Wednesday, August 10, 2011

M.A.P. - Tchekpo

Toussaint, President of
Tchekpo M.A.P. Committee
M.A.P. is a Peace Corps Program (Men as Partners) Originally M.A.P.  was conceived to facilitate teaching the men and women of Togo how to communicate better with each other, and how to better understand each other’s gender specific issues.  It has developed and grown to cover other areas as well.  For my village the M.A.P. program has become simply about human empowerment.  How can we do things to make us feel more empowered?  What do we have the power to change to make our lives better?

M.A.P.  falls under the umbrella of G.E.E. (Girls Education and Empowerment) There are four programs in Togo Peace Corps.  S.E.D. (Small Enterprise Development) which is my program, C.H.A.P. (Health), N.R.M. (Natural Resource Management or agriculture/farming) and G.E.E.  As Peace Corps Volunteers we have an intense nine weeks of training before we go to our villages.  Emphasis is put on our particular program but all along the training encourages us to collaborate with other programs and volunteers from other programs. 

Hunon Koffi and his Moringa Seeds
I have collaborated with volunteers from each of the programs on various projects.  An example of cross collaboration: I’m working with a handicapped boy; Hunon Koffi to start a moringa farm so that he can support himself. Moringa is an African wonder plant that has recently been discovered.  It grows very quickly, in almost any kind of soil.  Added to food moringa provides tons of nutrients Africans would not otherwise be getting.  Hunon Koffi and I collaborated with N.R.M. volunteers on how to start a moringa farm while I work with him on how to make growing and selling Moringa a profitable business.(S.E.D).  I also collaborated with C.H.A.P. volunteers to get Hunon Koffi into a their weeklong camp for handicapped youth in Togo.  All these things will help Hunon become self-sufficient.   

I especially enjoy bringing G.E.E programs to Tchekpo.  I can see it’s an area where we can have a sustainable impact; empowering young girls.  There is a coveted Peace Corps Scholarship program for girls called Pathways.  Applying for it is a daunting task.  I would compare it to applying for graduate school.  This year 250 girls applied.  Forty girls were awarded a scholarship  Two of my girls from the Tchekpo High School are recipients. For this to happen I collaborated with volunteers from the G.E.E.  program. In addition to the scholarship, they will be going to Pagala for a weeklong conference in September.  The camp will include an agenda that will encourage them, teach them about self-esteem, how to write a resume' and help them decide what to study at the University.

M.A.P. Training in Zafi
Last September there was a three day M.A.P. conference in Zafi.  A village about thirteen miles from Tchekpo.  This conference was to train people, both Togolese and Peace Corps Volunteers about M.A.P. and how they might implement the program in their own village.  I blogged about M.A.P when we completed the three day training back in September.  It was my first introduction to M.A.P.   People from seven different villages attended.  The training was excellent.  I took three people from my village; Aloughba, Toussaint and Dove.   I wondered how they would like it and process it, or if they would fully grasp the concept.  They were active participants and very enthusiastic about the training.   They voiced a desire to bring what they learned to Tchekpo.  

However, it kind of got put on the back burner as other things became a priority.  I would bring it up every time I saw Aloughba, Toussaint or Dove, but we just couldn’t seem to get things going.  In November I asked Joe and Becky; two G.E.E. volunteers to come to my village to meet with some people who I thought would want to be involved.  I told them I thought we just needed a kick-start.  Joe and Becky came to Tchekpo and gave a great presentation, on why and how we should implement M.A.P.  It worked.  Two weeks later, I formed an official M.A.P. committee.  Toussaint was President, Dove was secretary.  We also recruited five or six others to be regular members and participate.  I gave each of them a notebook with M.A.P. printed on it and nice pencils to take notes.  I gave Toussaint a calendar notebook.  This made them feel very official, and it made them feel like a team.  They proceeded to set up a six month calendar, planning a M.A.P. event once a month for six months with different topics and for different audiences.  To say I was impressed with their organizational abilities is putting it mildly.  I remember telling them I wouldn’t be able to make one of the early meetings, and they said…”it’s ok, we don’t need you!!!”  Music to my ears.
Our First M.A.P. Event

We have held three M.A.P. events.  All have been very professional, successful and well received.  The first events topic was  about 'how men and women can understand and respond to each other’s day to day issues better.'   We had about 40 participants for the first event.  The topic for the second event was, 'how to live a positive life.'  We had about 60 participants.  The topic for the third event was 'how can men and women communicate better, more effectively?.'  At the third event we had over 250 people in the audience. 

