Leading the Future

Interns, supervisors, and PCVs pose for a family photo

Interns, supervisors, and PCVs pose for a family photo

Although I’m only 24 years old, I have never had a job that I loved. There were jobs that I didn’t mind and jobs that I downright hated, but never a job that I actually liked. That is, until I became a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV).

One of the best aspects of being a PCV is that you can choose the types of projects with which you will work. As a PCV in the Community Economic Development (CED) sector, I’m encouraged to work on projects that focus on economic activities, but I can also work on secondary projects in other sectors. Basically, if a project interests me, I can do it.

This past Saturday was the closing ceremony for the Leaders of the Future Internship Program. Nine students from the local high school completed the 5-week program with various organizations throughout Velingara. At the closing ceremony, the interns each gave a brief presentation on their experience, their supervisors said a few words of praise about each student, and we ate a big lunch.

Throughout the morning, many thanks were said. Interns thanked their supervisors. Supervisors thanked the PCVs. And PCVs thanked the interns.

But now I would like to take the opportunity to thank you, my friends and family at home.

A couple months ago, I reached out to readers of this blog for assistance in funding this project. The community contributed a portion of the capital, but we needed additional help to
cover all expenses. And you came through.

Thank you.

Thank you for helping nine motivated, intelligent, fun students gain experience in the working world. Thank you for allowing me to continue to do the job I love. Thank you for participating in grassroots development in Senegal.

Now, I’d like to introduce the interns I worked with throughout the program. It was a privilege to walk beside them as they learned about potential career paths. These men and women were already future leaders of their communities, but I was allowed to accompany them on their journey to success.

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Awa Kote worked with a hotel in hospitality. Customer service doesn’t hold a lot of value for people in Senegal, which can be frustrating for Americans. But with Awa working at the hotel, I was suddenly always met with excellent customer service.

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David Sambou worked with a campement in hospitality and agriculture. This was the first year of this project, so there were a few kinks to work out. When one organization dropped out at the last minute, David was very patient with me as I scrambled to find a new place for him.

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Oulimata Diallo N’diaye worked with a small American NGO focusing on Grandmothers as role models in communities. This girl always had something funny to say. Although she originally wanted to work in hospitality, her friendliness was an asset in the office.

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Mamadou Diallo and Abdoulaye Barry worked with a cotton manufacturer in the industrial and agricultural sectors, respectively. Both of these interns ended up with less than ideal jobs with the company, but they never complained. They both now know what type of job they don’t want, but still learned a lot from the experience.

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Moukouto Camara worked with a NGO focusing on adolescent and women’s health issues. She was able to gain a lot of field experience as well as in the office. Before the program, she thought she wanted to be a doctor, but, after working with this NGO, discovered that there are many opportunities in the health sector.

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Ze Djo worked with a pharmacy. He loved to practice his English with the PCVs, blowing our minds with his extensive vocabulary. No one could ever pronounce his name correctly, but he still gained experience in inventory management.

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Fanta Minth worked with an insurance company for teachers. She once told me that her father was her role model because he worked so hard. She wanted to follow in his footsteps and was one of the best interns.

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Terema Traore worked for a radio station. During her oral interview, she wouldn’t stop talking about how much she loved journalism. Whenever my family listened to radio, they always commented on her strong radio presence.

Over the course of the program, these men and women have become my friends. As they return to their villages for the remainder of the summer, I made them promise to stay in touch. Some will return for their final year of high school while the rest will be off to university. I feel like a proud mother.

I love my job.

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One Man’s Trash

Plastic collected by my counterpart, Amadou

Plastic collected by my counterpart, Amadou

While most children were dreaming of becoming firefighters or princesses, I was dreaming of a life as a garbage worker. To this day, I’m not even sure of the official job title. You know the person: riding along on the back of the garbage truck, jumping off to dump trash into the crushing arms of the compressor.

As a young girl, I wanted nothing more than to ride beside smelly rubbish wearing an orange vest.

When I accompanied my mom to the grocery store, I would hang onto the shopping cart, leaping off to throw groceries into the cart. Cereal and gallons of milk became trash cans and recycling bins. To become a garbage worker I would need to gain experience, and trips to the supermarket with Mom provided just that.

But then I grew up.

Instead of wanting to become a garbage worker, I imagined becoming a teacher or a nurse. Then, as reality set it, I decided to study accounting and international business. A practical undertaking with no career path leading towards the garbage truck.

Or so I thought. Little did I know my childhood dreams would soon come true.

A landfill outside Velingara

A landfill outside Velingara

Upon initial arrival into the Senegal, one of the first things to catch a newcomer’s eye is the trash. It’s everywhere. In the streets, in the rivers, and even in the air. Plastic bags, bottles, wrappers, cardboard, and even tires litter the country. And the only thing worse than a pile of dirty, smelly trash is a burning pile of dirty, smelly trash.

Senegal is being dragged into the new millennium without a system to take care of its waste.

Within the Community Economic Development program in Senegal, there are four niches within which Peace Corps Volunteers work: agribusiness, ecotourism, handicrafts, and waste management. You probably have guessed into which category my main work projects fall.

Waste management is a nice way to describe a garbage worker.

My counterpart, Amadou Balde, is the President of a local waste management business. His organization collects household trash from over one hundred houses throughout the community and dumps it in a landfill just outside of town. The business is now sustainable, so he and a few other work partners have decided to expand into plastic recycling.

Hard plastic often finds itself discarded in the streets when it breaks or is no longer useful. Broken buckets and damaged chairs land beside the rest of the trash already being sifted through by pigs, cows, and chickens. Instead of simply throwing away this plastic, Amadou has found a way to turn this trash into a treasure.

Now, community members will be able to sell their hard plastics to Amadou. After purchasing plastics, he and the other group members will wash, sort, and chop the plastic before selling it to ProPlast, a company in Dakar. This group has conducted a feasibility study to determine if the venture is a good idea or not and then, after deciding it is feasible, written a business plan.

Pooling their money together, the group will contribute the start-up capital to purchase and transport their first five tons of plastic. Going forward, we will receive training in sorting and chopping plastic from ProPlast so as to increase our profits. As the business grows, we hope to expand into neighboring villages and towns in need of a recycling program.

After many meeting, lots of questions, and some confusion, this project is becoming a reality. A group of motivated individuals saw an opportunity in the community to generate income, and they seized the chance. This project is far from complete, but, together, we are making Velingara a cleaner, healthier, and more pleasant place to live.

After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.