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Holy Research Batman! or Peace Corps Master’s International

30 Oct

For two years I researched, wrote, procrastinated, researched, procrastinated, wrote, procrastinated, and finally submitted my thesis. But wait, what? I’m in the Peace Corps- they make you write theses now? Not exactly.

I am a Peace Corps Master’s International candidate. About a decade ago, Peace Corps and graduate schools started to pair up to create Master’s programs that put you in the field, were grassroots practical, and popped you out with more than two years of international service. More than three years ago (oh my God) I started the PCMI program at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies in the International Development Program (MA).

Each school and program is different, and for my program I finished up all my coursework before I began my 27 months and had the two years to write and submit a “substantial research paper” preferably about my country of service. I came in to Ethiopia with two other MI students – one from John’s Hopkins (Masters of Public Health) and the other from the University of Montana (Masters of Youth Development). They both had different versions of MA integration – for JHU, she basically finished her degree, wrote a thesis on something completely random (but very interesting I’m sure) and then started Peace Corps. For UMontana, she had to actually develop and implement a project proposal during her service. I was somewhere in the middle – typical thesis, but sorta, kinda attached to my service.

There are two ways a Peace Corps service can help with a graduate degree – the MI program is one way, where you study, and then are placed to serve being able to test out that theoretical knowledge and practical grad degree skills on the ground. The other way is the Paul D Coverdell Fellows program , which if your school signs up, gives anyone who has completed Peace Corps some sort of break (from as little as waiving the application fee to as awesome as a full ride – depending on the program).  The Coverdell Fellows aid is good for life, so for the RPCVs a few years out you can still access that support. The University of Denver hosts the most fellows of any graduate school, and I had some colleagues who finished their service over 15 years ago.

Personally, the MI program ended up saving me about half of my expenses. It covered 18 out of 90 credits, but because I was able to overload some quarters, I finished in half the time saving me rent and living expenses as well (though probably took a small toll on my sanity). Most of the MI students in my Korbel cohort finished in 1.5 years, a more normal pace.

So what did I ultimately research, write and procrastinate about?

The title of my thesis is…

THE COMBINATION OF MASS MEDIA AND PEER EDUCATION IN ETHIOPIAN SOCIAL BEHAVIOR CHANGE PROGRAMS FOR HEALTH AND GENDER ISSUES

Mmmm Sexy and Academic.

Basically, in 50 pages I outline that behavior change programs (in America think public health campaigns like anti-smoking) in Ethiopia (think condom use or women are equal) work best when mass media (which provides a larger national conversation and a context) is used concurrently with small group peer education sessions (which create personal accountability and can move groups from informed to action). Was that run-on sentence long enough for you?

Social behavior change programming has held a fascination for me since it is the cross section of communications and development. And let me nerd out here for a minute, I have been able to be at the grassroots implementation level for many a prevention program and topic over the past two years. I have had a front seat to see what works well, what works, and what does not work. While I am a little grassrooted out right now (I would love a hot shower), I plan to take these lessons with me into my career.

Clearly I just can’t do one thing. This has been a curse since high school. AP classes? That’s for sissies, IB for me. Undergrad? Why not get two Bacherlor’s degrees? Grad school? I should probably work full time too. And Peace Corps? Let’s write a thesis while we live in sub-Saharan Africa, that sounds fun.

So there you have it, between hugging groups of African children, watching too much Battlestar Galactica, and the occasional international trip, I finished my Master’s Degree. Now someone please hire me.

My Cotton Anniversary – Two Years in Ethiopia

3 Oct

Two years. Two very long, very short years. Two years of what the hell? yes, I’ll eat that, don’t you dare, oh shit, this is fantastic, can I hold that baby? no I don’t want your baby, just 1 spoonful of sugar, you want more injera? No, that chicken won’t give you HIV, what are you doing here? are you Israeli? you are fat, you have good Amharic, you disappeared!, how much? no contract please, this is a work phone, did I get a package? I’m proud, I’m so frustrated, was that a gunshot or a car? that’s my window seat lady! WOW! and I think I need a nap.

