As a Peace Corps volunteer one of the options for work is to find a need in our communities, create a project responding to that need, find funding, and finally implement it. Since being here I have seen a huge need for computer skills in the people that I live and work with.

In response to this I began work with a local school to create a project to build a community computer center. The project throughout the past couple of months has changed and morphed to something that we are all very excited to get off the ground.

Sadly we need to find a little over $10,000 to put it into place. There is a program called Peace Corps Partnerships where volunteers write proposals and then solicit funds for them. With no other source for that much money I decided to do that.

In a nutshell my idea is to create a community computer center that lowers the cost of learning about computers and then using them to as close to nothing as possible. To do this I have teamed up with a local private school that has agreed to take on all costs associated with the maintenance and upkeep of the center. In return for this investment they will have preferential access to the center 40% of the time. The rest of the time it will be open to the community for classes and open computer time.

Throughout my time here I have seen a number of computer centers that have been built on one of two general models: totally public and funded through a big NGO or totally private and financed completely by classes or internet use. The problem with the first model is that it requires constant funding from the NGO. In other cases where they turn management over to the local community or government, funds are mismanaged and the centers fail. The second model, while normally functional, charges upwards of $200-$400 for each class, pretty much what the average person here makes in an entire year.

With this project we have created an entirely different model based on a combination of both public and private. The school has it in their best interest to pay the bills and make sure the center works. If they chose not to they will lose the notoriety and the new students brought to them by the center. At the same time they also have it in there best interest to keep it open to the community.

Take for example our plan to partner with local public schools. We open the center each day to a different public school. Towards the end of lunch the students will begin walking to our school, take a one hour intro to computers class, and then go back to their regular studies. With 25 computers and two students to each computer each paying 200 francs CFA (about 40 US cents) for the entire eight week class the center will make a profit of 10,000 francs (about $20.) Run one class a day, five days a week and that is a sizable profit. All this money generated will be put into a computer center account, separate from that of the school’s general fund. This separation is currently being laid out in a detailed constitution that will be used to gain official NGO status from the government of Togo.

I am working with a man who wants to do a tourist guide for our city. He has done an amazing job laying the entire guide out by hand, writing all the information, and finding local business partners. The problem is that he does not have the computer skills needed and the physical access to a computer to make his project a reality. The computer center will directly respond to this need of lack of skills and access to computers. I like the idea of us being a place where people can first come and learn how to use computers then outsource their actual computer needs to us. This will allow people like the tourist guide creator and the public schools to have access to a computer just like it was sitting in their living rooms or in their own schools. We are allowing them to put the burden of acquisition, management, and upkeep of a computer on us.

We are taking this idea even further through a set of advanced classes that we are planning on offering. So far we have plans to offer video editing, music creation, web design, graphic design, and intro to programming classes. Each of these classes will offer more advanced students a chance to learn a new, marketable skill. For example, we plan on buying a number of video cameras for use by our video editing class. With the help of other Peace Corps Volunteers we will teach them how to properly shoot and edit video. After the class we will encourage them to go out into the community, advertise their services to people having weddings, funerals, and parties who want the event recorded. They will then use the centers cameras to shoot the event, the centers computers to edit and burn disks, and eventually make a profit. The same concept will be used for web design and logo creation. The center, along with being a place to learn, will also become a hub for a bunch of micro businesses. We are giving these students the knowledge and the physical resources they need to let their creativity and motivation work for them.

Last week I was training the computer teacher for a small computer center that another volunteer built in a neighboring town. After a couple hours of work we took a break. I left the room and came back to find a group of people gathered around the computer all using a multimedia encyclopedia. They started by wanting to see what it said about Togo and their own small town (not much). They listened to the Togolese national anthem, saw pictures of the capitol city, and read about its history. After exploring a bit they started to branch out to bordering countries. After looking at pictures of Ghana and Burkina Faso they got more adventuress and looked at all of Africa. Eventually they had found remote regions of Europe, listened to the first broadcast from the moon, and saw pictures of New York at night. It was an incredible experience to see these people go from their limited knowledge and experience and eventually find things that are so far from their every day lives. I realized that the main reason I want to build this computer center is not just to teach people how to use computers. I want to give the people of my community the opportunity to see what else is out there. I want them seeing what people in Europe and the US live like. I then want them to say, “Wait a second. Why do they get to live like that and we don’t?” These kids will grow up and demand more. I want to show these people that there is more out there and that they too can have it. They just need to know.

