A Memoir of a Journey from a Farming Village in Togo to Study in the U.S. And a Tribute to a Father Who Was Orphaned Before the Age of Two.From Orphan to Greatness tells the story of Pierre Komi T. Adade and his father. see more
From Orphan to Greatness
An African Story
By Pierre Komi T. Adade
“All his life, my father has done everything he could to help his children succeed,” writes Pierre Komi T. Adade. “As he likes to tell us, ‘My main goal in life is to help you succeed whatever the cost so you won’t have to suffer the way I did. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have someone help me.’ Yes, indeed, his life story has been full of tough experiences that bring him to tears whenever he talks about them. My father lost both his parents before the age of two. Thankfully, he was blessed by several miracles that saw him through those hard times.”
And so when Adade calls his memoir From Orphan to Greatness, he is first and foremost telling the story of his father. As for Adade’s own journey: It was the Peace Corps that led Volunteer Tom Buchanan “to my small farming village of Agadji in Togo, West Africa, in 1981,” Adade writes. “This young American sponsored me into the United States in June 1989, a fulfillment in itself of my father’s secretly held dream to see one of his children educated in an English-speaking country, better yet in the United States of America. Education has always been very important to my father because he was denied that opportunity due to being an orphan at a very young age. He wished to attend school and become a lawyer or doctor, but instead, he was forced to become a farmer and eventually one of the best-known coffee growers in Togo.”
As Adade also tells, a decade later he was able to invite his father for a visit to the U.S. — and enroll him at a local college. Adade’s parents’ commitment to family has been instrumental to him. Which is why he has written a biography of them as well as a recounting of his own story.
This review appears in the special 2022 Books Edition of WorldView magazine.
Meredith Pike-Baky writes on her time teaching English and living in Togo in the early 1970s. see more
Tales of Togo
A Young Woman’s Search for Home in West Africa
By Meredith Pike-Baky
Peace Corps Writers
Reviewed by Bill Preston
This candid and heartfelt memoir chronicles the twists and turns, the ups and downs, and the sometimes sideways arc of Meredith Pike-Baky’s time teaching English and living in Togo in the early 1970s. Eager to escape political turmoil in the U.S., she finds in Togo a nation “in the beginning stages of delayed independence, having declared an end to French rule a decade earlier ... on the threshold of a new era, a heady, hopeful time for both of us.”
During training in Lomé, she aspires to get “so good at French and the local languages that people wouldn’t know I was American.” She learns some humility, too — and discovers one can never completely adopt another culture as one’s own, certainly not in the short space of two years. Teaching at Collège Adèle, a Catholic secondary school for girls in the north of Togo, she enriches the curriculum with songs, games, visual aids, projects, and field trips, making English come alive for her students.
“My Togolese friends taught me the magic of storytelling in order to teach, to learn, to share."
One insight she gains: “I’d seen the universe in my small West African community. Differences were not obstacles to respect and affection.” Another, she says, is recognizing that “home wasn’t a place, a certain kind of family, a fixed professional role, or an established and protective ring of friends. It had to be a gentle urgency and quiet confidence in my seeking — trusting that each choice, despite the inevitable waves of distress, anxiety, and exclusion, would carry me forward to a sense, no matter how fleeting, of home.” And perhaps most important of all: “My Togolese friends taught me the magic of storytelling in order to teach, to learn, to share."
This review appears in the special 2022 Books Edition of WorldView magazine.
Bill Preston served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand 1977–80. This review is adapted from one originally published by Peace Corps Worldwide.
- Lynn Armstrong likes this.
Diversity is only a demographic concept, with an emphasis on numbers see more
Part of the discussion on “Building a Community of Black RPCVs: Recruitment Challenges and Opportunities”
Photo courtesy Hermence Matsotsa-Cross
By Hermence Matsotsa-Cross
Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo 1999–2001 | Founder and CEO of Ubuntu Speaks
Below are edited excerpts. Watch the full program here.
My father was a Volunteer in Gabon in the early ’70s, where he met my mother, a Gabonese woman from one village he worked in. So I’m very much the product of Peace Corps. Growing up, I always heard Peace Corps stories; more important was the idea of volunteerism, how important that was, and working with other people to achieve goals.
I wanted to do Peace Corps after high school. My father reminded me that I had to go to college first. When I got to college, I realized that as a kinesthetic learner, four years of sitting in class was too painful. I took a year off to work with an international development organization as a reforestation volunteer in Ecuador.
My senior year I put in my application. They told me I would be going to Uzbekistan. After speaking to my father and the Peace Corps, I said, “Is there a way that I can go back to Africa?” They sent me to Togo, where I became a girl’s education empowerment Volunteer — one of only three African American volunteers in a group of 40-plus.
