January 12, 2005: Headlines: COS - Togo: Woonsocketcall.com: Itís early morning and Heather Senecal sips a cup of water while sitting on the porch of her hut in Togo

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Togo: Peace Corps Togo : The Peace Corps in Togo: January 12, 2005: Headlines: COS - Togo: Woonsocketcall.com: Itís early morning and Heather Senecal sips a cup of water while sitting on the porch of her hut in Togo

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Itís early morning and Heather Senecal sips a cup of water while sitting on the porch of her hut in Togo

Itís early morning and Heather Senecal sips a cup of water while sitting on the porch of her hut in Togo

Itís early morning and Heather Senecal sips a cup of water while sitting on the porch of her hut in Togo

NSJHS alumna describes struggles of Third World


NORTH SMITHFIELD -- Itís early morning and Heather Senecal sips a cup of water while sitting on the porch of her hut in Togo, West Africa. She watches troops of people parade in the heat to the cotton fields. One family might include the husband, his three wives, their 10 children, all traveling the same path six days a week.

Those children wonít be going to school to learn math or writing or to meet with her to learn about health and nutrition. Itís another day the Peace Corps volunteer wonít be able to try to break them from basic unsanitary health habits that could lead to the villagers becoming sick or dying.

By basic unsanitary habits, Senecal, 23, means not washing their hands after a trip to the bathroom, especially before eating. It means drinking dirty water during the rainy season, by which cholera claims innocent lives on a regular basis.

Senecal is telling all this to an economics class taught by Natalie OíBrien at the high school while at home for Christmas break. The students are studying world poverty, and the 1999 salutatorian of North Smithfield Junior-Senior High School has a first-hand account to tell.

"They accept thatís what happens," Senecal says of the villagersí response to the many cholera and typhoid deaths, when such diseases were wiped out from the civilized world. By "acceptable," she says after spending her first of two years in Togo, it means "they accept thatís always what has happened."

The idea of boiling dirty water to make it drinkable is "one more thing" for people too tired from long days in the field, says Senecal, who lives in a remote village with 400 people where thereís no electricity or running water.

She understands why parents are not available on Sundays to consider their childrenís educations and to help with homework, or to learn about bettering their own lives. Sunday Mass on their only day without work lasts five hours, until 2 in the afternoon, when itís so hot they sleep until supper time.

When picking their cotton cash crop through February, even the smallest child goes to the fields, missing weeks of school at a time.

"Thereís no choice," Senecal says. "Thatís what you do."

In an essential way, itís worse than that, too, says Senecal, who works with teachers within the eight villages and nine schools to raise funds for books and materials. (See related story at right.)

Where she went to high school, someone missing several weeks of school has options, she tells OíBrienís class: borrowing notes, obtaining work sheets or seeking help from teachers.

Itís different at the schools in Togo.

"When the blackboards get erased, the knowledge gets erased," she says.

There are no texts or workbooks. And students might include a 17-year-old in the fourth grade or a 12-year-old in seventh grade depending upon their abilities and availability to attend classes.

See TOGO --- Page A-6

Continued from Page A-5

While Senecalís role as a Peace Corps volunteer is to study the problems of Togo citizens and find solutions, the problems are a lot easier to identify than the answers.

Togo is a former German and French colony of 5.3 million people, a sovereign nation since 1960 between Nigeria and Ghana. Its capital, Lomé, is home to 750,000 people at the southern tip near the Gulf of Guinea. French is the official language, but there are some 45 Togolese dialects.

Keeping children out of school as child labor might be identified as a national problem.

"Education is important. But in the grand scheme of things, itís the crops -- whether cotton, yams or manioc (to make tapioca pudding) -- that supports the family for the next year," Senecal said. "So they have lots of kids." To ensure enough children are available also requires numerous births because the infant mortality rate is high. So is the number of women who die while giving birth.

"We lose a lot of women each year," Senecal said.

Senecal, just a year out of college where she focused on political science and womenís studies, faces another obstacle: "battling the ancestors." When she ominously says the word, you can almost feel their presence, like theyíre coming back to life in these villages "in the bush," as she describes them.

"Since I got to the villages, I found they do things the old ways -- and they wonít break it," Senecal says. "Over there, the philosophy is: ĎIf the ancestors didnít do it, weíre not doing it.í

"Itís frustrating," adds Senecal, but then smoothly shifts gears. She tells stories of how the villagers ask to marry her to one of their own; how sheís had several proposals in a culture where love and marriage are not connected. One man said heíd be a good husband -- and offered her four goats to say yes.

