Saturday, April 28, 2012

Building Communities, Bridging Continents

Peace Corps/Togo Third Annual Non Governmental Organization (NGO) workshop was held  in the village of Sokede in Togo’s Centrale Region on April 12-14.  The theme for the Conference was Building Communities, Bridging Continents.

Martin, SeauSo, Tamara
This three day NGO workshop was sponsored and funded by the International Rotary Club.  Peace Corps Volunteers Tamara Mack and Martin Stirlicchi were the coordinators  this year.  The first annual conference was for NGO’s in the Maritime Region, second year was for NGO’s in the Plateau Region and this year was held in Sokede in the Centrale Region of Togo.  It’s an ambitious project in itself, with many Togo challenges.  Over twenty-five people attended from ten NGO’s.   Five sessions were covered over 2-1/2 days under the themes of project planning, strategic planning, human resource management, non-profit marketing, and IT.  This was a great opportunity for us to work with Togo organizations in various stages of professionalism, but all doing good work.

For the second year in a row, I agreed to give a presentation for the NGO Conference.  Last year I partnered with Dillon Tindell, giving a presentation and leading a workshop on how to evaluate and measure success of an NGO project or program.  This year  I partnered with Beau Lore.  Our presentation and workshop was on Strategic Planning for an NGO, program or project.  All presentations and facilitations were given in French.  The entire weekend was Francais!   Mmmhmm.

Me and Beau
Beau lives way up North but traveled to Maritime (about a six hour bush taxi ride) twice to meet with me and stay with me for a couple days to prepare our presentation.  In addition he and I spent many hours practicing our presentation once we met in Sokede, working at least forty hours in preparation.  It’s always more work than you think it’s going to be. Most strategic planning for non-profits is easily a three to four day session.  We had to condense our presentation of that material into three hours total.  We had great direction and reference material from Tamara and Martin, and Beau and I were well matched partners.  Kind of a right brain, left brain partnership.  We took it all very seriously, but had a LOT of laughs.

The conference itself was held at a large Catholic church complex on the outskirts of Sokede.  We had one large conference room and a projector to show our powerpoints.  When you think of a conference complex, of course you will think of a nice American conference Room with comfortable chairs and amenities.  This was a slab of grey cement with wooden tables and chairs.  No amenities. 

We slept in dorm like rooms with bunk beds, three to four people
to a room.  I shared a room with Ryan, Tamara and Martin.  Showers and bathrooms were shared by all; participants and presenters.  It was rough, but everything was clean.  We were served our meals, snacks and drinks throughout the two and half days.  All of the food was Togolese;  either rice or foofoo with sauces and banana’s for desert.  Popcorn was served as a snack.  For breakfast we had bread and coffee. 

Tamara and Martin were great coordinators.   Not only were they well prepared and organized, they also provided amusing entertainment; skits, dancing, telling jokes in the evenings so that the presenters and participants could get to know each other.

Though this was a lot of hard work, I enjoyed it, and I certainly enjoyed the outcome.  The Togolese NGO participants were alert and eager to learn. They were also very pleasant, friendly and fun to be around.   It was a lot of information and fairly complex content for them to take in, but they hung in there.

Our Workshop
 After our presentation on Strategic Planning Beau and I facilitated a workshop to demonstrate one small part of strategic planning.  We had the participants break into groups from their own association.  There were three or four people per association.  Their task was to pose the goal of their association into a positive statement; to define what the immediate objectives were to reach that goal, and finally to determine what the key results would be if they were successful in meeting their overall goal  Then one or two of the associations presented their findings in front of the entire group.  They did a great job.  It was gratifying to see them examine their goals and what they needed to do.  Walking around the room and listening to them discuss their NGO’s in analytical terms was very rewarding, and made all the effort Beau and I had put into it well worthwhile.

These NGO’s provide Togolese with much needed assistance in health, education, advocacy, development and so much more.   I’m quite sure that each person who attended this conference left  with information and tools which will make themselves and their NGO’s more professional and more effective.    I was really  happy to be a part of it.

The Complex Grounds, right outside our dorm and
the conference room
Sidenote:  Fighting the elements of Togo is always part of the package and part of the challenge.  It was hot and humid.  So hot, we were dripping sweat throughout the weekend.  The bunk beds were hard.  There were huge spiders, and most of the showers didn't work.  For each of the presenters it was easily a six hour bush taxi ride both ways.  What makes it all not only bearable, but so rewarding is the comraderie between the Peace Corps Volunteers and the earnest desire for change in Togo from the participants.  My thanks to the International Rotary Club for funding; to Tamara and Martin for their leadership and endless hours of preparation; and especially to Beau, my right brain pal. 

We did it Beau!!  Du Courage!!!