Saturday, March 21, 2009

Honest commentary from volunteer Chelsea Rangel

Chelsea spent 2 months in Burkina, and did an amazing job (we've posted about her before). She sent in a few thoughts about her stay that future volunteers in Burkina might find useful. She is spot-on about the librarians. We primarily recruit librarians from the villages, and it is soooo hard to change their "mentalité" to be as dynamic as we would like. It is happening, but at a snail's pace... Also last we we started doing annual performance evaluations, so we are linking pay to performance much more than we did in the past.
1. Viviane – Pros: An extraordinary asset to the FAVL team. I could not have accomplished many of my tasks without her and when I fell ill with Malaria, my parents couldn’t have hoped for better care. Cons: Being on time was sometimes an issue when it came to making a bus, train or plane.
2. Dounko – Pros: A most involved and intuitive librarian. Completely adequate and educated to more than fulfill his role not only as librarian, but role model and mentor for FAVL’s members. Cons: None. The only challenge that seems to sometimes work against Dounko are all the jobs he has in keeping the support and communication moving; a job he seems to be doing often alone.
3. Librarians – Pros: All the other librarians seem to know their jobs and how to do it only to the point of keeping it organized and functioning at an adequate level. Cons: With the exception of Dounko, the librarians lack the drive, enthusiasm, and passion to run each library. Their jobs seem to be nearly a means of paycheck, rather than for the higher cause of furthering, improving, and extending the education of children, adults, and all villagers alike. Story times, Read-A-Thons, simple activities, such as games and the arts need to not only be promoted, but successfully carried out in a timely matter and fashion, on a regular, consistent basis. More pride should be taken in library materials, such as presentation and daily dusting. If the librarian, a guardian of the books and other library materials, does not take pride and care with these materials, how can they expect its members to? While I strongly believe that each and every one of FAVL’s librarians have the potential to be more than they are, they need to have their eyes opened wider to the value and power they hold in their position.

1. Ouagadougou – The FAVL house/office in Ouagadougou is very clean, cool (with newly installed air conditioners), and vibrant with harmless little lizards, water bugs and ants keeping you company. After settling-in and overcoming the jet lag, reading in the common area was very comfortable and sleeping was quiet and restful. Salimata is a wonderful housekeeper who is willing to cook if you prefer. The guards are very nice and the shack shop next door has a proprietor that is too nice to not visit everyday. The internet café is only a five minute walk away.
2. Bereba – The village is a very hot, bug infested place, but quaint once used to and full of life. All the villagers are more than welcoming and willing to help. While the four bedroom cemented compound can become a like a sauna at night from soaking up the day’s sun, I found that you eventually pass out from exhaustion anyways.

1. Paying Ahead – This was the best thing I could have done. There was hardly ever any confusion on what I was paying for and no one ever asked me for money or came to me with a bill later. I paid $1,000 dollars to FAVL before leaving, which I think just about covered my daily food and most travel expenses for three months. I paid for any extra things I wanted to do or have, like gifts and eating out at tourist restaurants. My bus tickets for official FAVL business came out of the $1,000 I paid in advance and personal trips back to Ouagadougou I paid out of my pocket. I budgeted $3,000 for three months, ($1,000/month) and only spent $1,500 ($500/month) and came back with gifts for my entire family.

FAVL is sufficiently organized when it comes to getting the job done. While I am a person who very much enjoys the comfort of structure and a plan, I ended liking the ideas and tasks given to me by FAVL, where I was on my own at figuring out the plan to making it all happen. Although improvements can always be made, in a place such as Africa, while every thing functions great on FAVL’s part in the states, there are just some things one can’t prepare for in the field. Any obstacle was taken care of or handled properly, in due time and professionally. While I don’t actually see this as a con or a pro, I just thought it would be good to point out that for a non-profit organization, helping one of the poorest countries in the world, FAVL has their bases covered pretty well.

My overall experience with FAVL was fantastic and FAVL is a program I look forward to volunteering for again and again in the future. Their staff is more than adequate, welcoming, helpful and creatively open to the improvement of their libraries, literacy and the program’s organization.

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