So what did I do over two years? Now that I’m coming to the end of my time I finally sat down and looked at every project, mentorship, relationship and “program” I did. But how do you measure two years? In daylight? In sunsets? In midnights? In cups of coffee? (Yes, Rent, that last one would probably work for Ethiopia). Well, here is my last two years – by the numbers:

I worked with 1308 beneficiaries and service providers, four organizations (3 NGO, 1 government), two educational institutions (University and Teacher’s College), trained 230 Peace Corps volunteers, and wrote a Master’s Thesis.

Here’s a short breakdown:

HIV- Reached 244 students with prevention programs such as Grassroot Soccer (4 interventions) and ARC awareness programs. Trained 12 HIV + women in income generation activities such as soap making and product marketing. Many of my nutrition programs also covered Orphans and Vulnerable Children and HIV+ beneficiaries.

Malaria – Reached 555 students with bed net demonstrations, 86 girls and 91 boys with targeted malaria behavior change communication (C-Change materials) and trained 230 volunteers in malaria work (bed net transformation, Audacity software, and malaria science). Served as Amhara Regional Stomp Out Malaria Coordinator.

Nutrition – Set up daily meal programs for 26 adults and 10 children through a soup kitchen and day care.

WASH- Trained 13 service providers working with school aged youth on WASH practices and youth-oriented trainings.

Gender Empowerment - Reached 170 women, 40 men in targeted interventions including Camps, Clubs, University lectures, and higher education women’s leadership programs.

English Language Improvement – Mentored 10 boys and 22 women in English improvement through clubs and newspaper editing.

Organizational Capacity Building – Worked with three non-governmental organizations and one government organization on topics such as project design and management, monitoring and evaluation, communications, fundraising (including grant writing), and marketing.

Communications and Videography – Produced three videos for NGO use, and produced other communications for a this blog.

Over two years in Gondar, I was able to attend two Timket ceremonies, one Meskel ceremony, countless coffee ceremonies, family events, and celebrations. I was a bridesmaid and witness for my sitemate’s betrothal to her local fiancé. I summited Ras Dashen, the highest peak in Ethiopia and introduced my visiting family and friends to the ancient wonders of Lalibela and the source of the Nile. I heard the stories of HIV positive friends, mentally and physically disabled, and the elderly. I had challenging conversations with local doctors and university professors, hung out with street children and got doro wot stains on every piece of clothing.

So that’s two years. That’s what I did. But no amount of numbers or anecdotes or photos can really express the amount of change I have seen in myself, and the community around me. No number of blog posts, emails, or phone calls can really show the amount of beauty and despair I have witnessed living here. So I am finishing. I am coming home. Some in my group left early. Some are staying longer. But I feel finished. I feel I have done what I came to do, and it’s time to move on. I may come back to Ethiopia one day (it is a magnet for those of us working in International Development), but I will come back older, wiser, and for some different purpose. A big part of my job over these past two years was simply living here. Sharing my culture, my thoughts, and learning and sharing back home the culture and thoughts of Ethiopians.

I may come back for work, but I will probably never again experience the intense immersion of the past two years of Peace Corps. It is a unique job. It is about serving others, but it also about sharing experiences. Living in the community, at the level of the community, with and among and integrated with the community. I knew what I signed up for. And I had no idea what I signed up for.

Would I go back in time and apply again? Absolutely. Will I do this again in the future? Probably not. Though Peace Corps Response does look tempting for when I get wanderlust again in 10 years. But I probably won’t sign up for a full 27 month commitment again. This is, as they say, the toughest job you’ll ever love.

A Partnership Project

5 Aug

So my friend Sally from Bonga down south, has started a fundraising campaign for a project that involves Gondar. It’s basically a training program for environmental tourism. I’m a co-signer on the grant and have helped her with contacts in Gondar and the Simiens. Please send it along if you want/and donate at the link.

