Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An Open Mind and Heart

One month ago, CTI volunteer, Andrea Brovold, and Executive Director, Roger Salway traveled to West Africa to share CTI's new thresher and winnower prototypes with farmers in Mali and Senegal. While most of us were preparing food for our yearly Thanksgiving Day feast, Roger and Andrea were helping women in rural Senegal with their daily six hour ritual of threshing, winnowing, and grinding their family's meal by hand. Here, Andrea shares her impressions from the trip that would test her physical and emotional limits, and leave her with unforgettable memories and lifelong friends. 

Upon arrival to the Kuer Ali Guey village in the Kaolack region of Senegal, we were welcomed with open arms. Awa, President of the Women's Association said "Andrea, you look like you are a peaceful volunteer". It was the warm reception of Kuer Ali Guey and the surrounding villages and organizations from the very inception of this project that the rest of the trip would live up to, even surpass. Come to think of it, while there were parameters in which we were expected to work towards, per NCBA/USAID along with objectives and outcomes to strive towards, my expectations--as per the opening title--were "Going in with an open mind and heart"...and little more.

Quickly, I found that the universal language of love and compassion transcends any boundary or constraint, personal, professional or otherwise. Put simply, the more you are willing to give of yourself, the more response and progress one will find. Many village visits, meetings and relationships were forged due to our determination to serve. And serve we did. The thoughtful technologies of CTI, coupled with the sensitivity to cultural and individual differences, advanced this month long journey to a caliber of unexpected proportions.

Some dialogue that we observed from various sources were "If you could visualize our interest, it would be as tall as a skyscraper!", Ahmed Dame Cisse from Lat Mingue village; "You have a friend here...in me", Dougal Guey in Kayemon village; and "C'est bon C'est bon C'est bon!", a farmer from CARITAS. Most touching for me was a departure from a life-long friend I made despite the language barriers "I have left my heart with you", said Therese, wife of CARITAS Geo-Scientist Renee with whom we dined at a Thanksgiving Feast to help us feel at "home" in their home. Touching is the fact that each of these people are tickled by what our simple technologies can provide--a way and means for a better life--and touching is the fact that I have been blessed to have had the chance to help secure that opportunity. 

Recently, at our December board meeting, I explained my obsession with taking photographs of doors. Each of us have had doors closed, only for others to be opened, and until CTI and pursuing my Masters in Development Policy with a concentration in Africa, it seems that there was a less definable period in my life. Many "doors" and opportunities have been presented to me within this organization that I think so highly of, and I have been keen to act on those opportunities. Beyond that, I feel that it is my job to continue to open similar doors for the people CTI serves, those who are equally deserving, but without the ways or means. It is unconscionable to me to think that what CTI is able to provide will not be visible to most rural communities. 

So I, like each of the equally passionate and eager volunteers at CTI, happily forge an exodus towards a goal of creating and supporting sustainable environments that will provide future generations with tools, education and kindred roots. I had a lot of reflective moments during this trip, and I also blogged our adventures, seemingly because it would have been impossible to re-create most of these experiences after the fact. But what resonates loudest in my mind are the moments that rendered me speechless (something that rarely happens). It is these silent moments, personal exchanges, accepting smiles, joyous laughter and dancing that are impossible to prepare for, which allowed me to reflect most authentically and honestly that I am truly the most fortunate woman in the world. We are called to do certain things in our lives, and it is what we do with that time that matters most. Cliché perhaps, but I enjoy very much a quote I once heard, "In the end, it is not the amount of breaths you take it's the moments that take your breath away." 

Andrea Brovold 
Africa Co-Chair/Volunteer

Monday, December 13, 2010

Final Dispatch from Mali

This post is from CTI Volunteer and Africa Committee Vice Chair, Andrea Brovold. Andrea and CTI's Executive Director, Roger Salway, are traveling through Senegal and Mali to demonstrate one of CTI's newest set of devices, the Thresher and Winnower. This new set of equipment can help subsistence farmers increase the quality of their grain and reduce waste--nearly doubling their grain yield.

We land in Mali on Friday, December 7th, and I find myself somewhat disenchanted upon arrival. Something I cannot quiet explain, but one I will try to elaborate on. I must be careful not to negate what Mali has to offer, its people, its hidden jewels, but from the moment I arrived there was a looming curtain and a literal wall of haze from the immense pollution ring around the capitol city. There was almost an offensive piquant odor about the bustling city due to the refuse, the smog, the dust and wind combined with the heat. I have not been able to shake this unexplainable feeling, yet everyone I have had the pleasure of meeting is simply delightful.

