The school you helped fund!

Looking back through my posts, I realized that I never followed up after posting the urgent plea for money for the school that Stacer, the PCV who followed me in Assanté, was building. I apologize for that!

Thank you all for responding to my post and helping to complete the funding! The project was successful and here are some photos of the new classrooms and the female latrines:)


Photo credit for all of these: Stacer McChesney. Great job, my friend!

And here is a message from Stacer after completion of the project:

“!!!IT’S DONE!!!
All I can say is thank you. Thank you so much.

It’s difficult to articulate the weight of your role in making this possible. Your individual contribution turned into cement, nails, wood, and sheet metal. Your funds went to a team of local masons, roofers, painters, drivers, shop owners, an their families.. And now this, a new place to learn for years to come.

It was really beautiful to watch.

All extra funds went towards a complete set of 50 desks for both classrooms, the repair of a heavily damaged roof on a neighboring block of classes, and a complete set of jerseys for our female soccer team.”


Here are some photos of the community working on building the school and on the progression as it was built. THANK YOU SO MUCH!


EcoleBuildingSo incredible that this will help more students learn for years to come. Thank you.

Let Girls Learn in Benin

Hi everyone,

Long time, no blog!

In November, I celebrated my two year anniversary of my return from Benin. It doesn’t feel like two years have passed – it still feels like I “just” got back in some ways. In other ways, it feels light-years away. I now have a “real job” at a small nonprofit working with people who are homeless. It’s very rewarding and honestly Peace Corps did prepare me well for a work environment where you never quite know what will happen from day to day. But that’s not what this blog is about.

Some of you know that I was fortunate to be able to take a trip back to Benin in August of 2014. It was great to go back and see everyone again. Not much had changed in the 10 months I was gone, and it felt like going home in some ways.

On that trip, I was able to meet the Peace Corps Volunteer who is now posted at my former site. His name is Stacer; we have stayed in touch since then and he has kept me updated on the community and what he is doing.

He has taken on an ambitious project that is driven by the community: helping them build two more classrooms and two female latrines at the secondary school so that more grades can be accommodated and more girls can stay in school.

(I admit that I considered a classroom-building project during my service but I was intimidated by the enormity of the fundraising that would need to be done and elected not to do it. It is definitely a need, though.)

Classroom Full View
This is the type of classroom that students are currently using since there is a shortage of permanent classrooms.

The community is contributing 25% of the funds, mostly in the form of donated labor and resources, and Stacer is trying to raise the other 75%.

He has already raised over $6,000 but he still needs a little over $3,000 to complete the project and time is running out as he will complete his service in August and it will take about 5 months to build.


The total left to raise is now $3,327.


They cannot start building until the funding is complete.


So, this is my Hail Mary for Stacer and the community that still means so much to me, even two years later. Please, if you can afford to make a donation of any size, please consider it. It would truly make a huge difference in the lives of students in rural Benin, who are trying SO hard to succeed. 


Here is the link to donate:

Please share this far and wide!


Also: if you know any business owners who might be interested in contributing, I would be most grateful if you could share this with them or connect us and I would be happy to talk with them! We need to raise this $3,300 quickly.

All donations are 100% tax-deductible and will go directly to construction costs at the school.


Below are Stacer’s own words, describing the project in detail.


This year, the community and I have been working together to address the need of a greater access to education in Assanté. Our one and only secondary school can only offer grades 6-9 due to a lack of classrooms—this year there are roughly 530 students and only ten classrooms and three latrines.

This need only scratches the surface, however, of a much greater issue. After completing the 9th grade, students must go to the neighboring towns and cities to complete high school, which is often a very serious financial burden for their families. In addition to the costs of raising a family in Assanté, parents must also pay for tuition, school materials, uniforms, lodging, and food for their child who must live elsewhere.

Unfortunately, families rarely have the means to meet these needs and must often choose between their children when deciding whom to send to finish high school—and more often than not, it is the daughters of Assanté who must delay, and even abandon their education, sacrificing their academic success for their brothers.

Our solution to this need is a project called Classrooms for Equality, which has been partially funded by Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative.

Our construction project will include two classrooms, and two female latrines to facilitate the addition of the final years of high school, all while highlighting gender-equality on campus and in the community.

