Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Lauro de Alafia" is the women's reproductive health conference I did during the end of January.  I recently wrote an article about it for the CHAP (our health sector) newsletter, so I decided I should post an edited version of it up here.

Lauro de Alafia: A Conference for Women’s Health and Empowerment

This year I had the pleasure to carry the Peace Corps torch for the thrid year of “Lauro de Alafia”.  “Lauro de Alafia”, or “Women’s Reproductive Health” in Kotokoli, is a four day health and empowerment conference targeting 20 rural Muslim women.   Specifically, this conference was to give rural women who did not go to school a chance to learn about the reproductive system, family planning methods, and strategies on how to approach their husbands about family planning.   The women were chosen by their local red-cross mothers club in the Tchaudjo and Tchamba prefectures.  We asked each village mother’s club (10 in total) to send two women.  We asked that both women were animated and motivated, but that at least one could read in French. 

Group Discussion 

This conference was unique in the sense that it was held entirely in local language.   Most of the women in the conference had none or very little French skills.  Seeing how I do not speak Kotokoli, the success of this conference was all thanks to my wonderful counter-parts. Together we made the schedule, created the budget, and picked facilitators that would help us with the conference.  The facilitators we invited were already knowledgeable in the fields they would present.  The sessions on health and reproduction were held by women who work in the hospital, the sessions on gender equity and strategies to talk to husbands were led by Muslim men who have participated extensively in previous Men As Partners projects, and HIV/AIDS sessions were led by a member of EVT(local HIV/AIDS NGO) in Sokode.

Activities for the conference:
  • Presentation of the goals of the training, Definition of sexual reproductive health, and the importance for women
  • The reproductive life cycle for women and men (childhood, adolescence and puberty, adulthood and menopause)

Learning about male anatomy
  •   Pregnancy
    • What are the steps from becoming pregnant to birthing a child?
    • Biology of Pregnancy: How to be in good health during pregnancy?
  • Basic Hygiene and Sexual Health
  • Risk of the 4 « Trops » and Polygamy
  • Family Planning : Why use family planning ?
  • Different methods of family planning
  • Promotion of Positive Behavior : Talking to our daughters about sexual health

Condoms donated by Population Services International

                -the realities of HIV in Togo
                -Modes of transmission of HIV/AIDS
                -Women and HIV
                -Importance of being tested for HIV/AIDS
  • Gender Equity : How can we encourage gender equity in our villages ?
  • Talking to your husbands about family planning

*This session taught the women different techniques and strategies on how to approach their husbands about family planning.  This is a difficult subject, especially in Muslim communities.
  • How to animate a session on family planning and reproductive health in your village.
  • Income Generating activity : Neem Lotion and Feasibility Study

*I am a GEE volunteer so I used this time to talk about the importance of sending their girls to school.  This is the one session I lead with a counter-part to translate. We talked about the obstacles of sending our daughters to school and how to overcome them.  We made a list of potential IGAs, I taught them Neem Lotion along with the benefits of prevention against malaria, and then learned how to do a feasibility study.
  • Candlelight vigil

Learning how to make Neem Cream as an Income Generating Activity

  •  Women’s Rights
  •  Go to local hospital to animate sketches on family planning

At the hospital, getting ready to perform a skit
To fund “Lauro de Alafia”, I applied for USAID's Small Project Assistant funds.  The money was enough to pay for each woman's transportation to the conference and her room and board.  Each village (2 women) took home two packets of typed notes with information from all the sessions in French, a boite d’image (a book with pictures and captions), a wooden penis and a ton of condoms (Thank you Winnie and PSI!!).  

This project has been one of the most rewarding projects I have ever been a part of.  Despite not understanding what was going on 90% of the time, I could see the women’s faces light up with interest.   This was an intense conference packed with sessions, and not one time did I feel the women losing interest.  The women left feeling confident, excited to have participated, and enthusiastic about sharing the information they learned with their friends, daughters, and husbands.  On top of it all, I did practically nothing!  The organizers and facilitators took control and did a fantastic job; a Peace Corps volunteer’s dream!  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ok, so America is great. But so is Togo.

I'm back in Togo.  Actually, I've been back from America for about 3 months now, but I've been super suuuuppeerrr busy!

America was awesome, as expected. But what was not expected was how my trip home would change the way I view my life here in Togo.  At the end of my two week trip, I was all sorts of ready to head back.  I know I previously wrote how things that frustrate me in Togo, but I realized that there are equally as many things that frustrate me in the States.  It's totally normal, and expected to have those feelings anywhere in the world you are.  The whole time I've been in Togo, I fantasized about being in America.  Once I was actually in America, I couldn't stop thinking about my life in Togo.  Now i'm back and happier than I have felt in a long time -- even after being back for over 3 months.

I will, however, take the time to appreciate...
Seeing my family and friends.  I've missed them tons.
Hanging out in DE with the boy and his family.
Driving in a car...not in a taxi stuffed with 10 more people than there are spots.
HOT showers and getting that layer of dirt off my body that I cannot seem to escape here.
Eating cake popsicle things (what are these?! these are amazing.)
Basically, just eating whatever I want, when I want. (I had 3 lunches one day. Oh and I gained back 6 of the 10 pounds I've lost since coming to Togo in two weeks. Oops.)

And I won't forget to tell you what I did miss...
Seeing the watchi lady every morning to get my fair share of rice, beans, and noodles in the morning.  I came back and found out she is pregnant!
Playing with the twins next door, seeing them grow up.
Sitting under a tree and just people watching for a while.
Riding my super sweet Trek bike around town.
Motorcycle taxis to Sokode.
Getting to be a part of amazing projects that I would never in a bajillion years get a chance to do in America.

I love Togo.  It just took a little reminder of the life I've lived before to see how special I have it here.