Saturday, 23 April 2016

Togo: Murray Dryden's Dream Continues

Sally Jo, Doug, 5,000 bedkit recipient, Messenh
The Togo team 2016 happily completed our distribution of 5,000 bedkits today. It was another hot and humid day as the van bounced along the dusty roads. The landscape changed from city to villages, heavy traffic to ambling pedestrians. The fields growing corn, cassava and the ever-present mango trees had the cameras clicking.
Arriving at the site we were greeted by a rainbow of children wearing the t-shirts, shorts and skirts from the bedkit. We really have enjoyed dancing with the adults, “high fiving” the kids and using the bubble wands to bring laughter.
The area was really well shaded so the children were comfortable out of the sun and the young volunteers did a great job of lining them up for the photographs.

100, 200, 300, 400 and finally 500 back packs and mattresses had found new owners. A photograph of the lucky #5,000th child was taken. Our mission was accomplished.

After a wrap up meeting with our AED (Action Enfance et Developpement) partners, there were thanks and hugs all around. We know we have made a difference for the children and their families. Murray’s dream that every child should have “the comfort of a good night’s sleep” is closer to reality.

On the return journey we passed a village where a couple of children were hanging around. Time to give them a soccer ball! A crowd gathered within minutes as the ball and pump were given to one lucky boy. But of course the game requires many players so we know that more children will feel the love of strangers as they play soccer in their village.

Sally Jo Martin for Team Togo 2016
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Togo: Story

Remember the ‘story’ your Grandma or Grandpa told you about how they walked to school 5 kilometres (uphill - both ways)?

What was the last time you walked 5 kms (not trying to log steps on your Fitbit)?  What about 5 kms twice in the same day?

What about your young child – have they ever walked 5 kms?

Can you imagine them walking – alone, or with a friend or two of the same age – 5 kms to school at 9 am; then 5 kms home at noon; then 5 kms back to school at 3 pm (in temperatures of +35 degrees Celsius); and finally 5 kms home again at 5 pm just as dusk is starting to set in?

That was one of the common themes we came across this distribution – how far the kids travel to get an education. To arrive at a one-room hut with little wooden desk.  No air conditioning.  No interactive devices.  Just a basic notebook and a pencil.   Not all schools are this way, there are some schools made of brick, and have chalkboards (ok, maybe that’s a stretch – it is a part of the wall painted with green ‘chalk’ paint).  Most don’t have electricity.  So while the kids want to stay to learn, and the teachers want to stay to teach, they can only use the tools they have, so as daylight departs so must they.
For some of the kids, the benefit is that they will go home to a bedkit.  A mattress to rest their tired little legs.  A mosquito net to protect them a buzzing nuisance all through the night, and allow their young mind to rest peacefully.  All in preparation for the start of their next round of 5 km walks the next day.  And the day after.  And the day after that.

Others are not as fortunate – they have not received a bedkit.  But they will trudge on – 5 kms at a time, perhaps in the hope of being one of next year’s bedkit recipients.

Danielle Lalonde for Team Togo 2016
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Thursday, 21 April 2016

Togo: A Day in Photos!

Mother and Child at Work

Kids Smiles  X Many

Kids Smiles  X Many

Kids Smiles  X Many

White guy jogs into our village and leaves a soccer ball. Yippee!!
Ps Thank you Dunnys Sports in Stratford

Team Togo 2016
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Togo: Hands Together For SCAW!

Arriving early in the morning for a distribution, children always run to meet us. Not the children to receive the bedkits. They are already lined up according to the colours of their bright t-shirts somewhere in the shade. We hear them singing, clapping the rhythm that ends with a thumbsup and a yelled “Super!” As they should be they are excited, especially when they see the contents of the bedkit held up high for viewing.

There are however, understandably, the children who do not receive bedkits. Easy to identify they are the ones wearing either their khaki school uniforms or dresses or shorts and t-shirts. Of course, these children are remarkable – large almond eyes, lashes like black silk tassels, teeth, ever-present in wide smiles of anticipation to share the moment. No pouting. No whining. No self-pity. Just being with the members of the SCAW team lucky enough to have this moment.

Today this happened to me. One five-year-old boy in a striped t-shirt gently took my hand in his little soft, cool one. Another bigger girl took my other hand, then a child took my wrist, another my elbow, and before long we stood together as a group just being together. After a few seconds one child touched my arm and said, “Blanc,” or White, as if to say, we’re different but there’s something between us that’s the same. I pointed to another child, smiled and nodded and said “Noir,”. Black. This tangle of hands and arm brought alive Martin Luther King’s lines from his famous “I have a dream,” speech. When all God’s children, (I paraphrase) are accepted each for themselves, no matter what the colour of their skin.

The hands up for the SCAW distribution program celebrates the gift of a good night’s sleep. More important it celebrates the joy of complete strangers coming together for a brief time of sharing a connection that matters because of the exchange oof human love

Heather Barclay, Togo Team 2016
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Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Togo: Today as seen through the eyes of the Canadian team's newest member!!

