Hello everyone. Has it really been 3 months!? Time flies I guess. I’ll try my best here to remember what has happened lately…
Speaking of fundraising, ILL BE COMING HOME IN SEPTEMBER. Bobby and Kayla are getting hitched, so I figure it’ll be a good time to come pitch the project at folks in person. If you want me to stop by your neighborhood, send me and email and I’ll put you on the list. Just please realize that I’m taking work days in America to do this, so if I have to pitch this while playing 18 holes or over a beer, I am willing to make sacrifices.
We had a fundraiser with all the richest people in town on April 10 (I guess that was the most recent thing that happened after my last post). It was quite a stressful week that was itself preceded by several weeks of distributing invitations as well as explaining the project to people. After going to Cotonou to distribute invitations to natives of the town in addition to people that still lived there, we had invited around 50 people at $40 a head. The dinner itself was comprised of 2 dance troupes, a band called “Les AAA de la cite”, the son of our president who pretty much just sang karaoke, and a guy in a voodoo costume that danced .
That week, I realized how disorganized my committee was (at least when it comes to organizing fundraisers). So as the night drew close, we divvied up the responsibilities; we had a presentation, menus, flyers, donation cards, a billboard with our logo, a sound system, the food, drinks and the program for the dinner itself to organize. Unfortunately, I’m the only one in the group that can work quickly on a computer, so the majority of that all conveniently fell on my head. Needless to say, those good ol’ college days came in handy! I painted the logo myself (looks like painting class in Italy paid off) and the 3 days before the dinner, I got about 10 hours of sleep total and was still teaching my business club.
The day of the dinner itself was incredibly stressful. I had 15 volunteers coming to sleep at my house, as well as my boss and the country director coming to Kétou. In addition to that, I had to make copies of all of those fun things that I mentioned and get the courtyard that we were using for the dinner ready. I figured I could delegate setting up the courtyard to one of my other committee members, so I didn’t show up to the courtyard until after the “start time” of the dinner (which was 4pm, things here start at least 2 hours late). As if someone was playing a joke on me, the copy machine of our president was broken, so I had to take my papers to someone that does copies at about 1 per 30 seconds. On top of this, our president informed me that the person who was going to deliver the drinks couldn’t come, so we’d be getting less drinks for more money. In addition, I had to write a speech in French as well as ad-lib the presentation... in French. So when the copies were all done and organized, the presentation was complete, the music was in order, and I was dressed (can’t forget that), I made my way over to the courtyard.
Upon arrival, the first thing that I realized was that the amp was far away from the screen, which was a problem because we had a video to show with sound, but the computer had to be by the projector…So I had to go buy about 20 yards of cable 1 hour after the start time of the dinner. In all this madness, as the 2 hour mark rolled around, I started to realize that there weren’t too many people there, even though we’d received promises from 50 people to show up. Quite honestly, during the entire project, I was trying to stay (foolishly) optimistic, trusting that the people on my committee knew what they were talking about. Well sadly, that is the last time I think I’ll ever be optimistic, because not only did we only get about 20 people to show up, but they showed up 3.5 hours late (at least that’s when we started the dinner). Throughout the dinner, our MC, who came highly recommended by one of our committee members, was not only extremely boring, but also couldn’t follow the program for potatoes. We actually had to bring in a ringer to help the guy out… And as if to spit in our face, Mother Nature decided to rain the day before, so this night the termites were out in swarms, so we couldn’t even turn on the lights that we brought.
So I know what you’re thinking…What the hell? Ya I was too. But after the program got underway, things started to turn around. People didn’t seem to care too much about starting late (no surprise there), the food was good, and even though the band gave POSSIBLY THE WORST MUSICAL PERFOMANCE I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE, it was still music. I gave my presentation, which is included in the pictures a little bit and it seemed like people were pretty well focused on what I had to say. A few performances later, I showed the video (which is a bit of a tear jerker, I’ll put it up on facebook in a few weeks). The night gained momentum, and by the end, we had raised $1400, but profited $800. I know what you’re thinking, “Rich, I though you needed $10000 from the community to build the center”. Well…ya. But this is the first fundraiser dinner ever in the history of Kétou, so the whole attitude of giving doesn’t really exist here yet, but it never will if nobody tries.
