provide constructive feedback. For instance, this week’s assignment was to keep a journal of observations about their daily lives. These observations may become the seeds of a short fictional story, autobiographical work, tale, anthropological description of local culture, or play. As I mentioned earlier, the end goal is to have each student type up one polished, finished piece and publish it on a group blog.

An obstacle I’ve encountered has been capturing the students’ interest and keeping them coming back for more. 11 students signed up at the Social Affairs meeting, but only 5 showed up to the first session. Patrick Katch and Professor Piot have both said that reading and writing for pleasure (let alone as a career) is simply not part of local culture. When they’re done with school, cultivating, and household chores, youth generally prefer to play soccer or cards or hang out with their friends. It will be important to keep reminding my students of the end goal—becoming published online authors, whose work can be read by people all over the world. One of the students dropped off the first round of assignments at my homestead last night, and I am encouraged by their willingness to give this project a shot.

Nathalie – Work in Kuwde’s Health Clinic

Work has finally started this week! I’m working in the clinic up on the mountain in Kuwde with Basile (the clinician) and Odile (the midwife). I have started my research on the healthcare insurance system, monitoring how often people use the clinic when they are sick and whether they are profiting from the healthcare insurance. The health insurance costs 1800CFA (approximately 4 USA dollars a year for an entire family of any size). So far, the numbers show that the healthcare insurance has strongly benefitted every family (except one or two) that has joined the insurance. Strangely, however, the enrollment in the insurance system has gone down over the years and has decreased from 28 families to 16 families that are currently enrolled.  I feel like this drop in enrollment can be explained simply because people do not know about the system and aren’t truly aware of its benefits. There may also be some clashes with the local traditional medicine and the role of witchcraft and diviners in the region. I will continue my research by conducting interviews with the families, particularly the ones that have dropped the insurance, asking them why they didn’t reenroll this year. After a few interviews, I will brainstorm ways of possibly changing the insurance system to accommodate more families or informing more people of the benefits of joining the insurance. YOTO

Nathalie – Kuwde

Finally in Togo! We’ve been through a lot so far: learning village greetings, getting sick with food poisoning, and living in mud houses with our host families. I’m staying in a village called Kuwde that is about one hour away from Farende, up on a mountain. I live about  15 minutes even further up the mountain from the two others that are living in Kuwde, on the top of the mountain. My homestead is quite large, with small huts for all the goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, dogs, and cats my family raises. There are baby animals running around everywhere! The view from my homestead is beautiful, it overlooks Benin! I have a mud house to myself that has two rooms, one is a small living room area and the other one is my bedroom. Everything is very simple but very well taken care of, the beds are made out of straw and have been quite difficult to sleep on. I have bat visitors every night that fly around my room and apparently eat the mosquitoes, although I’m starting to doubt that theory since I’m the one in the group that has the most insect bites. I’m really enjoying the laidback Togolese life, reading on rocks under trees and meeting new people in the village – practicing my Kabiye. Every night, I have card tournaments with the little kids in my homestead, which attracts all the village kids that sit around us, watching and laughing at us, it’s great. YOTO

Farende – Emma Smith

Though I’ve been in Farendè, Togo only a week, I’ve begun to get used
to leaving twenty minutes to complete a walk that should only take
ten. When I leave the faded cement wall that surrounds the raked dirt
courtyard of my homestead, I am greeted almost immediately by
neighbours, children on their way to school, women carrying bowls and
tools on their heads bringing supplies home, and young boys shouting
from the mounds in their fields. Most offer up an “alla-fia wey” (a
question asking if I’m in good health), others a “bonjour”, and some
start smiling and speaking excitedly in the musical language of
Kabiye. Regardless of what our idiomatic exchange is, I’ve come to
understand the importance is that it is done. I feel that I am slowly
building connections and relationships with my fellow community
members for the summer through these brief exchanges.
Moments like these help me to see that Farende is truly a unique
place, and not because of any one factor that defines it, but rather
because of a sum of all of the parts of the village.
I see this in all fifteen or so of the lively, energetic people that
live in my homestead. Every night when the sun sets, someone will
flicker on the wispy light of a dying flashlight, and the homestead
will come alive. The men are back from the fields, the children are
done with school, the women have finished their chores for the day,
the chickens are stumbling over one another in the dark…and there
seems to be an unspoken desire to celebrate all of this. For at around
6:30, the static of the radio echoes off the huts/rooms that are
staggered around the courtyard, playing hits off of the Nigerian and
Togolese charts. I’ve already learned a number of new dance moves in
these dark hours. In the rare moments the radio is turned down, we’ve
been playing cards, my guitar, hand games, and telling stories – all
of which seem to end in eruptions of laughter from misunderstandings
or culture miscommunications. I’ve started to look forward to the
sunsets each night, because I’ve come to deeply appreciate the moments
that follow.
Farende is full of diversity and beauty in every nook
and cranny – baby goats sleeping on smooth rocks in the cool shade,
lush foliage and palms on the steep climb up the mountain to the
neighbouring village of Kuwde, bright colours in the cloth of the
clothes people wear and the sauces they cook. And I’ve immensely
enjoyed this past week here – playing soccer in the mornings, studying
Kabiye, laughing with the children of my homestead, and learning how
to take bucket showers in the dark. I am thankful I have had a few
days to adjust and appreciate the foundation of beauty of where I am
before jumping into my project, and I am very much looking forward to
the duration of my time here this summer.

