Help Make Girls Fearless!

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Help Make Girls Fearless!

See these awesome girls? They were at last year’s Camp GLOW: Girls Leading Our World. It’s a week long empowerment camp for girls in the south of Benin. These girls are going to rock the socks off of people in Benin. And you can help girls just like them! I’m helping run Camp GLOW this year and we need your help. Yes, you. Just follow the link and donate whatever you’re able. Help create strong girls for a strong future! https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=14-680-016

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Voting Without Literacy

There are elections coming up next year in Benin. Which means it’s time to check the voter registration rolls!

But things get tricky in a country where only 42% of the population over 15 can read. (Source: CIA World Factbook – sorry I can’t link, the Peace Corps computers only have Internet Explorer in a version too old to support WordPress). So how does a country check its voter registration?

Like everything else in this country except moto drivers, you do it very very slowly.

Each commune (similar to a county in the US) is separated into villages, and those villages are sometimes separated further into quartiers (neighborhoods). Sometimes, if there is high population density such as my village in the South, quartiers are further broken down into smaller segments. Each unit has a designated public place – I can’t yet confirm if these are the same as polling places). Sometimes it’s a primary school. Sometimes it’s an empty market stall. Sometimes it’s a Qur’anic school. Sometimes it’s a big mango tree.

At each of these locations, election officials post the voter registration lists for those people living in that area. The list includes a photo, so that if you cannot read, or cannot read French, you can still theoretically find yourself. For about a three week period, there is also a government official sitting by the lists, who will help you confirm your registration status or help if there are any problems.

It seems that the process is generally pretty smooth. Because there’s such a long period of time in which one can check the lists, there isn’t usually a crush of people waiting in a mob (because in this country lines are for suckers like stupid yovos who think there should be order in the world).

There are still a few issues, though. First is that at the lists I looked at, almost all the photos were of men. This probably has many reasons, most of which deal with the fact that women are often seen only as wives and mothers and sexual objects. Their literacy rate is significantly lower, and in many families, men may be the only ones who vote because they are the decision-makers in the house. The low women’s registration appears not to be the result of voter registration practices for the most part.

Once we get to the actual election, I’m expecting lots of shenanigans (though I won’t actually be here).

I unfortunatly don’t have a picture of this for you, because the day I was intending to take a photo, I got sick and had to head to the medical unit at Peace Corps headquarters, and I believe they’ve taken the lists down. But I’ll try to keep on the lookout for more election-related news from my village.

“Finding Yourself” in the Peace Corps

“You’re joining the Peace Corps! That’s so cool – your experience is going to change you so much! You’re really going to find yourself!”

I heard several versions of that before I left. And I even started to believe it a bit myself. After all, it was just responsible to not make too many concrete career plans while I was in business school and had an entire department of staff to help with the career search process because “I’m just, like, going to change so much while I’m there, so who knows what I’ll want to do after.” Right?

Not really.

Most people join the Peace Corps for multiple reasons, one of them being “personal growth and exploration.” While this is definitely something that happens, I have a few words of warning for prospective/future PCVs:

You will not “find yourself” in the Peace Corps.

You will certainly have a lot of time for self-reflection that you likely wouldn’t have doing a job in America. You will be challenged in ways you can’t anticipate now. You will grow and you will change. But if you’re like the majority of Volunteers, you won’t have an epiphany about who you are supposed to be, or what your job should be.

Just like in life everywhere, the growth typically comes slowly, through reflection. While the reflection here may be spurred by situations, cultures, languages, experiences, and emotions you wouldn’t have otherwise encountered, you’re still the same person you were when you applied to the Peace Corps. 

I certainly felt the same way. I had hoped that being in the Peace Corps would give me some clarity about what I want to do when I “grow up.” I have no idea what I want to do for a living when I get back, which is sometimes a little scary. I’m still a confused 20-something, just like I was when I started this adventure over 21 months ago.

That’s not to say that Peace Corps doesn’t help you grow and change. I may not know what I want to do for a living, but I know I want to work in a job that I feel has meaning. I know I don’t want to work for a big aid agency (although this may change as my Peace Corps cynicism wears off). I know I want to have some autonomy in my projects and not have every move dictated by a superior. And those things will help me with my career search. And I’ve grown personally as well.

But I’m still basically the same person as I was when I got on that plane in JFK in 2012.

So while the Peace Corps is an amazing experience, and I can recommend it to people, there are a few people I would caution before they apply. 

If you’re applying because you have NO IDEA what you want and you think you’ll suddenly “find yourself” in a village somewhere, you’re probably wrong. I wouldn’t necessarily say “don’t do Peace Corps,” but you should be aware of what Peace Corps will and won’t give you.

It will give you amazing experiences that can’t be repeated with any other job. It will give you opportunities for personal growth, self-reflection, and a hell of a lot of learning. 

It won’t give you a epiphany about your next job.

But who wants that? Life is more of an adventure if you don’t always know your next step, because your next step could take you anywhere.

 

Quick Health Update

I’ve been pretty lucky when it comes to health as a PCV. My amoebas and I are friends – they’re the kind that I won’t get rid of until I leave, since the medicine to eliminate them is more disruptive than actually having them. I’ve only had bad food poisoning once. I haven’t broken or sprained anything. I’ve never had malaria (quick! Everybody knock on wood!).

I have had an infection in my ear a few times, which was easy to get rid of after a quick visit to the ENT doctor in Cotonou.

Then on Friday (four days ago now), I had dizzy spells. Which was worrying because at both times, I was in AC or under a fan, and sitting down, had had a lot of protein, and had been drinking water.

I ended up in the medical unit of the Peace Corps office. I’m still here. Good news: it’s not meningitis! Or malaria! Bad news: it’s some sort of virus. Neutral news: recommended treatment is to “rest a lot, drink a lot of water, eat good food, and stay in the air conditioning for another day or so.”

Now that’s a treatment I can live with.

Student Manifesto

The students of CEG Daagbe went on strike. Here is a roughly translated version of their manifesto they posted all over the school during the strike:

 

Motion to Protest

When will our suffering end?

Suffering?

 

We, the students of Benin, and in particular of CEG Daagbe.

– In light of the persistance of the wrestling between the unions and government;

– In light of the right to education that has been left by the wayside;

– In light of the fact that we don’t have teachers who will give us knowledge;

– In light of the fact that certain students regularly attend class and others don’t;

– In light of the fact that certain students are profiting from this release to totally forget their notebooks;

– In light of the fact that others are profiting from it to engage in sexually uncontrolled practices;

– In light of the fact that our parents are coping to afford our school fees;

– Also considering that government’s freedom-killing drift in the face of the current movement [i.e. the government’s actions against the teachers’ strike] (drift toward threats, intimidations, and slander…);

– Considering that the president of the republic is making the youth of Benin suffer

– The Confederation of Students of CEG Daagbe calls all students to observe a strike of 72 hours in order to:

1. Energetically protest against the freedom-killing drift of the government and it’s confiscation of the liberties of the union members;

2. Support the teachers in their struggle, ongoing for 3 months, against the arbitrary and the name respect of actions taken by the government;

3. Get the attention of the government [for our demands]:

– the scrupulous respect of liberties dealy acquired

– the satisfaction of the legitimate demands of the pre-school, primary, secondary and university teachers so that classes can begin again in schools paralyzed by the strike, and we also ask all students to leave in a massive movement to reclaim their rights!!!

 

ONLY THE STRUGGLE PAYS!!!

Done in Daagbe, March 25, 2014