Looking back, it is curious, or rather disheartening to me the Mali is one of the poorest countries in Africa, and yet it has allocated to it some of the largest funding for development. The Chinese own the roads, and the Libyan’s own the hotels. 

While in Senegal, we visited a distributor of industrial agricultural equipment, dozens of machines, and hundreds of thousands invested going unused by the immediate populations that they are meant to support. It is a gross reality of development, and one at CTI that we work hard to avoid by working with our partners, distributors, stakeholders and instituting accountability on all fronts. No machine that is needed and wanted by women doing this work should ever be sitting in a machine graveyard. So it is because of this that the undertone of this blog has some resentment and negativity. It is unconscionable to me to have a simple task, feeding famine, which can be so skewed. In 25 days we have been able to accomplish, facilitate, and create a mass awareness and desire for a move from traditional to modernity. Whoever said one person cannot make a difference was sorrily mistaken.

Wednesday we spent all day driving parallel to the Niger River (downstream) it was a 8 hour drive where we passed through Segou for lunch which was a pleasant departure from the mass chaos of the city. Segou was a very well kept area, and one I would have liked to explore more had we had time. But we are on a mission to reach a close proximity to meet our ICRISAT partner Tom for the evening, so we push on. Eight hours after leaving Bamako, we arrive at San, and bunk up there for the night. It is here that Verizon FINALLY turns my phone back on...the FRAUD department had shut it off 7 days prior unbeknownst to me and my wonderful Mother Barb orchestrated the fixing on that due to the fact that they wanted me to CALL them to FIX it...HELLO?? Did you NOT shut off my phone in a 3rd world country? How would you like me to CALL??? Anyways, that snafu gets rectified, but then I suddenly have 120 emails that come through...not sure which is worse. So I forego dinner and tend to my emails, and try to go to bed in a somewhat questionable abode.

Thursday morning, I rise at 4:00am and do some work, don't dare shower or turn on the water, rather I had some bottled water left (which was my dinner) to splash on my face, and brush my teeth. This much is good. What are you thankful for??

Roger and I have a nice discussion over a piece of bread this morning. It had been looming over me how so many machines we'd seen were abandoned and unused, and our grinder needed a foster home with one of the partners we had made in country rather than the condition in which we found it. It was agreed that this is what would happen, and it was a very intelligent decision to leave it with the Tominian Hope village, and Tom from ICRISAT to get use in the field in return for data collection and reports back on logistics.

Both Tom, and the Tominian Village were inviting and helpful. Tom is a bit of a comedian and makes certain the visit is lively and enjoyable for all. Even what can sometimes be the long, but necessary pre-placement surveys. Rose was the resident spokeswoman, and one who clearly was respected by all in the village.

After the demonstration and with multiple hands on the machines, Tom, who is a Dutchman and lived in Mali for 6 years interpreted some of the feedback. At one point there was another woman who was traditionally crushing the pearl millet in the mortar and pestle while we were winnowing and threshing in the modern (earlier model prototype). While she finished about the same time, the comparison of the labor needed coupled with what the finished product looked like, our sample was clean and without “brokens” (which run the risk of rancidity) and her bowl had much debris, shafts from the panicle, and needed to be sorted/sifted through in order to make it acceptable to continue.

Next we tried the grinder to show how fine the flour can be from their grains, and while this was somewhat labor intensive initially, the product that it produced was unquestionably superior and in far less time than a woman could do in her traditional ways, or cost.

Rose had us come to her home where she showed us their storage units—very ingenious design, and also a thresher that had no water/oil in it so it smelled, looked, and sounded like a rocket ship ready to blast off...I thought the machine was going to levitate at one point! We were invited to sit and enjoy some peanuts with them, when the village's “mean dog” as Tom put it came waltzing in...I looked and finally saw a 4 pound pup (what looked like a tan/white spaniel of sorts) and I picked him up. Britt we will call him for short, nuzzled in close, was eager to give soft puppy kisses, and nearly fell asleep in my arms. The village young women giggled. “MEAN dog” nearly had a one way ticket to frigid Minnesota!

I would not call the ride smooth, but I am sitting here typing this on Saturday morning, so you know I have made the nearly month long journey. This did not happen alone, and not without the huge support and love from all those involved, the people I have met, the friendships I now have, the smiles and hugs I have been witness to and everlasting memories this has instilled in an already fortunate life.

Thank you for following this journey, for your love, support, and Taranga. It means “friendship” in Wolof.

Monday, December 6, 2010

As life throws curves your way...make it into a dance

This blog is currently being updated by CTI Volunteer and Africa Committee Vice Chair, Andrea Brovold. Andrea and CTI's Executive Director, Roger Salway, are traveling through Senegal and Mali to demonstrate one of CTI's newest set of devices, the Thresher and Winnower. This new set of equipment can help subsistence farmers increase the quality of their grain and reduce waste--nearly doubling their grain yield.

