Saturday, November 12, 2011

Senegal 2.0

Today we travelled an hour outside of Kaolack to the village of Dissiong.  This was a most unusual experience to last year to see not only brick buildings, but also a generator in the village.  Last year, the seven villages we visited were comprised of mud huts arranged in fractal geometric patterns, so this was a noted difference. 

The beginning of the week was full of compromise.  Two of our CTI bags had not arrived until a week later.  Today, 11-11-11, however was different.  While this village was eagerly awaiting our arrival like all the rest, the spark in the eyes of the members, presidents and council, when the technologies were brought out, had them taking immediate control demonstrating, and CTI remained in the background. 
It is imperative that the local farmers work the technology to ensure adoption and diffusion once a Westerner returns to the United States.  Each of the participants took turns trying each piece of the Pearl Millet processing suite, and again and again it proved to be “Paradise,”  especially for the women working under the shaded Baobob tree.  There were little to no loss of the yield, and at the end of the afternoon our CLUSA assistant rationed the milled millet to the farmers for that evening’s meal.

The comments that came from our discussions after the demonstration resonated loudly among us all.  USAID/CLUSA has already purchased the suite, and we have recommended that the suite be utilized within the Dissiong village following the back to back USAID/CLUSA work we have to complete this month.  There are nearly 50 surrounding villages that can currently come to Dissiong to utilize the generator and these villages will also benefit from the efficient use of CTI’s hand operated suite of pearl millet processing equipment.
Ndeye Diallo, President of his council and village described how the CTI suite of technologies will be a huge economic benefit in Senegal. From a household level, farmers would have savings to use to diversify their crops, instead of paying the large processor that sometimes passes through the villages1300CFA to process their millet when or even if it comes through the individual villages, in addition to the 35CFA for flour or 70CFA for fine flour. 

Alternatively, Babear Guey, was a consultant representing two organizations FAPA and PROMER. They promote micro-enterprise/entrepreneurship around millet processing.  He exclaimed in a blissful voice “This is a gift from Heaven, CTI has brought a technology never seen before by his NGO’s that he must find out how to connect with us so he can access the training and equipment necessary to distribute these among his villages, and to learn the CTI way.

Coly Sarr, President “I am amazed at the machine, this is truly a blessing and I wish to see it available and affordable to us all”…he continued, “Please be very cautious with the technology, it is us (the small holder farmer who needs this) not large companies who would likely steal/copy this idea, please allow us to access this…what would take 10 women 4 or more hours, I have witnessed in moments before my very own eyes, Thank you CLUSA and thanks you CTI we are blessed to have you here.”Habiboou Dreme was representing 41 villages and would like to see the suite of technologies in each.  Laity Badione Nguecok, who is a CLUSA extension agent would wish to see “50 suites in the villages this year, and 100 the next year.” 

Ob Hadj Sember Sisse left me, however, with something to ponder.  “Every day at dusk, you will see children walking the dark, dangerous highway to Dissiong because we have a generator to process millet, CTI technologies would save a lot of hardship.”  So logically, to me, It is not only a food safety thing, it is a individual safety thing. 
Now it is a question of diffusing those technologies throughout Senegal and beyond.  Over 500 million people survive on this hard to process crop, and it survives throughout the most arid parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and India.  With your help, we can assure our valued in-country partners on the ground, many of whom will be a part of the Agricultural Symposium CTI is hosting in Dakar on November 16th, facilitates that the next generation can be promised their personal as well as their food safety and security. 


Saturday, August 20, 2011

African Exodus

As I mentally and physically prepare for nearly two months in Africa, I am again reminded why I do what I do, and why I wake every morning.

