Library project fully funded!

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2010 at 10:53 am

Our library project is now fully funded! The outpouring of support we have received from friends, family, and even complete strangers who simply believed in the project has been overwhelming. To everyone who helped to hang fliers, who spread the word in person to their coworkers and associates, and who donated to help fill this library; we thank you all. This project would never have been possible without you.

A reflection of your generosity is being felt here in Togo as well. Word that the library has been fully funded has kindled an outpouring of support from our local partners. Some have offered to help put covers on the books, others have offered to contribute money of their own for additional copies of favorite titles, and in one case we have been offered the use of a car (complete with driver since neither of us would dare to try driving in Togolese traffic) to be used for transporting the books.

We have started to place orders for books, and expect to have the text books and roughly a quarter of the smaller titles delivered by the end of February. Some new titles have become available while others have gone out of print, so we are adjusting the orders to ensure that we have the widest variety of titles possible. The border between Togo and Ghana will be closed for part of the next month, thereby preventing the transport of our books from Ghana. However this delay will give our suppliers in Ghana enough time to compile our rather sizable orders, as well as give us time to adjust our orders to accommodate any new Ewe titles that the Ghanaian publishing houses may have produced in the last few months.

We look forward to updating you on any new developments, and thank you again for your contributions.

All the best,

Lou and Ilona


Fundraising for Library and Literacy

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Lou and I are currently trying to fundraise $2,983 to fund an Ewe language library and to buy books for the teachers in our literacy coalition. Ewe is the dominant local language in our city. In a previous post, we talked about how we have been working on literacy with a coalition of charities, churches, trade associations, and a village development committee. Each group sponsored between one and six locals to be trained by the local government to become literacy trainers. The trainers then launch classes at each of their organizations at various times throughout our city and the city south of us. This has made literacy classes available in several locations throughout an area of more than 10 kilometers, in a country where most people walk places. Our literacy trainers are currently teaching 135 people, and they will be launching more literacy courses with the New Year.

By the end of this month, we will have approximately 37 literacy trainers in the field, 21 who were trained in August 2009, and 17 who are currently finishing up their training and are scheduled to graduate this Saturday. The literacy trainers who graduated in August said that they were facing two obstacles that they have not been able to surmount on their own. First, they said that they need textbooks for the literacy programs because, right now, they have to ask the program participants to pay for their own books. If they have books that they can loan to people, the classes will be open to people who otherwise couldn’t participate due to the costs. Slightly less than half of the $2,983 that we’re trying to fundraise will go to buy 10 grammar books and 10 math books for each trainer, which they, in turn, will lend to students who are in need.

The second problem that they raised was that the newly literate students and the trainers themselves have little or no materials available to them in the Ewe language. Books are not readily available in our city, and books in Ewe are hard to find anywhere in Togo. We chose a literacy program focusing on Ewe language literacy because UN studies show that adults become literate much faster when they are learning their mother tongue as opposed to trying to learn a second language, such as French.

We discussed possible solutions and came up with the idea of adding a collection of books in Ewe to a local library that is open to the public. We researched all of the sources of books in Ewe in both Togo and Ghana and came up with a list of approximately one hundred titles. We will use more than half of the grant money that we have requested to buy between five and ten copies of each book, totaling between six and seven hundred books.

The library will then lend books to both members of the general public and to the organizations sponsoring the literacy courses. The organizations will then lend the books to their regular students. In the long run, we hope that the organizations will start using the large numbers of each title to create book clubs, organize choirs, and sponsor theatre groups to perform Ewe plays.

The library’s collection will be unique in our city, and, possibly, throughout our part of Togo. No one we have talked to has ever heard of an Ewe language collection of books as expansive as this one. Libraries in Togo generally focus on Western languages, such as English, French, or German. People have expressed immense enthusiasm and pride in the library project, saying that they are looking forward to using it as an opportunity to improve their understanding of their culture. Most people in Togo don’t become literate in their local language in school. Learning about their language and culture is something they must make a special effort to do, and they are very happy at the idea that they may have books in their own language available to them.

