Posts Tagged ‘Projects


Computer Training

Many of my colleagues have recently purchased a personal laptop and have promptly asked me for some computer lessons. Everyone has some experience already with computers, but mainly just with basics and hardly at all with software beyond a little MS Office. And while everyone has an email account and spent some time online, the internet is still a relative unknown.

I’ve been requested to review the following topics:

  1. The internet
  2. Social networking sites
  3. How to start/maintain a blog
  4. Photo editing
  5. How to make/work with PDFs
  6. MS Excel
  7. MS Word

I’ve also installed a number of free applications such as Firefox and Picassa, as well as a few others such as some keyboard and mouse educational software and an encyclopedia.


Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Fair

Photo Credit: Hayley Droppert

The bike tour arrival and new volunteer swear-in were the kick-off events to a three day anniversary fair held in downtown Ouagadougou. The fair had a lot of booths (many of which were PCV partners), information sessions, music/dancing, a fashion show, and even American carnival games (including a dunk tank). Speeches by the Burkinabe First Lady, US Ambassador, and PC Country Director were followed by a concert by Floby, one of Burkina’s biggest music acts to close out the festivities.

Check out this video and some of my photos from the fair.


La Vie Chère Footwear

James, the same volunteer who is working with the Zidisha borrower I wrote about earlier, has another awesome project on his hands, the recently launched La Vie Chère Footwear.

The company, based in Banfora, Burkina Faso, makes sandals, bags, and other accessories from the rubber of discarded tires. It has a TOMS-like model of one-to-one giving, called “Wear & Share”, where a sandal purchase results in a second pair donated. Even packaging and shipping are as green as can be as items are shipped in discarded boxes and rice sacks.

My one contribution to the project was to help James with the interactive Google map on the site where a customer can enter their customer ID and are able to see who received their matching sandal donation.

Check out some additional product photos, and you can even design your own if you wish!


Project: Bringing Solar Lights to Burkina With Unite to Light

I’m excited to announce that I’m teaming up with Unite to Light, a non-profit aiming to establish markets for its low-cost reading light in the developing world. My goal will be to try to find NGOs, local associations, or even individuals here in Burkina Faso who are willing to be re-sellers of Unite to Light’s low-cost solar reading lamp.

Unite to Light’s president, Claude Dorais (pictured on the left), was kind enough to meet with me in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago and equip me with some sample models to bring back to Burkina. The light itself is really neat, and was designed by UC Santa Barbara’s Institute for Energy Efficiency. It packs a 4-6 hour battery life after an 8 hour charge and it’s lightweight flexible neck comes in handy when hanging from a ceiling fan or attaching it to a bike, among other uses. It’s sturdy, and designed with intense equatorial UV rays in mind. The light should last years, and even be able to survive being left out in the rain, and runs off a replaceable rechargeable AA battery.

For those without electricity, the light would be a welcome arrival. Since Burkina lies not too far from the equator, the sun sets around 6:30pm year-round, which doesn’t offer much natural light after school hours or for stores that want to stay open into the evening.

Janet, another PCV here in Burkina did an informal survey and found that the families often went through 1-3 cheap batteries a week on their flashlights, thus resulting in a 4-6 months payback period if the pricing works out to my estimates. The dificult part will be convincing customers that it’s worth it to pay4-6 months of battery costs up front, as they’ll have free light for years thereafter.

Even though I have electricity, I’ve been using my light routinely during frequent power outages, late night reading where a huge fluorescent tube would be a bit overkill, lighting up my shower (which has a wall between it and the light fixture), nighttime bike riding, and even for lighting up the courtyard while filling up water one night.

I’ve been able to drum up quite a bit of interest here out east, though haven’t yet convinced anyone to buy a shipment of 120 lights to resell. Thankfully a few other PCVs have taken interest in the project and I hope one of us will be able to find willing partners. There will likely be a few difficulties with customs and duties, but I’m determined to bring these incredibly useful lights to Burkina.


Burkina Bike Tour

Biking is big here for PCVs here in Burkina. Our Trek bikes are our constant companions, and one just has to look for the required helmet to identify whether another foreigner is a PCV (we’re the only ones wearing them). I’d be lost without my bike as I use it for every trip outside my house – to the office, market, etc. My site is pretty spread out, so walking isn’t really an option. I even bring it with me when I travel and cram it under or on top of whatever mode of transportation I happen to be taking.

For one week in September however, I’ll be using it as my sole mode of transportation, as I’ll be participating in the final week of the 2nd Edition of Le Tour de Burkina! I’ll be biking from Fada N’gourma in the east to Ouagadougou (through an indirect southern route) and staying with other PCVs along the way.

