Alastair’s Field Report
I had the opportunity to visit Togo in April and to visit the students that we are supporting at several schools and also a few in their homes. This visit was scheduled to coincide with a big celebration of the legal establishment of the Nonprofit, Peace Girls, our partner in Togo.
Togo is a narrow, 500-mile-long, country with a coastline in West Africa, wedged between Ghana to the West and Benin to the East. To get to the capital you fly down from Paris or you can fly on Ethiopian airlines from New York. The country is governed by a long-entrenched president. There are limited democratic institutions and few checks and balances to limit power. Education is provided affordably to kids up to about 5th grade. Thereafter, families have to find the money to pay the school fees. If you have lost your father or mother, it is unlikely that you will be able to continue in school.
In April Togo is pretty warm and humid! Once I had extended my visa beyond 7 days, we had a fairly grueling and rather scary 400 mile drive North to Dapaong, where Peace Girls, our sister organization, is helping over 200 orphaned and poor girls be in school. These girls have a tough life. They have to help support their families, mostly through the informal market. One of the families I met survived by their mother’s making soup and selling it on the streets. Education for some of these girls is not the first priority and their lives and futures are uncertain and dependent on the vagaries of modern African life.
Nevertheless, many of the girls are lively and vivacious and ready to get ahead! I met one girl, Soubé, who I think could be destined for a future in dramatic arts. She was involved in many of the dramatic and choir activities around the celebration. We have video of Soubé’s singing and drama participation and I have a hunch that she is going to be somebody in the future.
So, when we visited Soubé’s home, her sister and her mother were there… the home was in a typical African compound, dirt floor, thatch roof, small living area, mango tree. I noticed a certain sadness in her mother. She didn’t really want to be photographed and wouldn’t smile and I wondered if she had mixed feelings about her two girls’ being in school when they could be helping her at home with the challenge of survival. But being in school opens up many more opportunities for a child’s future – it’s an investment in children having futures in the world of work and employment, with better outcomes. It is also an investment in the nation.
The local Regional Administrator, or Prefect, attended the April celebration. He sat at the table of dignitaries and board members at the front and gave his speech. Tina also gave a speech and I recall two points that she raised. One was addressed to the Prefect and urged him to facilitate the poor girls getting their birth and nationality certificates without it costing them an arm and a leg. The other was to challenge the girls to do voluntary work to help the community. Overall, I was impressed with the initiative I saw both our Peace Girl partners and our students taking in the field.