Sunday, 22 April 2018

Togo: Signing Off Togo Saying "Un Grand Merci" To All!

It is hard to believe that Team Togo 2018 has completed 12 days of distributions already. It seems like we just got here and now we are saying farewell to our Togolese Overseas Volunteer Partners (OVP).

Today’s distribution in “30 Aout”, near Kpalime, took only 75 minutes to complete. That included special time playing with the children, listening to them sing their Togolese songs, and then having them clap rhythmically to the harmonica music of the dueling Culbertsons.

When the last bedkit picture was taken, all of the volunteers joined the children for a picture of the 6,000th bedkit and the recipients. It was a moment to celebrate. Our OVP team leader then arranged for us to visit the homes of four of the bedkit recipients; two from this year and two from previous years. The children, some of whom were orphaned and living with their siblings and their grandmother, proudly showed us the ‘SCAW’ mattress and mosquito net that they used where they slept. One of them then showed us his cardboard box desk where he used the ‘Academy’ math set, note books, pencils and some other items to do his homework with. His grandmother was justifiably proud of him. All of the items that he received two years ago are still in good condition because they are so valuable to him.

We had time to pack before our OVP volunteers started to arrive for the farewell party. What heartfelt joy and comradeship. They brought traditional Togolese food, which was enjoyed by all present after speeches by Laurent Dekalikan and Bill Sergeant, who thanked everyone for the making the distributions a huge success through their hard work and dedication. We then sang our respective National Anthems and joined the OVPs in a joyous dance, conga style, while our hosts sang a traditional Togolese song. It was an experience that will not soon be forgotten.

In closing, Team Togo 2018 want to say ‘un grand merci’ to all of our donors and especially to our Overseas Volunteer Partners who worked long and hard during each the distributions, sometimes being on the road at midnight in order to have the mattresses and bedkits at the distribution site.

Bill Sergeant
Team Togo 2018
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Togo: Au Revoir et Merci Togo!

Today was such a bittersweet day for me as we handed out our last bedkit—#6,000! I read all of the smiles, laughter, anticipation and appreciation on the kid’s faces as they received their bedkits today and it is sad to think that we will not be surrounded by these beautiful African children tomorrow as some are on flights home and some on our way to Ghana tomorrow morning.

 I will miss Togo and all of the beautiful people here who have made our stay complete.

For the Children.
Team Togo 2018
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Saturday, 21 April 2018

Togo: A Special Escort

Most of our distributions have been in the central region of Togo, a 2-3 hour drive north of the capital city of Lomé. Once we turned off the main road this morning, the people we passed seemed reserved compared to other drives, with only one person waving to our van. Trepidation set in. But as we neared a school that was the site of a SCAW distribution last year, we saw children along the road wearing last year’s t-shirt and skirts or shorts. Their smiles and waves were heartwarming, reminding us all of the value of a bedkit to each child. One boy even ran alongside our van until we got to the school. A very special escort!

The truck that transports the bedkits was delayed again. While we waited, our team went to work entertaining the children. Barb and I blew bubbles, Ian and Stuart repeated their harmonica routine then started a soccer match which Ricki videotaped, Bill and Barb taught the children to throw and catch a Frisbee, and Julie photographed the children and showed them their image. 

At first some of the children were too timid to blow the bubbles but eventually they all made an attempt. I tried to make sure they all had a turn. I felt like the Pied Piper, surrounded by the youngest children who followed me (or the bubbles) wherever I went. A man tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to go over to the tree that was shading some of the parents. The parents wanted a turn as well, and the women giggled and tried to pop the bubbles just like the children. Even a small toddler on her mother’s back gave bubbles a try. 

I had the privilege of photographing all 500 children. All those smiling playful children turned serious when it was their turn to smile for the camera. We had to coax the smiles out of the first few, but by the time it was the older children’s’ turn, their giggles preceded the photo. Maybe we were all a bit giddy from the heat, but it sure was fun to capture their wonderful smiles.