The Route (click to enlarge, image credit: Rob Hartwig)

As you can see on the route map, the tour itself will be starting all the way in the southwestern corner of the country two weeks before getting to me out east. Most riders are just doing a few days worth, but a dedicated group is planning on doing the whole thing (sadly my vacation plans prevent me from doing the rest). The tour will traverse approximately 1,740 kilometers (that’s the distance from New York to Orlando) and pass by 32 volunteer sites. We’re hoping each stop can also tie in community events/awareness campaigns as well as promoting Peace Corps in our 50th anniversary year. At the same time, we’ll be fundraising for our volunteer-run Gender and Development (GAD) Committee. GAD gives grants (up to $120) to PCVs who want to start their own projects that promote gender and equality. For example, some past projects have included:

  • Maternal and Child Health
  • Family Planning
  • Girls Camps
  • Marketing Techniques
  • Small Business Management

This year we’re aiming to top $6,000 in total donations. All 100% tax-deductible donations will be through the Peace Corps Country Fund and will go directly to funding volunteer projects. And in Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world, even a small donation can go a long way. As we get closer to the start of the tour I’ll  put up more information as to how you can help out.

The tour will end in Ouagadougou and coincide with a huge PCV-run fair and the swearing in of 50 new PCVs (who arrived in country a few weeks back). The fair will feature many of the people we work with, who will be selling their various products, giving trainings, and enjoying themselves. Floby, perhaps Burkina’s most famous musician, will be performing and even introducing a new song written just for Peace Corps.

So there you have it – Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary and 50 new volunteers, all in the 50thanniversary year of Burkina Faso’s independence – pretty amazing, huh?


Lessons on Accounting

Last Friday I gave an accounting training to a group of students who attend my borrower’s tailoring school. In fact, a lot of my work here centers on accounting. Many don’t do it at all, while most others only do a partial job. The most common technique seems to be keeping a receipt book and then totaling revenue at the end of each month, which is not enough.

The tough part is finding the right balance between having enough information and being overly complicated. My current preferred method is focusing less on the actual act of accounting and instead trying to be interactive and use a story or example to emphasize the need for accounting. For example;

Why do we do accounting?
It’s keeping score in business. It’s like playing a soccer game where there were many goals but never writing down which team scored them. How do we know who won at the end of the game?

What do we need to keep track of?
I asked the class for a list of all of the costs that go into making a custom shirt order. They answer with fabric, thread, buttons, etc. I then ask about their time. What if that custom order includes intricate embroidery? It will take more thread, but also a lot more time, which must be taken into account. Also, it’s rare for someone to remember to include their indirect costs of rent, utilities, or depreciation of assets (such as their sewing machines).

Check out a few photos from the training, and see what I have to do when we do accounting by hand rather than with Excel (that hand-drawn table is huge though, right?)


Zidisha: True P2P Microfinancing

There’s a new(ish) mircrofinance website out there these days, called Zidisha. It’s similar to Kiva, but a key difference is that Zidisha is the first to have no intermediaries between borrowers and lenders. This way, the borrowers receives the funds directly and does not deal with a local MFI (microfinance institution). By doing this, Zidisha has gotten rid of the overhead associated with MFIs (loan officers, buildings, etc) and can offer low interest rates. Typical rates are about 8% compared to the global average of 35%.

For lenders, the idea isn’t really to make money (though you certainly can), but instead to have a philanthropic bent to simply make capital available to motivated borrowers, and then be paid back. Borrowers propose interest rates and lenders can choose agree to the same rate or propose a different rate (even 0%), though there is a service charge of 5% and one-time sign-up fee for borrowers. Zidisha is quick to point out that it won’t be like US banks during the housing bubble who simply originated loan after loan to shaky borrowers, as the fees are:

…used to cover operating expenses only… This is deducted from borrower repayments, rather than from loan disbursements. Linking fee income to repayments means that Zidisha’s financial interest is in facilitating the financing of quality loans to small business entrepreneurs who are capable of repayment, not in maximizing lending volume at the expense of quality.

Just last week Zidisha has added their first borrower in Burkina Faso, a man starting up a restaurant near the entrance to the waterfalls I visited in the south-west a few months back. My good friend James, another PCV, is working closely with him and is actually acting as a guarantor in this situation because it is the first loan in-country.

I encourage you to take a look at the site, sign up, and make a loan. Even a small loan can go a long way here, and the current repayment rate is 100%. Plus, if you loan to the Burkinabé borrower I mentioned, there’s an incredibly capable PCV working alongside him. I just signed up myself and made a small loan at a 3% interest rate (he’s currently 70% funded for his $1,128 loan —July 21st update: the loan is now 100% funded). For more information, check out the Zidisha FAQ.


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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.