Sunday, April 19, 2009

It's Over

I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer. Thursday the 16th of April 2009 was my last day working for the US government. A new phase in my life is starting. I have had an amazing almost 3 years living in Burkina Faso and seeing life through from the bottom up. I taught math and science as a secondary school teacher to classes of up to 100 students in French. I have seen the realities of health care in West Africa in our small rural clinic. And I have made friends that will last a lifetime all along the way. The voyage has never been easy, but the best ones never are. As a teacher, I learned the realities of families who understand the value of education but unable to pay meager tuition for their children. As a health volunteer, I worked with mothers on nutrition programs for their children only to watch certain malnourished children die of malaria. But not all was sad and discouraging. I remember giving back an almost perfect score to a student who earned it to manage and pass to the next grade by studying with me in sessions after class, or when a student first uses a real microscope to discover a living cell with her own eyes, or when a good friend of mine goes to the clinic to pick up some condoms when he never did before, or when a child overcomes malnutrition after a nutrition program I taught. I really can’t begin to describe everything I have seen, along with the lessons I have learned, some of which I am still trying to understand. It has been an amazing experience that I would do again in a heartbeat and would recommend to anyone who wants to understand the world, life and development outside the US. I could ramble on and on about Burkina Faso and what I have seen/learned here but I don’t have the time to write it all and am not great with words. But in the near future over a cold American beer I could fill you in a bit more.

As for me now, the only thing I have to do in the next 3 weeks is make it to Dakar, Senegal to catch a flight. I am on the road for the next 3 weeks with a good friend Bryan from my original training group from 2006 on the way to Senegal. We are passing through Mali, Guinea, the Gambia, and Guinea Bissau on the way. We are taking bush taxis and have no real schedule. The excitement of travel and unknown has revived me into my old self. Then I am going to spend about 10 days in Morocco on the way back stateside for a layover. All said I should have a US customs entry stamp in my passport on the 22 of May.

Many of you may ask what a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer does after their service. Well most either search for work or return to graduate studies. Economy noted; I chose the latter. After applying to grad schools in Public Health, and having some good options, I have decided to return to Iowa and start classes the University of Iowa this summer. I can’t rationalize racking up loans at some high class private school with our current economy. Also loans are what tie most Americans down. I want to be free of these strings to make the choices I want, to live the life I want. Choosing a grad school was one of the toughest choices I have made. But overall I am budget kind of guy, getting the most for my money.

I am excited to return to the States and see all my family and friends. Africa has been amazing and I know I will return to Burkina Faso sooner than later. But as for me now I am again excited for a change and seeing the road along the way.

For those of you who want to know more in detail what I did for my Peace Corps service below is my Description of Service (DOS) a government document that each volunteer completes at the end of his or her service as an offical record of what they accomplised.


PCV Jonathan Schultz
Social Security No. xxxxxxx-4429
Burkina Faso 2006-2009

In late 2005, the Peace Corps awarded Jonathan Schultz the opportunity to serve for two years as a Volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa. His acceptance marked the final stage of a competitive application process, which stressed technical skills, adaptability, cross-cultural understanding, motivation, and French language skills. After a three-month Pre-Service Training, Mr. Schultz was assigned to teach math and science at the secondary school level in the West African country of Burkina Faso.

Pre-Service Training
Mr. Schultz began training on June 7, 2006, participating in an intensive eleven-week training program in Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso. The training program used community-based learning as its method of instruction, including 100 hours of language in French, Mooré, and Jula, 100 hours of technical skills in teaching, 25 hours of personal health and safety and 25 hours of cross-cultural training. Language training focused on French, the language used for the education system in Burkina Faso. The local languages of Mooré and Jula were also taught in order to prepare Mr. Schultz for cultural integration. Technical training included technical language in French, strategies and methods for teaching science and math with the Burkinabé context, and the requirements and expectations of the Burkinabé system of education. As part of the technical training program, Mr. Schultz taught science and math classes in a four week summer school program to prepare for the beginning of the actual school year. Cross-cultural training sessions served as an introduction to the culture, politics, and history of Burkina Faso. To enhance cultural integration, Mr. Schultz lived with a Burkinabé family for the majority of the intensive training.