Compatible Technology International was founded 30 years ago this year by former engineers from General Mills, 3M, Land O Lakes, Cargill, University of Minnesota, and soon flourished to include food scientists, agronomists, development workers, economists and conserned philanthropists who recognized a need for thier knowledge to transcend the boundaries of the developing world.  Fast forward 30 years, as I looked to forward my education, and I found my Masters in Human and Development Policy Program with a concentration in sub Saharan Africa, and a volunteer opportunity, and a home as Co-Chair of the  Africa Committee. I soon found an opportunity on behalf of CTI to travel to Africa with a USAID/NCBA Farmer to Farmer program.  Now, I am the Program Manger on staff, oversee over 150 volunteers, am managing the West African efforts, am spearheading a West African Agricultural Symposium in Dakar in November ***that is coming to fruition because I could not sleep one night and I thought it would be a GREAT idea*** of which USAID, Gates, Peace Corps, USDA, MCC, Ministry, NCBA, NGOs, local publicity, Oxfam small holder farmers and the like will all be in attendence.  But this is not why I do what I do.

As I stood in the desolate dusty fields of West Africa, watching the women, I mean 7 year old girls, who will never have a chance at a betterment of life, because 8 hours (minimum) a day in the field processing her crop for the days meal is her everyday, for a lifetime... and then I look at CTIs simple post-harvest technologies and what that can provide her in terms of a future, a micro-enterprise a business, it is mind blowing.  11 year old Roykiya I taught to disassemble, clean, and reassemble our burr-mill-grinder, and we know for a fact they (her whole village) is using it daily in the USAID village we will return to in November.  It is because of that teaching and investment, of a young woman, that there is a future in Africa.  I am happy to report that our most recent post-harvesting devices are producing 10 times the human (woman) power (hand power--as most villages have no electricity) that we will be bringing into the field that USAID has purchased for our Nov/Dec trips and I could not be more excited to be introducing this to the women of tomorrow.

Cheers to a departure and a future of hope for the people of Africa!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

..."In the end, it is not the amount of breaths you take it's the moments that take your breath away"

Upon arrival to the Kuer Ali Guey village in the Kaolack region of Senegal, we were welcomed with open arms.  Awa, President of the Women's Association said "Andrea, you look like you are a peaceful volunteer".  It was the envelopment of Kuer Ali Guey and the surrounding villages and organizations from the very inception of this project that the rest of the trip would live up to, even surpass.  Come to think of it, while there were parameters in which we were expected to work towards per NCBA/USAID along with objectives and outcomes to strive towards, my per the opening title of my blog, were "Going in with an open mind and heart"...and little more.
Quickly however, I found that the universal language of love and compassion transcends any boundary or constraint personal, professional or otherwise.  Put simply, the more you are willing to give of yourself, the more response and progress one will find.
Many village visits,meetings and relationships were forged due to our determination to serve.  And serve we did.  The thoughtful technologies of Compatible Technology International, coupled with the sensitivity to cultural and individual differences, advanced this month long journey to a caliber of unexpected proportions.
Some dialogue that we experienced from various sources were "If you could visualize our interest, it would be as tall as a skyscraper!" Ahmed Dame Cisse from Lat Mingue village, "You have a friend me" Dougal Guey in Kayemon village, "C'est bon C'est bon C;est bon!" A farmer from CARITAS, and most touching for me, was a departure from a life long friend I made despite the language barriers "I have left my heart with you" Therese, wife of CARITAS Geo-Scientist Renee with whom we dined at their home once and then were surprised a second night with a Thanksgiving Feast to help us feel at "home" in their home.  Touching is the fact that each of these people are tickled by what our simple technologies can provide--a way and means for a better life--and touching is the fact that I have been blessed to have had the chance to help secure that opportunity.
Recently, at our December board meeting, I explained my obsession with taking photographs of doors. Each of us have had doors closed, only for others to be opened, and until CTI and pursuing my Masters in Development Policy with a concentration in Africa, it seems that there was a less definable period in my life.  Many "doors" and opportunities have been presented to me within this organization I think so highly of, and I have been keen to act on those, feeling that it is my job to continue to open similar doors for those, mentioned above, and beyond that are equally deserving, but perhaps without the ways or means. It is unconscionable to me to think that what CTI is able to provide will not be visible to the most rural communities.  So I, like each of the equally passionate and eager volunteers at CTI happily forge an exodus towards a goal of creating and supporting sustainable environments that will provide future generations with the tools, education and kindred roots.
I had a lot of reflective moments during this trip, and I also blogged our adventures, seemingly because it would have been impossible to re-create most of these experiences after the fact.  But what resonates loudly in my mind is the moments that rendered me speechless, (something that rarely happens).  It is these silent moments, personal exchanges, accepting smiles, joyous laughter and dancing and even the unspoken word that are impossible to prepare for which allowed me to reflect most authentically and honestly that I am truly the most fortunate woman in the world.
We are called to do certain things in our lives, and it is what we do with that time that maters most.  Cliche perhaps, but I enjoy very much a quote I once heard..."In the end, it is not the amount of breaths you take it's the moments that take your breath away"

