Saturday, January 28, 2012

New Beginnings

I know I was only in the US for a little over a month, but it was enough time to make me feel like my return was the beginning of a whole new chapter. For example, even though I was coming back to the same house (Mama Africa), this time I would be renting my same room and the room recently converted into a Kitchen, (which means if I want to make myself some fried eggs in the morning I can!). I came back to work with Bioessence Labs, but this time as a paid employee, already familiar with the work and armed with the contacts and experience to confront the issues ahead of me!

I have a new start and I can choose how this year will be different from the last. So I made some new years resolutions:

1. 1. Learn Wolof! I made far too little of an effort last year, so now I’m being more proactive. At Bioessence, I am surrounded by Senegalese women who are always speaking Wolof amongst each other and it kills me that I still can’t understand what they’re saying! Last year I usually would just sort of zone out when I couldn’t understand, but now I’m listening closely for words and patterns. This, along with Wolof lessons from my friend Doudou in exchange for English lessons should have me at a good level by the time I leave…

2. 2. Make things happen! Looking back at my last year, I realized that while I was learning a lot and working, my accomplishments aside from getting organic certification for Baobab were small. I can talk in depth about all the different development strategies to different problems and all of the short comings, but I haven’t actually acted on any of them. Maybe I’ve read too many books and reports on the harm that “development projects” can do. So much so that I’m afraid to do anything at the risk of it doing more harm than good. Letting go of that fear (at least a little) I’m going to be more bold in my actions and more confident in my own ability to decide what is going to be beneficial to communities, the environment and the economy in Senegal. After all, lots of organizations plan projects without ever stepping foot on the ground. At least I have a year of observation under my belt.

3. 3. Preparing for my depart. I know some of you may be wondering if I won’t just stay here in Senegal for the rest of my life, but I do plan to make this my last year. Even if I wasn’t, planning on leaving a project can help put you in the right mind set to making it sustainable. My goal is to transfer as much of the responsibilities into the hands of the communities so that they aren’t ever too reliant on me or Bioessence for their whole wellbeing.

What project is she talking about?

Sorry I got a little ahead of myself talking about goals when I didn’t get a chance to explain why I came back to work for Bioessence in the first place! My official title at Bioessence is Quality and Social Responsibilities Director . I will continue working with the producer groups in Kédougou to improve the quality of the shea and baobab that is processed there, as well as directing Bioessence’s social responsibilities in the area. Since we are already about a month into Baobab fruit season, my main focus is on making sure that producers have the materials they need and are following the protocols we put in place last year for the organic certification. In addition to maintaining the organic certification, we will also be adding the fair trade certification. Bioessence already has a long history with community development and providing fair prices and additional trainings and materials, however, getting certified will push Bioessence to go a step further and make their relationship and commitments to producers more official. Fair Trade will also be another boost for marketing products abroad.

For a small enterprise, with a staff of about 6 people (not including factory workers or the producer groups), this is a huge and expensive undertaking, which is why most of my time so far has been directed at finding investors or grants. But within the next week or so I’ll be traveling back to Kédougou for the first time since last May to evaluate the situation and make sure that our facilitators have the information necessary to survey the work being done and assure that procedures are followed.

Oh, and I almost forgot my most important New years resolution: Be more attentive to my blog...

More to come on current events in Dakar- Things are starting to heat up a little over coming elections!