Disclaimer: This blog does not reflect the opinions and policies of the Peace Corps, the University of South Florida (USF), the U.S. government, or the government of Mali

Monday, May 2, 2011

Finally, A Post!

So, once again, it has been a long time since I have written and I apologize. Things have been really busy with the project that many of you helped make possible. The only things left of the project are one soakpit, 4 latrines, and mosquito net distribution. Though we are not quite on schedule, much has been accomplished in the past several months: the pump structure was destroyed and built anew, a pump training was held with five people from my village and two from a neighboring village, 15 soak pits and 6 latrines were built, and, most recently, 81 mosquito nets were purchased.

Overall this project has been a valuable learning experience for my village and I; bigger than we anticipated. My village and the WATSAN committee worked extremely hard throughout this project but, ofcourse, “fien tunbe yoro dow la” (there was wind in some places). So I guess I can break it up into The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

The Good
-All the cement arrived on time and under budget
-All the village showed up to pick up good quality sand we purchased in a nearby village about 6 miles away. About 20 donkey carts made 4 trips in two days to collect over 200 wheel barrows of sand. It was a long way and a heavy load. PETA may have something to say about using pregnant donkeys…
-The soak pits have been a big hit and relatively easy. People have noticed a difference and constantly remark in the amount of mosquitoes.
-Most everyone on the WATSAN committee shows up each week for 2-3hour meetings on project updates and makes plans for moving forward.
-Everything was basically on schedule except for the latrines
-I learned a lot from the pump repair training held by a person from Zeala that had worked for the National Hydraulic Agency.

The Bad
-Getting ripped off: Shipping the pipe and rebar was about $30, way overpriced…This resulted in me throwing a hissy fit at the car station which resulted in only $1 off. When my homologue and I arrived to buy the sand the guy we originally talked to said he can’t sell it by the wheel barrow and we have to pay for a big silo which we did not budget for. We then went to the guy next to him and convinced him to give us the original deal.
-Groups were not coordinated properly for when the mason was in village to rebuild the pump structure so few people showed up to work after the first three days except for one family. I would often be doing hard labor and when the women also didn’t show up for watering the concrete, I would make many trips to the well myself. This resulted in work stretching 6 extra days outside the budget and me being very discouraged. This was a very difficult time for me but I made my disappointment very clear to the village elders and committee so that this does not happen with the next volunteer.
-Pump rules were created and read at a meeting with the elders with things such as not wearing sandals inside the pump structure, not jumping to pump water and breaking parts, not eating inside the pump walls, not giving animals water right next to the pump so that they urinate and defecate in the area, etc. In the beginning this seemed to all fall on deaf ears and people continued with their old practices though they would shout my name when I came to the pump and quickly take off their sandals and stop jumping…This was very frustrating since the pump was repaired like new and I guess I expected a rapid behavior change. I worked with the committee and we continued to reiterate the rules at village meetings and members would watch the pump more closely to educate villagers. Lesson learned: Behavior change is difficult and can not change over night.

The Ugly
-The mason I was given by Peace Corps to repair the pump structure was illiterate and not very skilled outside of building walls. Thus, not everything turned out like the plan I drew, some things aren’t very level, and places do not drain properly. However, it works…so far. We’ll see in several years but the proper cement mix ratios were used so that concrete should last for a long time!
-We found during the pump repair training that the neighboring village’s pump both did not have a plastic lining so would bring up dirt from inside the forage and that the major pump piece replaced by a project last year was a old piece (the new one was probably sold and the Malians working on the project probably pocketed the money). I ended up applying for $500 from Water Charity to replace the pump part but, really, the village needs a new pump. Without the plastic lining, the water is not up to quality and the mud gets into the pump parts and breaks them early. It was really upsetting to see the corruption in projects in Mali especially having to do with something so essential to life, water.
Here is a link the project if you would like to donate: http://appropriateprojects.com/node/631

It is important to note, and something made really evident to me through this project, that other projects/NGOs have created a dependence in villages that they will do and provide everything making community contribution and labor difficult to coordinate. I thought a lot about this during the project and whether community contribution will lead to project sustainability or not. Really, these are services the government should be providing anyways. Though they may be working to give equivalent to 33%/25% of the project total, a project is a project and it is still a discount. That does not automatically ensure future community buy in and maintenance. However, as Malians say “little by little, the bird builds its nest.”

