Hi friends! I hope you had a lovely 4th of July and enjoyed the fireworks for me. I was able to spend it in Labe with a large group of volunteers — we whipped up BBQ chicken, mac and cheese, pasta salad, and potato salad so don’t feel too bad for us out here. It’s been a while since I’ve updated on what I’m doing at site and I know you all are curious as to what I actually do out here so let’s get to it!
Ramadan began on June 29. I’m a reform Jew who complains about fasting for Yom Kippur and I’ve been known to sneak a few nibbles in years past. For those not familiar with the holiday, it’s only one day. Ramadan is thirty!
Well, if anything I’m always up for a challenge. I’ve been fasting with my family and it has been an interesting, rewarding, and difficult experience. We wake up at 4:30am to eat before the morning call to prayer at 5:00am. Break fast is at 7:30pm. In the hours in between not a single drop of water or crumb of bread is consumed. People are also supposed to stop all conflict, loud noise, non-Arabic music, sexual contact, and smoking. Fasting is supposed to make you more “God conscious” and allow you to connect on a deeper level with Allah. It is one of the 5 Pillars of Islam and is obligatory unless you are ill, pregnant, or menstruating. In which case, you must make up the days at a later time.
I chose to fast for the opportunity to learn more about Islam and to “do as the Romans do”. The hunger pains hit hard around 2:00pm and I’ve snuck a few swigs of l’eau, but I keep busy with my work and friends and being on the ‘inside’ of all the Ramadan jokes and struggles has brought me closer to my community. They are all very proud of me but I suspect many of them think I can’t do it. Stubbornness drives me to prove them wrong. I have also been praying with my family. I am of the belief that all religions are different answers to the same question and I am relishing in the opportunity to fully immerse myself. A Baltimore Jewish girl praying in Arabic in West Africa — stranger things have happened. Wasalaaum alaykum. Shalom aleichem.
Also, fun note, I turn 22 on the fête de Ramadan. This is a big party after Ramadan has ended where everyone busts open the piggy banks and slaughters cows, sheep, goats and eats and dances their little hearts out. I’m excited!
I spend a lot of time reading English novels and debating with my friend Ismael. He was taught English by the 3 PC volunteers who were at my site before me and is fluent at this point. You want inspiration in your life? Take one look at this kid.
His parents are both deceased and he has little contact with his remaining family members. He lives alone in a small hole in the wall that also functions as a boutique. He is fluent in Susu, Pular, French, and English. He spends his free time studying organic chemistry and teaching English to his neighbors. He just took his high school exit exam and we are waiting on the scores to find out what his college options will be. He dreams of being a doctor and living in a house filled with books. He dreams of studying in Canada. He dreams of education, opportunity and something more.
A former PCV from Koba just sent over a Kindle to give to Ismael. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he realizes he now owns hundreds of books.
YETP/Dare to Innovate
In May I attended a training of trainers for PC Guinea’s Youth Entrepreneurship Training Program. It is a 12 class course that teaches basic business skills and project design. In September, I will start teaching the class to a group of final year university students at the National Agriculture and Animal Husbandry School located at my site. I am hoping to also offer the course to members of my community at large, focusing on different skill areas (a class for farmers, a class for boutique owners, etc).
I am also involved with a very special and exciting program, Dare To Innovate: The Conference for Social Entrepreneurs. This program leverages the success PC Guinea has seen with the Youth Entrepreneurship Training Program and searches for the most dynamic and motivated youth of Guinea’s communities. Through a competitive application process, we will choose 20 candidates to attend a 6 day conference in Kindia on social entrepreneurship. The candidates will then be put into contact with mentors, successful men and women in Guinean business, and will work with them for a 6 week period to develop a business plan. After this period of research and development, we will hold a competition in Conakry and the candidates will have a chance to present their business plans and receive seed money to start their social enterprises.
From our website, http://www.osezinnover.com/:
The mission of Dare to Innovate is to create a community of socially minded individuals and entrepreneurs that fosters the exchange of ideas, knowledge and resources, catalyzing and promoting the social entrepreneurship movement in Guinea. As Sally Osberg, President of the Skoll Foundation said, “Social entrepreneurs don’t just pursue a social end, they pursue that end in a fundamentally communal way.” Dare to Innovate: The Conference for Social Entrepreneurship will challenge youth to become actors in their economy while combating social issues. Through partnerships with thought-leaders in the field of social entrepreneurship, the conference will be an opportunity for Guinean youth to access top-level training and jump-start a social entrepreneurship sector in Guinea.
I am extremely excited to be working on this project. I will be able to learn management and organizational skills of running a conference, teaching and language skills from the sessions I will be facilitating, business skills and creativity from the mentors, and I will also have the chance to meet 20 young Guinean change-makers. The conference will be held in mid-August and the competition late-September. You will definitely be hearing more!
Back in May, Mangue TP and I started a Moringa tree nursery and they are ready for transplantation! We have 50 trees to give away. The past few weeks we have spent going around the community — to gardening collectives, the Agricultural university, the houses of the authorities — and teaching people about the medicinal, nutritional, and agricultural benefits of Moringa. Next season I am hoping to have two or three times as many saplings, distribute seeds, and hold taste-tests of meals prepared with Moringa.
We just welcomed G26, the newest member of our PC Guinea family. There are 24 math, chemistry, and physics teachers. It’s been great to meet them and now this means I am officially 1/4 of the way done my service. It’s weird how fast time has flown and it’s even weirder to not be “the baby” anymore. I kind of know what’s going on in Guinea now… kind of. She always surprises you, though. She always keeps you on your toes.
Until next time folks! Love you all and know that I always keep you on my mind.