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Rooster, a Donkey, A pack of strays, and the Imam...

What does a rooster, a donkey, a swarm of stray dogs and the Imam have in common? Answer?...After a horrible night of sleep they all come begging you to rise at 4:00am...So I thought I would begin this blog with what started our 8 hour journey into the Gates/ICRISAT Hope Project in Tominian. But first I feel there needs to be a bit of a picture painted here.

Tuesday Dec 7th:
I find myself somewhat disenchanted upon arrival. Something I cannot quiet explain, but one I will try to elaborate on. I must be careful not to negate what Mali has to offer, its people, its hidden jewels, but from the moment I arrived there was a looming curtain and a literal wall of haze from the immense pollution ring around the capitol city. There was almost a offensive piquant odor about the bustling city due to the refuse, the smog, the dust and wind combined with the heat. I have not been able to shake this unexplainable feeling, yet everyone I have had the pleasure of meeting is simply delightful.

Looking back:
It is curious,or rather disheartening to me the Mali is one of the poorest countries in Africa, and yet it has allocated to it some of the largest funding for development. The Chinese own the roads, and the Libyan’s own the hotels.

While in Senegal, we visited a distributor of industrial agricultural equipment, dozens of machines, and hundreds of thousands invested going unused by the immediate populations that they are meant to support. It is a gross reality of development, and one at CTI that we work hard to avoid by working with our partners, distributors, stakeholders and instituting accountability on all fronts. No machine that is needed and wanted by women doing this work should ever be sitting in a machine graveyard. So it is because of this that the undertone of this blog has some resentment and negativity. It is unconscionable to me to have a simple task, feeding famine, that can be so skewed. In 25 days we have been able to accomplish, facilitate, and create a mass awareness and desire for a move from traditional to modernity. Whoever said one person cannot make a difference was sorrily mistaken.

Wednesday December 8th-Friday December 10th
Wednesday we spent all day driving parallel to the Niger River (downstream) it was a 8 hour drive where we passed through Segou for lunch which was a pleasant departure from the mass chaos of the city. Segou was a very well kept area, and one I would have liked to explore more had we had time. But we are on a mission to reach a close proximity to meet our ICRISAT partner Tom for the evening, so we push on. Eight hours after leaving Bamako, we arrive at San, and bunk up therefor the night. It is here that Verizon FINALLY turns my phone back on...the FRAUD department had shut it off 7 days prior unbeknownst to me and my wonderful Mother Barb orchestrated the fixing on that due to the fact that they wanted me to CALL them to FIX it...HELLO?? Did you NOT shut off my phone in a 3rd world country? How would you like me to CALL??? Anyways, that snafu gets rectified, but then I suddenly have 120 emails that come through...not sure which is worse. So I forego dinner and tend to my emails, and try to go to bed in a somewhat questionable abode.

Thursday morning as mentioned above I am brought to a perpendicular standstill to the bed, as it sounds as if the Rooster, donkey, Imam, and a pack of dogs all chime in on the morning ritual. This is one ritual (on a day like this) that I really care to participate in...