As the construction takes place the school will host community-led workshops on children’s rights, gender-based violence, feminine hygiene, hand washing, and proper sanitation practices, as well as a community-construction day where students will bring their families to contribute alongside one another.

By localizing grades 10-12, more brothers and sisters, who may otherwise have been held short of their opportunity to success, can complete high school together in their community.

Being so far away from my first home, it’s easy to remember that which I miss and am grateful for. And it is with ease that I say that I am thankful to know each and every one of you. May your holidays be filled with love and peace.

Enfants du Bénin debout.


Thank you so much for reading and sharing this! I know that we will be able to raise the rest of the funds and make the students’ dream of having enough classrooms for everyone a reality. Here is the link one more time:


Saying Goodbye

So I’ve been home for awhile now, and I’m finally settling into my new/old life enough to wrap my head around and write about the process of leaving Benin.  I started writing a post before my departure but my head was so full of raw emotions and things to do before I left that I couldn’t get anything onto paper.  Then I tried many times since I’ve been back, even wrote most of a post and then in a feat of technological prowess, somehow didn’t save it.  So here we are, more than a month after my arrival in the states, finally tackling the issues of saying goodbye and hello in a post that perhaps few will read but is still worth posting just for the closure of writing it.

The process of leaving my host community was quite painful, to be truthful.  I realized that it was time to go, but necessity does not equate with ease.  The hardest part was telling the people close to me.  Because they all knew I planned to stay another year, each time I broke the news, I felt that I was stabbing a knife into our friendship and saw in their eyes the feeling of betrayal.  I suppose it was always going to be like that; we always knew that it was temporary, but the unexpectedness of the separation made it difficult.

There are a lot of stories floating around the Peace Corps community about the different ways volunteers say goodbye when it’s time to leave.  Some make a big deal of it; others don’t tell anybody and just up and leave one day; still others leave quietly, telling those who are important, and later peripheral acquaintances are left asking “whatever happened to that volunteer?”  For me, it was easy to figure out that I wanted throw a big going away party.  I chose this so that I could say goodbye to everyone in general and no one would feel left out, and because I wanted to erase any bad feelings and memories that had accumulated for me and/or the community in the last months and to leave on a good note.

The party was held two days before I was scheduled to move out and was in most regards a success.  A lot of people turned out for the celebration, and even more bought the fabric I had chosen for the occasion (pictured below), which is also a show of support.  I like the idea that now that I’ve gone, people will still be wearing their outfits made from this fabric and they will be reminded of me, as I am reminded of them by so many things.
As may not be surprising to those who have thrown large parties before, there was a significant amount of stress associated with the party, and in the end I personally didn’t enjoy a lot of it, but I’ve heard that the guests faired better.  The politics of getting food made, coordinating performances by the church group and also vodun dancers (two groups who don’t really see eye-to-eye or really have much contact), serving/controlling the food, and seating the guests is hardly worth going into, but suffice it to say that these were no small tasks and created a lot of stress for an already-stressed me.  Then there were the smaller but equally difficult logistical issues such as moving upwards of fifty heavy wooden benches/tables across the schoolyard before the party and back again after the party (so thankful that a team of my female students showed up to help me with this task and refused to leave until it was finished), dealing with beverages that were stored in plastic bottles that exploded everywhere due to the bumpy ride they had endured to get to the village, finding water to wash hands, etc that presented themselves somewhat unexpectedly au cours de route.  But in the end, I guess I accomplished the goal of saying goodbye to the community that had become so important to me, and at least I know that everyone knew I was leaving.

(Here’s a picture of the dancing part of the party)
After the party, the actual departure was pretty anticlimactic.  I spent the next day packing up all my things, separating out the Peace Corps-issued items that needed to be returned, the few things I wanted to pack up for America, and giving many others away because it didn’t seem worth it to bring them back.  The process of packing and cleaning was a big one, and I was a little despondent about doing it when a young albino friend of mine stopped by to say goodbye.  I gave her the sunscreen I had leftover and wished her luck, etc, and when I ran out of things to say, I told her it had been lovely to see her but I needed to get back to packing.  She nodded and seemed about to leave, and then said, “Well, can I help?”  And so she helped me do a few tasks, such as washing dishes and sweeping, and though I tried to send her home after a little bit, she stayed and helped until everything was packed and the house was clean (about 10PM).  It was quite touching.  And her presence influenced some of my other young friends to come help me as well, so the task became a lot more manageable.  It was really quite remarkable how much stuff I accumulated in such a small house in such a short time…

The next morning, I said goodbye to my concession family and my homologue/supervisor, the latter of whom showed up mostly for appearances, I think, and loaded all of the things that were coming with me or going back to PC into my friend’s truck, which I had rented for the occasion.  Then I climbed in the back (something I’ve always wanted to do), the truck started up, and I waved goodbye as we rolled away down the road that was so familiar.