We have the same format for each event.  First we introduce the topic.  Next we have individual presenters speak and cover certain areas of the topic, and then they put on a couple sketches to demonstrate.   At the end we have questions and answers and participation from the audience.  We have added one more element as we go forward, and that is to have a guest speaker.

Rose Kpomblekou is the Area Director for the Peace Corps G.E.E. Program in Togo.  She was a speaker at that first M.A.P. conference in Zafi.   When I heard her speak I was impressed with her sincerity.  I was blown away by her energy and enthusiasm.   I knew then and there that I wanted to work with her in some way.   She is a gifted speaker.  She fully engages an audience.  It’s evident that she loves and believes in what she is doing.  Rose is Togolese, originally from around the Tchekpo area which gives her great insight into the habits and needs of the men and women here.  I’m so excited when I meet women like Rose here in Togo, and I’ve met a handful.  I can only imagine the many obstacles they overcame to get their education and to become confident, powerful, successful women.  Can you tell I’m in awe of her??!!??  I am.  Rose, and Blandine, our Peace Corps Training Supervisor, and Aurelia, the Peace Corps Nurse, and another Togolese woman I met who is a Director of an NGO.  They could go toe to toe with any powerful woman or man in the States.  I know there’s more out there, but the majority of Togolese women have their lives mapped out for them from the day they were born.  That is to have babies, take care of children, breastfeed, cook and clean for their husbands and work on the farm.

M.A.P. Committee
Right from the beginning, right after we returned from Zafi, the M.A.P. committee asked me if I could get Rose to come here and speak.  The three committee members who went to the M.A.P. conference and got to hear her speak knew it would be motivating to bring her here.  Rose is insanely busy.   When I asked her to come and speak, I apologized, because I do know how busy she is.  She said, "yes, I’m busy….but of course I MUST do this."  We coordinated a date and decided on a topic.  The Tchekpo M.A.P. committee was thrilled.  The committee met four or five times to plan this event.   We had to decide who we would invite, how we would get the word around, where we would have it, where to get the chairs, who would do what.  They also planned the agenda and wrote and rehearsed their sketches.  We went to visit the Chief to tell him about the event and ask him if he could provide us with more chairs.  The Chief knows Rose and her family.  When he heard she was going to be speaking he invited us to hold this event in his palace compound.  How cool is that!!  We met one last time the day before the event to go over everything. 

One thing that has not been mastered in Togo is being on time.  There is a joke even among Togolese about “Togo Time.”  They are never on time.  Really never.  It is my ‘achilles heal’ as they say. Drives me crazy.   One day, early on when we were planning this third event we were all to meet at the Bibilotheque (Library) at a designated time.  I was the only one who showed up.  Wasn’t the first time, by far.  I called two people on the committee whose cell phone number I have.  They showed up within about fifteen minutes.  I was just in a bad mood that day, and I didn’t feel like letting it pass.  The others, and there are about eight all together never showed up after waiting an hour.  The two that did show up tried to go ahead with the meeting.  I threw my hands up in the air and refused, and left.  Wellllll I guess word got around that I had thrown a little fit.  Another meeting was scheduled, and lo and behold I kind of lost track of time.  I was fifteen minutes late.  All eight of them were there waiting for me with grins a mile wide. Dam.  My bad. 

The day before the scheduled event with Rose we went through our check list, rehearsed our sketches and felt ready.  We all agreed to meet at 8:30 A.M. the next day at the Chiefs Compound.  Three times I said, "8:30 right?"

