Baby Agoutis Are Here!!!
After one whole year, the moment we have been waiting for at the l’Envol in Kpalimé, Togo has finally arrived… As of the past two months, 14 new agoutis have been welcomed into the school’s sustainable farm!
Although they may not be the cutest babies you have ever seen, they will serve as the first generation of offspring that will be raised to breed and produce additional agoutis. Thus, the total number of agoutis at the farm is now at 23! Our hopes are to have upwards of 200 within the next two years, a goal that is completely feasible seeing that each female agoutis can give birth from 3-7 baby agoutis in a litter.
In other great news, the snail raising and mushroom cultivation programs implemented this summer are well on their way. Several batches of mushrooms have been cultivated for sale at the local market, as well as to local restaurants, and snails are expected to produce their first generation of offspring in the next 3 to 4 months.
With the addition of this past summer’s work, this is what Project Kpalimé has been able to accomplish over the course of the past two years:
$30,000 in seed funding ($15,000 from crowdfunding, $10,000 from Strauss Foundation, $5,000 from UCLA Global Citizens Fellowship)
Repairs to the director’s truck
Agoutis raising program
Snail raising program
Mushroom cultivation program
Multiple months of feed for the school’s farm
New tools and equipment for the farmer and gardener on staff
Increase in children able to attend the school from 35 to 50
The addition of a farm employee
Official Facebook page
Individual meeting with the national director of Togo’s school’s for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities
And much, much more…
Don’t get me wrong, though – we have had countless numbers of roadblocks, mishaps, and hoops to jump through to get to this point. We were in a car crash, the government cut the Envol’s annual budget, several agoutis died, and so many other complications that you wouldn’t even begin to believe if I told you in person...
However, during this holiday season, it is important to be thankful for what we have, rather than what we do not. My time in Togo the past two summers has taught me many lessons, one of the most important being to always put things in perspective. Not matter how difficult life becomes, or how small we may think we are, life is always good; sometimes we forget.
Thank you for all you have done for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities in West Africa.
2 Years in the Making.
Just over two weeks ago, I was hanging out with the gardener and farmer of the Envol in Kpalimé. Just over two years ago, I had no idea that the Envol even existed. Today, I am sitting on the brick steps outside of one of UCLA’s libraries thinking about how in the world a kid from Kentucky found his way to Los Angeles and then to the tiny town of Kpalimé, Togo in West Africa. I guess some things are just meant to be.
This summer in Togo was nothing less than a complete success. Thanks to grants from the Strauss Foundation and the UCLA Global Citizens Fellowship, I was able to return to the Envol in Kpalimé for six weeks this summer to further develop Project Kpalimé.
What we did with the amount of money we had was nothing short of incredible. We built a total of three structures that will serve to augment the financial autonomy of the school: a 6 meter x 12 meter snail raising facility, a 4 meter x 16 meter mushroom cultivation facility, and 3 meter x 8 meter crocodile enclosure. Yes, crocodiles! The snail and mushroom facilities will be used to cultivate snails and mushrooms to sell at the local market and to nearby restaurants and hotels. The crocodile enclosure, which contains four crocodiles, will be utilized as a way to attract local school groups and other organizations to the school by admitting visitors to view and feed the crocodiles for a small fee.
As of today, the farm now raises chickens, rabbits, agoutis, and snails, and cultivates mushrooms and numerous vegetables. All of the profits from the farm go to financing the school. Over the course of the next two years, these profits will cut down expenses for the school by 25-50%. Depending on how productive the farm becomes in the years to come, that number could grow even higher.
Leaving Kpalimé this year was much harder than the year before. Although I was there for a shorter period of time, it was a time to rekindle relationships that had remained dormant for the past twelve months. I now have a second family in Togo, and I have more and more of a reason to return in the future.
Thank you to everyone who had supported Project Kpalimé up to this point in time. Without you, I none of this would be possible. I am not sure what the future holds, but I will be sure to update you along every step of the way.
From the bottom of my heart, all I can say is "akpe kaka" – thank you very, very much.
Hello friends, family, acquaintances, and most importantly, supporters of Project Kpalimé! Thanks in part to you, 47 children with special needs in West Africa are able to go to school every day. More than that, though, they have a home away from home where they are cared for, nourished, and educated to become contributing members to the society in which they live.
It is with great pleasure that I inform you Project Kpalimé is entering its second year of developing a sustainable farm within l’Envol à Kpalimé! I arrived in Togo this past Friday, July 31st, and will be based here until my departure September 15th. During my six-week stay, I will be working alongside the director of the school, Mr. Théo Betevi, and the gardener and farmer on staff, Parfait and Thomas, to implement snail and mushroom cultivation programs.
With the aid of two grants from the UCLA Global Citizens Fellowship and the Donald S. Strauss Foundation, as well as the continuous support of individual donors, we will be constructing two different areas for the cultivation of snails and mushrooms. The implementation of these programs will serve two purposes 1.) To diversify the farm’s methods of generating income for the school, and 2.) To create additional opportunities for the school’s highest functioning students to work in the farm as a way of gaining work experience and acquiring a sense of responsibility and empowerment.
If you remember last year’s developments with the Project, we implemented a sustainable livestock raising program that is accomplishing the same goals. To update you on the “agoutis program,” all of the agoutis are in good health, but they have yet to produce offspring. We purchased five additional agoutis to enhance the program, as well as consulted our professional agoutis raiser (Yes, that is a real profession), and we believe to have figured out the problem. It turns out to be a matter of not letting the males alone with the females for a long enough time…. What a shame, right? We are now confident that the females will begin to produce offspring within the next six months. After six months, the agoutis, snail, and mushroom raising programs should be well underway!
I want to thank YOU for your support of Project Kpalimé up until now. Without you, this project would not be possible. Without you, the school would only be able to serve the 35 children it was capable of serving two years ago. This coming fall, the school expects to receive more than 50! This is exactly why the expansion of revenue generating endeavors such as the agoutis, snail, and mushroom programs are so vital to the school’s success. Thanks for being awesome, and I look forward to updating you on our progress in the near future.
Just over one year ago, on April 1st, 2014, I published my first blog post for Project Kpalimé. After raising more than $13,000, I travelled to Kpalimé, Togo during the summer of 2014 to empower children with special needs through social enterprise. One year later, I am unbelievably excited to announce that I will be returning to Togo during the summer of 2015 to further develop Project Kpalimé!
This past February, I was named the 2015 UCLA Global Citizens Fellow and granted $5,000 to continue to develop Project Kpalimé. Soon after, I was notified by the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Foundation that I had won an additional $10,000 to contribute to the project, providing me with $15,000 to enhance Project Kpalimé during this upcoming summer. So, the million-dollar question (or I guess $15,000 question in this case): What’s next?
This summer, I will be further developing the sustainable livestock farm at the Envol in Kpalimé, which now includes grasscutters, chickens, and rabbits, through the implementation of a snail farm. You may be thinking to yourself, “Why in the world is Grant starting a snail farm in West Africa!?” Well, “Achatina Achatina,” better known as Giant African Land Snails, are sold and eaten throughout West Africa. They are also high in protein and easy to reproduce, making them a perfect livestock to raise amidst the widespread deforestation affecting much of the snail populations through West Africa. The goal of the snail farm is the same as the rest of the farm: To increase the financial autonomy of the school through selling snails to local markets and restaurants, and to empower the school’s children through providing them with opportunities to work alongside the farmer and gardener on staff as part of an advanced skills class.
Meanwhile, everything else at the Envol is great! The school increased its enrollment from 35 children to 42, and although the grasscutters have yet to produce offspring, they have grown significantly and are in good health. Furthermore, the staff has continued to utilize the iPad and Wi-Fi we installed last year, and the gardener and farmer have benefitted greatly from the new equipment and tools.
I plan to continue to make updates about Project Kpalimé through Fundly as the summer approaches, so stay tuned for more information about how you can possibly be involved in this year’s project. For more information regarding the UCLA Global Citizens Fellowship or the Strauss Foundation, see below. Also, if you did not get a chance to read the Huffington Post’s featured article on Project Kpalimé last fall, see below for that too! Round 2, here we come!!!
It feels like forever ago that I was in West Africa, but it has not even been 2 months since returning to the U.S. on September 8th.
