A big part of sustainable work is making sure that you’re always working with people. Peace Corps volunteers aren’t doctors or farmers or teachers, but we try to help those people do their jobs better. We try to improve their techniques and increase their outreach in order to get to all community members. With that idea in mind, we go to our villages prepared to work with educated professionals the most – nurses, teachers, business owners – for nothing else but ease of language, if they can speak English, and better understanding.
For the first year of my service, I was operating with this thought process. I worked with nurses to facilitate meetings, teachers to start clubs at school, and other Peace Corps volunteers to paint murals. It wasn’t until I started building cookstoves that my outlook on “counterparts” changed completely.
One of my good friends in village, a woman named Bombo who left school at 10th grade to get married and now has a 2 year old daughter, loved the idea of an improved cookstove. She hates going to the bush to get firewood and gets annoyed sitting for hours trying to make lunch. I was helping others to build their improved cookstoves when I came to her compound and found hers already built.
“Man star la!” – English/Wolof – “I’m a star!”
Bombo with her daughter, Mariama, after being taught to take MUAC measurements for nutritional surveillance
I don’t know if it was the power of making something by herself or the extra time she has now that she doesn’t fetch firewood as often, but I’ve built every cookstove since then with Bombo. And we have SO much fun. We’ll roam around the village, teasing people and picking up cow manure, teaching people how to make their own improved cookstove. Today we’ll be making our fifteenth.
Nurses, teachers, and other educated people are often too busy to actually care about working with Peace Corps volunteers. Additionally, they’re not from the villages – they are usually educated in the capitol and posted to the rural villages – decreasing their drive for community work. They see us as back-ups for their jobs, sometimes leaving us alone at clinics or in classrooms to do their jobs while they go take a break or eat breakfast.
It took a long time, but I’m done with all of that. I’m trying to work more with community members on things that matter to them – cookstoves, family nutrition and hygiene, and family planning. Sometimes it’s slower and always has to be done in local language, but it’s more fun and much more effective.