Mr. Schultz successfully completed training and was sworn in as a volunteer on August 25, 2006. He was assigned to Balla, a village of about 5,000 inhabitants. Mr. Schultz was one of eight faculty members at the middle school in Balla which had an enrollment of 209 students and four grades of study. Mr. Schultz reported directly to the school principal, Mr. Saidou Sawadogo.

Primary Project
Mr. Schultz taught science and math classes. His teaching load was four classes totaling 19 hours per week during the 2006-2007 school year, with class sizes ranging from 42 to 78 students. The science courses he taught were physics and chemistry. His teaching responsibilities included all aspects of day-to-day teaching, as well as evaluating student progress through tests, quizzes and short homework assignments, and participating in faculty meetings.

Mr. Schultz developed demonstrations and labs that could be implemented in a Burkinabé classroom, with limited materials available. He actively collaborated with his colleagues and shared his teaching techniques with the other math and science teacher at his school.

Mr. Schultz also started a school garden to improve the nutritional value of the school lunch program. The garden was also used as an educational tool in teaching agriculture techniques and as a resource in biology lectures.

On May 16, 2007, Mr. Schultz was medically separated from the Peace Corps due to an injury that required medical procedures not available in Burkina Faso. On February 2nd 2008, Mr. Schultz was reinstated as a community health development volunteer to complete his 27 month commitment. Mr. Schultz changed sectors due to his interest and experience in the health field and the fact that his education position had to be filled for the following school year.

Pre-Service Training
Subsequent to his reinstatement, Mr. Schultz completed three weeks of training in early February to become familiar with the Burkinabé health care system and the work of a health development volunteer. This training included understanding the workings of a decentralized health care system and the adoption of the Bamako Initiative, and shadowing a current health development volunteer in his village.

Primary Project
Mr. Schultz was re-assigned to the new village of Bouendé, in the Southwest region of Burkina Faso. He worked at the local health clinic (Center for Health and Social Promotion), which serves approximately 2,500 people in seven villages.

As a health development volunteer, Mr. Schultz collaborated with the health clinic staff and the village health management committee to build capacity in health promotion and disease prevention and to improve the organization and administration of preventative services. He worked under the Ministry of Health and reported directly to the Head District Physician of Bobo-Dioulasso. Throughout his service, Mr. Schultz integrated into his community by participating in daily village activities, agricultural work, and local traditions and ceremonies which provided him with a deep understanding of the local culture and the realities of a developing country.

The major achievements of Mr. Schultz’s service are as follows:

Community Analysis – Needs Assessment: To gain a deeper understanding of the community and its main health concerns and resources Mr. Schultz undertook a month long community needs assessment in collaboration with community leaders, the local health center management committee and health clinic staff. He conducted informal interviews and a door-to-door survey in the village, reviewed health center statistical data and observed appointments and procedures at the clinic. The results of the study later served to develop health education activities to address the needs identified by the population which were determined to be HIV/AIDS, child nutrition and basic hygiene.

Clinic Activities: As part of his regular activities at the clinic, Mr. Schultz participated in monthly vaccination sessions, weekly baby weighing and nutrition consultations, and pre-natal consultations. He advised the health staff on innovative health education approaches. He also assisted in developing health education talks, promoted outreach activities, collaborated with health staff in developing an annual action plan, and became an advocate on behalf of patients. Additionally, Mr. Schultz assisted local health workers and community volunteers during the “National Immunization Days” campaigns, an intensive international effort to distribute essential vaccines to children under the age of five.

