" Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen.” William S. Burroughs

Monday, July 26, 2010

Well, it was  long road to hoe this last month, but I finally made it to my In Service Training! During IST, we are back together in our original training group from March, and are constantly barraged by technical information. The format is same as training, but we have significantly more freedom, and a little more liberty in choosing if we go to a particular session or not. During week one I learned how to run a radio show, and use the software Audacity. We made sample Public Service Announcements, about things like AIDS, nutrition, and basic sanitation practices... we also did some funny PSA's. We spent 2 whole days on Permaculture....I love gardening, and as you will see below, my garden is doing quite well! Here are some relevant links on Permaculture models and practices; if you garden DO IT!

Obama is listening…are you? Radio jingle.

Right about now you're probably wondering what I have been doing with my life the last month? Beside the typical every day book reading (so far I have read 20), gardening, and talking with my family heres a better idea of what I have been up too...

Girls Camp: In my last post I mentioned a girl's camp I was getting ready to attend, in which I was put on the activities committee. The camp was held in Sokone, and organized as a regional project by volunteers in Kaolack. The venue was BEAUTIFUL. It sat on the edge of the water in a protected park of mangroves and monkeys! The camp was directed to girls who are finishing "sixieme", which in theory are girls around the age of 12, but in Senegal, lying about or not knowing you're age is common, and if you do not pass you're exams, you cannot enter the next grade level, thus our 27 girls ranged in age form 10-18 (the educational system is a whole other story). Each day was organized by a theme (environemtn, health, careers, etc.), and each day was broken down into sessions and activites; like an American summer camp. 
I inherited responsibility for the day on Health. We did a demonstration on hygeine in the compound (strategies to reduce the oral-fecal cycle among children and dirty sand), a nutrition session (food groups), a personal fitness session, and an open discussion about sex and women’s health.  Of all the times I have spent here, the 2 hours where the girls were open and honest about sexual health was the biggest “win” for me. The girls were craving knowledge about sex and sexual health…”how do I get birth control and where?”; “How do I avoid AIDS?” “How do I treat a yeast infection?” etc. etc. They were so happy for the knowledge and just being able to talk about these things; topics that are typically taboo in Senegalese culture.On my Picasaweb account are a few pics of me starting my discussion and leading the household hygiene session.

Epic bike trip and 4th of July:While everyone in America was preparing for BBQ's, playing with fireworks, and sitting on lawn chairs celebrating the great country of freedom, I was packing 5 days worth of belongings onto the back of a bike with elastic bands made of old tire tubes. Along with 4 other Peace Corps Volunteers and 1 employee from an American NGO, we readied ourselves for a 4-ish day and 200 Kilometer bike ride through Senega'ls Niokolo Park, with our destination being in the far Southeast of the country where our Peace Corps 4th of July party would take place.  

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When we headed out of town we looked like a band of homeless people, all of our possessions strapped onto narrow bike platforms and covered with pieces of blue tarp.
The first day was fairly leisurely, about 70K all before we started into the park, we stopped after the first 2 hours when we saw a group of other volunteers on the side of the road eating sandwiches.  Another 40K later, not 30 as we had planned, and with the 12:30 sun beating down, we made it to our first resting place; a beautiful campemant on the Gambia River. 
 We were all really tired after the first 85-ish K that day, and lounged in hammocks  watching hippos swim for the rest of the afternoon. That night, we stayed in a friends village, and as per usual, the village food was not filling or very nutritious, plus we were all exhausted. We ended up not having enough mosquito nets and 3 to a bed. Needless to say we barely slept.

In the morning, we headed off at 6 am, and after calculating the pace we had been going the day before, figured we would be at our first resting place inside the park by 12. It was 25K before the park entrance, and we checked in with the park rangers, where they explained we would not have access to any food or water until a station 80K into the park...not a problem as we had planned accordingly.
After the first 70k, we stopped to rest, as we had thought we would reach a checkpoint or guard station in the park, but had not.  Another hour of biking later, we came to the realization we were not near a guard station, and all had less than a liter of water each; one person had ducked into the shade and taken off all his clothes because he felt himself beginning to overheat,  and had stopped sweating. Another person was so heat exhausted, that she blacked out and was vomiting on the side of the road incoherently. All I could think of was wanting rain, too cool us off, and for a car to drive by.
While we were resting we were approached by a group of rather angry baboons, who began to threaten us by whooping loudly and throwing sticks...the head male was enormous, and decided he wanted to come over to check us out. I did not want to be involved, so I grabbed all of my stuff and headed as far out of the forest I could get. Right after I left, a group of warthogs came traipsing through our makeshift camp, looking rather unhappy. Just as we were finding a new spot, the world decided to end, and the sky opened up and began lightening and thundering, and raining harder than I have ever seen in my whole life. We went from all being overheated, to nearly freezing in dripping wet clothes, and at a temperature of about 65 degrees. We decided to take the opportunity to collect rainwater for our bottles...the rain lasted about 2 hours; for that time we mainly just huddled under a tree and shared the 2 rain jackets that I and another girl had packed.
When the rain finally did stop, soaking wet, out of food (we ate mostly power bars and bread the whole day) and had no idea how far we had to go. After another 60k of biking, we stayed at a campemant that served us a hot meal and cold beer, offered us showers and comfortable beds. It was such a relief. 
We woke up on the third day all sore and tired, but willing to ride the last hilly 30k to Kedegou. After washing our bikes of the caked on mud, and refilling 30 water bottles...the sun was already blistering hot. A group decision was made to strap our bikes to a vehicle and just catch a ride, one of the best decisions I ever made!

The 4th of July party was amazing! A hotel with a pool, 3 roasted pigs, coleslaw, Gissap (Gin and Bissap juice), fireworks, and 100 or so volunteers. A great end to my adventure.

Baseline Survey:  After returning from Kedegou, I wanted to start my household survey. The purpose of this type of survey is to gauge community wants and needs. Since I live in a larger village (about 3000 people), the baseline assessment like this is a little more difficult to do than a village of 300 people. Since my village is large, I am using a mix of sampling (where I chose a randomized number of households to interview), observation of behaviors and structures, and talking to village leaders. The questions range from “number of compounds in village” to “number of pregnant women”.  So far I have interviewed the president of the health committee, the village health worker, and the head midwife. From what I have gathered, there is a need for maternal and child health care education, as well as nutrition education. After In Service Training, I plan on finishing my interviews, and starting a food security assessment.
The UN website has a great introduction on household surveys here

So that’s what I have been up too! Hopefully will post some more info after IST about the trainings that were the most useful and interesting.


BillyP said...

Wow, Kourtney, it looks like you're having an awesome time. Inside I'm kind of jealous, I would like to join the Peace Corps one day! I hope your experience continues to be action-packed and has a positive impact on the lives of the people you're working with. I look forward to reading more blog posts.


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