Sorry this has gone on so long. My initial intention was just to write a brief outline of the project and post it with a link to my project. The problem is that I feel so strongly about this and know it so well that I could talk for hours.

The overall cost for the project is $10,512. At the end of the proposal is a detailed budget showing exactly where the money will be going. Here is a brief chart showing amount of money given to what it will buy to give you a better idea of what your money would be going to:

$35: Desk with 2 stools for computer
$80: Video camera
$160: Basic Pentium 2 computer, monitor, keyboard mouse
$300: Pentium 3 computer for advanced classes, monitor, keyboard, and mouse
$500: Display system for classroom
$1000: My love forever J

The project is run under the oversight of Peace Corps Partnerships. What is nice is that every penny given goes directly to the project and is totally tax deductible.

Download the full proposal(Thank you Ben for the space!)

More info on Peace Corps Partnerships
To donate (This is the page describing my project. Click "Donate", scroll down to "Togo", find "Computer Center", and enter the amount you want to contribute.)

If you have any other questions either post them, email me, or give me a call. I am always ready and willing to talk.

Thanks in advance for all your help.

Still Here!

Before I begin telling this next story I want to say that I am totally fine. While what I am about to write was scary, I am very lucky in that it was not much worse. Now that it is two weeks later I sit here in good mental and physical health, with only a few scars to show for my experience. With that being said…

I was in Lomé, the capitol of Togo, two weeks ago to do some work. The first night I was there I went to a bar a few blocks from both the Peace Corps office and my hotel with a couple friends. It was a normal evening with us drinking a couple beers and complaining about our parasites. Around 12:30am the last four of us still at the bar decided to walk back to the hotel we were all staying in. We walked the first couple blocks down the dark sandy road. As we were walking past the Peace Corps office a young guy came up behind us and tried to start talking to us. Living here you get very used to people trying to talk to you, and we all continued walking. After a few more steps I felt something poke me in the back.

I turned around to see the kid motioning to the small bag I held with his left hand and a full size machete in his right. I looked up from this attack at the lights glowing on the high security walls of my US Government employer and thought, "Guards! Walls! Safety!" I started screaming in both French and English, "HELP ME! HELP ME!" And ran to the metal door next to the main guard booth. I had visions of guards with large sticks streaming out the door, coming to my aid. I reached the stoop next to the door, continued to yell and turned to face my assailant. I watched in horror as he brought the machete down twice on my left arm.

At this point I don’t remember much of what happened next. I know I stood there for some amount of time trying to call someone to my aid. I know he hit me a few more times with the machete.

The attacker eventually gave up, turned around, and hopped on the back of a motorcycle manned by an accomplice.

I then walked back and found my friends who had run the other direction and been sheltered two blocks down by a shop owner who had heard my screams and opened his door. With the protection of the shop keeper and his brother we walked back to our hotel.

I came out of the entire experience with two gashes on my left arm, one on my upper shoulder blade, one on my lower back, and two on my left thigh. I’m not totally sure if the blade was dull, the attacker wasn’t 100% into it, or if it was just my iron like physique that kept the wounds from being worse.

I got really lucky. I know that. But in the end I figure that this sort of event is the price that I have to pay to live the amazingly interesting life that I do. These sort of things happen. I’m just thankful I’m still alive.


Scratch another one off the list: cat. I know it has been said a million times, but, it kind of tastes like chicken; only better.

A couple weeks ago I was drinking the local equivalent of beer (Tchouck… see a picture of me drinking it posted a few months ago) and talking with a couple Togolese friends about meat. We ended up on the subject of dog and cat. I eat dog a couple times a week. It’s a darker meat that tastes a lot like roast beef. (One of these days I want to get some, make a nice brown sauce, and put it all onto a piece of toasted bred. Sooooo good! ) After some discussion we figured out that for the equivalent of about $10 we could get a dog and a cat and have a party.