Positive Deviance/Hearth Model Nutrition Education Program: In May of 2008, Mr. Schultz attended a training seminar on nutrition education in Ouagadougou with staff from Peace Corps Headquarters, PC/Guinea and PC/Mauritania. The Hearth Nutrition Model is based on positive deviance theory (the acronym in French is FARN, for “Foyer d’Apprentissage et de Réhabiliation Nutritionelle”). The program is used to rehabilitate malnourished children by identifying examples of positive nutritional behavior within the local community and teaching these behaviors to other mothers within the community. Each day a nutritionally complete porridge high in protein is prepared from local ingredients by the participants themselves to rehabilitate the malnourished children. With assistance of a local clinic health worker, a different health topic is discussed each day of the two-week program. Topics include: hygiene, weaning, diarrhea, vaccinations, family planning, HIV/AIDS, prenatal consultations, balanced diets, potable water, and local endemic tropical diseases. The three PD/Hearth sessions conducted by Mr. Schultz had positive results, with almost all children showing sustained weight gain and parental behavior change.

Moringa Project: In conjunction with the malnutrition prevention program at his health center, Mr. Schultz developed a project to provide the health center with moringa tree leaf powder to be used as a therapeutic component for malnourished children. Moringa is a nutritionally rich tree that is internationally recognized as an effective agent to combat malnutrition. Mr. Schultz’s project successfully started a field of 50 moringa trees at the health clinic to be used for nutritional reinforcement.

VAST Grant AIDS Day: With HIV/AIDS as an identified health concern of the community, Mr. Schultz collaborated with clinic staff and community leaders to write and manage a $1,000 Volunteer Activates Support and Training (VAST) Program grant. This grant was sourced from the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) provided the financing for an AIDS day program at the clinic and follow up informational retention study on the effectiveness of the HIV/AIDS outreach program. The program included a theater presentation, forum debate on the stigmatization associated with disease, along with a video projection that explained prevention, transmission, and treatment of the disease, and how to live with those already infected with the disease. The program was supported by the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative (BIPAI) whose staff discussed treatments available at their new clinic in the regional capital. Mr. Schultz's initiative was recognized by the regional hospital in the local capital and which offered additional support to increase the effectiveness of the initiative. Finally, Mr. Schultz organized coverage of the events by both national and local media (newspaper and radio). Subsequent to the AIDS Day activities, voluntary HIV/AIDS testing increased at the clinic, as did condom sales.

International Women’s Day: In the spring of 2009, Mr. Schultz successfully collaborated with the clinic staff, village leaders, and women’s groups to plan and implement the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2009. Women participated in a bike race and soccer match as well as an activity portraying the uneven distribution of work between genders. Over 700 people attended the day’s festivities.

In-Service Trainer: For three weeks Mr. Schultz served as a volunteer facilitator for the new community health development volunteers. Mr. Schultz worked closely with Burkinabé counterparts to plan and facilitate the technical training component of the in-service training. He was responsible for facilitating technical sessions, evaluating trainees’ progress, and assisting trainees’ integration into Burkinabé society. The training sessions included project design and management, health education in rural environments, the Nutrition Education/Hearth Model, and how to work cross sectorally with other Peace Corps Volunteers.

Jonathan Schultz
Peace Corps Volunteer
Burkina Faso
2006- 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dad Makes it Over to Burkina

So yes, I am really bad at keeping up my Blog. It has been over 2 months since I wrote anything and lot has happened.

First of all my Dad came to visit. He arrived like Sri, looking way too clean and over loaded with baggage. Getting off the plane he was pretty “FIRED UP” and kept trying to speak Spanish to the Burkinabe. After a few beers at the airport he calmed down and we started our 2 weeks together seeing the Burkina Faso. We spent a couple of days in Ouagadougou, which my Dad pronounces “Ouagadoubadou, the birth place of Scooby Doo.” He recuperated from jet lag and got used to the heat in time to head to a big game animal park in the south called Nazinga Nat. Park. We saw more than I expected. (Elephants, Buffalo, Warthogs, Antelope, Baboons, and Crocs.) Dad kept referring to feeling like was in Jurassic Park and went through about 4 video tapes, most of which are just bushes and dashboard. After that we headed north to the Sahel, where the Sahara desert is creeping south. We rode camels, hiked the sand dunes and learned about the trade routes across the Sahara.