I miss the mornings walking to the Envol, the afternoons playing soccer with the other teenagers in my quarter, and the nights watching the cheesy, low-budget Nigerian films that you could buy for the price of a quarter (to be honest, though, I think a quarter may be too much…). I miss Kpalimé, but more importantly, I miss the people of Kpalimé. People have asked me what the “best” or most “unexpected” part of my trip was. My answer incorporates both questions. The “best,” as well as the most “unexpected,” part of my trip was returning to the United States knowing I had formed relationships with people half way around the world in a small country in West Africa.
I spoke with Théo via Skype for the first time since returning this past Tuesday. The feelings I underwent while speaking French into my computer in my room to a man and his family I became friends with in West Africa was nothing short of surreal. Things became even more surreal when I saw that Théo was talking to me via Skype with the wireless router we had installed as part of Project Kpalimé this past summer. Seeing that wireless router hanging on the wall above his head made me realize that I had actually been to West Africa. Without Project Kpalimé, that router would not be there. That was an unbelievable feeling, especially with knowing that installing wireless internet was something that we were able to add on to the main project of implementing a sustainable livestock farm.
To put things in perspective, here is a brief outline of the impact of Project Kpalimé: construction of a 10m x 6m building to raise agoutis with 144 cages, electricity, and a drainage system, installation of Wi-Fi in the Envol (profits farm the agoutis-raising program will sustain monthly internet costs), new tools for the gardener and farmer on staff, including 2 wheel barrels, 2 shovels, 5 pairs of boots, 10 pairs of gloves, etc., donation of an iPad to be utilized by Théo for administrative tasks and teachers in classroom activities, and implementation of a business plan to sell agoutis, rabbit, and other produce to local hotels. Additionally, much was done for individual persons on a smaller, more personal scale. I think those are the experiences that I least expected, such as the time when I bought a USB key for a local bar-owner who’s mp3 player broke, or when I gave the cheap Chinese cell phone that I used throughout the summer to Théo’s uncle in a remote village the week before I left.
Although the actual “project” part of Project Kpalimé has ended, there are still a few loose ends I am in the middle of tying up. I will be sending out Project Kpalimé Thank You cards to all of those who contributed to the project in some form or another over the course of the next 3 weeks. I will be sending out artwork by the school’s children with special needs and other gifts to those who donated online through Fundly in accordance to the different giving levels. I am still working on putting together a re-cap video, as well as a consolidated photo album of the project (I ended up taking close to 4,000 photos and videos!), so be on the lookout for another update within the month with a link to a photo and video sharing site. Although this may be the final e-mail regarding the project, expect an e-mail update with the progress of the sustainable livestock farm, as well as of general progress of the school, every few months. The first generation of agoutis should be showing up around February, so you can definitely expect a photo with the farm’s first offspring!
In closing, I would like to say thank you again to everyone who contributed to the success of Project Kpalimé. This project was for those of you reading and supporting this post, my own older sister with special needs, Emily, and children with special needs in the U.S., West Africa, and across the world. As I was frequently reminded by Togolese persons everywhere I went: “On est ensemble.” Black or white, big or small, disabled or not disabled, “We are all in this together.”
So much has happened in the past two weeks that I don’t even know where to begin.
First, I would like everyone to know that I arrived home this past Monday, September 8th. I was originally scheduled to fly home this Saturday, September 13th, but about a month ago, I changed my flight to 5 days earlier so that I could surprise my mom. My dad picked me up from the airport on Monday afternoon and drove me back to our house in Northern Kentucky. He went inside to tell my mom that a neighbor was waiting for her at the doorbell. When she arrived to answer the door, it was not her neighbor, but her son! She was in utter shock. It was like she did not understand. I was there, on the front door step of the house, but in her mind, I was supposed to be in West Africa. I gave her a big she gave me a shirt full of tears. From me hiding in the car pulling in the driveway to ringing the doorbell to seeing the reaction on my mom’s face, it could not have gone better. Plus, to top it all off, I got the whole thing on video on the GoPro! That is why I was unable to write about my changed arrival date in a blog post – I could not let me mom find out!
These first three days back in the U.S. have been beyond wonderful, but I have also greatly missed all of the wonderful Togolese people I formed relationships with more than I ever thought I would. The actual project could not have ended smoother. In the last week before I left, an electrician came to put lighting in the building for the agoutis, a door was put on the front of the building, and to finish things up, Théo and I put the first 10 agoutis in their cages last Wednesday night. When Théo and I took one final picture in front of the door of the building, I knew that was it. That was the finished product of a project 8 months in the making. Children with special needs will be working alongside the gardens farmer to raise agoutis in the new sustainable livestock building this upcoming school year (the school’s children start again September 29th), and the farm will continue to add to the autonomy of the school. That was an absolutely unbelievable feeling standing next to Théo at the end of the project that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. At the same time, though, I knew that also marked the beginning of a relationship with the Envol in Togo that will hopefully continue to develop for years to come.
I know that this summer was the beginning of something bigger than the agoutis farm. I knew that I was going to be impacted by my experience in Kpalimé, Togo, but I did not realize to what extent. If I learned anything this past summer, it is that no matter where you are in the world, everyone, at their very core, is the same. It doesn’t matter if you are white or black, handicapped or not handicapped, or whatever else – we are all people. In Togo, people would continually say, “On est ensemble,” the equivalent of, “We are together.” The people who said that did not see me as a white volunteer from half way around the world – they saw me as a person. In their eyes, we were the same.
Although this is my shortest update, it took me the longest to write. I have been sitting next to my computer for the past 7 hours trying to think of what to say. At this point at 1:00 in the morning (5:00 in the morning in Togo) sitting in my basement in the exact same spot where I sat the night before I left for West Africa over 2 ½ months ago, I have realized that it does not matter what I write here. I could sit here and think for another 7 hours and think of how to draft the most elegantly written closing update that I could write. But after thinking, I have realized that drafting the perfect closing update does not matter. The only thing that really matters is what we did. I say we because although I was the only one physically in Africa this summer with Project Kpalimé, hundreds of different people were involved in its success. It is in that sense that actions speak louder than words.
So, I would like to say thank you again to everyone who supported Project Kpalimé thus far. This update is for you. Know that you made a change in the lives of countless of individuals in West Africa. Frankly, West Africa needs change right now. With the outbreak of the Ebola virus, West Africa needs lots of help. But that’s what we are here to do as people – help each other. At our very core, that is our purpose – to help each other. Again, thank you to everyone who helped Project Kpalimé to help empower children with special needs in West Africa. The project may have ended, but the opportunities to help individuals with disabilities in West Africa have only just begun.
This is not my last blog post. I just want to let everyone know that the project building the sustainable livestock farm in the Envol in Kpalimé is officially complete and my stay in Togo, for this summer, is over. I will continue to send out updates periodically as I hear from the Envol in Kpalimé and look for new opportunities to aid it in the future, but for now, keep an eye out for another blog update with video slideshows that I was unable to update while over there. In the mean time, if you would like to hear more about the project or my experiences in Togo this summer, please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com or contact me via phone at (859)-486-3238. I know I cannot say thank you enough, but thank you. If you are reading this, you have touched the lives of countless of men, women, and children in Kpalimé, Togo. I do not have any other words to say except, “We did it!”
This may be the end, but it is really just the beginning. “On est ensemble.”
It’s Week 9!
The building for the agoutis is officially finished with the exception of installing doors on the cages, hiring an electrician to run wiring throughout the building, and buying the first 10 agoutis. Someone will be coming to install the doors for the cages tomorrow and Thursday, and the electrician will be coming on Friday to configure the electricity. Next Tuesday, Théo and I will be heading to search for the agoutis specialist to take him with us to buy the initial agoutis at an agoutis-raising facility 20 km from Kpalimé.
I am under the assumption that the agoutis-specialist will serve Théo and I as an NFL scout serves the team he represents. Instead of looking at 40-yard dash times and vertical jump heights as an NFL scout would do, the agoutis specialist will be looking at net weight, fur quality, and personality. We most certainly don’t want a male agoutis that is easily agitated and will not mate with the other females. To once more put things in the perspective of an NFL scout, a scout would not want to draft a quarterback that is easily agitated under stress and will not perform well with his other teammates (Even though I am in West Africa, I still heard about Johnny Manziel’s debut with the Browns).