Nonetheless, I rise, like ALL the rest 4:00am and do some work, don't dare shower or turn on the water, rather I had some bottled water left (which was my dinner) to splash on my face, and brush my teeth. This much is good. What are you thankful for??

Roger and I have a nice discussion over a piece of bread this morning. It had been looming over me how so many machines we'd seen were abandoned and unused, and our grinder needed a foster home with one of the partners we had made in country rather than the condition in which we found it. It was agreed that this is what would happen, and it was a very intelligent decision to leave it with the Tominian Hope village, and Tom from ICRISAT to get use in the field in return for data collection and reports back on logistics.

Both Tom, and the Tominian Village were inviting and helpful. Tom is a bit of a comedian and makes certain the visit is lively and enjoyable for all. Even what can sometimes be the long, but necessary pre-placement surveys. Rose was the resident spokeswoman, and one who clearly was respected by all in the village.

After the demonstration and with multiple hands on the machines, Tom, who is a Dutchman and lived in Mali for 6 years interpreted some of the feedback. At one point there was another woman who was traditionally crushing the pearl millet in the mortar and pestle while we were winnowing and threshing in the modern (earlier model prototype). While she finished about the same time, the comparison of the labor needed coupled with what the finished product looked like, our sample was clean and without “brokens” (which run the risk of rancidity) and her bowl had much debris, shafts from the panicle, and needed to be sorted/sifted through in order to make it acceptable to continue.

Next we tried the grinder to show how fine the flour can be from their grains, and while this was somewhat labor intensive initially, the product that it produced was unquestionably superior and in far less time than a woman could do in her traditional ways, or cost.

Rose had us come to her home where she showed us their storage units—very ingenious design, and also a thresher that had no water/oil in it so it smelled, looked, and sounded like a rocket ship ready to blast off...I thought the machine was going to levitate at one point! We were invited to sit and enjoy some peanuts with them, when the village's “mean dog” as Tom put it came waltzing in...I looked and finally saw a 4 pound pup (what looked like a tan/white spaniel of sorts) and I picked him up. Britt we will call him for short, nuzzled in close, was eager to give soft puppy kisses, and nearly fell asleep in my arms. The village young women giggled. “MEAN dog” nearly had a one way ticket to frigid Minnesota!

Friday December 10-Saturday December 11
Friday morning I felt much better (2nd to last day and I get sick!) we take a morning walk in Djenne, the holiest area in Mali, and home to the largest mosque as well  It's rather a site,. and after sleeping it off, I hope for a smooth 8 hour drive home to Bamako.

Saturday December 11th
I would not call the ride smooth, but I am sitting here typing this on Saturday morning, so you know I have made the nearly month long journey. This did not happen alone, and not without the huge support and love from all those involved, the people I have met, the friendships I now have, the smiles and hugs I have been witness to and everlasting memories this has instilled in an already fortunate life.

Thank you for following this journey, for your love, support, and Taranga. It means “friendship” in Wolof.

A Benevolent mind

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Les Paletuviers a family of friends among us

One of the most enjoyable parts of the first leg of this trip has been meeting the people.  The people "may be very poor, but are so rich", and this resonates loudly in the smiles, the greetings,  and the laughter.

Along this journey, we were fortunate enough to find a few days for some R & R.  It was really rather by mistake that I stumbled across Les Paletuviers, and what a special mistake that has been.  The staff and owners of this series of 3 properties are magnificent and introducing you to the culture, the surroundings, the wildlife and ecosystems and all that beautiful Senegal has to offer.  Pictured above is Executive Director Roger Salway and myself on our voyage back from Paradise Island which boarders The Gambia in the horizon.  Our friends at Les Paletuviers brought us back through the forests of mangroves, which were also fairytale like.  

Mangroves are an essential buffer for coastal areas, and one that cannot go unmentioned.  Mangroves act as a wall against rising waters and climate change, while they also provide a natural habitat for shellfish.  A necessity for our changing world.

