Friday, 28 October 2016

The First AVO Team Touchdown in Koudougou

After a tiring 16 hour journey, including a 5 hour stopover in Istanbul airport, we finally arrived in Ouagadougou. We were staying in student halls at one of the best universities in Africa. We arrived in the calm of the evening and were welcomed in quite a fashion by our in-country team mates. Everyone was clapping and singing our names one by one; it was a very warm welcome. 

The volunteers say their farewells after training and head to their individual projects

Our in-country training was spread out over the next four days. We all danced and played football together after the long days and big meals, and the team morale came together very quickly. (It is worth pointing out here how awful the dancing of the international volunteers was compared to the nationals...) On the last day we said our heartfelt goodbyes and headed off to our individual placements. Our team headed for Koudougou, where we were to begin working alongside AVO (Association Aides aux Veuves et Orphelins).

AVO is a charity focused on protecting and promoting the rights of widows and orphans, although this does essentially extend to all vulnerable women and children. Due to deeply embedded traditions and social perceptions, women can find it extremely difficult to earn and support their children after the father has died.

The AVO building and international team leader, Roh) The window on the right is our work space.

So far into our placement, we have been discussing and proposing ideas with AVO staff whilst we all consider the implementation of the exciting plans for AVO's future. Furthermore, we have assisted in hosting 2 of AVO's community meals for children in the region, which are held every other Wednesday. The meals are an opportunity for children who may not have parents or who come from impoverished backgrounds to receive a full and nourishing meal, which they may otherwise have to go without. Some children walk for hours to get to AVO, so we do our best to help them enjoy their time.  After splitting into age groups and overcoming the nerves, we played some games and activities to help everybody relax and get to know each other a little bit more. So much dancing and so much singing, but a wide range of smiles and socialising.

The first week, we introduced ourselves in the local dialect of Moore after being instructed by our national team members. The national volunteers can all speak many languages with such ease that it puts the international volunteers to shame. The Moore they taught us helped break the ice with the families and children massively, and showed that we may be strange but we are nothing but friendly. Saying this, the sight of us did cause some tears, wide eyes and open mouths amongst the tiny children. Slow steps!

At the second community meal we focused on health and hygiene. It is vitally important to teach the children and young adults the importance of this, as it helps fight diseases and illnesses that may be extremely common but are also easily preventable. Armed with buckets and soap, our volunteers demonstrated the correct way to wash hands (all the way to the wrists) and emphasized the importance of doing so before and after eating. We got everyone involved in washing their own plates before and after the meals, and also started taking a register as to keep track of how many children were attending; our second meal clocked the best part of 70 children through the door. Our hope for the next few sessions is to start running sessions on literacy, maths and French. 

The national volunteers lead a much needed language lesson to the international volunteers

In this last week we have been making much faster progress. We divide ourselves into teams everyday to improve the professional capacities of AVO, from designing brochures to developing a new official AVO blog and social networking sites.  All 12 members of the team designed and presented at least two logo designs to the AVO staff. Despite the majority of us being hideous artists we managed to compile a short-list and eventually decided on a favourite, which will feature in our marketing plans in the following weeks. We have also made plans to begin branding their products, to make them look more professional and increase AVO's sales.

This week we also finished designing the brochures for AVO, and today the design was sent off to Ouagadougou to print 150 copies to hand out and spread the word of AVO. Also today, we are in the final stages of having a new sign (with the new logo!) set up for the front of AVO's building to make it clearly visible from the road. Finally, as we wrap up on this hot Friday afternoon, the plans for a writing board have been finalised. We've commissioned a writing board to be built in AVO's courtyard for the children and women, to use in their work, their games, and to supplement the training sessions and classes over the following years. 

We've had an incredibly busy opening few weeks, and hope to keep up this level of productivity with AVO for not only us, but the future cohorts too.

Written by Sam Morgan & Sam Wilson (British volunteers)

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