The Wi-Fi at the school is working wonderfully. With that being said, though, there are still frequent pauses in internet connection due to the service provided by Togo Telecom. Togo Telecom, along with Togocell, are the only two companies in Togo that offer internet. Some might calls these companies, “Major national contenders with an extremely strong market presence in the Togolese internet provider community,” while others might call them “monopolies backed by the government that are consequently the only contenders in the Togolese internet provider community.” You can probably decide which one is more “politically correct.” It is due to the frequent pauses in internet connection that I have been unable to upload a video slideshow update, or any pictures for that matter. Because it takes a significantly long amount of time, as well as large amount of data, to upload pictures and videos, and because there are constantly random interruptions in internet quality, it makes uploading pictures and videos as or more difficult than communicating how you want your hair cut to a Togolese barber. (I got my hair cut here in Kpalimé last week. Needless to say, the barber and I were not exactly on the same page with regards to how I wanted my hair cut and how he wanted to cut my hair…). Don’t worry, though, because as soon as I return home, I will be putting up all of the pictures on a photo-sharing site. Well, seeing that I have already taken over 2,500 photos, I probably won’t put up all, but I’ll put up a lot!
I have come to greatly enjoy my time walking around the streets of Kpalimé, Togo for two reasons. The first: there is always someone working for Fanmilk, the national Togolese ice cream distributor, riding their makeshift bike-cooler with a plentiful supply of “Lait Vanille,” or “Vanilla Milk.” At first, I was highly skeptical of the frozen vanilla flavored milk packaged in a small plastic wrapping. After tasting it for the first time, however, I have not been able to pass a Fanmilk vendor since without buying a sachet of frozen vanilla flavored milk. Do you want to know the greatest part? They are 100 CFA each, or around $0.20.
The second best thing about walking around the streets of Kpalimé: looking at the different shirts that people sport around town. One of the most interesting things about being in a country where they receive shipping container upon shipping container of pre-worn clothing is walking around the streets and seeing the different universities, cities, organizations, and brands that people are unknowingly wearing. It is also interesting seeing that almost all of the pre-worn clothing shipped here comes from the United States. Although the majority of people who visit Kpalimé are French and German, almost all of the clothing I see is of an American brand. (I wish I could say made in the USA, but it’s more likely that everything that is “American” was actually made in China, Thailand, or Vietnam). My favorite thing to see is the different colleges are universities. One week I saw a shirt from the University of Kentucky, and the next week I saw a hat with blue and gold and a big “B” for the UCLA Bruins. It’s funny to know that someone in Africa is supporting a university in the United States without even knowing it. It is also quite impactful to know that they are not wearing that shirt to support a school, but because it either had a design on it that appeared “attractive” to them or because it was a good price at the local market. It is not a matter of brand as much as it is a matter of color and comfort ability. Still, the western world has still made its way to Togo in the form of clothing and fashion several ways, including in the form of knockoff Lacoste shirts and Ray Bans that all of the young men here wear (most of which were most likely fabricated in China, Thailand, or Vietnam as well).
As I write this blog update, it is raining cats and dogs outside. I am currently sitting inside my room at my host family’s house thinking that the sheet metal roof is going to collapse due to the amount of rain pummeling down on the roof every second. Because it is a sheet metal roof, the raindrops landing on the roof sound like marbles, making the rain sound 10x more intimidating. I feel like a scared puppy, but with no bathtub to jump into or bed to crawl under when it thunders (or whatever your dog does when it starts to thunder). Aside from the rain tonight, it has been fairly sunny in Kpalimé over the course of the past week. If you are not aware of the weather and climate in West Africa, it normally rains consistently from June to September and is then dry and hot from October to the following May. It’s normally overcast and cloudy here (but still humid), so seeing the sun this past week has been a nice change of scenery, as well as a nice reminder of sunny southern California. Also, my left ear bud for my headphones broke today, so that I was kind of a big bummer. Listening to music is one of the few things that gives me a little escape from the different world I have been living in for the past 9 weeks. Looking at the glass half full, though, at least it happened now and not Week 1, and at least I still have one ear bud that works!
Before I sign off this week, I want to say thank you to everyone who has reached out and expressed their concern regarding the outbreak of the Ebola Virus here in West Africa. I know I have not said anything about the virus up until this point, but that is only because it is still several countries away from Togo and has not posed a significant threat outside of the targeted countries. My heart goes out to not only all of those who have been affected by it, but all of those who have risked their lives to help control the spread of it. With that being said, in terms of the virus, everything is safe in Kpalimé, as well as Togo and the countries that border it.
Thanks again for reading this week. I’ll be back early next week with another blog post. I can’t believe that next week will be my second last week in West Africa! You know what they say - Time flies when you’re building sustainable livestock farms!
I am so sorry this is the first blog I have updated in two and a half weeks! So much has happened, as well as not happened, in the past two and a half weeks that lead to me not posting an update until just now. I posted my last update just before I left for Gapé-Akpakpedome, the village where the director of the Envol, Théo, grew up. I spent six days in “Gapé,” as everyone calls it. Life in Gapé consisted of three major activities: eating, sleeping, and walking. I thought I ate a lot of food with my host family here in Kpalimé. Nooooo, no, no. Eating large amounts of food in one sitting was taken to a whole new level while in the village. Honestly, I didn’t even know my stomach could expand the amount it did while I was there. I would actually encourage myself throughout the course of most meals – “Come on Grant, you can do it. One more bite. You’re almost there!” Some days we ate only lunch because we would physically not be able to eat dinner from the amount of food that we had consumed at lunch. Those days were typically FouFou days. If you are wondering what FouFou is, it is another carbohydrate concentrated West African delicacy that any long distance runner would love to eat the night before a big race. It normally consists of pounded yams, cassava, or plantains. It is made by first boiling (we’ll say yams this time, although I have basically eaten every type of vegetable that grows from the ground that you can mash up to make FouFou) yams, and then pounding them with a large stick that resembles a combination of two baseball bats put together at opposite ends and Gandalf’s staff from Lord of the Rings. They are pounded until they mold together to form one large ball of FouFou that resembles an extremely large ball of pizza dough (imagine a ball of pizza dough that could make a 3ft. diameter pizza. That is then eaten with a sauce and some sort of meat. Two mornings, I walked outside of my room to find Théo holding an Agoutis that the village hunter had killed the night before. We then ate it with FouFou for lunch.... If we were not eating, we were walking around the village meeting people, and if we were not doing that, we were sleeping. Another interesting thing I did in Gapé – witness crocodiles in a small “cage,” also known as a cement pit that looks a lot like where Dr. Evil would throw people he didn’t like. It was legitimately a cement pit behind someone’s house with 4 crocodiles in it. Do you even want to know how much a crocodile costs in Gapé-Akpakdeome? 150,000 CFA for an adult, a little over $300.00 U.S., and 100,000 for a “baby,” a little over $200 U.S. I put “baby” in quotation marks because it was already close to 5 ft. long. So, technically, you could buy 4 crocodiles for around $1,000 U.S. If that isn’t a steal, I don’t know what is…. I thought about buying one just to put back in the river where they captured it just to say that I bought a crocodile. I will greatly miss Gapé, as well as the life of the village there. The past week and a half has probably been the slowest week and a half thus far in Togo. I am not sure why exactly. The past couple days have been better, but before that, hours felt like days and days felt like weeks. There has been a volunteer camp at the Envol for the past two weeks, so it has been refreshing to see some of the kids back at the school. Other than that, I just have been monitoring the progress on the agoutis building. The bad news is that there are only 2 levels of cages and not 3 as a result of using more cement than we previously thought it would take. The good news is that there are still 144 cages! Knowing that the original plans included enough space for a maximum of 24 cages, however, I am still elated with 144. In other good news, the building is near finished! Aside from a few finishing touches, the only thing left to do is install mesh doors on the cages, as well as buy the first agoutis! Théo and I will be heading to a near by agricultural center to search for an agoutis specialist (who knew there was such a thing?), and then will be taking the agoutis specialist with us 20 km away to a place where they already raise agoutis. We will still purchasing 2 males and 8 females like the original plans stated. It will take 1-2 years before the agoutis farm really starts to bring in a significant profit to the school. Another project I have been working on at the school while the agoutis building has been under construction is installing Wi-Fi. An internet technician came two weeks ago and gave us a quote on what it would cost to install Wi-Fi in the school, and last week he went to Lomé to purchase a router and wireless internet key. The Wi-Fi was finally installed today, so I am happy to say that I am posting this update with the aid of the Envol’s new Wi-Fi! With that being said, I am sincerely sorry that this is the first update I have made in 2 ½ weeks. Before there was Wi-Fi here, I uploaded everything on the computer of another French volunteer, but since he left two weeks ago, I had to rely on the internet at an internet café since then, and that is as slower than a snail on Benadryl in molasses, so I really did not like using it. Also, I don’t know why these updates are so hard to write, but they are! Don’t get me wrong, I love updating everyone who has supported and followed Project Kpalimé, but I have come to dread writing updates because I don’t like