Posted by: cgross1 | April 16, 2012

Finishing Shea Production Season

So as of April, shea butter production season is officially over for my association. It has become very hot (due to hot season), which makes it difficult for the shea butter to form properly, and we have used up all of our stock. However, we had a good production year – so good that my president had to buy additional shea nuts twice during the season, which is great for us. With our new machines we can produce in much greater amounts more quickly, and my women are so happy about the new machines that make it less necessary for them to beat the shea butter by hand, which is exhausting (I’ve done it).

My women now have two months of alphabetizations (lessons in local language(Moore)). These lessons consist of reading, writing, basic math, and life skills (health and nutrition awareness lessons). I am excited to be getting back to site, because I will be doing a world map with my women to help them with basic geography. It should be lots of fun (check back for photos in May!).

In other news, my president renewed our Flo-Cert Fair Trade certification, so we are once again Fair Trade certified, which seems to be a major selling point for European and American markets. This means that my association is now Flo-Cert (Fair Trade) and Eco-Cert (organic) Certified. Good for them, and hopefully this will bring in new clients!

Relating to clients, our association has its first US client! I have been pleased to serve as the facilitator between the two businesses – the American business and Ragussi, and it has been a great experience, both for me and for my association. It is my hope that they will learn how to search out and engage new clients after I have left. This newest client is a fabulous opportunity to perfect their international trade skills, and open doorways to better business opportunities.

I hope that everyone is doing well in the states – I only have 6.5 months until I come back to the US – it’s creeping up on me! I will see everyone then!

Until next time,

Christie

Posted by: cgross1 | March 2, 2012

New Machines!

Well, we finally have our new machines from the United States African Development Foundation – actually, we received them in December. However, I am happy to report that they are finally hooked up and running! It’s amazing how much more efficient and how much quieter electric machines are compared to gas generator-run machines!

Now we have three shea roasters instead of just one, we have a new grinder and paste maker (electric), and a new machine that mixes/beats the butter mechanically so the women don’t have to do so much by hand! They will be able to do these machines for years to come, and hopefully it will make their lives easier, and the association more productive.

I am also getting ready to do a world map project with my women – this will be a truly educational experience for them I believe – I think that they will really appreciate and enjoy having a world map at the association for reference and study. It is going to be a lot of work, but hopefully it will be finished by the end of March!

Until next time.

Christie

Posted by: cgross1 | February 12, 2012

Shea Production Season

Hi everyone!

It’s been a while since I posted – largely due to the fact that things have been so busy here! It’s production season, and has been since the beginning of November. So far my women have produced 40 tons of shea butter, and we have another 20 tons of shea nuts waiting to be made! All in all, a very productive time for my women!

I have been working with the president of the association to make some changes to the way shea butter is produced. Recently, with the help of funding from the United States African Development Foundation, we were able to purchase multiple machines that run an electric generator. This is a big step up from the machines we have now that run on manpower or a gas generator. We were able to procure filters, roasters, grinding machines, and even a machine that will mix/beat the shea butter so that the women don’t have to exhaust themselves doing it by hand. The women were very excited to see these new machines – they have yet to be used, but hopefully they will be hooked up and fully in use for the next production season.

Soap production continues – finding a packaging option that looks good enough for export has been a challenge, but I am sure that in the following year we will be able to come up with something that can be shipped to Europe, and eventually the US.

Projects planned with my women for the following three months (before they head out into the fields to cultivate) include a world map project (painting a huge world map on a wall at the association for education purposes), malaria awareness campaigns, hand washing stations (and other hygienic initiatives), and nutrition awareness campaigns. It’s hard to believe that I have only nine months remaining to fit in all of these projects before I head home!

Please check out the shea butter gallery for more/updated pics of my women working with shea butter.

Until next time,

Christie

Posted by: cgross1 | October 26, 2011

Harvest and Shea Production Season Prep

So my one year in country mark has come and gone, and it’s so odd to think that I only have one year left here! Most of the time it doesn’t seem like it has been anywhere near to that long, though sometimes it does…but not too often.

People here have been harvesting for the last two weeks or so, and the harvest is almost complete! The families in my courtyard have been stockpiling corn, benga (beans), millet (to make flour), and peanuts! Yum yum!