A Solid Initial Awakening-Bradford Ellison

Africa is considered by many a homogeneous location, to the point the greatly diverse continent is at times referred to as a country. Being a lover of the continent I considered myself immune to the ignorance of too many of my fellow Westerners. However, now experiencing Togo I understand I too was susceptible to failing to observe all the continents rich diversity. 

Having traveled to Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria, when preparing for travel to a new West African country I anticipated a fast-paced concrete covered country. My experience in Lagos, Nigeria consisted of beach palms being the only trees I saw and more concrete than grass. Hearing word of great advancements in Accra and Abidjan, I grouped Africa’s western countries as a region willing to sacrifice natural beauty for financial and technological development. I wrongly believed physical, quintessential or stereotypical, African beauty was reserved for Eastern and Southern African countries. Togo is a beautiful tropical country; palm trees scatter the land from the beaches of Lome, where we began our journey, to the hills of northern Togo, where our project is based with the Kabiye people of Farende and Koude. 

Our project, which involves several projects around a theme of examining local youth migration, is beginning successfully. The past week we have experienced a capstone to our recent spring independent study on local cultural and historical background with Charlie and several community partners. Our daily seminars have included additional cultural and historical information and small lessons in the Kabiye language, which is thrillingly hilarious for both us students and the community as we practice our new skills. 

Already we have begun interviewing local youths who have traveled to Benin and Nigeria for summer employment. And already, my feelings around emigration are beginning to change. Considering youth migration while in Durham this spring, I thought most of the Togolese students simply sought adventure and a change of scenery, like most American students and youths in general. However, these students’ desires and decision to go away negatively affected their local economy and traditions of summer employment. Now I am beginning to see adventure aside, summer emigration and employment in the work camps of Benin and Nigeria is necessary for some youths to pay for school necessities. 

In the same way I incorrectly categorized West Africa as a region void of natural beauty I am learning I cannot assume all youth or categories of youth are emigrating for the same reasons. I look forward to continuing our interviews, learning about the various reasons for youth summer emigration, and beginning our ancillary projects. 

Life in the Ali’s Homestead

By Caitlin Moyles

After one week of living with the Ali family in Farende, I’ve begun to learn Kabiye greetings, adapted to taking bucket showers and using lanterns for light after dark, and gotten to know better my host mom, Marie, along with the other members of the extended family who live in the homestead—Marie’s sister-in-law, her girls Putenam, Gloria, Solange, and Irene, and Marie’s nephew, Patcha. In the late afternoons, I enjoy teaching the kids card games like Slap Jack, or playing catch with lemons we pick off the tree. In the evenings, I watch Marie cook local fare like la pate—a thick paste made of ground sorghum—and fufu—which are very thick mashed yams that you dip into different sauces. She and Patcha also took me to church on Sunday, which was a three-and-a-half hour affair; the women wore colorful pagnes (long skirts that one wraps around the waist,) and there was much music, singing, dancing, and even a small auction of different grains and a dress for a baby girl, to raise money for a church function. Marie’s choir rehearsal at the church on Tuesday night was held by lantern light, and more solemn. I look forward to spending some of my downtime from my Duke Engage project visiting the rice fields that Marie cultivates, and learning to help her sell sorghum beer at the Farende market on Saturdays.