It was a most magical experience when we arrived at the island after a 2 hour boat ride with our new friends that the surprises unfolded.  Not long after our arrival, and settling in to our own slice of  Heaven, and it began to snow! Suddenly, we were surrounded by millions of ivory butterflies and this lasted well into was the most magnificent thing I have ever payed witness to, and a moment I will never forget.

Tomorrow marks the 2nd leg of our trip with travel to Bamako, Mopti, and Tominian Mali.  I checked the forecast, 92-99 degrees until we touch back down into the Twin Cities on December 12th.    

Thursday, December 2, 2010

As life throws curves your way...make it into a dance

The first leg of our Compatible Technology International ( trip funded by NCBA/USAID proved to be more sweeping than the roads to Tambacouda or the sonsie of  Manet's Le dejeuner sur l'herbe

Emotions and purpose were at a elevated level, due to the nature of this project.  Our project objectives that were pre-set for us by NCBA was to increase yields and incomes of the current 30 farmer's whose annual income combined was approximately $40,000. Combined.

The more villages and meetings we tended to, the more apparent the voices became.  Meetings with directors of programs such as Action Aid, CARITAS, CLUSA, Counterpart, and the 4 villages we introduced to our technology to, and more importantly, our spirit to, will forever be changed.  Through a mutual respect for cultural differences, and also a desire to transfer technology to a sustainable community is the basis of CTIs mission, and one I feel we were able to accomplish in many ways.  I will not forget Rokyhah, a 12 year old girl at the Kuer Ali Guey village who needed very little coaxing, and began instructing others how to "tighten the burrs...we need finer flour." I was quick to have Bamba translate for me so I could instruct her how to clean and disassemble/reassemble the grinder.  The village will be successful because of the hard working women I have met.  Let us all celebrate these women for the intrinsic value they provide their communities.

Without the high level of organization set prior to our departure, as well as the preparedness of our in-country partner's in Yaguemar and Bamba, this project would have  not been as successful as it was.  Proudly, Roger (Executive Director), myself, and Bamba (our In-country partner promoted to distributor-an enormous thank you Bamba and congratulations) have decided to donate our current prototypes of  CTI's thresher and winnower ( also made possible by collaboration with Thom and Reade from Battelle Institute in Columbus, Ohio) to complete the set of the grinder already purchased by USAID.

It was the voices and the faces of the women, men and children that resonate loudly in my thoughts.  What we were able to accomplish in 5 minutes, would traditionally take a woman 40 minutes.  Awa, who was the village leader at Kayemon, (a highly organized and populated location on the boarder of  The Gambia and Senegal) spoke to the Heavens about how beneficial our equipment had proven to be to them-especially the women who, in order to get the children off to school in time, or the home prepared, and dinner served, would normally work from sun-up to sun-down.  Another from the same village exclaimed "If you could visualize our interest in CTI's equipment, it would be as tall as a skyscraper!".  So as we drudged our way though the trials and tribulations of each village visit, I was pleasantly reminded one morning that it truly is a dance we must create from all life has to offer.  For dancing brings smiles to everyone.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Love a child today...even more

Have you ever wondered about the endless children begging on the streets in Africa? Is it because they are wanting, in need, desperate for food.  The answer is no, think again..

Think twice about what your money is funding when you give handouts.  That is what CTI does not do, is give things away, but rather teach developing communities how to produce and sustain their own lives and people.

It was brought to my attention at  dinner the other night that the street beggers are not in want or need, but rather the Taliban has recruited them and requires a daily sum of  50CFA per boy.  Where is your child today?  The masses of  faces that should be afforded every opportunity to succeed in an already corrupt society haven't a chance to flourish because if they don't bring back their allotment, they are beaten.  If a boy is run over or hurt in the streets, there is always another, if you ask his mother why? Her reply might very well be-what is worse, he will go hungry?  So in a society where there is so much hope, pride, generosity and looming greed, think twice about how you choose to see-or NOT see the world.

A Benevolent mind