I am always ready and willing to try new things. I firmly believe in the “you must try everything once’ mantra (except baby birds on a stick in the south of China… I’ll leave that one for my adventurous little brother). After some discussion we decided to have a party where we would have a dog and cat killed and roasted, a bottle of fermented palm wine (a drink with an amazing flavor and very strong, moon shine, type kick) and Tchouck. I offered to put down the local equivalent of around $20 to pay for everything including the gas (crazy expensive these days!) for my friend to go to surrounding villages on his motorcycle and buy all our intended victims.

I got a call this morning around 9:00am from my friend saying, “We have the dog and cat! Do you want to come watch us prepare it?” Thankfully I had a Peace Corps friend in town and declined. I am down with eating dog and cat. I just really don’t want to see someone slit their throats and throw their dead carcasses over a fire. I said I would be there around 1pm.

I met my friend around the appointed time and we started walking to the house of the person who had taken care of the preparation. On the walk we were talking about animals eating the meat of other animals. At one point the two Togolese guys I was with said, “Cats will eat cat. No problem. But good dogs won’t eat other dogs. Bad dogs yes. But good dogs no.” I could not believe that dogs could somehow know that a piece of meat sitting in front of them was dog and not eat it. I wouldn’t believe it.

We got to my friends house, went inside and sat down on the great red velvet covered lounge chairs he has (I would love to know what sleazy 70s lounge these chairs came from!) He bent over behind the table in front of us and pulled out a black, very full plastic bag and a covered stainless steel bowl. He picked up the bowl, walked over to where we were, and with the smile of a proud parent, opened the lid. I leant over, looked inside and saw the head of a small animal, its mouth wide open, teeth daring anyone to touch it, tongue sticking out in a horrid death pose, staring back at me. This was the cat.

I looked over the assorted pieces of what I had, until this point, only experienced as an entire being. I finally reached into the pot of meat and tomato/onion sauce and grabbed what looked to be a leg.

I waited for everyone else to get a piece, looked down, and took a bite. It was amazing! I hate to say it, but, cat has to be one of my favorite meats. It has a taste of chicken yet with a richer, more savory flavor. The leg was probably the most tender, juicy pieces of meat that I have eaten in a long long time. I sit here now, hours later, craving the taste of the juice spurting into my mouth.

After we ate our piece we each had a shot of the distilled palm wine, ate a piece of dog (total let down after the wonderful, delicate flavor of the cat) and looked down at the bone, now devoid of meat, sitting in each of our hands. The owner of the house took the bones, pulled aside the curtain covering the door, and walked over to the two dogs tied to a tree and threw them the cat bones. They ate them with the relish that only a starving Togolese dog could. When he walked back to where we were all standing, I looked at the bag of dog meat in his hand, then at the two dogs, smiled, and said, “Give them a little dog meat.” He smiled, reached into the bag, pulled out a morsel of freshly cooked dog meat and threw it to the two chained animals. It was amazing. The first dog left his cat bone, walked over to the meat, smelt it, and walked away. I had NEVER seen a dog turn down meat. He knew it was dog! The second one though, walked over, smelt it, and greedily swallowed it in one go. I looked at my friend as I saw this and he said, “He’s not a good dog. But the other, he’s good.” The bad dog ate the meat and the other didn’t. It was true!

We finally ended up a few houses down sitting on wooden benches under a mango tree, small table in front of us, and bowls of tchouck resting in their plastic holders at our feet. My friend set the bag of dog meat on the table, put some very spicy powder (I am actually learning to love spicy food) down next to it, and took the first piece. As we ate other people came over, took a couple pieces, and went back to drinking.

A couple hours later all the dog was done, a couple bowls of tchouck was in each of our bellies, and we were ready to go home.

As I biked home I thought of a wonderful sandwich that would probably taste close to the shredded pork sandwiches my grandmother makes and I crave on a daily basis…

BBQ Shredded Cat

Ps. Despite my last two entries being either about castrating a cat or eating a cat I do in fact love them. My cat and I are both doing very well after our (his) traumatic experience. Thanks for all of your emails and messages concerned about his and my well being!