the idea of leaving something out! It honestly takes me close to 5 hours to write something like this because not only am I consistently starting and stopping, but I am constantly worried that I am going to leave something out or not explain something in the best possible way. I want you, the reader, to get as close as you can to being here without you being here! So, what else is new… There have been more power outages in the last week than in my whole stay here. Losing power is a common occurrence in Togo, or Kpalimé at least. I wondered why so many people sold industrial sized flashlights at the market when I arrived… Now I know. The mice in the ceiling above my bed have been extremely loud the past two nights. I honestly don’t know what they could be doing up there to cause so much noise. They have either had a party the past two nights or are engaging in some sort of construction. Last night, I actually got up, stood on a chair, and knocked on the ceiling back at them to let them know that I was here and that I was trying to sleep. The puppies that were born just over a month ago are now starting to get big! 3 Americans in the Peace Corps bought two, and another one was sold to a neighbor, so now there are only 4! Someone also purchased the kitten that was here. Needless to say, it is starting to feel less like a zoo. The real zoo is the garden at the Envol (when I say garden, I include the agoutis farm because it is within the walls that enclose the garden). There are already rabbits and chickens, so with the addition of agoutis, it is starting to resemble a small zoo! In addition to buying an iPad equipped with an Otterbox Defender Case (so that the teachers can utilize in the classroom with the school’s children without worrying about it breaking) and installing Wi-Fi in the school with excess funds raised, we were also able to buy all new tools and equipment for the gardener and farmer on staff! I saw the tools that the gardener was working with on the first day I visited the garden and did not understand how someone could do so much work with such inefficient tools. After watching the gardener, Parphait, and farmer, Thomas, work for the first several weeks, there was no question that they needed an update. Last week, I had them both write down whatever they needed, as well as go to the market to get a quote on the cost of what they wrote down. I gave them money to buy new tools and equipment, including 2 new wheel barrels, several pairs of boots for the higher-functioning students who come to work in the garden, new shovels, and much, much more. The picture in the update is a picture of all the new tools and equipment! You really have no idea how much more efficient their work is going to be. To give you an example of what people are working with over here, on several occasions I have seen kids cutting fields of grass to play soccer – with machetes. Imagine cutting the grass in your yard bended over, whack after whack with a machete, and then imagine doing that for a small soccer field. It is amazing that we take for granted lawn mowers, let alone push mowers! Again, I am sorry it is 2 ½ weeks since my last update. I have a video slideshow ready to go, but I am not sure just how long it is going to take to upload with the Wi-Fi here. Just be on the lookout for another update very soon with the link to the video update. Thanks again for reading, and I look forward to posting another update soon! 54 days down, 23 to go!
I have officially been in West Africa for more than one month! The time is starting to fly. I started writing this blog on Tuesday night and had hoped to post it on Wednesday some time, but somehow it is already Friday! It feels like yesterday when I hopped off of the plane in Lomé. I constantly feel like I am writing blog updates, even when this is only the fourth one that I have written since leaving for Togo June 28th. For this week's “What’s Happening Now,” I am currently sitting outside on the patio at the Envol. My computer is currently resting on a small, wooden desk - the size that you might find in a fourth grade elementary class, but much more “African” looking than the one you might find at any grade school in the United States, as it was most likely made from the trees around back behind the school - , and I am currently sitting on a small wooden chair that probably came from the same tree as the desk around back. Each of the desks has a name and birth date taped to the upper right hand corner. On the desk that I am sitting at today, it says, “ABOKA DEBORA – NEE LE 02/15/04.” This is for the school’s students with special needs so that they sit in the same desk each day. In the kinésetherapiste’s office just across the courtyard, there is a young boy with special needs who recently broke his leg receiving physical therapy. His father is sitting next to him in a bright pink and yellow Togolese shirt. It is an overcast day with a slight breeze, so the humidity is not too bad. I hope that paints somewhat of a scene! Now for the “Day By Day” playback. Thursday of last week, I went to a nearby village in the afternoon to see a colony of bats (I was not exactly sure what a large groups of bats are called, but colony sounded fitting). It was like nothing I had ever seen before. To start with, the bats were absolutely huge. Our “guide,” or whatever you want to call the guy that we paid 2.000 CFA in the village to take us to see the bats, would slam his machete against a rock to make noise and excite the bats. The bats, which normally hang upside down in the trees above by the hundreds, if not thousands, would begin to exit the trees at the sound of the machete slamming against the rock. The bats then started flying around the sky like something out of the Wizard of Oz. They were absolutely everywhere. The guide continued to pound his machete against a rock, in addition to blowing a whistle, to excite bats. It was truly something of a different world. On Friday, I left for Lomé to spend the weekend at the beach with ten other volunteers. This was the first time that I had left Kpalimé since arriving 4 weeks earlier. When we arrived in Lomé, we stopped at a supermarket that almost comparable to something back in the United States. There was a frozen meat section, a wine cave, and even a section for electronics! It was actually quite bizarre to see all of this. I walked through aisle after aisle, amazed at all of the simple things that I previously thought of as “normal” back in the United States. There was milk, loaves of bread, frozen hamburgers, etc. I bought what any sane person would buy after spending 4 weeks in Africa: Oreos and peanut butter. Oh. My. Gosh. I don’t think my taste buds have ever been more happy than the moment when my Oreo dipped in peanut butter reached my mouth (If you have not already tried Oreos and peanut butter, I suggest you go to your local supermarket A.S.A.P., assuming you are not in a remote African city, and buy yourself a package of Oreos and a jar of peanut butter – crunchy, of course). I actually bought two types of Oreos – one regular pack and one covered in white chocolate (the regular pack was actually the family size). We spent the remainder of the afternoon and night just eating and relaxing, and the entirety of the next day doing the same thing. The sun came out for a little bit, but it was still windy for most of the time. This weirdest thing actually happened on Sunday morning – I missed Kpalimé. I was actually excited to return on Sunday afternoon after a weekend at the beach (If you would have told me that I would be excited to leave the beach, the beach of all places, to return to Kpalimé two weeks prior, I would have thought you had lost your marbles). It is a good feeling knowing that Kpalimé has started to grow on me. The first four weeks were a tough adjustment, but I now feel much more confident in what I am doing on a daily basis; I’m feeling more like a local. We returned around 4:00 p.m. on Sunday and I slept most the rest of the day. It was also an awesome feeling to come back to my host family and being welcomed by the two girls my age in the family like I had been gone for the past year! I played volleyball again on Monday afternoon at the “new” court. This “new” court was merely a barren corn field with compacted dirt and two large tree stumps used for net posts. I truly treasure the times when I am able to participate in even the slightest form of physical activity because they allow me to at least attempt to burn off some of the thousands of calories of energy I ingest each day in the form of carbohydrates (I am pretty sure I ate close to 2 pounds of rice the other night). Tuesday was a very productive day at the Envol. Upon arriving, I walked over to the garden with another teacher at the Envol, as I do every day for about 30 minutes, and saw that the roof of the agoutis building was complete! The sight of the building with a roof actually overcame me. I had been amazed during other phases of construction, particularly at the beginning, but this was the first time that I was truly impacted by the sight. It was simply amazing seeing what started as a draft on a piece of paper last December become an actual building. It was an unbelievable feeling, as well as a weird feeling, knowing that I had a hand in building what now looks like a small house. It is also an unbelievable feeling knowing that there are over 150 people across the United States who helped provide the finances to do so! The productivity does not stop there. I met with Théo and an internet technician about installing WiFi in the school on Tuesday. I am not sure if already mentioned this, but with some of the excess funds raised from the project, we are installing WiFi within the school. This is going to do leaps and bounds for the school. Not only is Théo going to be able to access internet on the school’s new iPad, but all of the volunteers who visit the Envol will now be able to take advantage of the internet as well. Currently, Théo has one desktop computer in his office with a single TogoTelecom USB key with access to the internet. If volunteers visit the school and want to access the internet, they either have to borrow the internet key of Théo or buy their own key and pay the 15,000 CFA (around $30.00 U.S.) monthly fee. This means that they would either have to share the one internet key that the school already has, or that they would have to pay for internet on top of the internet that the Envol already pays. Not only is it difficult for more than one person to access the internet at once, but it is expensive. With WiFi, all of the volunteers who visit the Envol will be able to access the internet at the same time. This alone is great because it garners an additional form of marketing for the Envol in the form of allowing volunteers to consistently post pictures and videos to social media while at the school. Additionally, it will no longer be necessary to have more than one internet key, so it will no longer be necessary to pay for more than one monthly internet fee. Théo’s desktop computer is also being installed with a wireless internet adaptor so that it can receive WiFi as well, eliminating the need for an additional internet key for the desktop computer. Excess funds from Project Kpalimé’s campaign on Fundly are paying for the WiFi’s initial installation, but the most satisfying part about the process is knowing that the expansion of the Agoutis project will be able to sustain the monthly cost for