Please help us fund this project. We are asking our friends and family not to buy us anything for Christmas this year, but, instead to donate to the literacy project and to ask their friends and family to do so as well. If you are interested, you can make tax deductible donations at https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.donors.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=693-344. Every dollar counts. Some of these books are less than one dollar to purchase, and they will make a huge difference. Thank you, Ilona and Lou

Local Foundations

In Uncategorized on September 16, 2009 at 5:37 pm

President of the ConseilI have been working on organizing local giving through the development of local foundations to support the NGOs in our town.  I started this project because I found very few organizations receive local funding.  Almost all funding for NGOs is international.  The few organizations that funded locally usually do collective savings and loans or organize members of the trades or collective income generating activities. 

To try and address the lack of local community-based funding, I have started pushing for the creation of local foundations in Togo.  Local foundations are organizations to which affluent people or organizations within the community donate in order to support specific causes.  The advantage of using a local foundation to organize giving is that three-fold.  First, if a significant portion of charitable giving is local, then locals will have more control over the projects of NGOs within their community.  Currently, NGOs are constantly seeking international funding; therefore, changes in the landscape of international funding can dramatically alter the services and projects in the community irrespective of the community’s actual needs.  Local funding can fill in the gaps and keep programs that are important locally alive, even when they are no longer popular internationally.  Second, local foundations pool the money of many donors and direct it to one or two specific causes, thereby making far more of an impact than one donor alone.  Third, local foundations ensure that the beneficiary NGOs they select use the funds in an accountable and transparent manner.  The foundation accomplishes this goal by requiring the NGO grant recipients to turn in reports and other follow up information with the understanding that if the information is not provided, the NGO will be ineligible to receive funds from the foundation in the future.  This is information which a small individual donor could not obtain on his own because the threat to cut off such a small amount of funding would not significantly affect the NGO.    

I have developed a series of documentation to help local organizations create local foundations.  The documents include a promotional pamphlet, example articles of incorporation, an example ethics policy, etc.  I presented on local foundations to a group of other volunteers and their counterparts at our in service training session.  The local counterparts were very enthusiastic at the idea.

                One of my local counterparts then introduced me to a group of resortissants who were doing a huge needs assessment of the entire prefecture.  Resortissants are people who are wealthy and successful and have moved away from their home towns, in this case the Prefecture of Zio, who return on occasion to do good for their communities.  This group of resortissants has decided to organize into a group called the “Conseil Superieur de Zio,” hereinafter “Conseil”.  The Conseil would like to create a local foundation to implement the recommendations set forth in their needs assessment.  Their needs assessment attempted to consider each of the main aspects of life in the prefecture (such as economic development, education, health, agriculture, etc.) and create a series of recommendations for each area of focus. Examples of these projects they would like to accomplish include an ambulance system for larger urban centers, a center for training farmers on the use of technology in agriculture, and various improvements to the public school systems.  Many of these priorities will require large amounts of funding, and they are considering creating a local foundation to finance parts of these projects. 

They are planning to use the local foundation in two ways.  First, they are considering using the money that they raise as collateral for projects that would require municipalities or NGOs to take out large loans which they would otherwise be ineligible to receive.  The NGO or municipality would come to the Conseil with a thorough and well thought out application, and, if the Conseil accepts the application, it will help the NGO or municipality apply for the loan by cosigning.  While this raises interesting questions about managing the risk of default that still need to be addressed, it would significantly increase the capacity of NGOs or municipalities to bring funds to bear to solve local problems. 

The second method that the Conseil has suggested is to use their funds as the community matching funds for grant applications to international organizations.  Most international organizations demand that local organizations provide a certain percentage of the funds for any project.  The Conseil is hoping that they will be able to use their fund to satisfy this need.  Likewise, in this situation, the NGO or government agency would go to the Conseil with an application, and, if the Conseil accepts the application, it will aid in the grant application process.

Sometime in the next month, I will present on local foundations to the Conseil to deal with some of the members’ outstanding questions. This will, hopefully, get the local foundation moving so that we can see results before we leave in August 2010.  I am also hoping to organize some people to create more traditional grant-making foundations, but I am still looking for the target population to whom I can pitch the idea.