Bonga, Kafa Zone, Ethiopia

Bonga, Kafa Zone, Ethiopia

Here is her/my project:
Hello friends! I send my best regards and hope that you are well. I am
writing to ask for your help and support. I need to raise funds for a
sustainable development project as part of my Peace Corps service.
Please find details below, and the link to my project here:
https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=14-663-028

“Whenever we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to
everything else in the universe.” -John Muir

We are one world. Try as we might to preserve one little corner of it
– a national park here, a bird sanctuary there – that effort is lost
without thousands of similar efforts far away from us; we are all
connected. Many of us who work in environment-related careers remember
a formative experience as an intern or volunteer, learning both love
of nature and the skills to communicate that love to others. This
project intends to provide such a formative experience to promising
young environmental leaders in Ethiopia, by sending interns from the
newly formed Makira Tour Guides Association in Bonga to  learn with a
more established tour guide operation in northern Ethiopia.

Bonga is a developing town of around thirty thousand in the southwest
administrative zone of Kafa. Nestled in breathtakingly beautiful cloud
forests, Kafa Zone was recently declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
This designation recognizes Kafa’s complex ecosystems supporting
natural coffee and abundant wildlife; it also aims to provide means
for sustainable development and poverty alleviation for Kafa’s one
million inhabitants. As the population here grows, there is more
demand on forest resources; work is being done to promote sustainable
use of these resources, as well as to introduce alternative
livelihoods such as ecotourism. Well over a hundred thousand hectares
of forest here preserve millions of tons of carbon dioxide, besides
supporting unique biodiversity and a landscape known as the
“Birthplace of Coffee.”

Members of the Makira Tour Guides Association here were trained two
years ago through a project run by Naturschuzbund Deutschland and the
Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society. However, while these
and other organizations have been working hard to promote Kafa as a
tourist destination, the new guides have not had much practice. A
refresher training I ran this year as a Peace Corps Volunteer shows a
group of eager, but untried guides, with little knowledge of how to
structure a tour, provide for customer needs and comfort, or market
their product to the world. By contrast, Simien Mountains National
Park in Ethiopia’s north has been welcoming tourists for decades. The
leader of Simien Trek Tour Company (www.simientrek.com), Shiferaw
Asrat, has an easy command of the tools of his trade. He has agreed to
accept two representatives of Makira TGA to intern with him for four
weeks, observing and apprenticing with him, then drafting their own
two-year plan to bring back to their association in Bonga.

So many fundraising efforts by charity organizations in the developing
world involve acquiring stuff: food, construction materials, water
filters, medicines, supplies. This effort aims to spend money on
building capacity, by forging connections between Ethiopians
themselves. It is a relatively small investment – the total I need to
raise is under $2000. But this small amount could get this business
off the ground and help these rising leaders to benefit their local
community in a sustainable way.

Thank you for all that you do for the environment and the development
of our world.

Camp GLOW Gondar 2014

2 Aug

Some photos from my second Camp GLOW and Gondar’s 6th Annual. Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) is a worldwide Peace Corps program. Gondar, Ethiopia was the first Camp GLOW in Ethiopia and continues to be the longest running thanks to hard working volunteers in the region. This year we had five themed days: Gender, Education, Environment, Health, and Leadership, with lifeskills, volunteerism and just general awesomeness making their appearance. Here are some photos from the week.

 

Some Goal 2 - teaching the girls how to throw an American football

Some Goal 2 – teaching the girls how to throw an American football

morning sport

morning sport

Girls Bill of Rights. From the girls themselves

Girls Bill of Rights. From the girls themselves

Strong women gallery walk

Strong women gallery walk

Learning about Michelle Obama

Learning about Michelle Obama

Vision boards

Vision boards

Brittany leading an energizer

Brittany leading an energizer

We had guest speakers throughout the week

We had guest speakers throughout the week

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reading her strong woman statement

reading her strong woman statement

breaking the pinata with her "strong woman" statement

breaking the pinata with her “strong woman” statement

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Permagardening

Permagardening

giving nutrients to the soil through charcoal, eggshells, and compost

giving nutrients to the soil through charcoal, eggshells, and compost

fertile ground

fertile ground

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Working in Katie's yard

Working in Katie’s yard

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getting their hands dirty

getting their hands dirty

Vision Boards

Vision Boards

Hyena and Sheep game

Hyena and Sheep game

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Malaria Freeze Tag

Malaria Freeze Tag

I was a mosquito

I was a mosquito

Condom demonstration

Condom demonstration

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RMPs - Reusable Menstrual Pads

RMPs – Reusable Menstrual Pads

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Talent Show- Injibara dance

Talent Show- Injibara dance

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"What is a leader?"

