Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Meetings & Millions

It's been a busy few weeks here in Kédougou. We got four new Agriculture PCVs (and they're awesome), it it suddenly freezing cold (68°F out at night! I have to sleep with a blanket and a fleece!), and the latrine project I've been working on has been making good progress. 

People have been steadily talking about the project, and now that the rainy season is definitively over  the ground has dried out enough to dig a pit without it collapsing. My host father (who is also the chef du village) informed the neighborhood that it was time to get together and called a meeting last week. One representative from each interested household came, along with Mr. Sow, the Coordinator of the Salémata Sanitation Committee and a couple committee members. Thanks to past causerie info sessions and a training at the Catholic Mission last year most people (and all the masons) already have a pretty solid idea of why latrines are important and how to place and build them. During the meeting I explained (and then Jarga Sada repeated more clearly) exactly what the requirements were and why I chose to work on this project. They discussed and then decided upon details of how things would play out -- where to get sand, who would manage the cash, how to dig the holes, all the logistical things that I'd hoped they would sort out during the meeting. 

Everyone decided that Jarga ("traditional chief") Sada Souaré, my host father, should be in charge of collecting the community contributions, checking each family off the list, and paying the masons once the work in complete, which is great. He's well respected, very trustworthy, and cares a lot about improving health in his village. Mr. Sow (above, in the blue shirt on the right) was really helpful, particularly with the technical aspects of the project, and Jarga Sada (below, in the pale blue with the notepad) made sure that everything ran smoothly. I'd forgotten my camera but luckily the Sanitation Committee members took photos and then e-mailed them to me. All in all the meeting went really well and I couldn't have been more pleased (and relieved) at how it went. It even started on time (meaning that it was scheduled for 2:00pm and everyone promptly arrived at 4:00pm)!

Jarga Sada aking the list of participating families
Once the participating families were all signed on, committed to making the cash contribution, and started getting their sand, crintin privacy fencing, and pits going, the next step was to finalize the order for building materials and arrange for transport. To do that I came in to Kédougou, talked to the hardware store employees who had given me estimates when I was planning the project, got a few comparison quotes for due diligence, chatted with drivers about delivery rates, and then spent four hours waiting in line at the bank to make a withdrawal.

Here in Senegal we use the CFA franc ("say-fah") and one American dollar is worth about 500 CFA. This project is fairly modest as far as construction projects go, but the budget was still over a million CFA and holding a million's worth of pretty much anything is just kind of fun. I stacked it up, laid it all out on table, fanned myself with it, and then went to the hardware store to pay for everything.

I didn't hold on to it for long, though, (which was fine with me, carrying large amounts of cash is slightly nerve-wracking) and the hardware store wrote me out a very nice receipt (so that no one can accuse me of "eating" the money) complete with both my names and an official stamp and signature and everything. 

Tomorrow I'll be hightailing it back to Salémata to meet the big old truck that will be delivering all the materials. I'm really glad that the project is coming along and - even though there's still a lot of work left to do - I'm already looking forward to seeing the actual latrines get installed. 

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