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The following entries were written by Emma Almeras and first appeared at the old blog site.
DAY 1, 13 DEC [WHAT YEAR?]: ARRIVAL AT LOMÉ AIRPORT
Upon exiting the LAX customs and immigration check point, Paul, our liaison officer, was patiently waiting for me with his cousin Victor in tow to keep him company (as he correctly assumed, my arrival would be delayed). The air was thick and humid with a nostalgic yet familiar smell as I entered the arrival lounge.
On our drive from the airport to the guest house, the streets were populated with mostly young people, and the striking appearance of local women transporting bundles of food and other goods on their heads. pic here
The traffic itself was interesting and reminiscent of other low-income countries I have visited, principally those of south and south-east Asia. The road was made up of a combination of cars, motorcycle taxis, and cyclists. Along the road we witnessed a near collision between a moto-taxi and a cyclist, not an uncommon event in Lomé.
Driving westward from the eastern part of the city, the layout of the capital seemed spread out, with many unidentifiable buildings, possibly residential. We arrived at the guest house just as the sun was coming up, and were pleasantly greeted by Jean de Dieu, pic here the manager of the establishment. He has been kind enough to offer me a tour of city center, so off I go.
As obvious as it would seem, everything looked very different by the light of day. The streets were lined with merchants selling everything from clothes to traditional sticks used to pound corn into meal, to shoes hanging from bougainvillea vines shipped from China. Also to be seen were merchants making furniture out of teak grown in Central Togo. pic here
Once in the city center, Jean de Dieu took me to the bustling marketplace pic here, apparently one of the largest markets in West Africa.
At first sight, flutters of luminous fabric everywhere mixed with accents of modern clothing. Informal money changers sat on makeshift “street” corners and pavements. Street hawkers mixed with taxis, motorbikes, customers and those passing through. At the market you find everything from traditional cloths to local jewelry to smoked or salted fish.
At once you are observing life in a very different part of the world and yet you still find a real sense of community.
Thereafter, we took a stroll down to the beach where we found clusters of nets filled with crabs and an assortment of fish, either being bought by individuals or in larger quantities to be cooked and sold in the marketplace. The fishermen depart early in the morning and return early to sell their catch before heading off to their respective dwellings to rest before the next morning’s departure.
I am happy to have seen so much on my first day. This afternoon I will sit in on a meeting of Soroptomists, of whom one of our contacts Eléonore is the treasurer. The work that we hope to be able to do with them will focus on income generating activities focused specifically on for women in the village of Dédéké.
DAY 3, 15 DEC: MEETING WITH US AMBASSADOR, Patricia Hawkings
We had a very productive meeting this morning with , US Ambassador Patricia Hawkings to Togo. She was extremely receptive to the work we are hoping to be able to do in Dèdéké, work that will be informed by our visit to the village tomorrow.
Patricia provided us with important information as well as a list of contacts that can be useful as the project develops. We were encouraged to keep her informed of our progress and to let her know should we need any further help or assistance. We left with the impression that our mission is not only relevant but also very welcome.
DAY 5, 17 DEC: COMMITMENT FROM CATHOLIC ADVISER
Today we met with Father Lakna, of the Direction d’Enseignement Catholique (Catholic Adviser of Education). He oversees education for the province in which Dèdéké is found. We were able to establish important information with regards to the project.
He assured us that the Catholic Church will be involved for the long haul. He explained that one the building is built they will oversee it’s maintenance as well as provide teachers (and their salaries) for each classroom. He was also very receptive to the idea of committing to a written contract with us.
He was in agreement that our project is much needed and confirmed our belief that special attention needed to be paid to education for girls, as well as boys.
DAY 8, 20 DEC: TOGO FIELD TRIP CONCLUDES
As would be expected, the trip to Togo made real the months of discussions and work done on developing the ideas and goals that make up LeapingStone. Though I knew how essential field work is to developing our projects, I could not have imagined that we could have accomplished so much during this visit to Togo.
Our success is due in great part to our colleagues Paul Agboglo and Eléonore d’Almeida. Paul has been our connection to the community of Dèdéké and is part of the reason why LeapingStone exists. His familiarity with the village and the region has been able to contribute to our understanding of the reality on the ground. Our intention is to ensure the work we do is appropriate and reflective of this reality and of the needs and wants of the community.
Likewise, Eléonore’s involvement has been central to what we have accomplished on our trip to date. She has had many years of experience in development assistance and has been able to provide very sound guidance. By taking the initiative, Eléonore was able to schedule appointments with a number of very important contacts, which I believe will profoundly contribute not only to the ultimate success of the project but also answer the question of how soon can we actually get things off the ground?
What seemed to be only thoughts and intentions has quite quickly become very possible and our time in Togo has both encouraged and reinforced the vision behind LeapingStone.
DAY 10, 22 DEC 2008: WOMEN’S RIGHTS
Today we met with three organizations that are concerned with women’s rights. CCOFT, WiLDAF, and CF2D.
Each of the organizations was created to address different womens’ rights issues, and are all housed in the same building. They cover broad concerns such as womens’ education, womens’ rights, violence against women, female circumcision, and legal aid.
All of the women we met with were extremely generous with their time. They explained that once our project is underway, they can visit the village to help the women should they need ID cards, or with licenses to sell the goods they make. They will also review any social problems that need addressing and offer assistance where required.
There is a legal aid office in Tsevie, which is not too far from the village. It is good to know that the women of Dèdékédeke will have a resource close at hand. Any support in this country, is like gold, and is crucial to the success of a project like ours.
Once again Eleonore d’Almeida has been so helpful in setting up the meetings and stepping in as interpreter now that Emma is back in London. We really are lucky to have met her and have her at our disposal.
We meet this evening with the Lome chapter of the Togolese Soroptimist Organization. I hope to get contacts from them that are based in the States. They are a well respected, international organization. It would be wonderful to have them helping us fulfill our mission here.