Posts Tagged ‘Projects

20
Mar
12

Data/Map Tour: Part One Recap

My database installation tour has gotten off to a great start and I have now completed my work in four of Burkina’s thirteen regions (Boucle du Mouhoun, Nord, Centre Nord, and the Sahel*). So, what’s involved in each visit?

First, I go over with the agents the advantages of the new system. Tracking payments has been simplified, and now we’re adding individual visits to our data collection. Once the agent is comfortable with the two data entry portions, I show them the power of having all of that data in one place, as I have simplified all of their reporting to just one-click.

Additionally, they can use the software to create custom characteristic reports – a few examples:

  • Before  traveling to a certain province, we can identify which borrowers are located there, and of those, who is behinds on their payments or has had too much time pass since we’ve last met with them.
  • If a borrower comes in for a meeting and says their business is struggling, we can quickly identify other successful borrowers who live in the same area and have the same type of business. We encourage our borrowers to create an informal network where they can go to each other for help.
  • Before deciding on next year’s loan portfolio, we can easily see if we’ve already over-financed a certain industry in a certain area. Allowing us to avoid over-saturating markets.

After showing off the system, then comes the real work. In order for all of those reports to be useful, we must be sure to have every borrower’s updated information. That means verifying everything from their phone numbers to the date of their first scheduled payment. It typically takes a little over two (long) days to get the data ready and then we spend a day and a half on practicing with the software. Then it’s off to the next region either by public transport or by private car.

There have been amazingly few hiccups so far, though I have had to deal with:

  • Missing the one and only bus to Dédougou (hitched a ride with another government trip that was headed out there).
  • One region had multiple borrowers with not only the same exact name, but also lived in the same city and had the same type of business.
  • Not being able to track down hard copies of payment receipts for one region.
  • Surprise holidays (March 8th was international women’s day – my colleague and I worked a half-day).
  • Living in the house of a PCV who left in December (no one had been in the house for almost three months – you can guess how clean it was).

Post training photo with FAIJ/Sahel representative and FAIJ/Centre Nord secretary.

Most interesting for me however, has been meeting and working with all of the other agents posted in each region. I’ve received great reactions from everyone, and all have been quick to pick up on the use of and importance of the software.

I’ve also had the chance to see many PCVs along the way and have spent about half of the time thus far being hosted in their houses. It’s a bit disorienting to wake up in a new place every few days, but it has been a great way to see more of the country.

And while the GPS/mapping portion of the project have been reduced, I have trained a small team in Ouaga to map the 1,100+ borrowers in the capital. I’m hopeful that the team can visit all of them by May (the time my tour is finished).

Up next – the Centre Ouest and Centre Sud. Then a four day break in Ouaga to report back on my progress and have a little downtime.

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*Due to the ongoing Tuareg conflict and previous AQIM activity, I wasn’t able to travel to the Sahel, and instead had the agent meet me in the Centre Nord.

14
Feb
12

Data/Map Tour: Ramp Up to Kickoff

Remember when back in Oct/Nov I said I was just about to start a multi-month tour installing and training local agents on the software I created? Well, I’ve learned that here in Burkina things don’t always move quite as planned. The good news though is that the project is officially back on and I’m starting my travels in less than two weeks. This version is a bit shorter (more budget-friendly) three month project. Check out the map below for an idea of my future (somewhat crazy) travel schedule:

I spent the last few weeks at FAIJ HQ gathering all of its historical data and discussing new software features. The next few days will be  scrambling to get all of the new data in order, adding new reporting features and making sure that everything is in solid working order – not to mention wrapping up my life to not be home for quite some time.

13
Dec
11

Making Liquid Soap

I recently ran a liquid soap training as a promotion for a friend who recently opened up his own soap supply store (more on this later). After borrowing a few materials (three buckets and a spatula), all that was left was to buy a little salt, a chemical called Tansigex and add some water.

The process is dead simple: 7.5L of water in bucket 1, 7.5L of water plus with 1kg of dissolved salt in bucket 2, and 1kg of the mysterious Tansigex in bucket 3.  I’d love to tell you what Tansigex is exactly, but Google searches only brought up references to other Peace Corps Burkina Faso blogs (obviously we’re in a self-reference loop here). Then just whip the Tansigex and alternate adding a cup of salt and fresh water while continuing to stir. Let it sit overnight and the melange will result in ~13L  of soap. If you choose, add colorant (we chose green) and a cap or two of perfume to make it smell nice.

Total material costs, including bottles, was 2,650 CFA (~$5.90). Since this was a promotion, we gave the soap made during the training to the ladies for free. When they sell the soap, total revenues will be between 4,000-5,000 CFA (~$8.90-11.10) depending on the mix of large and small bottles (small 0.5L bottles sell for 200 CFA and large 1.5L bottles for 500 CFA (~$0.45-1.10). Not a bad margin, and a great way to help prevent disease. Wash those hands people!

05
Dec
11

World AIDS Day Mural

World AIDS Day, held on December 1st each year, is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In sites all around Burkina, Peace Corps Volunteers along with community members painted murals to signify the event and to create an opportunity to educate on HIV/AIDS.