WiFi indefinitely, further contributing to the overall sustainability of the Envol. On Wednesay, I went to the border of Ghana to see the biggest waterfall I have seen in my entire life (not counting pictures). I went with a guide and two other volunteers who I have met during my stay in Kpalimé. It took an hour and a half to drive there, another hour and a half to hike to the falls, and then the same thing for the return trip. We hiked 5km up and down a mountain side to see the waterfall. It was cool because at the trail at the top of the waterfall you were in Ghana, but once at the bottom you were in Togo. You could not stand directly under it because so much water was falling at such a great height! It was also so big that you could not fit it into one picture! You had to take two if you wanted to capture everything in one picture. Yesterday, I worked at the Envol again in the morning and organized all of the videos and photos from the trip thus far, as well as attempted to finish this blog, in the afternoon. Yesterday night, I went to dinner with Jordan, the French volunteer here who I have become good friends with, for the last time, because he is leaving on Monday after spending six weeks here and I am leaving today for Théo’s village and not returning until Tuesday. It is sad to know that he is leaving, but it just means that I will have to head to France to pay him a visit! That brings us up to present day. Phew. That took a while. I have had to keep changing, “That brings us up to present day,” since Tuesday because I have had to keep adding to the blog each day. I am really excited to head to Théo’s village for a long weekend! It will be interesting to see where he comes from, but also to live somewhere that is not Kpalimé for a few days. It is my fifth week now, but I know after I go to Théo’s village, return, and then finish next week, it will already be week 7! I’m looking forward to weeks 6,7, and 8, though, because volunteers from France, Italy, and Germany are coming to live at the Envol for three weeks to participate in a work camp. I’m not quite sure what exactly they will be doing, but I do know that some of the kids will be returning during the camp, so I am excited for that. I totally forgot about the “Top 10,” or the “highlights,” of the week! If I had to choose, it would be meeting with the internet technician to talk about installing WiFi and seeing the roof on the Agoutis building for the first time. The weekend in Lomé and the trip to the waterfall were fun, but I value the times when I know that Project Kpalimé is making an impact on the Envol and its students with special needs. I am currently in the midst of finishing the video slideshow for Weeks 3-4, so be on the lookout for another update in the next couple days! I’m not sure if I will be able to access the internet in Théo’s village (most likely not, but who knows), so I may not be able to post it until next week some time. I am sorry if this blog update is a little less coherent than the rest, but as a said earlier, I have been consistently updating it and adding it over the course of the past four days. It is also still extremely hard to include everything I want to say. Okay, enough writing. I am leaving for Théo’s village in the next hour, so I have to start packing! Thanks again for reading! Stay happy.
It’s Week 4 in Kpalimé! I think this is the first week that things have started to seem somewhat “normal.” I am no longer surprised at the amount of nomadic chickens and goats that are roaming throughout the streets or confused as to what is the right price to pay for a moto-taxi. One thing that still continues to shock me is the size of the snails here. The snails are like the size of my fist! I am pretty sure that eating an “escargot” here would be equivalent to eating a small steak – they are absolutely massive. I now also have a fairly standard daily routine. I normally go to bed around 22h30, or 10:30 p.m., and wake up around 6h30. I then throw on one of the same five shirts that I rotate through each week, brush my teeth, and head out to the patio at my host family’s house to have breakfast. Breakfast normally consists of a baguette with a triangular package of Laughing Cow cheese and a dash of mayonnaise (who knew you could eat mayonnaise for breakfast?). This is usually accompanied with a cup of Nescafé instant coffee made in Ghana, a packet of instant milk from Lomé, Togo’s capital, and a cube of sugar from who knows where (I don’t know what it is about the coffee in the morning, but it is absolutely fantastic). On occasion, I’ll have a couple pastries from a street vendor or, if I am really lucky, a baguette with an omelet and vegetables (and a dash of mayonnaise of course). The omelet baguette is like heaven to my taste buds. After I finish breakfast, I embark on my daily journey to the Envol around 7h30. In the beginning of my stay, almost every single moto-taxi that flew by without another person on it would honk at me and say, “Tu vas où?,” or, “You’re going where?,” wondering if I needed a ride somewhere. Now, it is only every other moto-taxi… It usually takes me between 20-25 minutes to walk to the Envol, and most of the walk is on the main road that runs through the center of Kpalimé. I am not sure if I am correct in calling the roads here “roads.” They remind me a lot of how the FDA requires restaurants selling any sort of meat to include something along the lines of at least 30% “meat” in their meat, with the rest allowed to be some sort of “filler” (I personally think 30% is a little low to begin with, but Taco Bell still failed to meet (what a pun!) this requirement several years ago after it was discovered that they were selling “meat” with less than 30% meat). In that sense, Kpalimé’s roads are a lot like Taco Bell. If there was a “Road and Pathways Administration” in Togo, and the requirement for cement on the road was 30%, Kpalimé’s roads still might be under the limit. It’s a close call as to whether the roads contain more cement or more dirt filled potholes. Some roads seem like they were purposefully made for a dirt bike track. Anyhow, I generally arrive at the school between 8h and 8h30 (sorry if the 24-hour clock is confusing, it took me some time to get used to it!). During my time at the school, I am doing anything from writing blog updates like this one to going do different construction contractors with Théo to negotiate prices and buy materials. Each day is slightly different, but I always spend at least 30 minutes in the garden taking pictures and videos of the progress on the construction. I have also been trying to take more pictures of the garden, as well as the chickens and rabbits that are being raised there. In addition to the 60 rabbits and nearly 50 chickens that are being raised in cages and coupes, the garden has everything from avocados to papayas to coconuts to oranges. In my opinion, the garden, including the rabbits, chickens, and soon agoutis, is the single most valuable asset that the Envol owns. Not counting the little money that the school receives from the state, as well as private donations, it is the only aspect of the Envol that continually brings in a constant source of revenue. I had a long talk with Théo today about his aspirations for the garden and how he hopes that within two years, it will be able to cover 100% of the costs associated with providing the school’s 42 students breakfast and lunch every day for one school year. I am honestly quite amazed as to how much Théo has invested in the garden and how much it is going to help the school. I am also quite excited to know that the agoutis raising program is going exponentially increase the profits generated by the garden. I generally leave the Envol around 13h to head by to my host family’s house for lunch. I had previously been taking a moto-taxi home every day, but I started to walk home this week. This has been a conscious decision to try and make myself feel better about the copious amounts of food I have been eating on a daily basis. I honestly feel like Michael Phelps training for the Olympics with the amount of carbohydrates I intake on a daily basis. If it’s not rice for lunch it’s yams, and if it’s not yams for dinner its spaghetti. I am honestly convinced that even though I have not participated in serious exercise in the past few months, I could run a marathon solely due to the energy stored in my body in the form of carbohydrates. Not only that, I have been eating what seems like a meal for two to three people at each meal. I do not want you do have the idea that I do not like the food here – I think it is some of the best food I have ever eaten. It’s just when I stand up after dinner and feel like I just became 6 months pregnant that I start to wish I had not eaten so much. After lunch, I usually take an hour nap in an effort to digest the 5 pounds of food I recently ate and then continue to work on my laptop at the house for another 3 hours. Because there is no internet at my host family’s house and because I do not have a TogoCell USB key with internet accessibility, I often go to another volunteer’s house to use his internet key in the afternoons. I usually eat dinner around 19h and then watch TV with my host family for another hour before heading to my room to write in my journal. Watching TV here is quite the experience in itself. There are about 15-20 channels with a couple Togolese stations, one French news network, and a handful of random stations playing foreign television shows dubbed over in French. I honestly never know what is going to be showing, let alone what country it will be from. One day it could be a sappy soap opera from Brazil, and the next day it could be a German television show about kids hunting ghosts. There are also the commercials… Not only are they the cheesiest commercials that you have ever seen, but they look like they were filmed with a camcorder from 1997. Furthermore, it is the same 5 commercials that play over and over and over again, so everyone in the room is able to recite the commercial as it plays. I’m sorry I did not use the “ESPN” style blog format like I did in last week’s update. I would go through each day since the previous Wednesday when I posted my last blog update, but nothing significantly substantial has happened on each day that I can recall. I’ll give you the highlights of the week that I can name off the top of my head: I ate agoutis for the first time today! I had it smoked with a side of FouFou, another carbohydrate packed meal of pounded yams that looks a lot like a big ball of pizza dough. The church service this week was three hours long due to a special ceremony. I still have no idea as to what the ceremony was for or what actually happened. I just know that there was a lot of singing and dancing… The dog at my host family’s house had eight puppies last week, and the cat had a kitten the week before. I went to a Rotary Club party to watch Théo pass on his position as president. The roof for the agoutis building is going to be started on Friday and will hopefully be finished by the end of this weekend. I am also in the midst of putting together another video slideshow of weeks three and four that I hope to publish to YouTube the following week, but other than that, I cannot think of anything else to tell you about this week! I am sure I could if I really tried, but I am already approaching 2,000 words. Thank you again to everyone who has helped make Project Kpalimé a reality! Stay happy!