After that we headed east to Bobo-Dioulasso my regional capital. From here we hired a driver and spent a couple of nights in each my old village where I was a teacher, and my new village where I am currently a health volunteer. I know what my Dad saw in this week he will never forget. A life few people can imagine and fewer can understand. It was great for my Dad to see where I have spent the last 2 years of my life. We were welcomed in grand style as everyone in my village knew of our arrival. It was pretty impressive to see the entire village waiting at my house when we rolled in to greet us, and the party they planned the night after was something as my Dad put it… “Straight out of National Geographic” We ate traditional food and sat as balafones and drums played all night in our name. It was a pretty rocking party. When we left around 1 am, a group of over 200 people were dancing in a cloud of dust in a giant circle to a rythym only West Africa can produce that didn't relent till sunrise.

After that we headed back to Ouaga and continued to Cario were we visited the big sites for a week. We saw Cairo, then down to Luxor and over to the Suez Canal and Sinai Peninsula. Again probably 4 more video tapes were used here. Words really can’t describe the grandness of ancient Egypt and photos can only try. It was amazing. After that we parted ways and I landed back in Burkina Faso for the 4th time in my life.

Getting off the plane and walking down the stairs on to the runway, I felt so confomortable. I remember my first arrival. I was nervous, excited and full of wonder. Now I was content, confident and watched others for the first time take in the deseily air of Ouaga. I got out of the airport and the taxi men left me alone, somehow they could tell I was not fresh off the boat. Maybe it was my dirty clothes, my accent, or just the way I carried myself, but somehow they knew I had become African in a way.

I have spent he last few weeks in village trying to catch up with my good friends before I head out of here. I am currently in Ouaga where I will be working with the new group of health volunteers. I will be helping lead a technical training to for about 3 weeks. Then I go back to village to a weeks then, sign out of Peace Corps for good. I am excited for the future, sad for the friends I will leave behind and thankful for all that Burkina has given to me.

As for me I am looking at places I want to see on my way back state side. I am thinking Mali, Guinea Senegal and Morocco at the moment. Since I hear nothing but horror stories from other volunteers and friends looking for jobs back home, I think I will take up the grad school idea.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A visitor from a far away land

The past two weeks in Africa have been a much anticipated and appreciated break from village life. One of my best friends Sri came to visit me and see the life I live, something that very few Americans can understand. Coming to a little known French speaking West African country on your own wallet, taking your two weeks of annual vacation to come to worlds second poorest country to understand the lives of people on a forgotten continent is something so great to which I can only begin to express my gratitude and admiration. Many of my friends had talked about coming to visit me during my Peace Corps service, but knowing the sacrifices required to actually get here made me realize that it would be an unlikely event. Sri kept talking the talk and until about 2 weeks before he arrived, I still second guessed its reality. When he got his VISA approved, sent me his itinerary and asked what to pack, this is when I took it a little more seriously.

Sri survived the flight over the Sahara and arrived on time at the Ouagadougou International Airport, which is little more than a runway, a couple of rooms under constant construction where your bags are simply placed on the broken baggage belt. When coming into Ouaga on the final decent one asks yourself, “This is the capital? Where are all the lights, tall buildings etc?” where only a few major streets are lit. The first step off the jet and climbing down the stairs you take in your first breath of the unforgettable African air. It’s a hot sticky blend of diesel fumes, smoke, and sewer. It’s a memory you won’t easily forget.

When I first saw Sri I instantly thought, “Wow he looks clean.” The fresh from America look is hard to duplicate here in Burkina and becomes easily recognizable. I was waiting for him with a few friends at a nearby street side bar where we sat down to relax and have a beer. It’s a little overwhelming the first time you get here and it takes a bit of adjustment to get your bearings. The next couple of days were spent roaming around the capital seeing some of the sites. Then we headed west to Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city and a jumping point into the bush towards my village. We hitched a ride with a good friend of mine, Danielle who was also making the trip to Bobo. We spent the next couple of days around Bobo and a day at my old school where I taught 2006-2007 and went into the nearby national forest reserve to see the hippos. New Years was in a pricey club in Bobo where we got our fill of old American Pop and thumping Burkinabe hits. Next we took off on pair of mountain bikes en route to my current site where I work as a health volunteer. Its about a 40 km ride in the bush, its not an easy ride for someone not used to biking. I was proud of Sri as we made it ¾’s of the way before he plainly stated, “Yeah about that biking thing… I am good now.” He had had enough. We got a late start and it was getting dark, my phone was dead, and we had about 10 km to go in the hills surrounding my village with no light. This road is also rarely traveled at night. Sometimes I am less than stellar at planning. So we started walking our bikes the last leg of the trip hoping to find a passing truck that would accept to pick us up. I refrained from telling Sri about the poisonous snakes, scorpions and other dangerous wildlife in the area. As luck would have it an empty truck passed us and gave us a lift after paying a price that we had little leverage to negotiate.