The first leg of our trip funded by NCBA/USAID proved to be more sweeping than the roads to Tambacouda or the sonsie of Manet's Le dejeuner sur l'herbe.

Emotions and purpose were at a elevated level, due to the nature of this project. Our project objectives that were pre-set for us by NCBA was to increase yields and incomes of the current 30 farmer's whose annual income combined was approximately $40,000. Combined.

The more villages and meetings we tended to, the more apparent the voices became. Meetings with directors of programs such as Action Aid, CARITAS, CLUSA, Counterpart, and the 4 villages we introduced to our technology to, and more importantly, our spirit to, will forever be changed. Through a mutual respect for cultural differences, and also a desire to transfer technology to a sustainable community is the basis of CTIs mission, and one I feel we were able to accomplish in many ways. I will not forget Rokyhah, a 12 year old girl at the Kuer Ali Guey village who needed very little coaxing, and began instructing others how to "tighten the burrs...we need finer flour." I was quick to have Bamba translate for me so I could instruct her how to clean and disassemble/reassemble the grinder. The village will be successful because of the hard working women I have met. Let us all celebrate these women for the intrinsic value they provide their communities.

Without the high level of organization set prior to our departure, as well as the preparedness of our in-country partner's in Yaguemar and Bamba, this project would have not been as successful as it was. Proudly, Roger (Executive Director), myself, and Bamba (our In-country partner) have decided to donate our current prototypes of CTI's thresher and winnower ( also made possible by collaboration with Thom and Reade from Battelle Institute in Columbus, Ohio) to complete the set of the grinder already purchased by USAID.

It was the voices and the faces of the women, men and children that resonate loudly in my thoughts. What we were able to accomplish in 5 minutes, would traditionally take a woman 40 minutes. Awa, who was the village leader at Kayemon, (a highly organized and populated location on the boarder of The Gambia and Senegal) spoke to the Heavens about how beneficial our equipment had proven to be to them-especially the women who, in order to get the children off to school in time, or the home prepared, and dinner served, would normally work from sun-up to sun-down. Another from the same village exclaimed "If you could visualize our interest in CTI's equipment, it would be as tall as a skyscraper!". So as we drudged our way though the trials and tribulations of each village visit, I was pleasantly reminded one morning that it truly is a dance we must create from all life has to offer. For dancing brings smiles to everyone.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Some things are left unspoken...

This blog is currently being updated by CTI Volunteer and Africa Committee Vice Chair, Andrea Brovold. Andrea and CTI's Executive Director, Roger Salway, are traveling through Senegal and Mali to demonstrate one of CTI's newest set of devices, the Thresher and Winnower. This new set of equipment can help subsistence farmers increase the quality of their grain and reduce waste--nearly doubling their grain yield. 

November 28, 2010

This Thanksgiving was spent visiting a village on the boarder of Senegal and The Gambia. This village was different in many ways but as Bamba pointed out--notice the square huts and the 4 homes that make up a larger square in the schematics of the village. The space, the culture and the patterns of organization are the underlying theme of this post. Who would have thought I would be using fractional geometry on this visit...all those years of tutoring DID pay off!

This morning Alfonse, Director of NCBA Farmer to Farmer project told us that our good work was not going unnoticed. The villages and the people were a buzz, and someone had been promoting us on the local radio station! We are famous. 

What is more validating however, is the immediate looks of astonishment when we are able to produce in 5 minutes what a woman with the traditional pestle and mortar could in 40. The smiles resonate loudly.

One such woman was Dougal Guey a 60 something year old woman, whom exclaimed to me "C'est bon!...you have a friend here in Kayemon" We then took a photo and she was gleaming with happiness.

Saturday evening we are picked up by Renee and Therese for a demonstration to Therese's association of 100+ women. She points to the back of the truck with pride, and there sits a freshly, almost deceased, TURKEY! She, Bamba and Renee went and found our Thanksgiving feast. From what I understand he was running around like a turkey with his head cut off, and hard to catch-sorry for he bad joke, but appetizers and dinner were manifique! We are escorted to the rooftop where wine, beer and spring rolls are shared among TARANGA--Wolof for friendships, and the bond that is unspoken. Before too long, the turkey has cooked, the smells resonate through the air and it smells just like home. We move downstairs to their dining area, and just as the prior visit, the power shuts off, so again, we eat by a 3 candle light. Before too long, it is time for us to go, Therese says to me (translated by Bamba of course) "I have left my heart with you". No translation needed. While there are language barriers, there is a common knowledge when a special friendship is made. This is no different, only more special.