Sorry for the wait! After many, many hours of technical difficulties, the video slideshow of Project Kpalimé from weeks 1 and 2 is now up on YouTube! Click on the link attached to get a taste of what my life in Kpalimé is like and to view the progress that is being made on the project. Hope you enjoy! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxnywMxwKmw&feature=youtu.be
Things don’t seem to slow down in Kpalimé! Much has been seen, heard, and done since my first update from Africa last week. As I said in last week's update, there is too much to talk about and too little time to talk. Before I embarked on this journey of a lifetime to Togo, I wondered how authors could sit down and write for hours on end. Now I know… If you gave me a pen and a stack of paper and asked me to write about everything I have experienced up until this point, I would write until my hand could not physically allow me to write any more. My head constantly feels like it is about to burst from having too much information. If only I felt the same way about my school work. Then we’d be in business…. To keep it short, or relatively short, I am going to give a quick re-cap of each day, as well as a more in-depth highlight or two of something that happened or I experienced this previous week. Think of this like Sports Center on ESPN. The daily re-caps are like the headlines that constantly roll down the left hand side of the screen on Sports Center covering the day’s and week’s happenings. There is also the “Happening Now” section, as well as “Top 10” at the top of the hour. Okay, let’s start with the “Happening Now.” Right now, I am sitting in my room at my host family’s house watching lizard after lizard scale the wall outside of my window as I type away on my computer. I am going to take a moto-taxi for the cost of 150 CFA, the equivalent of $0.30 U.S., to another volunteer’s house in a little bit because he has a USB internet key that I can use to access the internet. There is also a fan blowing on me next to the single outlet in my room above my bed. Well, that’s what’s “Happening Now!” Nothing too exciting. Continuing on, I am going to quickly go through the events of each day. Imagine the left hand side of the Sports Center screen and pretend that each little black box with white writing is a day. This first black box with white writing is Tuesday. On Tuesday of last week, the foundation for the building that is going to house the agoutis was started. As of yesterday, all four of the walls of the building are near completed and are already taller than I am! Yesterday was the first day that the site of construction felt like a true construction site. At any given time, there were ten different people working on something for the building. Three men were sawing wooden boards to be used as support beams, two were cementing iron columns, and three more were digging up soil to fill in the foundation. Construction could not being going any smoother! On Wednesday and Friday, I played volleyball at Kpalimé’s only volleyball “court,” a rectangle of eroded cement and scrambled gravel surrounding by fields of maize. On Friday, there was an end of the year party at the Envol for all of the kids and their parents. It was a beautiful site to see all of the kids in their colorful, hand-sewn Togolese clothing playing around the playground. Unfortunately, that was the last day that all of the kids will be at the Envol until they start school again in late September. The good news, though, is that many of them will be coming back for three weeks in August for a three-week volunteer camp! I took a TON of pictures and videos of all of the kids on Friday. Saturday morning, I played soccer with Jordan, a French volunteer at the Envol, Théo, the Envol’s director, and several of Théo’s friends that meet every Saturday at 6:30 a.m. Normally, I would never wake up at 6:15 a.m. on a Saturday morning, let alone to play soccer. However, when the chickens are already “cock-a-doodle-dooing” at 5:45 a.m. and it is already 118% humidity in your room, getting up to play soccer doesn’t sound like too bad of an idea. Sunday was probably the most adventurous and exciting day I have had up until this point. I went with two of the girls from my host family, two of their guys friends, and two volunteers from the Envol, to one of Kpalimé’s few nearby waterfalls. We rented a car, a small Toyota probably manufactured in the late 1980s, and packed all 9 of us into it – the 7 people I just mentioned, myself, and the driver. I felt like I was a clown in the circus seeing how many people we could pack into a single car. We drove about 20 minutes to the border of Ghana where we headed up a dirt road for another 20 minutes to the trailhead of the waterfall. If the surrounding mountains were not beautiful enough, the waterfall itself was nothing short of a hidden jungle paradise. This was the first time that I looked around and actually felt like I was in the Lion King. The only thing missing was Symba. Monday and Tuesday of this week, I spent my time working at the Envol in the morning, per usual, and at my host family’s house in afternoon working on this blog and the very first video update! Now, onto the “Top 10” and the highlights of the week. The trip to the waterfall near the border of Ghana was definitely one of those highlights. Another one of my favorite moments of the past week, as well as the entire trip, occurred just before first ground was to be dug at the site of construction for the agoutis building. Myself, Théo, the mason’s three workers, and several other staff from the Envol, stood in a circle around the mason at the construction site. To try and paint a picture, the “construction site” is a 10m x 5m area of rich, dark soil covered with fallen corn stalks that were harvested for the sole purpose of making room for the building needed to house the agoutis. I stood amongst the others in the circle around the mason as he said a prayer to commence the beginning of construction on the agoutis building. The entirety of the prayer was in Ewe, the local language spoken by most Togolese, so I had absolutely no clue as to what was being said. At the same time, though, I was taking time to think and pray. It was cool because even though he was speaking a completely different language and I had absolutely no idea what he was saying, it did not matter because I felt like I was thinking and praying for the same things. It was the perfect way to start off the project. Oh! How could I forget the big news! The reason why the area that was cleared for the building was 10m x 5m as opposed to the 4m x 3m as proposed proposed in the original project plans is because the building size has been expanded! The original plans for the “pen” that was to house the agoutis had enough space for 24 cages maximum. I put “pen” in quotations because it is no longer a small structure that is going to house a handful of agoutis. The new structure is a legitimate building that is going to be capable of housing significantly more agoutis than previously thought. To put things in perspective, the new structure is over 4x as large as the original and has enough space for over 180 cages to house agoutis. In other words, the new plans are much, much, much bigger! As of right now, we are still unsure as to just how many agoutis we will be capable of raising. A certain number of cages will be set aside for healthy males, a another number will be set aside for maturing agoutis that are to be sold, and another portion will be set aside for females with newly born litters. This is extremely exciting news for the Envol because it not only increases the agoutis output capacity substantially, but also the overall autonomy of the school. Aside from funding the Envol receives from the Togolese government and private donations, the agoutis raising program will be the single largest source of revenue for the school! The program will garner an additional source of revenue for the school, but it will also raise awareness of the school and its mission to integrate individuals with special needs into the community through its hopeful success in selling agoutis at the local market. None of this would be possible without the financial support of those who continued to donate to Project Kpalimé right up until the very end. It is because of the generosity of those who helped reached the initial fundraising goal of $9,000.00, as well as those who continued to donate after the goal had been reached, that we have been able to help the school much more than previously thought possible. As a result of the excess funds that Project Kpalimé received on Fundly, and in addition to the expansion on the agoutis raising project, I was also able to acquire Théo an iPad fitted with AppleCare and an OtterBox Defender case. The iPad will hopefully give Théo the tools he needs to help better run the Envol from a managerial position, but it will also hopefully give the teachers the opportunity to utilize it in the classroom with the school’s children thanks to the durability of the OtterBox Defender case. There are numerous Apps in the iTunes App Store which cater to individuals with intellectual and mental disabilities. Many of these Apps have been proven to be extremely successful with children with special needs. As a result, we hope to integrate the iPad into classroom activities starting this coming school year. As progress continues on the agoutis project, I plan to further work with Théo on acquiring Apps that are specific to activities aiding children with special needs. Furthermore, Théo and I have also begun discussing the possibility of installing WiFi at the school. Due to the inconvenience of the one internet key that the school uses, the constant arrival and departure of volunteers, most of whom bring a computer, and the introduction of a WiFi adaptable iPad to the Envol, installing acquiring WiFi for the school would seem to benefit it greatly. Théo is meeting with an internet specialist tomorrow to talk about costs and problems associated with installation. Big things are happening at the Envol in Kpalimé, both literally and figuratively! The agoutis project is to be bigger than expected, and the donations from the project are going farther than expected. I could not be more excited! I would talk more, but if I don’t stop writing now, I’m not sure if I ever will. Good news and bad news though! I made a video slideshow of some of the pictures I have taken up until today, but I cannot get it to upload onto YouYube. As soon as I can figure out how in the world I can put it up, I will do it ASAP. I have literally spent the last three hours trying to figure it out... I am going to try and make a video slideshow for each week or two I am here, assuming that I can get the first to upload. Thanks again for reading, and be on the lookout for another update in the next day or two with the slideshow!