On the drive back to the main road, we saw lots of children carrying their bedkit home. Every one of them stopped and waved, their smiles as wide as could be. Quite a change from our morning reception. Another 500 children will be having a better sleep tonight, hopefully with a smile of their face

Julie for Team Togo 2018
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Togo: Warming Up The Crowd

Our arrival at our eleventh distribution today at Dzozokondi started like all others with our entertainment offensive. This is not meant to be construed as "offensive entertainment". Rather it represents our collective efforts to warm up the crowd of attendees while we were setting up the bedkit and photo shoot logistics. As the distribution progresses, I dare say our act is becoming more refined and more appreciated. 

We normally start by launching balloons into the throngs of children on the periphery of the distribution to separate them from the area where the recipients are being lined up for the photos and bedkit handouts. We have bags of balloons at the ready which when blown up and released bring great delight to the children so excited to chase them around. Deep into the distribution, we often hear bangs as the balloons meet their end.  Next we turn our attention to the lineups of bedkit recipients. Throughout our work, our volunteer partners have had the children singing and dancing as they wait in line. Ian and I like to think we complement this effort by launching into our dueling harmonicas routine - mostly centred on our rendition of Freres Jacques. The children of this French speaking country usually chime in immediately on this tune - often in harmony and occasionally in rounds.  Listening to 500 marvelous voices drowning out our harmonicas is a daily treat that I look forward to. When all else fails, we deploy our last weapon - our little hand puppet Princess FouFou (named after the Togalese staple dish of mashed yam). Who knows where she came from when she jumped into my luggage in Canada. But she has worked hard to captivate the crowd - particularly the very small children. (Tomorrow at our last distribution, I plan to find a new home for FouFou in Togo.)  With all of this happening up front, our team works hard to set up the photo shoot site logistics and arrange for the children to receive their bedkits. 

All in a days work for the children -  "Dormez vous" in peace tonight.

Stuart for Team Togo 2018
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Friday, 20 April 2018

Togo: Togo Smiles!

Today I was handing out mattresses and I saw the most smiles ever.  By the time
the children got to me - the last station - and saw the colourful mattresses
they were receiving, the smiles were huge - and the 'Merci  beaucoups'
plentiful.  I couldn't believe how excited they were as I placed that mattress
on their heads.  There were a few disabled/blind children today and I had tears
in my eyes as they went by.  Unfortunately there was no time to take pictures as
I was so busy but certainly today was the best day so far for me.

Barb for 
Team Togo 2018
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Thursday, 19 April 2018

Togo: A Sideways Day!

We had a normal start to the day and then it went sideways. As we were sitting down to breakfast, Messah, one of our OVPs, said that Laurent had called and said to delay our departure by half an hour. We were told that this was because the truck carrying the mattresses and bedkits was delayed on the road to Kpalime. We all thought that it was a mechanical issue, only to learn when we got to Yokele for the distribution that it was because the President was going to be using the main NNW road to Kpalime and that all heavy goods trucks were banned from using it.

As such, we used the time to entertain the children with music, singing, blowing bubbles, tossing a Frisbee back and forth with them, and even playing soccer. There was no doubt that the Togolese teems from the local area were not affected by the heat and humidity as much as much Ian Culbertson was when he was playing soccer with them.

The AED truck with our bedkits and mattresses finally arrived at the sites to cheers from the recipients and from the members of our Travelling Volunteers and the OVPs [Overseas Volunteer Partners]. We all pitched in again to unload the truck and bag the mattresses so that they could be presented to the children.

We had started taking pictures of the children while the unloading was going on and had the children stay in one of the classrooms form until the kits were ready to be handout. Once they were, the team was able to hand the kits out to the children with their broad smiles and grins. Despite the delay, it was another great distribution as can be seen in this team photo as the 5,000th bedkit was handed out.

On the way back to our residence in Lome, we stopped at the Centre de Formation de Haute Couture – Heritier Eternal, which the tailor shop where the skirts and short for the 6,000 bedkits were sewn. The owner and master sewer welcomed us and the apprentice students sang and danced traditional Togolese songs. It was great to see where the clothes were made, but even better to experience the culture.