So would I say that it was a success? We made money, didn’t we? If nothing else, it got us on the map, and fundraising is still a very big part of our current process. The best news is that we’ve found a good piece of land for the building that will be given to us (which will count towards the $10000 that Kétou will have to contribute) and we have 3 other fundraising activities underway. Overall, I still do think that this is going to happen; it’s just going to be an enormous struggle. Hardest job I’ll ever love, right?
Mobile Banking and My Presentation and the Ministry of Microfinance
Mobile Banking and My Presentation and the Ministry of Microfinance
Well I’m fairly certain that I wrote about this on my blog before, but just as a refresher, mobile banking is a system that allows you have to savings account with your mobile phone; allowing you to easily transfer money to friends and family without needing to go any further than a boutique that sells phone credit (which are everywhere) to save money onto your mobile phone. Something that is very possible but does not yet exist is the ability to make purchases with the phone (much as you would over the internet) and then have the goods delivered to the town in which they are sold. This would eliminate and incredible amount of transportation, risk, and wasted time for small business owners.
So what do I have to do with this? Fraser Kinnear, who is a buddy of mine from college, first pitched the idea of running a study in Benin trying to outline spending and saving habits of Beninese people in December, and now this has evolved to also running a study for the mobile purchasing side of this.
We’re hoping that a nationwide survey conducted by volunteers will help to “grease the wheels” of industry (so to speak). If we show what the weaknesses are of the current system and outline how such weaknesses could be filled in by employing this technology, we are hoping the government will do their best to facilitate the adoption of this technology and the private sector will jump at the opportunity to make some mad cash. The only problem with this is that we had no contacts in the government until by some strange reason, at our second in-service-training (which was not interesting enough to write about), the Officer of Microfinance Studies and the Officer of Employment Studies decided to show up at a forum that we were holding for our program (SED). We got lucky enough to plan a meeting with them where we could present the study and see how they could assist us. The planning for this presentation took place over the course of a week in which we were planning the staging period for the next group of volunteers. So we’d be working for 8 hours a day on that, and then we’d have to switch to putting this presentation together all in French as well as translate our surveys (which in total were 16 pages long). While everyone was enjoying their evenings at the beach, Ravi (another volunteer) and I were stuck at our crappy hotel translating endless pages of surveys (It wasn’t all bad though because a couple of the earlier nights we did get over to the beach to grab a beer and a plate of fish ‘n chips). One night was particularly funny as we were attempting to translate a particularly difficult piece of French when we got lucky enough to find a French guy in the courtyard of the hotel that was a sucker for free coke…like coca-cola. This guy’s accent was SOOOO French (or just normal to him). It’s just funny because we’re used to speaking with a lax Beninese accent, and then when this guy shows up and I have to switch to sounding all sophisticated (but in the end I think I just end up sounding like a tool…or at least that’s how I feel). Seriously, speaking French like a French person hurts my throat after a while.
So after hours and hours of translating and typing and printing and correcting, we were done. For the presentation, Ravi and I decided that we’d dress to impress (which to us meant ties and shoes). Our boss, who was really excited for us, even gave us a ride over to the ministry. We rolled up expecting to go into a conference room, staring into a sea of high ranking officials. In the end, it was just the two guys that were at our IST. But NO MATTER! We took it seriously, pointing our projector at their white-washed wall as they made the effort of turning their chairs from their desks to face us in their air conditioned office.