“What is a leader?”

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blind leading the blind...

blind leading the blind…

The group at the Gondar Castles

The group at the Gondar Castles

I Am a Strong Girl. Statements from Ethiopian girls.

29 Jul

Last week Peace Corps Volunteers around West Amhara hosted the 6th annual Gondar Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). Over the week the girls bonded, learned, grew more confident and shared their stories.  Two of my favorite/inspiring stories came from one of my Gondar girls who I had brought back in a leadership position and one of the girls I lead through small discussions through out the week.

Tigist, one my campers from last year, who I brought back as a junior counselor this year, shared her past during a “Personal Tree” activity. The activity uses the life of trees as an analogy to think and share about our pasts. She revealed that she had been born in a small town near to Gondar (Tikil Dingay – another PCV’s site) and ended up in Gondar as an orphan after she was put in jail in 8th grade for attacking a man who was harassing her. She was able to put her life back together through a local NGO orphanage program and now rates as one of the top students in her class.

The other girl, really a woman, Asmira is an 18 year old girl in 8th grade. She revealed that she had been married off as an 8 year old girl by her parents. They were married for a few months before the boy’s parents decided she was too young and they should get a divorce and then the family would come collect her later, when she was “older.” Once she was divorced she started going back to school and expressed that “now I am educating myself, I have the confidence to say no! That marriage is over!”

These are just two of the stories form girls in this region. See below for some of their “Strong Girl” statements.

 

I am a strong girl because I can participate any activity. I can learn in the class.

I am a strong girl because I can participate any activity. I can learn in the class.

I am strong girl because first strong me was born female sex. After I learn sometimes then I teach my family. Now I come to Gondar and teach some things so I said I am strong.

I am strong girl because first strong me was born female sex. After I learn sometimes then I teach my family. Now I come to Gondar and teach some things so I said I am strong.

I am strong girl because to participate to education. I have confidence in my self.

I am strong girl because to participate to education. I have confidence in my self.

I am strong girl because I  have good behavior and I am special girl.

I am strong girl because I have good behavior and I am special girl.

I am a strong girl because I can make a thing which can make me happy. Also I have a strong families which are making me to be strong. Based on that I will never give up. Finally I am helping people who have no chance to be strong like me & I am voluntary to make good things to others. No one can stop me to achieve my dream.

I am a strong girl because I can make a thing which can make me happy. Also I have a strong families which are making me to be strong. Based on that I will never give up. Finally I am helping people who have no chance to be strong like me & I am voluntary to make good things to others. No one can stop me to achieve my dream.

I'm a strong girl because I have a self reliant.

I’m a strong girl because I have a self reliant.

I am a strong girl because I believe in myself.

I am a strong girl because I believe in myself.

I am a strong girl because I hopefully for anything and I never give up.

I am a strong girl because I hopefully for anything and I never give up.

I am a strong girl because I am studying anything in a book. I love you.

I am a strong girl because I am studying anything in a book. I love you.

I am a strong girl because I achieve my goals. I know myself. Anything I do it as my self confidence, my self reliant.

I am a strong girl because I achieve my goals. I know myself. Anything I do it as my self confidence, my self reliant.

I am a strong girl because I have self confidence to make a decision and I love it.

I am a strong girl because I have self confidence to make a decision and I love it.

I am strong girl because I am self acceptable and I know my self.

I am strong girl because I am self acceptable and I know my self.

I am strong girl because I believe myself.

I am strong girl because I believe myself.

I am a strong girl because I have confidence and I am not hopeless.

I am a strong girl because I have confidence and I am not hopeless.

I am strong because I am the one can change the world.

I am strong because I am the one can change the world.

I am strong because I never give my hand to my problem.

I am strong because I never give my hand to my problem.

I am a strong girl because I do what I want.

I am a strong girl because I do what I want.

I'm a strong girl because I say so!

I’m a strong girl because I say so!

I'm a strong girl because I've a big goal & self confidence.

I’m a strong girl because I’ve a big goal & self confidence.

I am a strong because I believe self confidence.

I am a strong because I believe self confidence.