The big day arrived.  I never know what to expect.  How many people will show up, or if it will turn out well.  I arrived at 8:30 A.M.  No one was there!!  Where is the committee??  I was stressed!  Finally, one by one they trickled in as if a precise time to meet had never been set.  They all appeared calm and collected. I prayed for a decent turnout. I decided if fifty people showed up I would consider it a success.  Rose, Becky and Mary all called to say they were on their way. That was reassuring.  For me, the tension was building.  I marveled at the calmness of the committee members as they went about their tasks.  I wondered if somehow it would all come together.  We got the chairs set up. The brown paper board which would serve as a chalk board was ready. We had our magic markers.  We were good to go, or so I hoped.

Fully engaged audience
People started filtering in around 9am.   Dozens of children were milling about.   Soon more and more and more people were there.  We had to send someone out for more chairs.  By the time Rose, and the two volunteers arrived we had a full-house, over 250 people, all dressed in their finest, all looking eager to see what this was all about.  Rose, the volunteers (Becky and Mary), the committee…none of us could believe the turn-out.  The Tom-Tom association showed up also (about twenty people)…They were all dressed alike in lovely complaits.  I found out later that the Chief had arranged for them to come.  The Chief unfortunately could not come.  He had been called to Taglibo to meet with the prefecture (The head of the county.)  I wish he could have seen it, but I know he heard all about it.  I sent him my thanks with a bottle of wine afterwards.

Toussaint kicked the event off by bringing us all up to the front (The M.A.P Committee, Rose, Becky and Mary and I.)  He introduced us to thunderous applause.   Toussaint then began the program explaining what M.A.P. is and why we were doing this.  Several on the committee gave presentations, with Komla (the librarian and committee member) writing important points on the board as they spoke.  Many people in the audience were taking notes.  Then they went through several humorous sketches which demonstrated the topics.  The sketches were quite creative and fun.  They were met with laughter, and more applause.  Rose was taking copious notes during the presentations.  She was so focused on what was being said.  Evidently she could not contain herself any longer because before she was introduced and while Toussaint was talking she jumped up, went to the front of the room and began to talk.  WOW, that’s all I have to say.  She had everyone engaged.  I do not know what pushed her buttons at this particular time because most of it was in Ewe.  Becky, Mary and I were chuckling that Rose had taken over.  She took several questions from the audience during this time, and then she sat back down to let Toussaint finish and waited for her introduction.  When it was her time to speak she didn’t disappoint.  Anyone.  She spoke for at least an hour.  Pacing back and forth, making hand gestures, and asking for audience participation, speaking loudly and clearly and dramatically.  She's such a dynamic speaker.  I looked around the room.  The audience was completely captivated.  At the end of her presentation we had about a half an hour of questions and comments from the audience. 

As a side note I especially appreciated the fact that there were so many children present.  Probably twenty or thirty wandered in and sat on the floor around the perimeter of the room.  These were young children, many of them girls.  I couldn’t help but think that they would really never forget this. This woman (Rose) would remain in the recesses of their mind.  It would without a doubt broaden their view of women and the world they live in, in a subtle but enduring way.  Even if they were too young to understand the content, for them to see and hear this strong and articulate Togolese woman from their part of the country be front and center, commanding the attention of villagers, Americans and Togolese Notables alike would have an impact.

Gotta Dance!
When Rose was finished, several people in the audience spoke about how important these events are to Tchekpo and thanked us.  Then the party started!!!  The Tom-Tom music began.  People danced and celebrated.  They insisted that Rose, Becky, Mary and I join in the dancing.  And dance we did!  Oh girl!

It was a great day.  It was a great accomplishment by the M.A.P. Committee.   I think it was and will remain one of the most memorable days of my time here.

The fourth M.A.P event is in the works.  The topic will be specifically 'Girls Empowerment and Education; why it’s important and what we can do to encourage and inspire girls to stay in school.'  I found another woman to be guest speaker.  She is a director for an NGO in this area.  I saw her speak in Deve a while back.  She was dynamic like Rose, and held her audience in the palm of her hands.  I tracked her down through contacts.  She has nothing to do with the Peace Corps or M.A.P.  She was a little confused and also reticent about why I wanted her.  I explained the program, mission and topic for the next event. I told her I wanted her to speak because she is an excellent role model for girls here.  Once she understood, she said, “I will be there, I would like to help young girls in Togo.” 

To be continued.

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