Getting all my luggage to the PC headquarters from the nearby town of Glazoue was somewhat more difficult; I argued with many taxi drivers about pricing for the extra luggage (which included a mattress and a bike) and when I finally found a taxi with a reasonable price, the other passengers and I sat in or around the taxi for hours on end with the driver promising that we were “about to leave.”  I’m used to that kind of stuff, of course, but emotions and tension were running high for me at this point (especially because in a tragic twist of fate, my cat disappeared the night of my going away party.  I had grown really attached to him and wanted to bring him home eventually–the plan was for him to live with a friend for awhile and then come to the states later, so it really upset me when he just never came back before I left.  I even asked my concession family to keep an eye out for him in case he came back after I left, telling them to send him to my friend’s place, but when I called several times afterwards, they said they never saw him again. So sad.), and I came very, very close to completely losing my cool–I just couldn’t deal with the not-leaving taxi.  Sometimes life is just like that, especially in Benin, I feel–you put up with so many little things that annoy you, or dig into your patience, or offend you, and you manage to turn the other cheek or laugh about it, but then eventually you get to this point where you are just at the end of your rope and something that would otherwise be totally run of the mill will send you over the edge.  (This is why you should take vacations before you get to this point. Lesson learned.)  As the taxi finally rolled out of the city I had become so fond of, tears were welling up in my eyes behind my sunglasses.

And so closed a huge chapter of my life.

The actual close-of-service (COS) formalities at Peace Corps were pretty straightforward, especially since at the time that I left, all the other volunteers from my training class were already gone, so there was only one of me instead of a group of 10 volunteers trying to get signatures on everything.  Basically it was a lot of documentation of one’s service, evaluation of one’s health and awarding of applicable vouchers for healthcare in the States and medications to cleanse the system of several of the parasites it may have picked up during service, then interviews with several administrative officials about ‘how it was’ and suggestions one would give for improvement.  Then the confirmation that ⅓ of one’s readjustment allowance had already been deposited into one’s American bank account, and the assurance that the remaining ⅔ would be there soon, formalities relating to either the flight that PC booked or the arrangements that one made in place of that.  Then I was wished good luck, told to keep in touch, and given a pin to commemorate my service.  I pinned it on my bag I walked out of “the bureau” for the last time.

And now I am back.  Perhaps much of why this post has been so long in coming is that I don’t know how to talk about this very relevant topic of transitioning back here.  It is a thing of layers, it seems.  There is, of course, the first layer of ecstasy at seeing long-missed family and friends (this is the best part), amazement at the wonders of the developed world, indulgence in the most-missed material things (for me this is hot showers, smoothies, and Chinese food/anything from Noodles), and kind of a feeling of relief of the everyday life being just so much easier–the beds softer, the water cleaner, etc.  It’s certainly much more convenient to have the bathroom inside, just steps from my room, and to flip a switch to illuminate an entire room instead of stumbling around to find my flashlight, and it’s mind-blowing to be able to buy literally anything I want in the huge stores minutes from my parents’ place.

Then there is a second layer of missing what was.  I miss the people that used to be in my life, the places I loved to go, the food I enjoyed eating.  I think about the toddler that lived next door to me and realize that he has already forgotten me.  I was there when he was born, I held him throughout his infancy, I watched him start to crawl and then walk and talk, and now I will be no more than someone who he hears his family talk about and sees in pictures.  That child was one of the highlights of my life and now he’s gone.  Poof.  Image

I miss the simplicity of the life I lived in Benin.  Having so few options for food, entertainment, and shopping got old sometimes, but it was also nice.  In many ways, I feel (and to some degree, have always felt) somewhat overwhelmed by the excess of things available here.  It becomes oppressive for me–so many things to choose from in the supermarket, so many entertainment options screaming at you that you are missing out if you don’t partake, so much technology that is shinier and louder and more expensive all the time.  So many things we don’t need but we become convinced that we do.  A simpler life really suited me.  Perhaps most of all, though, I miss the sense of purpose that I felt in Benin.  Though I encountered my share of frustrations and roadblocks, the feeling that my presence and work made a difference, if only in the smallest of ways, is a hard one to get used to losing.