It the evening, we hosted our OVP team partners at “Les Nuits des Orients” restaurant in Lome. The food was delicious and it gave us an opportunity to know our partners better. They have done so much work to make this set of distributions a success.

Team Togo 2018
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Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Togo: A Distribution Unlike The Others!

Our 9th distribution day was unlike any other! The truck bringing the bedkits to the distribution site broke down en route during the night. We delayed our departure two hours and were greeted at the site by  Le Club Fraternité Maman, a women’s club devoted to bettering life for women in Togo. They treated us with wonderful singing and dancing.  Once they finished, the children entertained us with rousing songs as well. 

Once we knew that the truck was repaired and on its way to the site, we set up for pictures. 

After the truck arrived,  more than 25 people helped to unload the knapsacks and mattresses, including some of the ladies from the women’s organization as well as older children from the distribution site. Assembly lines were spontaneously formed and everyone pitched in to get this distribution underway. 

 At the very moment that the last child received his bedkit, it started to rain. We were so thankful that we had finished in time. 

Today’s distribution showed us what can be accomplished when many people, sometimes complete strangers, give willingly to help reach a common goal. Today we had another memorable distribution and 500 children will have a better sleep tonight!

Ricki Miles
Team Togo 2018
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Togo: And Today On the Eight Day!

After our 8th distribution, this one in the central plateau region a few kilometres from one of the schools that we did a distribution at last year, we took the time on our way back to Lome to visit a “Support Education Togo” or SET school that our OVP helped build this past year in Bedjeme.

We did a distribution at the school in April 2017, and it only had three brick classrooms at that time, the rest being open air classrooms with a thatched roof. There were 400 students at the school then. Last July, Action Enfance et Developpement (AED) Togo and SET contracted to have three new classrooms built. The project was completed in only three (3) months. The new classrooms currently hold 180 students, but they hope to raise that number to 240 students in fall with the addition of another teacher. We talked with the two principals of the school and some of the teachers. They are very thankful for the new school building because it means so much for the villagers and their children in this very remote area of Togo.

We also saw some of last year’s bedkit recipients near the school. They were working in the fields helping their families with planting the new corn crops and yam crops – all being done by hand. The children were easily recognizable because their distinctive SCAW clothing that we gave them last year. We did not have the opportunity to see inside the mud and thatched homes that they live, but we will be visiting more recipients tomorrow as well as the tailor who makes the skirts and shorts for the children who receive a bedkit.

For the children,
Bill Sergeant
Team Togo 2018
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Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Togo: Day 7 - Part 2!

Team Togo 2018 finished its 7th distribution today in a small village well north of Lome. The Travelling Team and the OVP volunteers work very well together and the coordination between the two groups is fantastic. We have become the proverbial "well oiled machine". 

We made it back to Lome at 1515 hrs despite the torrential downpour that we went through at the half way point of our return journey. Thank goodness that it did not rain at the distribution or back in Lome. The rain was so heavy that the water pooled quickly and became streams and rivers along each side of the road in a matter of minutes. We had to slow right down as we travelled for safety's sake. Thank goodness the storm ceased just as quickly as it started. 

When we got back to Casa Blanca, our cook had prepared a typical Togolese supper for us. It consisted of mutton in a peanut sauce, chicken in a tomato sauce, Togolese spinach with hot green peppers, fufu (mashed yams) and corn puree. We also had fresh mangos and pineapple for dessert. It was quite the experience and we ate it with our fingers (right hand only). What a treat - an unexpected bonus for all of us on this trip. The picture does not do justice to the experience - one that we will never forget. 

Team Togo 2018
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Togo: A Day In The Life Of A SCAW Travelling Volunteer!

It is already the day for distribution 7 and so we are gathered in the van for a 7 am start, after having our usual breakfast of croissants and baguettes and delicious pineapple and mangoes. We sure will miss that when we return home. We have a long way to go and the earlier start helps to avoid the heavy traffic as we head out of Lome.

It is fascinating to watch the people - on foot, on motorcycles, and in cars and trucks, many loaded down with all kinds of things, from produce, to furniture, to goats on the roof.