While Senecalís cell phone actually works "in the bush," the sounds and cheers from a radio broadcasting a big soccer match is about the only other thing to tell a visitor theyíre not living 100 or 200 years ago. She believes the villagers possess a keen, but different, intelligence.

"They can look at the sky and tell me down to five minutes when it will rain and for how long," she said.

And they always have the right amount of seeds to plant in their fields, and the last pinch of salt for their sauce is just what it needs for perfect flavor, she said.

Entertainment? Weddings and funerals, the latter a frequent "celebration" lasting several days, is a time of drumming and singing and lots of eating, Senecal said, "and itís a great way to meet people."

"Life is interesting as long as you keep an open mind," she said. Calling her time in Togo "a cool experience," sheís sure if she knew what she does now about Togo two years ago "I would still make the same decision."

When people come to her hut to visit -- sometimes at 4 in the morning -- if they eat, she has a rule she enforces: they must wash their hands with clean water and soap.

"I canít say Iíve had much success with that (in their own homes), but Iím still trying," says Senecal. "I still have another year."

©The Call 2005

When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Coleman: Peace Corps mission and expansion Date: January 8 2005 No: 373 Coleman: Peace Corps mission and expansion
Senator Norm Coleman, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee that oversees the Peace Corps, says in an op-ed, A chance to show the world America at its best: "Even as that worthy agency mobilizes a "Crisis Corps" of former Peace Corps volunteers to assist with tsunami relief, I believe an opportunity exists to rededicate ourselves to the mission of the Peace Corps and its expansion to touch more and more lives."
RPCVs active in new session of Congress Date: January 8 2005 No: 374 RPCVs active in new session of Congress
In the new session of Congress that begins this week, RPCV Congressman Tom Petri has a proposal to bolster Social Security, Sam Farr supported the objection to the Electoral College count, James Walsh has asked for a waiver to continue heading a powerful Appropriations subcommittee, Chris Shays will no longer be vice chairman of the Budget Committee, and Mike Honda spoke on the floor honoring late Congressman Robert Matsui.

January 8, 2005: This Week's Top Stories Date: January 8 2005 No: 367 January 8, 2005: This Week's Top Stories
Zambia RPCV Karla Berg interviews 1,374 people on Peace 7 Jan
Breaking Taboo, Mandela Says Son Died of AIDS 6 Jan
Dreadlocked PCV raises eyebrows in Africa 6 Jan
RPCV Jose Ravano directs CARE's efforts in Sri Lanka 6 Jan
Persuading Retiring Baby Boomers to Volunteer 6 Jan
Inventor of "Drown Proofing" retires 6 Jan
NPCA Membership approves Board Changes 5 Jan
Timothy Shriver announces "Rebuild Hope Fund" 5 Jan
More Water Bottles, Fewer Bullets 4 Jan
Poland RPCV Rebecca Parker runs Solterra Books 2 Jan
Peace Corps Fund plans event for September 30 Dec
RPCV Carmen Bailey recounts bout with cerebral malaria 28 Dec
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Peace Corps made an appeal last week to all Thailand RPCV's to consider serving again through the Crisis Corps and more than 30 RPCVs have responded so far. RPCVs: Read what an RPCV-led NGO is doing about the crisis an how one RPCV is headed for Sri Lanka to help a nation he grew to love. Question: Is Crisis Corps going to send RPCVs to India, Indonesia and nine other countries that need help?
The World's Broken Promise to our Children Date: December 24 2004 No: 345 The World's Broken Promise to our Children
Former Director Carol Bellamy, now head of Unicef, says that the appalling conditions endured today by half the world's children speak to a broken promise. Too many governments are doing worse than neglecting children -- they are making deliberate, informed choices that hurt children. Read her op-ed and Unicef's report on the State of the World's Children 2005.
Changing of the Guard Date: December 15 2004 No: 330 Changing of the Guard
With Lloyd Pierson's departure, Marie Wheat has been named acting Chief of Staff and Chief of Operations responsible for the day-to-day management of the Peace Corps. Although Wheat is not an RPCV and has limited overseas experience, in her two years at the agency she has come to be respected as someone with good political skills who listens and delegates authority and we wish her the best in her new position.
Our debt to Bill Moyers Our debt to Bill Moyers
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The Birth of the Peace Corps The Birth of the Peace Corps
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Story Source: Woonsocketcall.com

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