I’ve been working with the officers of the shea association to plan for a training on how to make soap in September and to purchase a grinding machine for shea nuts to alleviate the work of pounding or traveling to the next village to use their machine. There is a machine in village but it is constantly breaking down and has management issues, including people stealing money. We plan to provide intense training on machine operation and maintenance. They have already cleared a field to farm in rainy season so they can get extra money for their association.

I’m still continuing to work with the food security committee in my village. Meetings are basically every two weeks with everything else that is going on. We have been working on a comprehensive, food security plan to improve the situation in my village. Basically July-September families run out of grain from last harvest and have to buy it at expensive prices on credit. They also have begun clearing land for a community farm and hope to store their harvest in a cereal bank next year so they can provide grain to those that run out during the difficult months.


So I have not said much on the progress of the Women’s garden project that I started last year. We’ve encountered many setbacks with finding dependable well diggers (we are now on our fifth and he stills asks for money all the time though we have not reached water yet). The rock inside the wells is very difficult to dig. We have decided to put all our money into just trying to get water when the rest was supposed to pay for concrete well tops and seeds. The time is ticking down until rainy season and when the project really needs to be closed. I’m crossing my fingers and saying many blessings in Bambara. I will let you know what becomes of the current fenced in area with two, 10 meter deep holes in the ground.
Overall, this project has been very wearisome for me and the women who have put in many hours of labor pulling dirt for the well diggers. Some of the previous well diggers that just stopped showing up or basically lied about money they were “spending” for digging materials were even from my village. Project money here is often seen as a free for all or never-ending which makes Malians ask for more than what they would work for for another Malian by factors of 2-100 and change their price half way through working. A lot of times I think of America’s tax dollars or the donations from hardworking people to help those less fortunate and how that money is regarded. This is not an obligation for other countries and they work for the money as well. Then I just think of the women in the association and the work they have put in above their contribution and know why it is worth it.

On a happier note, as some of you may know, this year is the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps and 40th Anniversary of PC in Mali. The major celebration we had was that the swear in of this years stage was at the president’s residence. He gave a very encouraging speech about PC even stating that if he was an American he would be a PCV. It was great to get the chance to meet an African president (a democratic one…at least for now. Election in 2012) . The security was sure a lot different from what it would be for Obama. We didn’t even have to do a security check and afterwards the president, Amadou Toubmani Traore (ATT) walked amongst the PCVs and staff as we mobbed him for pictures. He provided tasty treats, pop, and dessert! I , unfortunately, wasn’t lucky enough to get a picture with ATT.
It is interesting thinking back to how service in the PC was in the beginning compared to now; without cell phones or internet. Though I sometimes feel very disconnected from America and my family and friends at least my correspondence with them can be online every 3 weeks instead of writing a letter and waiting over a month to two months for it to get there and then get a response.

It is hard to believe that in two months I will have been in Mali for two years. So much is different and easier from when I arrived, not least of all language. So much is easier but as you may have read from above, there are many challenges. Already at meetings we are planning for when I won’t be here and mentioning “the next volunteer” and how I’m “taa tow” or on my way out. The time really went by fast and it is going to be really difficult to leave. I will provide you more updates on my plans for next year soon.

Thanks for reading if you got this far! I apologize if I may have seemed negative towards the project and development in Mali in general. This does not mean I think my time here or the project has been a waste or that aid should be ceased. At times I catch myself noticing the sanitation differences in my village and it really gives me a sense of fulfillment but I find as an American or just me it is easy to spot the imperfections/faults.