I specifically say the Canadian team because there is another important team, our overseas volunteers. Here in Togo, it has been formed by Laurent Dekalikan; our guardian angel and it is he who formed the "Alliance Enfance et Developpement" for Togo. Their other activities are phenomenal, but for us they form a safety net, a support system and provide physical and emotional help, translations, anything at all and always willingly with a smile.

     Our days begin on the road at 7 or 7:30, theirs at 4:30 or 5 o'clock. Each evening, an immense truck is loaded with bed kits and mattresses and driven to the distribution site, unloaded and back to Lome to reload for the next day. Packing the truck involves scampering around on re-bars in bare feet. None of us even know their names but what would we do without them.


    The early team of local volunteers arrive at about 6:30 begin gathering the kids, dressing them in the SCAW t shirts and pants or skirts, sing, laugh and dance with them to keep them amused and happy until the "white team" arrives. We can be quite frightening because most often the kids have never seen a white person...are we ghosts or just very sick people? Worries are dispelled by our marvellous Togolese team.

     Lifting heavy bags, packing the van with food and drink, cordoning off the area for photography, finding teachers we can give supplies to, translating again, here is where our Three Musketeers come into their own. All nephews of Laurent and using their holidays to be with us, leaving their business to be tended by others; giving, giving and giving more.

I feel humbled by their generosity and honoured to be accepted by them as a friend. This blog shows but a few of them and beautiful people they are.

Francis Thomas for Team Togo 2016
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Sunday, 17 April 2016

Togo: We Returned From The Port Of No Return

Two days off to explore Togo and we get the bright idea to visit the neighbouring country to the east, Benin. No problem getting a visa from the Benin Consulate after our Friday distribution; “it will only take 30 minutes”. Wrong!

We got sucked into the bureaucratic process, our passports where being processed inside the consulate, we were outside on the street “cooling our heels” in another feels like 44C afternoon and there was only one more step until the next one, and the next one and...
The highlight (on reflection it should have been an omen) was a photographer showing up on his motorcycle, setting up an ad hoc photo studio on the side of the street and proceeding to take our visa pictures all with a white towel backdrop being held by the consulate attendant, after he donated his chair from the guard’s kiosk for the official photography.

Four hours later, we were finally back in our residence with the valuable Benin visas inserted into our passports and ready to start our weekend adventure.
The next morning after a 3.5 hour trip that included another 1.5 hours getting through the border in what seemed like countless forms and stamps we arrived at our destination.
Ouidah, Benin has a Historical Museum located in a former Portuguese fort that for four centuries was the site of the slave trade in this region of West Africa. The overwhelming message in this museum was of the millions of Africans that passed through this fort, made the 4 kilometer walk to the beach to the ‘Laporte du Nonretour’ and onto the boats bound for the Americas.

Our team was appreciative of experiencing this important UNESCO site and that it was worth every minute, even every hour getting to Benin.

Doug MacDougald for Team Togo 2016
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Togo: Thank You Mom and Dad

Today was a big SHOUT OUT to my Mom and Dad, aka, Walter and Marian MacDougald, as we orchestrated their group photo of 57 Togolese kids in the village of Avedje/Zio. These 57 children are the number of Mom and Dad’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and this Christmas gift to the family has been a tradition for many years. It is one of the reasons why I choose Sleeping Children for international service and it builds on the culture my parents instilled in their children on giving back through community service.

You will see from the picture that Mom and Dad likely heard these kids all the way from Togo, West Africa to Stratford, Ontario today!

My parents would appreciate this type of village with parents and families, grandparents and other community folks observing and supporting this Sleeping Children bedkit distribution – and it wasn’t that different than many events during my upbringing in Perth County.

Thank you to our team for making this special moment, special!

Doug MacDougald for Team Togo 2016
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Togo: All Work and No Fun Makes Doug a Grumpy Leader!

Tsavie, Thursday, April 14th.  The team was up early, if not bright, for Day 4.  Of course the distribution went well including having to shift the photo site as the sun moved.  36 degrees, feeling like 44, but lots of water and teamwork got us through.

The additional fun involved stopping on the way to Tsevie at Mensah our driver’s village to drop off a couple of things for his family.  After the distribution, we were taken to a waterfall in the mountains outside of Kpalime.  Reminded Heather and Don of the waterfalls in Costa Rica.  The falls reinforced for the team that Togo is rich in beautiful, unspoiled geography. Our Three Musketeers enjoyed the break.

On to the Artisans’ Market in Kpalime where we browsed around wood carvings, batik, etc.  A few purchases BUT then a great idea.  A picnic in a quiet, shaded area at the market.  Bill, our chef, packs sandwiches for the day as we never quite know when we will get home.  Bill is curious about sandwiches and he wants to know recipes.  We think that he is figuring it out since we had an egg, avocado, onion on baguette today.

Fun not over – into Kpalime to buy buckwheat honey and then a stop at a roadside stand where at least six vendors were competing to sell the best mangos in the world (get jealous).  Cute kids waving at us and trying to figure out who we were.  Two of the team (guess who) had to go out to get more wine before a wonderful dinner …

Doug didn’t get grumpy, since we worked hard and had fun!