Under the cover of darkness we rolled into my village as families were preparing the evening meal and cleaning up after working in the fields. As soon as I turned on my house light, one of two in the village, it was obvious that I had come back with my much anticipated visitor. Many of the villagers came to my courtyard to wish Sri welcome, and a pleasant stay in Bouende. We washed up and headed to my family courtyard to meet everyone there. I live next to a big family that has kind of taken me in as their own. This is common in the culture here. I eat with them and help them in the fields when I have time, the head of the family is also the President of our village health committee (COGES) and we often work together. In the complete darkness of the village with nothing but flashlights and kerosene lamps guiding us we greeted the entire family. My host father TRAORE Go-Brahima (Ton-ton for short) has 3 wives and around 20 children of his own, and has taken under his wing a few orphans of friends and family. As we went from mud hut to mud hut, we popped into to mothers grinding peanut butter, cooking To and washing children next to small fires and lamps. Either way it was a lot of hand shaking and salutations in Jula. It was Sri’s first look at how the majority of Burkinabe live. We sat down with my host dad at his tiny shop that sells the basic village necessities (rice, salt, sugar, soap, cigarettes, matches, spices, razors, powdered milk, etc.) As Sri’s arrival was unannounced the family hadn’t prepared any special meal, and actually hadn’t prepared anything at all that night. Which happens about once a week. The family just doesn’t eat some nights. We embarrassingly happen to land on one of these nights. They quick whipped up some porridge with millet flour, sugar and powdered milk for us. We ate some but gave most to the children and others who had come to now surround Sri as he ate. The new white guy in village was probably the biggest event of the month, and no one wanted to miss him eating his first village meal in public. He was constantly being greeted while trying to stomach what he could of the porridge, as I translated with a full mouth between Jula, French and English.

The first night in a new place is always tough, and your first night trying to sleep in an Burkinabe village couldn’t be greater challenge. The plethora and inconsistency of night sounds can make sleep impossible. Basically it sounds like Jurassic Park outside your front door. It is almost as if the animals have planned an eerie night symphony where each section tries to out perform the next. It’s a mixture of farm animals and drums, with intermittent dogs howling with donkeys apparently at war all night in a house infested with crickets. I have grown used to this sadly and sleep just fine. Sri on the other hand had a tough time, which is completely understandable as back home we can sleep in completely controlled environment.

The next morning was spent greeting many of my good friends in village, meeting some of our clinic staff where I work and going to a nearby village for their market day. After a long and busy day we had a dinner of To (the staple food in Burkina Faso) with my family. We also made a pasta dinner as a back up if things didn’t go down smoothly. That night I found Sri some ear plugs.
The next day we amazingly caught a ride on top of truck full of melons heading back to Bobo. Sitting like kings on top of our thrown of produce we rode in style through the dusty heat of mid day back into civilization. That afternoon we hitched a ride again back to Ouagadougou where we planned to apply for VISA’s to go to Ghana. This took another couple of days waiting around in the capital due to the fact that Ghana was in the process of electing a new president where they close all international boarders. Elections in Africa can turn from peaceful displays of democracy to violent demonstrations if things don’t go smoothly. We waited out the election results taking the advice of Peace Corps and as the boarders opened and we got the green light and completed the paperwork. While waiting we stopped by the Peace Corps office and US Embassy, which when compared to most of the local scenery can be a tourist attraction in itself. Sri got to meet our administration and understand a little about how Peace Corps works here in Burkina.