I am a strong girl because I have self confidence.

I am a strong girl because I have self confidence.

I am a strong because I believe in my self.

I am a strong because I believe in my self.

I am a strong girl because I have self confidence.

I am a strong girl because I have self confidence.

I am strong because I am a confidency girl. I being myself!

I am strong because I am a confidency girl. I being myself!

I am a strong girl. I have appreciative self and self confidence by education group participation, also I have goals.

I am a strong girl. I have appreciative self and self confidence by education group participation, also I have goals.

I am a strong girl because I have a self confidence and I do everything on myself.

I am a strong girl because I have a self confidence and I do everything on myself.

The Programs of Menna

3 Jul

Over the past few months I have helped a fledgling NGO set up some communications (website, brochure etc.) Their main program is a daily meal that is really one of the first soup kitchens in Africa. The group started as a bunch of university friends who wanted to make a difference in their community. While they are still quite small, their passion has really made an impact.

Here is the video I put together highlighting their programs, their beneficiaries and some of their info. Check it out to see the type of work I’ve been doing, and some interviews with people in my city.

Sorry for the crappy quality – not much I can do with a flipcam and 5 hours of uploading.

Soap Bubbles and Birr – Income Generation for HIV+ Women

23 Jun

There is a group of women that get together every two weeks to sit, talk, make toys for sick children in the hospital, learn about health issues, and create beautiful scarves, baskets, and other items for sale. These women are all HIV positive.

The handicrafts they make either go to a local NGO store as income for their family, or as donations to orphans living within the hospital compound. While they are making these items, they catch up on each other’s lives, talk about health issues, and about living and coping with HIV.

I have worked with this group off and on over the past year, and they finally asked if there were any other products they could make for the store. What could I teach them that would diversify their products and make them unique? I thought back to our Environment day at Camp Glow last year and remember the girls loved learning to make soap!

So after talking with the NGO, the women, and some tourists, artisinal soaps sounded like it would fit for both the women (easy to make) and their customers (who doesn’t want herbal soaps?). I am lucky to be in a town with a tourist economy. Honestly, locals would not buy cute, herbal soap. But foreigners do!

So I brought in my resident experts: Ag/Environment volunteers Ronny and Kirsten, who had lead the soap making activity last summer. With my organization/logistical work, and their knowledge we put together a 2 hour soap enhancement for income generation training.

Kirsten talking about how the different herbs affect the body.

Kirsten talking about how the different herbs affect the body.

While we can’t actually produce soap here (lye is incredibly difficult to find), we can do “soap enhancement.” Taking basic soap, melting it down, and adding different herbs for different features. Bad circulation? Try cinnamon or black pepper. Want to exfoliate? Add salt, sugar, or something very available here – coffee grinds!

After explaining the purpose of different herbs, we went through the process of how to cut, melt, and then add the ingredients to be set in a mold. The women were able to choose their own “recipes.”

Ronny helping with grinding the herbs

Ronny helping with grinding the herbs

shaving down the soap for easy melting

shaving down the soap for easy melting

Using the Kindu Trust stove to melt the soap and add ingredients

Using the Kindu Trust stove to melt the soap and add ingredients

Getting the temperature juuuuust right, or knowing when to stop adding water simply takes practice. We left all the equipment, herbs, and extra soap for the women to try over the month. We also went in to packaging and labeling techniques for the store. The women were already trained on basic financial planning – to sell their baskets and scarves they have to make a item list of individual cost. Here’s what came out of the molds the the first time (to be carved and packaged later):

different mold techniques and sizes - this batch was a cinnamon, black pepper mix

different mold techniques and sizes – this batch was a cinnamon, black pepper mix

Income generation does not have to be starting a company. One person, learning a skill, and marketing that skill is enough to generate basic income. Here we diversified a product base, but income generation schemes can be as simple as jewelry making to as complex as setting up a mill or breeding goats for sale. For many HIV positive people, especially women, they must be able to support themselves or make their own money since after diagnosis the availability of work drastically decreases. Basic IGAs (income generating activities) improve the livelihoods of people who want to more than simply survive their illness.

The Group

The Group

The training/planning team

The training/planning team

 

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