Signing off … Team Togo 2016
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Thursday, 14 April 2016

Togo: Hedome - Children Take Centre Stage!

Today’s distribution was hot and dusty but the team had such great interaction with children of all ages that we shared many stories around the dinner table.

First of course were the bedkit recipients who waited so patiently for their turn at the photo shoot. The young AED volunteers helped them change into colourful t-shirts, shorts or skirts and then sort them according to colour so that the photos would show variety. Songs, bubble chasing and laughter helped to keep them entertained. Most of the children would smile for us while waiting but became really serious at photo time.

Members of the community, teachers, parents and others not receiving a bedkit were looking on from the sidelines. Having their photo taken by one of us almost always brought wide smiles and laughter as we showed the photo to them. Oh the fun of digital cameras! Have they ever seen a photo of themself? We’ll likely never know.

There were many very small children and some babies in the crowd. For them the presence of “white skins” was actually scary. Attempts to photograph them often brought screams of terror. Our best intentions were appreciated by the parents but certainly not by those babies. Oh well, might try again tomorrow.

Sally Jo Martin for Team Togo 2016

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Togo: Sofie - Interviewing the Families!

At Sofie Primary School, in the coolest region of Togo, five hundred bedkit recipients lined up in a rainbow of eagerness and robust singing.  Just as the children and their parents anticipated an unimaginable gift of a bedkit, the SCAW team looked forward to giving children items that meant so much to their quality of their lives.

A quality control always takes place before the bedkits are given out.  But to hear what kids and their families think of their gift helps with continuous improvement. Designated as the interviewer today I met with three fathers and their children, each of whom gave me insight into their lives as we talked about the bedkits they just received.

The first little boy, Alex Guiho started school at eight.  His prospects of staying in school will be as good as what his parents can afford, hoping as they do he will complete primary school. Although he walks three kilometers back and forth to school four times a day, today he and his father have come on a motorcycle taxi in order to be able to take the bedkit mattress home.  And what did that single bed mattress and mosquito netting mean to Alex.  “I will get to sleep alone!”  Instead of curled up with his three siblings.

Fidele Sogboe didn’t hesitate to point to the backpack as her favourite item.  She would not take it off. Without the backpack children bring their little things to school in plastic bags. Given that there is no disposal for these little omnipresent “sachettes” in its own way, SCAW helps the Togo environment.  Third in her class Fidele claimed she liked studying math best, so is she good at it.  “Non,” she blurted in the way kids throughout the world are honest.

The last interviewee, Samuel Klevor carefully printed his name for me.  Like every one of the children here, Samuel has had bouts with malaria including stays in hospital.  The necessity of having the individual SCAW mosquito net for protection can’t be underestimated his father, the Pastor Klevor, said.  Although the pastor believes strongly in education for all children, the twinkle in his eye bespoke his pride in Samuel, the youngest, the only boy.

 All the positive response does not preclude some additional items.  They all identified the need for a French dictionary in order to improve the learning of the country’s official language. Books of any kind were mentioned.  Not surprising in town where not a single book exists.  

Team Togo 2016

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Togo: Smiles All Around!

Today was our first distribution in Togo, at a primary school site named Klounou.  We gave out 500 bedkits; two and half hours drive from Lome. 

The children were lined up with their new outfits – t-shirts of yellow, blue, red, orange, and green with a bluish-green skirt (for girls) and shorts (for boys) when we arrived.  After blowing some bubbles and singing some songs, we began the photo session.

At first the children were unsure what was happening…but it soon became clear that the children that were leaving were leaving with a gift (of a bedkit and backpack).

As I turned the children around to hang their new backpack on their tiny little shoulders, I could see the happiness in their smiles.  Next we handed over the bedkit and depending on how big (or small) the children were they hoisted the bedkit up on their heads or in their two hands and went to join up with their waiting parents.  Now it was the parents’ time to smile.  Although the day was warm and muggy, the temperature was 34 degrees and felt like 44 degrees . When you see everyone leaving with a smile on their face you are reminded that it is worth every drop of sweat.

After many years partnering with Sleeping Children as a member of the Rotary club of Dhaka in Bangladesh it was a dream come true to experience a distribution in another country.

Maswoodul Alam for Team Togo 2016
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Monday, 11 April 2016

Togo: The Team Has Arrived!

The team arrived late last night and spent the day getting ready for 5,000 Togolese children to receive bedkits over the next couple of weeks. We changed some of our money from the roadside “kiosk” and with a loonie equivalent to 445 CFA Francs, we feel very wealthy We then moved on to the warehouse holding the bedkits with the first truck loaded and ready to head out early tomorrow morning for the first distribution.

Team members in the photo are: Don Barclay, Heather Barclay, Francis Thomas, Sally Jo Martin, Maswood Alam (Masud), Danielle Lalonde, Doug MacDougald

We are now ready!

Team Togo 2016
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