With our VISA’s approved we boarded a bus south to a little place I like to call “paradise“. Ghana for most volunteers in Burkina Faso is a wonderland of good food & beer, lush greenery, and beautiful beaches. Sri had wanted to compare an old English colony like Ghana with one of prior French rule. The way infrastructure was developed to exploit resources of the colonies in the past, greatly effects the countries of West Africa today. All aspects of colonial rule, the transition to independence and the recent drive to democracy, not to mention environmental resources are all factors that account for differences between Ghana and Burkina Faso. The differences are stark and reasons why are a class on development itself. Ghana just inaugurated its newest president in what many international observers state was free and fair, which is uncommon in Africa. Here is quote from press statement given by the US Department of State.
“We congratulate Professor John Atta Mills on his January 3 victory in the Ghanaian presidential race. We commend the Ghanaian people on their resolve and deep commitment to the democratic process demonstrated in their participation in their nation’s presidential and parliamentary elections. These elections, pronounced free, fair and credible by a wide range of international and domestic observers, have proven Ghana has truly taken its place among the community of democracies.”

Seeing that democracy can work in West Africa has given hope to places like Burkina Faso where the current president is serving his 20th year. He has changed the constitution to allow for extending his term. The president of Gabon has been in power for over 30 years. Beyond government, Ghana feels more developed as soon as you cross the boarder. People you chat with there, understand the world better and have more life goals in terms of education and personal improvement. I could talk about the differences for hours.
We headed straight to Accra the capital of Ghana then west along the coast. We toured museums, slave castles, and rainforests in whirlwind of taxi’s, Tro-tro, and buses. In our travels we met a couple of girls, one of which was working for an NGO in Accra. Our last night before we left back to Burkina we hung out with them and a few of their friends at one of the swankiest clubs I have been in for a long time. It was in the ritzy area of Accra and packed full of Ex-pats and rich Ghanaians. The wealth measured from a glimpse in the parking lot and that of the clientele spoke for itself. It is a mind blowing experience to see the chasm of difference in lifestyle from one extreme to the other, from a tiny Burkinabe village where people often sleep on empty stomachs, to probably the nicest club in one of the largest capitals in West Africa.

All in all it was a great two weeks to share with a great friend. I will be adding an article from Sri shortly on his thoughts of his time spent in West Africa. His fresh, clear and non-jaded point of view will surely be interesting addition to my blog.

I have added two new albums of Sri’s time in West Africa on my picasa page linked to the left.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Everybody Loves Free Pencils...

Quotes to live by,

Give a village child a pencil and he might beat it on the ground like a drum or stick it in his ear.

Give a village child a pencil along with an education and he will write and learn, and maybe one day become president and help Burkina.

Or maybe it was about fish and fishing… Anyway.

The past weekend I spent in Balla, my old village working on our garden for the new school year and distributing school supplies sent from their pen pals back in Iowa. I have been helping with my old students and a few interested pen pals from my old high school in Iowa City on a cultural exchange. I presented Burkina to their French class back home and here now we talk about America. They love hearing about different places, mostly with the dreams to leave Burkina and go somewhere else. Most students and even teachers dream of leaving Burkina. Which is pretty sad. Life is not easy here, and the politics here make it worse. But the simplicity of their lives can be attractive when compared to the hustle and bustle of western life. For the most part they are in some ways happier than we are, they live their entire lives with their families close by, their friends rarely move away for new jobs, and they eat simple organic meals they grow themselves. With that considered they have little to no infrastructure, little opportunity to education, and health care. Its not easy and ce n’est pas la meme chose.

Our school garden has finally started with the help of a few good friends back home. The fence is up and we will be planting soon for this school year, which is roughly from October to June in Burkina. The biggest problem in Burkina is lack of water and if our school pump stays in working order we should be able to produce enough to enrich the school lunches. Malnutrition is a common problem here in West Africa and one that even I suffer from time to time. While I was home on vacation I gained about 10 lbs in 2 weeks. Its already gone now.