We reach our destination - safely and in good time due to Mensah's excellent driving.

The site looks a little chaotic, but quickly the teachers organize the excited children, who are already dressed in their bright SCAW t-shirts. They wave and clap as we drive in and we have the setup down to a science now. Ian and Stuart get out the harmonicas and soon the crowd of children are singing and clapping with big smiles on their faces. We also get the bubbles and the balloons going while they wait for the distribution to start.

My job today is to interview 3 parents of children after they have received their bedkits. We ask them about their family life, their sleeping habits, and if they have any suggestions for items for future distributions.

Most of the children sleep on the ground with no mosquito nets and so they are excited to see the mosquito nets in the bedkits. Suggestions for things they would like to see include a hat, a container for water, and closed toe shoes. Suggestions for a bed or a bicycle get a big laugh. Most families walk to the distribution but today two came by motorcycle, one from 22 Km. away.

Things go quickly and we are back on the road shortly after noon to have lunch in the van - Bill's delicious avocado sandwiches.

We run into a torrential rainstorm on the way home but in Lome, it has not rained.

So we're home by 3:30 - for showers, to write reports and check the pictures.

Another successful day. Another 500 bedkits distributed and we are now up to 3500.

Only 2500 to go.

Barb Simpson
Team Togo 2018
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Monday, 16 April 2018

Togo: Journeys to the Damonou Distribution

The sun rises hot in Togo. We left early this morning for our distribution in Damonu 130km north of Lome. If felt a bit grumbly - a combination of our early rise and a somewhat unsettled stomach. But off we went. Two hours later we arrived at the distribution site and my petty concerns about my own circumstances quickly gave way to what I discovered of others. 

A team from our volunteer partner group had loaded 500 bedkits into their truck in Lome and departed at midnight - arriving in Damonu for 5:00 a.m. to ensure the site could be set up for our arrival. During the distribution, I interviewed an older man and woman who had left their mountain villages at 6:00 a.m. and walked 15km with their children over high terrain to arrive at the distribution site. Then they had to wait anywhere up to two hours until their children received their bedkits before they could turn around for the long walk home. 

Such is the value of the bedkits our donors generously provide that both local volunteer participants and recipients undertake such notable efforts to ensure they get to those who need them throughout Togo

Team Togo 2018
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Sunday, 15 April 2018

Togo: The Football Story!

Today we're back out for another distribution, this time near the border with Benin. After another great breakfast from our cook Bill, we're packed in the van and watching in awe as our driver dexterously weaves between potholes, goats, and a small army of fearless motorcyclists. Driving here is a fine art.

We arrive at our distribution site and are met by a gathering of 500 Togolese schoolkids singing away. I am continually amazed by how ingrained music is in day-to-day life, and I breathe in as the voices of this 500-person gospel choir echoes through the air. 

Only on day three and we've already fell into a good rhythm to set up for the day, one that usually sees me and my dad engage in a harmonica duel in front of the kids. A few balloons, bubbles, and puppets later and we're ready to go.

I'm on backpack handout today, and I do my best to make eye contact with every child that comes my way. With the help of one of our local volunteers, I also start to learn some of the local language. Before long I'm able to say hello, how are you, and you're welcome as the kids pass by, and I am rewarded for making this small effort by watching so many surprised children breaking into giant grins.

As the distribution enters its last 100 kids, I feel the pull of the football game that is quickly unfolding at the nearby pitch. I undutifily abandon my post; our team here is phenomenally cohesive and my nearest teammate agrees to work double time while I vanish to partake in the national pastime.

The gathering of kids seem surprised as I join them in a game of what I can only describe as get the ball, turn, and shoot. Suddenly, as if in a West African version of Field of Dreams, local school kids begin to emerge out of the nearby woodlands in steady numbers. Before long there are about 100 kids running and laughing on the pitch. I feel so honoured to be able to join their game, and I feel the warmth of camaraderie with a group of kids who's lives are so different than my own. I also feel the warmth of the 37-degree sun on my pale Scottish skin, and I am soon imagining how the Scottish nationals would fare in a friendly in Togo. I teach the kids how to properly celebrate after a goal, which is, naturally, to run around the field with your arms out like the wings of an airplane. I remind myself to find out how to shout 'goal' in the local language, and as I net one myself I realize I'm likely the recipient of Canada's only international goal in this part of the world.