And the third layer is probably the deepest and hardest to get past.  For me, this is the feeling of being lost.  The place I’ve left is gone, but the place I’ve come back to (called “home”) is not the same.  The people are not the same, my place in the world is also not the same.  When I left, I was a recent graduate, still viewed as practically a kid, and now suddenly my 25th birthday approaches and people call me “ma’am” and it seems that what I do next will define my entrance to the ‘real world.’  After living on my own for so long, it’s hard to be back in my parents’ houses, and it seems that I don’t belong there anymore, even though they have been wonderful about it so far.  Obviously, because I was not planning on being here this soon, I don’t have the plans that other volunteers did for their re-integration, such as grad school admittances or a job lined up or even a geographical target in mind for setting up the next chapter of life, which certainly aggravates this feeling of being lost.  I expected to have another year to figure all of these things out.  But I generally do find that things happen for a reason, so I am trying to figure out what the reason is behind this change of plans.  I suspect that said reason is deeper than the universe wanting to give me unlimited hot showers.  At least I sure hope so.

At any rate, I leave you with a few of my happiest memories from Benin, in no particular order:
1) Vaccination trips into the rural villages.  There is a photo floating around somewhere in rural Benin of me and my vaccinating partner on his motorcycle.  I have the vaccine cooler slung over my shoulder and my helmet perched on my knee, and he is in the middle of making a joke to the person who is taking the photo, a friend we had bumped into on the road who happened to have his camera with him.  We’re surrounded by tall reeds which had been slapping against my calves as we cruised down the small dirt road towards the village, and the sky is clear with only a few clouds above.  The way I remember that photo embodies happiness for me.

2) Sitting around with the zemidjans on the back of someone’s parked motorcycle and eating corn porridge while chatting in halting Fon, watching the activity of the night market, and checking out the stars and/or moon.

3) Traipsing around the market and Glazoue in general with my nearby volunteer friends, buying the essentials for the week, experimental belly beads, or a treat like cookies to be shared while drinking beer or whiskey cola at one of our favorite hang-out spots.

4) Simply walking down the road from my house into the village, wearing bright, flowy fabric and being warmed by the African sun.
ImageAu revoir!

Some overdue photos

Somehow I painted my house in the theme of an American flag. Hopefully the next person who lives there likes it...
Somehow I painted my house in the theme of an American flag. Hopefully the next person who lives there likes it…
Me with Fidelia--she's almost 6 months old now and doing well!
Me with Fidelia–she’s almost 6 months old now and doing well!
Me pounding a yam to make yam pile one Saturday afternoon.
Me pounding a yam to make yam pile one Saturday afternoon.
Guys working on the cell phone tower right outside my gate. The whole thing was built without machines of any sort.
Guys working on the cell phone tower right outside my gate. The whole thing was built without machines of any sort.
Just a super cute kid
Just a super cute kid
Fluffy new baby goats!
Fluffy new baby goats!
My friend Drew leading the Glow girls through a music session. They loved playing rhythms on the desks.
My friend Drew leading the Glow girls through a music session. They loved playing rhythms on the desks.
Teaching the girls the dance to a popular song
Teaching the girls the dance to a popular song
This kid was born a few months after I arrived at post and now he's climbing ladders!
This kid was born a few months after I arrived at post and now he’s climbing ladders!
The liberation ceremony for the apprentice who works at the health center. She's on the left on her knees, about to receive her diploma.
The liberation ceremony for the apprentice who works at the health center. She’s on the left on her knees, about to receive her diploma.
Doing arts and crafts at Camp GLOW. If you donated, your donation helped to buy the paint sets you see here, which they took home with them.
Doing arts and crafts at Camp GLOW. If you donated, your donation helped to buy the paint sets you see here, which they took home with them.
Beginning the world map mural with some students.
Beginning the world map mural with some students. This was a fun project!