The presentation went splendidly and we left them with copies of the presentation and the survey itself. They were very interested by our plans, and though they said that there was no way that they could finance us (big surprise there), they gave their full support for the study in terms of advice as well as informing the “proper authorities” that we’d be starting this survey. If nothing else, it will give the survey credibility if we plan on publishing it somewhere. The survey should be getting launched in a few weeks (at least a “soft launch”)
Well we finally finished. There was a market day for which each team had to prepare a product. It was funny that 3 of the 5 teams who originally claimed that they were going to produce something ended up just reselling whatever the product was in a different package. We had soap, cookies, and an African drink called bissape (bee-sap) that’s made from boiling flower pedals and mixing the syrup with sugar. Each team had to make a list of what supplies they needed to produce the product, as well as what their profit margin would be for each product and their sales target. I made my own type of money for the event called Kpankou Kash of which the “treasury” produced 500 bills so that each team could have a sales target. Not surprisingly, every team overestimated their sales target which on average would be around 100 bills per team if they sold all of their products. I had a team who thought that they’d capture half of the market (soap) and 3 other teams that estimated that they’d get 40% of the market. In total, if all of their estimations were correct, I would have had to produce something like 2000 bills. The 500 bills were handed out to the best students in each class and then they came to the market after they got out of class. There was a catch though. In the stack of 500 bills, I included 25 fake bills with the names changed and a different font, so at a glance they wouldn’t have noticed. The funny thing about this is that there are a lot of fake bills floating around Benin as it is, so it is actually something that they need to keep an eye out for.
The goal was that the team with the most cash in the bank at the end would win, so hopefully whoever made the biggest profit would win. Well oddly enough, it ended up being a competition of who lost the least. And our winning team? They made exactly 0. It was a little disheartening, but in the end at least they got the opportunity to see how much organization goes into running a business as well as how to do some basic accounting. Also, because they all budgeted to feed the entire freaking school, we had a lot of leftovers that we just ended up eating afterwards with a little party. Plans for the future include some sort of snack bar that will probably be run like the one I did in middle school. The high school is about a 20 minute walk from anywhere, so there are a lot of supplies and other goodies that we could sell there. We’d take the profits from the snack bar and put it towards the education of each kid, thus making sure that they stay in school. The only catch is that in order to work the snack bar, they’d have to be in the business club first. Nice.
I’m teaching another business course for the tailors. They are awesome! They show up on time, are attentive and responsible. I have 16 students and we’ll be finishing their course in 2 weeks (right before I head off to the world cup!).
In mid-march we had GAD dinner. It was a fundraiser for our Gender and Development program. We raised about $7000! Not bad f0r a group of people who make $200 a month!
My birthday in Parakou was ridiculous. I’ll just leave it at that (no pictures).
This evening I went for a jog in what I was pretty sure would turn into rain. It did, and not just a little. I was basically running in a shower. While all the Beninese were running for cover, they watched in shock as I jogged on by, seemingly enjoying myself (and I was!). As I was finishing up, the hardest rain arrived, and the gutters from my apartment shoot straight out the front from 3 stories up. A few of the apprentices of my landlord were putting their stuff away and one of them joked with me that I should just take a shower since I was already soaked. Well I took it seriously and what at first seemed to be a joke turned into a water fight out in front of the apartment between me, these apprentices, and some little kids. Everyone thought I was crazy for wanting to stand in the “frigid” rain, but it’s one of the few times that I haven’t been hot since I’ve arrived here. Someone even ended up lobbing a bar of soap down from the second story, so I took a shower while I was at it (don’t worry, I left my shorts on). I started doing the Footloose (right? ) dance that Chris Farley did in “Tommy Boy” when he is getting hosed off by his step brother while I was rinsing off and everyone lost it. Sure, maybe I might have sacrificed some maturity for that one, but I also think everyone realized that being a goof can be a good thing.
I feel like I’m really settling into the sweet spot of my service. I speak French comfortably, I have a lot of friends in my town, I’m busy (thank God), and everything that I’m working on looks like it at least has a fighting chance of succeeding. It’s just going to be a matter of time and patience. My goal getting here was to be able to say “I can’t believe I ever considered not coming”, and though that might never come, I do think that I’m getting a lot closer. Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the world cup adventure...