In other news, my association has been hard at work buying shea nuts and shea butter for this coming production season, which will be starting next month. The process is actually very involved, due to the fact that my association is biologically certified by ECOCERT. When they buy shea nuts, they record the names of the women who bring the nuts, how many kilos and sacks of shea nuts they sell to us, the parcel of land from which the shea nuts were collected, the location/village of that parcel, and the quality of the shea nuts. They then use this information to compare parcels of land over several years to find which parcels have larger yields and higher quality shea nuts. They can then use this to know where improvement in the trees is needed. It is actually very sophisticated for Burkina business.

We also have many new buildings thanks to a Spanish NGO that built us new dormatories with running water and real toilets so that we can host other associations when we do shea formations for them. We are also in the process of building a second center much nearer to my house in village, a smaller production site. This is in order to create more jobs for village women and increase the possible production yield of my association. They are really moving and shaking!

I have been busy making contacts and tracking down potential clients for my association. So far much of the the interest in our product seems to be from the European market, but I am hoping in this coming year to get into the American market as well. Fingers crossed!

Anyway, all is well here, and I hope that all is going well in the US. Only two months until 2012 is upon us!

I hope everyone stays healthy and safe!

Until next time,

Christie

Posted by: cgross1 | September 29, 2011

50th Anniversary Fair

So this is the 50th year Peace Corps has been…alive, and to celebrate, all the volunteers in Burkina Faso put together and hosted a three day fair for the Burkinabe people!

It was a ton of fun, and a ton of work, but it went well, despite torrential rains, tent-destroying winds, and blazing sun! I was able to come with my association and sell shea butter, soap, and cream, not only to other volunteers, but to other interested Burkinabe. The fair was a great way to see what other volunteers have been working on in their respective villages.

In addition to having associations exhibiting their wares, there were also sensibilizations on everything from health and hygiene to making moringa (local tree high in vitamens) donuts!

The fair was kicked off by the swearing in of nearly 50 new volunteers, with the Premiere Minister of Burkina Faso in attendance, and was closed by the First Lady of Burkina Faso three days later. I was able to shake hands with the First Lady – she is a very kind and sweet woman, and seemed very excited about what the volunteers have been doing in our villages.

There was also a concert done by local Burkina Faso pop star Floby, who composed and performed a song expressing the thanks of the Burkinabe people for what Peace Corps has done during our time here in this country. I am posting links below to videos of the fair and to the Floby song.

Peace Corps Burkina Faso 50th Anniversary Fair (I’m in this one!)

Floby Performance – Peace Corps Burkina Faso

Now I am going into training to learn how to train incoming…uh…trainees, who will be arriving in October. Then back to site for shea production season! Things are finally picking up and getting busy again, which is rather nice after the slow-pace of rainy season. Or…not-so-rainy season, this year. However, people here seem happy and hopeful that the harvest will be a good one, so keep your fingers crossed!

Anyways, I hope that everyone is having an awesome school year – it is amazing how much time has passed. I will have been in country for one year in two weeks! How time flies! I hope to see everyone again soon!

Until next time,

Christie

Posted by: cgross1 | August 31, 2011

Rainy Season and Field Work!

So rainy season has finally descended upon us – after much bated breath on behalf of the locals, who have been worried for their crops – but the fields have been planted, and the corn is now taller than me, and producing ears, which is awesome! Since the women are not producing shea butter now, I have been working in the fields with the families in my courtyard, who are cultivating crops around our houses. I’m not sure how much good I am actually doing – mostly just trying not to kill anything…but everything is so green now! I need to take some pictures of my village now, because it looks completely different than during winter!

In other news, a dog in my courtyard had puppies, and they are so tiny and cute! I need to whip out my camera when I get back to my site…but they are so adorable! There are three brown/white ones and one pure white one.

Other than that, still working with soap packaging – we are hoping to show off our new products at the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Fair here in Burkina at the end of September. It will be a perfect opportunity for some in-country marketing of our products!

I hope everyone is doing well, and enjoying a new school year – it’ll be over again before we know it! I hope everyone has a wonderful rest of 2011!

Until next time,

Christie

Posted by: cgross1 | July 31, 2011

Back From The US!

I just got back from two weeks in the U.S. which was awesome, and the perfect break, except for the four days of straight travel, which were rather taxing. But I am happy to be back, though I will continue to miss the awesome food and being with my family. But on an exciting note – only two months until I will have been here one year! I only have a little over a year left until I will be able to come home for good. I feel like I have so much to do before then!