As we leave the distribution site I am elated that not only have we once again managed to disperse 500 bedkits to families in dire need, but I have some new football friends on the other side of the world. I get the feeling I won't ever forget this day.

Ian Culbertson

Team Togo 2018
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Togo: Our Day Off!

With the first 3,000 bedkits lovingly given to each deserving child who had been selected in the remote villages of southern Togo, the team took a much needed break. 

We went down to the ocean this morning and walked the beach for an hour. It was noticed that there were very few of the locals on the beautiful, white sand beach. The water is very warm, and even without large waves being present, there is still lots of power behind each wave, some going a long distance up the beach. 

There is the Conference of the First Ministers of West Africa here in the city this weekend. As such, many fo the streets in the city center near the parliament buildings are closed. Our driver managed to drive via a circuitous route to la Place d'Independence today for us to take some pictures. We were the only 'non-official vehicle' in that area and no one said anything to us. 

In the afternoon, Stuart and Ian Culbertson went to a local soccer match with Bill the Cook. It was quite the interesting time for them and they had many stories to tell and the passion that the Togolese have for their 'football'. It similar to the passion that the average Canadian has for hockey.  

Team Togo 2018
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Saturday, 14 April 2018

Togo: Not Just Bedkits!

Below are pictures of the Principals of the schools who either hosted the distributions this week or the Principals of the schools whose children were selected to receive a bedkit. None of their schools has a First Aid kit at it. To provide this necessity to the schools, Doug MacDougald, put together 56 FA kits for the SCAW Travelling Volunteers to hand out to each one after the distributions. 

The Principals were very thankful for this kind act and assured the SCAW team that the First Aid kits would be put to good use in their schools. 

Bill Sergeant
Team Togo 2018
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Togo: Hello Waves!

Team Togo 2018
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Togo: Rain Brings Unexpected Joy!

It has taken the team some time to get used to the variable weather in Togo. We had a violent thunderstorm during the second evening that we were here. It knocked out the power in Lome, and toppled large trees in the southern part of the country where we were doing our distributions. Thank goodness, none of the trees blocked the roads that we were taking. 

The rain did play havoc with the distribution on Day 2, in that our OVPs had to bring up a second shipment of clothes for the children to wear during the distribution, since the original sets were wet from the driving rain that seeped into the storage area. The delay in the distribution allowed our team to entertain the children using the Harmonica that Stuart and Ian Culbertson brought along. Our OVPs also sang songs and did dances with the children, which were enjoyed by all present. 

The SCAW travelling team is thoroughly enjoying the interaction with the Togolese children. They were thrilled when they were shown what they would be receiving in the bedkit. The 500 children who were waiting to change into their new SCAW clothes cheered and screamed with excitement when each item was shown to them, especially once they know for certain that this was their gift from the SCAW donors. What a heart-warming memory for members of our team. 

For the Children,
Team Togo 2018
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Togo: Bedkits On Their Journeys Home!

After a great distribution, we have wonderful, happy children making their way home, along with their precious bedkits!

Team Togo 2018
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Friday, 13 April 2018

Togo: Our Official Team Arrival Blog!

The Togo team has arrived in Lome!!! After a seven hour flight flight from Toronto to Brussels and an eight hour flight from Brussels to Lome, we were greeted with huge hugs by Overseas Volunteer Partners Laurent, Gladys and several others.

After a delicious dinner and a wonderful sleep, we set out Sunday morning to the supermarket for groceries and had a quick stop at the open air market for fruits and veggies. We wrapped up the day with a visit to the warehouse where the bedkits are being stored. It was a great sight to see all the mattresses and backpacks waiting for distribution to the children!

Warehouse filled with bedkits!

We start our first distribution tomorrow bright and early and are looking forward to seeing all the excited children with big smiles on their faces!!

Ricki Miles
Team Togo 2018
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