Bonjour from Africa! All is safe and well in Kpalimé, but my, oh my, oh my…. Where does one even begin to describe the events that have occurred over the course of the past week and a half…. Quite frankly, I cannot believe that I have been in Togo, or Africa for that matter, for only a week and a half. I think I have experienced more in the past ten days than I have experienced in the past ten months [as I currently write, two ants are making their way across my computer screen]. At the same time, it is also hard for me to believe that I have already been in Togo for ten days! The first week was probably one of the longest weeks of my life, but now I feel that time is starting to move much faster. I want to start off by apologizing for only just now posting my first update ten days after my departure. I know that there were many people who contributed to the success of Project Kpalimé, and I want to keep all of those who contributed to its success as up to date as possible on its progress. The internet accessibility here is much more limiting than I had initially realized. Now that I have been here for over a week, though, I feel that I have a much better understanding of the places and times that I can access the internet, so expect at least one blog every week for the next ten weeks that I am here in Togo. There is nothing I would rather do more than recount all of the experiences I have undergone and lessons I have learned in the past ten days in additional blogs, but quite frankly, there is just not enough time in the day! It is only day ten, and I have already written 90 pages in my journal… I could talk for hours about how amazing of a place the Envol is, about how my first sight of it was like seeing a little slice of heaven on Earth, or perhaps the beautiful garden that the Envol owns just 100 meters down the road with its rows of maize, trees of papayas, or coupes of chickens. Or I could perhaps talk about the different foods I have eaten and the wonderful meals that my host family prepares each day, or the eccentric people I have met, beautiful places I have gone, and cultural differences I have experienced. My head hurts just thinking of how much I have already experienced in the week and a half I have been here, and how so badly I want to tell about it all, but just cannot because it is too, too much! Although I could sit here and type all night, I simply cannot because I do not have the time. Since the minute I stepped off the plane in Lomé into a blanket of 125% humidity, I feel like I have been doing a million things at once. At the start, I felt like a deer in headlights, or perhaps better yet, a lost puppy in a big, big city. It took until this past Sunday, about seven days, for me to feel comfortable in what I was doing on a daily basis. Each day, I normally write in my journal for one to two hours. Another 2 hours I am working alongside other college volunteers at the Envol, two German girls and one French guy, to help create a fully-functioning blog for the school. Most of that time is spent translating the site into English because it is to be released in French, German, and English. I usually spend another 2 hours eating and spending time with my host family, and the rest of my time helping acquire materials, negotiate prices, and construct the building that is going to house the Agoutis. Like I said, I could talk for hours, but I am going to try and give just the highlights of my time in Togo and updates on the project itself thus far. I arrived in Lomé two Sundays ago, June 29th, around 7:30 p.m., or 19h30. I was welcomed by the Envol’s director, Théo, at the airport with a chalkboard that read, “Grant, L’Envol.” That was probably one of the most relieving moments of my entire life after struggling to find my way alone through the maze that consists of Togolese Customs and Immigration. Because it was already fairly late, we stayed the night in a hotel in Lomé and left for Kpalimé the next morning. The drive itself from Lomé to Kpalimé had more green than my eyes had ever seen in my entire life. Since my arrival in Kpalimé on Monday, June 30th, I have grown accustomed to the small city that is Kpalimé, as well as my daily routine as a twenty-year old white American, or “Yovo” as all of the Togolese kids call the few white people who walk the streets of Kpalimé, building a sustainable livestock farm for the first time. It is also my first time to Togo, as well as to Africa in general, first time speaking a foreign language consistently on a daily basis, first time having my bag searched by police at an airport in a foreign country (I forgot to mention that earlier), first time being the only person of a different race in a church of more than 300 people (also my first time attending a church in a foreign language – most of the service was in the local language, Ewe, with some parts being spoken in French), first time waking up to chickens “cock-a-doodle-dooing” every morning at 6:00 a.m., first time going to a small African bar to watch the quarterfinals of the World Cup (where the photo displayed was taken), first time taking a shower each day with a bucket of water and a small plastic Tupperware bowl, first time taking malaria pills on a daily basis – and then having extremely weird dreams because of them – , first time fishing in a small, garbage infested stream the “old-fashioned way” with sticks, string, a hook, and a worm, and actually catching numerous fish, as well as my first time waking up in the middle of the night to a thunderstorm that sounded liked like the combination of a hurricane, tornado, and typhoon wrapped in one. Needless to say, there have been a lot of firsts on this trip thus far. Thank you again to everyone who has supported Project Kpalimé up to this point. I wish that all of you could see what I am seeing, but just know that I am going to do the best that I possibly can to make you feel like you are. I have to go now, but I will be back to post another update, as well as many pictures, as soon as I can! In the mean time, check out the awesome video that an amazing person and good friend of mine in the Film School at UCLA, Lizzie Zweng, made for Project Kpalimé: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ig9zZhgw6t8. Although I would have liked to put up a video at the start of the project fundraising, I know that everything happens for a reason and I am excited to show this video to commemorate the first day of construction on the foundation of the building that is going to house the agoutis! I hope you like it! 10 days down, 67 to go!