After attending the sessions, participants were able to put their hand-print on the mural as a sign of their pledge to educate and promote healthy lifestyles. We emphasized the theme “Campaign Zero” (zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths).

The wall at the youth center turned out looking great, and in our two sessions we had over 130 attendees. We received a lot of local help, and even met a Burkinabé volunteer who acted as a spokesperson and did an amazing job during both sessions. Check out the finished product and a lot more photos below.

02
Nov
11

Data/Map Tour: An Overview

As I mentioned last week, my colleague and I about to embark on a six month tour in order to train regional agents on using/updating a new database and integrating it with GPS mapping 2,500+ borrowers. Not only did FAIJ enthusiastically agree to my proposal, they are also going the extra mile and providing additional GPS units and cameras for each region, and even a car and driver for the duration of the project. Read on for more project details.

Project Summary

The implementation of a FAIJ database in all Burkina Faso regions will require a multi-month tour to visit each region and give hands on training. Once up and running, the database will function as a method to:

  1. Track payments
  2. Create automated reports
  3. Track meetings with borrowers
  4. Make data/statistics more accessible to both FAIJ and borrowers

The MS Access database will be installed in each regional FAIJ office, where the agent will be trained to use it as well as make future updates. Additionally, the data in the database will be linked to an interactive Google map with each borrower identified by a point on the map with their GPS coordinates. A click on that point brings up a borrower’s photo and relevant loan/payment information, and the color of each point will change in regard to the timing of our last meeting with that borrower and their repayment status.

The reports and map will serve as the basis to create a FAIJ borrower network where we will encourage borrowers to collaborate by using each other in their supply chains, sharing transport, etc.

Benefits

FAIJ

  1. Saves time for agents and headquarters, especially important as program expands
  2. Automated reports are accurate and uniform
  3. Creates agent accountability – headquarters has a more real-time view into payments and meetings with borrowers
  4. Sets priorities – easy to see priority borrowers locally and nationally
  5. Easier to access data
  6. Creates/maintains institutional knowledge
Borrowers
  1. Provided more frequent and better targeted follow-up
  2. Allows for collaboration with other FAIJ borrowers
Partners
  1. Easier to group borrowers for trainings based on business needs
  2. Opens up the FAIJ network for collaboration with additional partners

Pre-Tour Planning

We’ll be spending a couple of days at the FAIJ headquarters in Ouaga with the Monitoring & Evaluation and IT groups to determine which data to track, establish collection rules, and to communicate to all regional agents about the upcoming work. We will also create training manuals for database/GPS/camera usage.

Tour Activities

During our visits to each region, we will be:

  1. Creating a region-specific version of each database
  2. Normalizing data
  3. Training regional agents on the database, GPS device and camera
  4. Taking locations/photos of all borrowers
  5. Data entry

Post-Tour Follow-up

After finishing the tour, we will create a headquarters version of the database with enhanced reporting functions. In addition, we will offer additional training and evaluate usage behaviors. An all-agent meeting will be held to review the on-the-ground use of the database and map in each region.

25
Oct
11

Data/Map Project Going Nationwide

Big news – remember the database and interactive Google map I made for the borrowers in the eastern region (plus the subsequent presentation I made to my organization to urge them to take the project nationwide)? Well, a couple of months and many meetings later, the project has received the official green light from all parties.

In order to map all borrowers my colleague and I will go on five mini-tours, visiting two or three regions at a time and coming back to our home-base in the East between each segment. This will allow us to concurrently serve our existing eastern clients and allow us a break every now and then.

Each mini-tour will require quite a lot of work, and will include everything from computer training to GPS device use (and of course meeting over 1,500 borrowers). We’re aiming to get started in just a few days and finish up in April 2012.

The tour itself will take approximately six months, but the resulting monitoring and evaluation, troubleshooting and feature additions likely means that this project will take up the majority of the rest of my service. I’ll be posting many more details as our plans become finalized.

10
Oct
11

English Club Radio Show

I got some airtime on Fada FM (95.5) the other day after being approached by Peace, a local English teacher, to help out with his new English Club radio show. The show is on-air twice a week (Thursdays from 4pm-5pm and Sundays from 10:30am-12pm) while an off-air English Club takes place every Saturday evening. I plan to be a semi-regular guest at both going forward.

Every show is comprised of two parts – a discussion topic, and an English grammar lesson (with English music mixed in throughout). For my premiere episode, the show was naturally about Peace Corps and was an interview centered around explaining what Peace Corps is, who can be in it, and some of our rules. The hosts were most enthused when the conversation turned to Peace Corps Volunteers sometimes being suspected as spies. I laughed, explained how that couldn’t be further from the truth, and explained how Peace Corps is an independent agency not connected with the US State Department, etc. Some future topics we’ve discussed doing include everything from female excision to the US political system.

My favorite moment? Being able to give shoutouts to my fellow PCV sitemates Joey and Luis, and to all of my colleagues who were eagerly tuned in despite most not understanding English.




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Disclaimer

The opinions on this blog are only those of the author, and and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.