An update on my association – we have been working on soaps – or we were before I left for the states. We have new packaging, one retail package for larger stores that want to buy in bulk, and an artisan-like package for tourists and organic-like stores and boutiques. We are currently trying to partner up with an association of women here in the capital who make recycled artisan paper. Hopefully we should have a complete packaging/marketing system set up by the end of the year for our new soaps. The soaps that we have now are: honey, green clay, neem (an insect repelling plant), and aloe vera with lemon. Hopefully we will be expanding this a bit, but for now we are working on perfecting these soaps!

The association would also like to start making creams at some point, after we have got our soaps ready to go. I think that it will be beneficial for them to have their own product line, as they can sell both these products as well as their shea butter.

Anyways, I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the summer! Summer here is actually a lot cooler than the spring, so I am enjoying it fully!

Until next time,

Christie

Posted by: cgross1 | June 16, 2011

Tiny Sweet Avocados!

Yes, so I have finally discovered shea fruit. It is officially the start of shea fruit season here, with the onset of rainy season, which is apparently late. It was supposed to start at the beginning of June, but is just starting to get going now. Anyways, I have discovered that shea fruits are basically tiny sweet avocados. They look like tiny avocados, and they taste like avocados, only sweeter. You could totally make a shea fruit guacamole!! The only difference is that you save the pits, boil them, dry them, crack them open, collect the inside and stockpile them, and then sell them for lots of francs in September-November!!

With the onset of rainy season, most of my women have taken to the fields to cultivate their food and source of money for the next year. Therefore, I am spending the summer working on getting their accounting books in order for next season, starting to order new materials that they will need for the next production season, and on launching a large scale soap making operation, which looks very promising. Look for soap samples when I come home in July! We are experimenting with about ten different kinds of soap, looking for the best formulas. We have some orders already, and hope to be working toward some business in the US!! Very exciting!

Anyways, new photos in the gallery of neem cream and shea fruit. Check them out!!

Until next time,

Christie

Posted by: cgross1 | June 1, 2011

Neem Cream!

Well, I was able to go back to my site for a short while before coming back out for an IT Committee meeting (gotta keep my IT skills up to par!), but while I was at site I tried to maximize my time and had a neem cream formation with my women.

Neem is a local tree that works as an insect repellent and natural pesticide. You can make a cream by boiling the leaves in water, then adding shea butter and soap. You then let the cream harden and form up a bit, and voila! Instant insect repellent, perfect for the upcoming rainy season to keep away those pesky malaria-carrying mosquitoes!

The women were really excited to make it – they like experimenting with new things like bouille, neem cream, pretty much anything that they can make and sell at the market. This activity is really good for generating funds within women’s groups. I am looking forward to doing some more fun projects with them when I get back to site again!

It is a little sad to note that mango season will be coming to a close – by the end of June, I think. I have noticed that the mangoes in my village are getting progressively smaller. So sad! What will I do without my mangoes? I think on average I eat 20-ish mangoes a week, one for breakfast, and two for dinner. I will have to find another fruit to hold me over until watermelon season in October/November!

I hope that everything is going well in the states, and I will see you all soon!

Until next time,

Christie

Posted by: cgross1 | May 18, 2011

Inservice Training and Incoming Trainees!

Over the past two weeks I have had inservice training, so I have been having classes on technical skills and more involved project planning. I was able to sit down with one of the officers from my association and talk through our large project plan of creating a new product line of soaps and pomades (lotions/creams). This project will be a rather large undertaking, as we are essentially starting from scratch to create a new product line, which includes doing market research, marketing, and experimenting with product formulas to find the best ones. Hopefully now that we have done the project plan, we can take everything one step at a time.

I am also looking forward to getting back to site so that I can start my girls’ club, which I have been excited to do. I will choose a select group of girls at the local high school, and will form a club that covers different topics such as English lessons, life skills, family planning, and whatever else they would like to learn. It will be a great opportunity to learn from the girls in my village as well!

In other news, a new stage of trainees will be coming in the next month – it’s so weird to think that we will no longer be the new kids on the block! The new trainees will be agriculture volunteers when they swear in in two months after their arrival. It’s so odd to think that I have already hit the seven month mark, and am steadily marching onward toward the eight month mark!

I am very excited to be coming home in less than two months now! It will be amazing to have some basic amenities like running water and electricity! It’s funny, because I don’t particularly mind not having them at site, but on the rare occasion that I do have them, like during inservice training, I appreciate them all the more!

Anyway, I will see you all soon!

Until next time,

Christie

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