Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Togo Top Ten

As we are getting ready to leave Togo in about a month, our thoughts are drawn to reflecting on what we have done in the last two years. So not to blow our own horn, but just to give you a better idea of where your tax dollars are going, we will list, in David Letterman style, our Togo Top Ten: (not counting experiences like eating fu-fu, doing the chicken dance, tolerating the heat, risking our lives on public transport and bonding with lots of great PC volunteers):

10. Stayed relatively healthy (in spite of living amongst malaria-carrying mosquitoes, rampant amoebas and 2 outbreaks of cholera in our town).

9. Served as Good Will Ambassadors for the USA and got to see some of Africa up close while learning there is no good recipe for Development.

8. Aided in publicizing and supporting a local Stilt Dancing Festival to help preserve traditional culture.

7. Served on the organizing committee of an annual 5-day Theater Festival for sensitizing the public on AIDS prevention and treatment, reaching 20,000 persons.

6. Facilitated courses in business and computer skills to small entrepreneurs. Created websites for four NGOs.

5. Learned enough French to communicate most of what we needed to say to survive for two years.

4. Authored grant proposals and oversaw funding sustaining two NGOs that work with people living with AIDS, including opening 2 Internet Cafes on their sites

3. Launched two “Village Savings and Loan” associations, enabling 50 entrepreneurial “market women” to save money, earn interest and make loans to themselves to improve their small businesses.

2. Shared with you the life and culture of Togo as we experienced it via our blog website and email and hosted six family member visitors.

1. Became endeared with the Togolese people, learned from them and their culture, and shared with them the life of two crazy old Americans.

We hope and assume we have made other small differences in ways we’ll never know. Perhaps they will end up being more significant than any of the above.

In the end we know that we will be taking back more than we have given. It has been a life-enhancing adventure and unforgettable journey and we have no regrets! We feel blessed to have had this opportunity with Peace Corps.

We’ll have one more email before we leave. Thanks for staying with us and having interest in our West African experience. We’ll soon be home!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

School's Out

School is out in Togo and we will miss seeing the students energetically walking to school in the mornings in their clean uniforms. Attached are a few student/school photos and a very brief description of the educational system here in Togo.

The system was organized by the French colonialists and is memory-based with rote skills mandated in contrast to the American system which focuses more on critical thinking and problem solving. Discipline is strong and students are respectful. Exams are taken every year to pass to the next level. Since not everyone passes, it is not uncommon to repeat a year which makes for a wide range of ages in the high schools. Normal graduation age is 19, but there are many high school students in their early 20’s. Vocational/technical schools are available and teach accounting, etc., in lieu of academics.

In the past, school was not as important for girls as for boys because education was not required for traditional women’s tasks. Today’s Togolese recognize the need for girls’ education and more girls are staying in school longer, although many still do not finish high school and instead go on to take apprenticeships in hair styling or tailoring.

Public schools cost the equivalent of $7.00 per year for primary grades and $15 to $20 for secondary grades. Private schools are about 5 times as expensive but classes are proportionally smaller (20 vs. 100 students) and books are more plentiful. Education is very significant to the Togolese and many impoverished parents sacrifice much to pay the school fees. These may seem low to us, but they are high when the average income is $30/month.