"First, I’ve learned so much about Togolese life and culture."
Living and working in Togo through the InterExchange Christianson Grant has allowed me to experience so many new things, and has given me the opportunity to learn about my environment here on many levels. First, I’ve learned so much about Togolese life and culture.
Although French is the language spoken professionally in Togo, I took lessons in Kabiyé, the local language, which allowed me to pick up and participate in more of the day-to-day interactions, from small things like how important greetings are in Togo to the specific type of humor favored here (lots of puns!)
I’ve also gotten to see bigger cultural phenomena, such as how family structures vary in urban and rural settings. Almost everyone lives with or close to extended family, which is key for finding childcare in a country with 50% of its population under 20 years old. This also helps to combat homelessness, since it's common for people who are struggling to stay with a relative while trying to get back on their feet.
"I’ve seen multiple different models… none more right or wrong than the other."
Perhaps the most valuable part about immersing myself in the culture here has been that it pushes me to not make any assumptions about how things “should” or “must” be.
Between growing up in the US, living in France as a child, and now living in Togo, I’ve seen multiple different models for how large systems like transportation, health care, education, commerce, and family could be organized—each one well-adapted to its context, none more right or wrong than the other.
For example, in the same way that a health intervention in Togo could learn from new technology or developments in medicine from abroad, there is much that we could learn from the systems in Togo that could be helpful in a Western context.
Working with Hope Through Health: "Empowering local staff to be in charge of the direction of their projects."
Second, it was interesting to learn about the structure of Hope Through Health, the NGO that I have been working with, by attending meetings, working with staff, and asking questions.
Figuring out what work gets done and how decisions are made has given me valuable insight into how the NGO sector of aid and development works, and whether or not I would want to work for another NGO in the future, and if so, in what capacity.
For example, I felt really good about the work I did to train local staff, and build up their capacity both to use new tools and to make informed decisions in the future. The type of organization I would support in the future would put an emphasis on this type of foreign/local partnership: teaching, helping, and empowering local staff to be in charge of the direction of their projects and their organization, rather than having too many of the decisions coming from foreigners who are relatively separated from the reality on the ground.
"I can’t wait until we can get concrete measurements of the impact that our new program has had."
Lastly, the results from the maternal and child health research that I coordinated here have allowed me and everyone working at this NGO to better understand the current realities of maternal and child health care in the region. This knowledge will allow us to better serve these communities and improve their health.
Specifically, we’re putting together reports on facilitators and barriers to health care access, figuring out whether the biggest problems stem from a lack of money to pay for health services, a lack of transportation options to and from the health center, or a lack of understanding about which health issues are serious enough to warrant a trip to the health center.
I’m really excited to see where these results take us in the future, and I can’t wait until we can get concrete measurements of the impact that our new program has had on the health of these communities I’ve gotten to know and care about so much.