Am I living a dream? Am I really departing for West Africa tomorrow at 4:00 p.m.? Am I really about to wake up tomorrow and say, “Hey, mom and dad, can you drive me to the airport? I’m going to Africa for eleven weeks.” I think I am…. I can honestly say that I do not think I have ever been this excited, nervous, anxious, and every other adjective that could be used to describe a 20 year old college student about to head to Africa on their own for the first time. It feels like Christmas Eve, except I am laying out Malaria pills and visa information before I go to bed instead of sugar cookies and a glass of milk. In all honesty, though, I cannot express in words how excited I am. I have been dreaming about tomorrow for the past six months. I am finally doing it. This is finally happening. I am finally going to help empower children with special needs in West Africa. But this is not just me heading to West Africa - it is everyone who has supported me up to this point. It is everyone who has sent a “Good Luck!” message, given a donation, or shared a status on Facebook. Project Kpalimé would not be a reality without you. You, the individual reading this, are directly going to empower children with special needs in Kpalimé, Togo. I will be posting updates, photos, and videos as frequently and as often as I can. Although you will not physically be at the school for children with special needs in Kpalimé, I hope you can at least acquire a sense of the school and the small city in southwest Togo. I hope to post at least one e-mail every week, but it will definitely take some time to adjust to how things are run in the school, as well as Togo and Africa in general. Thank you again to everyone who has aided Project Kpalimé up to this point. As I sit alone on the couch in my basement at 2:15 a.m., note pads and reminders scattered about in front of me, I cannot stop thinking about how fortunate I am to have this upcoming opportunity and the saying, "Life is good - sometimes we forget." Tomorrow is a big day, so I think it is time to catch some much needed Z's. Many updates and photos to come in the next 48 hours. "Good Night" one last time from the U-S-of-A!
I cannot believe I will be departing for West Africa in just under one month! Organizing Project Kpalimé has been an unbelievable experience. The process up to this point has had its ups and downs, highs and lows, and everything in between, but it would not have been nearly as unbelievable if it were not for the contributions of numerous individuals like YOU! I know I have said it in almost every update thus far, but I will say it again and will continue to say it – Thank You. Each donation, each comment, and each personal message has inspired me beyond belief. Although I will not be solving all of the problems surrounding children with special needs, I can only hope that Project Kpalimé will serve as a stepping-stone for future opportunities to aid individuals with disabilities in Togo, West Africa, and throughout the world. In the words of the late Steve Jobs, “Things don’t have to change the world to be important.” Because of the overwhelming support Project Kpalimé has received in the past two months, I have decided to extend the donation period another two weeks. If you know of anyone who may be interested in supporting Project Kpalimé, please let them know that it is not too late to do so. As of last week, a total of $10,800 has been raised! Any excess funds will go towards supporting miscellaneous needs of the school for children with special needs in Kpalimé, including ink cartridges, an Ipad, and several other small items. Although there will be a multitude of little things I need to accomplish before I depart for Kpalimé, Togo on June 28th, the bulk of the project preparation is coming to a close. I have been given all of my immunizations, received a three month travel visa from the Togolese Embassy, and even met with a man from Togo last week. Managing the logistics of Project Kpalimé with finals ever-creeping over my shoulder has been an intricate balancing act, so meeting Jean-Luc, a graduate student from Togo at UCLA, could not have come at a better time. Expect more blogs as it gets closer to June 28th, and even more during the actual project period, but in the mean time, if you have any further questions about Project Kpalimé and how you can become involved on a deeper level, do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org! Thank you again for all of your support, and do not forget to “Restez (Stay) Happy!”
First and foremost, THANK YOU! Thank you again to everyone who has supported Project Kpalimé and empowering children with special needs in West Africa thus far. Without your support, I would not have the opportunity to travel to Kpalimé, Togo this summer to help a cause so close to my heart. Since reaching the project’s target fundraising goal of $9,000 just under a month ago, donations have continued to come in, totaling $10,180 as of this morning! The pure amount of money that was raised, coupled with the time frame that it was raised in, was nothing short of amazing. As I stated in a previous post, never in my wildest dreams did I think that so much money would be raised so fast. The generosity, thoughtfulness, and humility of others willing to help Project Kpalimé has continued to surprise me on a day-to-day basis. With regards to the logistics of Project Kpalimé, much has happened since my last update in mid-April. Two weeks ago, I purchased a round-trip airfare to Togo. I will be departing from the Cincinnati–Northern Kentucky International Airport on June 28th, and will be returning 77 days later on September 13th. After arriving in Lomé on the 29th, I will be travelling 120 km northwest to the small city of Kpalimé where I will be spending the rest of my trip helping build a sustainable livestock farm in a school for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I will be working alongside Mr. Théo Betevi, the school’s director, and a farmer and gardener on staff, in not only building the farm, but establishing a program to successfully train the school’s children to maintain and care for the farm’s livestock. Aside from general project logistics, I have also been busy receiving travel immunizations, acquiring materials the school needs here in the United States that are not widely accessible in Togo, and continuing to spread the word about Project Kpalimé and the situation among children with disabilities in West Africa. Thank you again for your continued support of Project Kpalimé and children with special needs in West Africa. I will be updating the blog regularly through posts and updates on the project’s page on Fundly and through e-mail. If you would like to learn more about my project, my background with individuals with special needs, or how you can further help children with special needs in West Africa, feel free to send me an e-mail at email@example.com. Otherwise, I will increasingly keep you updated through posts as it gets closer to my departure!!!
Thanks to the generous donations of many, Project Kpalimé reached its goal of $9,000!!!!!!! The most amazing part? The funds needed to implement Project Kpalimé were raised within two weeks of it being published to Fundly! To say that I have been humbled would be an understatement. The support Project Kpalimé has received in its first two weeks of fundraising has exceeded my expectations beyond belief. Just knowing there are so many people who are so willing to help individuals with special needs is nothing short of amazing. Over 100 people have donated from over 10 states, and countless others have either shared, promoted, or supported the project in some other way. To everyone who has supported Project Kpalimé thus far: THANK YOU! Without your support, Project Kpalimé would be nothing more than an idea. To everyone who has yet to support Project Kpalimé, or who may know others who would like to support it, there is still plenty of time! The Project Kpalimé page of Fundly will be open to donations up until May 30th. All additional funds on top of the $9,000 already raised will go towards the costs associated with sending one child with special needs to the "envol" in Kpalimé for a year. I will continue to regularly update the project's progress, so be sure to keep checking in! Also, a short video was filmed to help promote the project, but due to several unforeseen obstacles, it is still in the process of being edited. In the mean time, check out this video filmed by an independent video artist in Kpalimé, Togo covering the song "Happy" by Pharrel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BabPuHjzxFc. I think it speaks volumes of the personality of Kpalimé! Again, I want to thank everyone who has supported Project Kpalimé thus far. Your contributions have touched more people than you will ever possibly know. Keep spreading the word about #ProjectKpalimé, and in the words of the independent video artist in Togo, "Restez Happy."
If you are interested in learning more about the "envol", the equivalent of a school for children with special needs, in Kpalimé, Togo, click on the link:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFIF2YKzrTs. The short video was filmed by several German volunteers who visited the school two summers ago (hence the German subtitles). The man speaking is Mr. Théo Betevi, the envol's director. Although Mr. Betevi is speaking French, the short video provides enough screenshots to give the viewer a feel of the envol, Kpalimé, and the situation among children with special needs in West Africa. Oh, and we have raised over $7,000!!!!!!!
#ProjectKpalimé has been on Fundly for 6 days, not even a full week, and it has already received close to $6,000 in donations, 2/3 the amount needed to fund the project. In fact, donations have been coming in so fast that I was unable to post an update about reaching the 1/2 way marker before making it to the 2/3 marker! One of the coolest things has been witnessing where all of the donations are coming from. I encourage you to check out Fundly's "Map" feature to see just how far Project Kpalimé has reached across the United States - donations span from California to Louisiana to Kentucky to New York! As I said in my very first blog post, the overwhelming support I have received has been unbelievable. Although I have not had the chance to respond to everyone's comments, just know they have meant more than you could ever imagine. We are 2/3 of the way there, but we still need another $3,000 to make Project Kpalimé a reality! Help make this happen by continuing to spread the word about #ProjectKpalimé, whether it be through social media, e-mail, or the best medium of all: word of mouth! Thank you again for all of your generous support thus far! C'est magnifique!
Thank you to everyone who has supported #ProjectKpalimé thus far! Whether it be by sharing it on Facebook, becoming a supporter on Fundly, or by giving a donation, your overwhelming support has been nothing but extraordinary. I cannot even begin to put into the words how humbled I have been since sharing #ProjectKpalimé on Facebook two nights ago. In the past 48 hours, we have already received over $2,700 in donations, over 120 Facebook shares, and countless individuals and organizations reaching out to help in other ways. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined to receive this amount of support this quick. Thank you again to everyone who has supported #ProjectKpalimé thus far. Keep spreading the word through Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media, and be on the look out for a video to be released soon!
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