Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Peer Support and All-Volunteer Conference

So far the month February has been a veritable festival of meetings. Things got started with a Peer Support Network (PSN) workshop preparation meeting, followed by a training of this year's new Peer Support Contacts (PSCs) and another meeting. New PSCs were oriented and trained, and outgoing PSCs lead workshops on dealing with issues frequently faced by Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) serving in Senegal. Topics ranged from basic coping skills to domestic violence to body image and it was great to hear about how Volunteers have helped each other in dealing with some really tough situations.
Peace Corps Senegal's Peer Support Network 
PSN fed right into our Close-of-Service (COS) conference, which overlapped with Work Zone Coordinator (WZC) presentations and meetings. Katie O. and I are the current WZCs and hopefully my replacement will also be interested in doing some coordinating once they get settled in. The PCVs in our area really like working on team projects (radio shows, world map murals, grafting trainings, etc) and it's nice to have someone who's centrally located (and has occasional access to electricity) to help out with getting things organized. In any case, I could be more pleased that Katie O. in taking over, the work zone ins in very good hands.
Work Zone Coordinators
All the WZC meetings lead into the Annual West African All-Volunteer Conference (All-Vol), where PCVs come from all over Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea, and Cameroon to present and discuss case studies, development in West Africa, and Peace Corps's work in the region. Usually Mali and Cape Verde would also send delegates, but the Cape Verde program was closed due to excessive fanciness (they're doing just fine without PCVs, apparently) and Mali is still in disarray. Ambassador Lewis Leukens came to speak about his work in the Foreign Service and the ongoing problems in Senegal's Casamance region. After his talk we chatted very briefly about U.S.A.I.D./Ambassador-supported community radio station in Salémata, which has proved to be both useful and extremely popular. (It turns out that PCV Marsha H. was taking pictures, which she kindly sent my way. I am not sure why I appear to be clapping. I am maybe applauding the success of the radio station?)
Chatting with Ambassador Leukens 
Current and former volunteers and gave presentations on a wide range of topics including malaria prevention, data collection, talibé support centers,  mercury harm-reduction projects for small-scale gold miners, and personal narratives reflecting on the many kinds of lessons that one learns while serving as a PCV. (My favorite quote from that session was "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou)

During All-Vol my friend Marielle and I also opted to do oral language assessment interviews, which went much better than I'd anticipated. After too much instant coffee and over a week of nothing but English I was completely sure that my interviews would be a sweaty, semi-coherent slew of unconjugated verbs, but Djéba, my evaluator, was gracious and patient and I muddled on through. To my relief they placed me at the Superior level in French and Advanced- Low in Pular/Pula Fuuta, which isn't particularly spectacular but, hey, it gets the job done. 

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