sent via e-mail by Andrew on 12/28/2008
Joyeux Noel to everyone reading! My plane touched down in New York on Tuesday and I received my first long-anticipated greeting on U.S. soil:
"C'mon, people-- hurry up. Step up to the line. Next." The man behind the desk at customs looked harassed.
Tempted to greet the guy in Pular, I shuffle up to the counter and resort to a simple "how are you."
The man brushes off my pleasantries: "Vacation?" he mutters without looking up.
"Yes, sir!" I respond cheerfully. "I'm coming home for the first time in---"
"OK, keep moving," he cuts me off. "Next!" The customs man slaps my passport on the counter and waves me through.
"Ah, welcome home," I think. "Welcome home."
I've been home for several days now, getting beaten by my big brother at Risk and gorging myself on pasta salad. Oh, the US is sweet.
In other news, many of you have asked how you can help contribute in some way to the work that Peace Corps is doing in Guinea. So glad you asked!
Early in my service, a local community elder named ElHadj Mamoudou approached me and asked me to help him find funding to help the local Non-Governmental Organization he's a part of. Many people have approached me with all manner of requests for money or aid, and I usually tell them that the Peace Corps is not a "bailleur de fonds" (investor of money) and that I can't simply produce thousands of dollars with my porto magic. ElHadj Mamoudou, however, was not just any old person, and, knowing that the Peace Corps does give Volunteers the opportunity to undertake certain funded projects, I offered to listen to his proposal and work with him to see what I could do.
ElHadj Mamoudou is a kind old fellow whose eye-crinkles are well developed after years of grins and friendly handshakes. I had been touched by his friendliness with children and his willingness to freely house and provide for local schoolteachers, many of whom come from far away and teach on a barely-livable wage. He sat down with Dr. Diallo, my official counterpart, and me and explained what he had in mind for this project.
The local Boulliwel NGO, a municipal development organization called APIB, or "The Association for the Promotion of Local Development Initiatives," needed money to finish the construction of their headquarters, located in the center of the village. After years of productive partnership with an international American NGO (World Education Guinea), in which they had helped build several schools and health posts in surrounding communities, they had bought a parcel of land and begun construction of an office intended to be their permanent headquarters. This headquarters would have given the NGO a central location in which to have meetings, hold trainings and sensitizations, keep records, and receive interested partners. The construction of the building was not completed, however, due to insufficient funds, and thus today a foundation and some walls stand waiting for help to come so they can play their proper part in housing the office of APIB.
Enter the Peace Corps Volunteer! ElHadj, after getting to know me, asked if there were any way I could help the NGO to find some money to complete the office. I told him that I would do what I could, because of my appreciation of the work that the NGO does and because of my respect for him and other members of the NGO executive board, many of whom I know quite well. I met with the NGO and talked through the details of the project, and after discussing all the angles, determined to help in whatever way I could.
As I mentioned before, the Peace Corps is not an investor like the World Bank or the IMF, and doesn't have a wealth of funds to finance development projects like this one. However, Volunteers have the option of seeking funding for micro-projects through something called Peace Corps Partnership Program. PCPP allows Volunteers who see a need in their communities to draft a proposal and seek funding for these projects through family, friends, organizations, and personal connections. The community must contribute a minimum of 25% of the total budget and the Volunteer goes to his or her own personal contacts to raise the rest.
This was the option I took to help ElHadj Mamoudou and the Boulliwel NGO finish the construction of their office. I've met with the NGO six different times to discuss aspects of the project, write the budget, work on the community contribution, and adapt the proposal to fit PCPP guidelines. After months of revision, the project has been approved and sent to Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington to search for funding.
Enter you guys! Many of you have expressed interest in being more involved with serving the poor in Guinea, and here is a great opportunity. We need to raise approximately 5,500 dollars to complete the headquarters and give APIB a home from which to conduct their work. I am encouraged by the idea that if 550 people each decide to chip in 10 dollars, we will have raised all the money needed to really help the community of Boulliwel meet their needs for educated children and effective health care.
There is, by no means, any pressure whatsoever to donate money. I know that the economy is struggling and money is tight. Yet for those of you who are interested in giving, please go to https://mail.wra.net/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.peacecorps.gov/contribute, click "Donate to Volunteer Projects," and find the Guinea project under the name "A.Haile." All donations are anonymous. The money, once raised, will be handled directly by me and two members of the NGO. The utmost care will be taken to ensure that the funds are used according to the detailed budget and project action plan. Thank you in advance for your concern and for supporting me and the community of Boulliwel.
In other news, there are a number of alternative ways besides giving to the PCPP project that you can contribute to the development and well-being of the people of Guinea. If anyone has the following items and is looking to find them a home where they will do some real good, please consider sending them my way while I'm home so I can take them back with me to Guinea:
-- old, outdated laptops (as long as they can use either word processing, or connect to the internet, or hey, even turn on, they can be found a home and be used as an income-generating activity in computer-starved Guinea)
-- used French books or French/English dictionaries of any level or any kind (children's books especially!)
-- old soccer balls
-- pens and notebooks
-- stuffed animals and other small children's toys
Guinea, as I've mentioned before, is a beautiful country that suffers from a heart-breaking lack of resources on every level. If you've got any of the above items just lying around, feel free to send them to me and I will find a responsible way to get them in the hands of people that really need them.
Thanks again for everything and have a great holiday!
Thanks so much!