Training was painful; I knew I stood out because I was Black. I wanted to stand out because I was passionate about the work and being willing to learn from others. Oftentimes, it was, “You can’t be a Volunteer — you’re Black … You’re African, so you can’t go with them.” On a daily basis, I felt excluded. I felt as though Peace Corps was not supporting me. When one of the three Black Americans decided to leave during training, I was heartbroken.
Peace Corps is very much about bringing Americans to a place where they will be challenged, forced to shed misconceptions and acquire a level of cultural intelligence and cultural communication to work with people who are different.
Black Volunteers and Volunteers who are people of color are forced — to a level that white Peace Corps Volunteers may not feel — to describe the diversity that exists in the United States. Not only Volunteers but also staff did not know the history, diversity, and richness that exists within our country that makes us all Americans; therefore it was difficult for them to support us.
I realized that inclusion was essential for me to be able to do my work. I was embraced for being honest about what I didn’t know, about what I wanted to learn. Peace Corps is very much about bringing Americans to a place where they will be challenged, forced to shed misconceptions and acquire a level of cultural intelligence and cultural communication to work with people who are different.
Some ways Peace Corps can help facilitate that understanding is to be honest about what the experience may be, pre-departure: difficulties, challenges — the fact that Peace Corps staff often don’t know how to treat you or communicate with you. There needs to be mentorship for Volunteers, pre-departure and throughout service. The goal is for you to finish your experience and not come home bitter, but feeling this experience is like no other — and that you left footprints in this world to make it a better place.
Diversity is only a demographic concept — this idea that, the more numbers you have, you can say, “We’re diverse.” The effort starts at belonging.
Peace Corps can be a great model for other international organizations seeking to implement the sense of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging — and showcase to the world that we can be one in the sense that “one” means being able to see each other for who we are, and to love and respect each other for that. Diversity is only a demographic concept — this idea that, the more numbers you have, you can say, “We’re diverse.” The effort starts at belonging. There will be more people of color, more African Americans, willing to be part of Peace Corps, or any institution, if they feel they belong.
These remarks were delivered on September 14, 2021, as part of “Strategies for Increasing African American Inclusion in the Peace Corps and International Careers,” a series of conversations hosted by the Constituency for Africa and sponsored by National Peace Corps Association. They appear in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine. Story updated January 19, 2022.
Hermence Matsotsa-Cross leads work incorporating the South African philosophy of Ubuntu human interconnectedness. Her organization has led projects with private and nonprofit organizations, global health and federal, state and community development programs, including the Peace Corps, CDC, and World Health Organization.
Steven Saum posted an articleIn Togo they say, How are you? How's the family? Hows' your courage? They keep asking. They care. see more
Togo | Sarah Bair
Home: Bethesda, Maryland
The village of Alibi II is in the center of the country. “It’s basically the Muslim capital of Togo,” Sarah Bair says. Working with a clinic, she focused on maternal and child health, serving some 3,000 people.
“I went to mosque every Friday. I learned a lot about religion and how that affects health — and how to be conscious about health education through religion.” For attending mosque, she wore a headscarf; walking to work, not necessarily. That led to conversations with people in the village about personal choice.
She coached two girls’ soccer teams, practiced twice a week. “One practice I would use for a health talk — washing hands, nutritional eating, setting goals for a healthy lifestyle.”
Before praying five times a day, one should perform ablutions. “Because of that, and everyone having outdoor showers and no one having indoor running water, there would be a lot of standing water between houses and compounds,” Bair says. “Standing water leads to flies, which leads to many diseases — such as a diarrheal diseases.”
Solution: dig a hole by the shower, fill it with rocks and sand, create a way for te water to filter into the ground. Bair worked with a counterpart to get people to construct more than 100 of those in the village. Her job wasn’t to dig; it was to build buy-in.
Then came a phone call at 4 a.m. on Monday, March 16. A friend saying check your email. She had two days to say goodbye.
“Reina — my dearest friend in village and arguably the strongest woman I know,” says Sarah Bair. “There are many obstacles women face in Togo including working multiple jobs while also expected to always cook, clean etc. On top of all of this, Reina raises her three kids alone as her husband is working in another country. With the little time she has left to offer, she spends it helping me with health talks and projects in village. The world is a better place because of compassionate women like her!“
She left her cat and the projects and deep friendships, and she knew she’d be carrying the weight of sadness in the leaving — not just for her sake, but also because she’s aware of the fact that Peace Corps hasn’t left Togo since the program was established in 1962.
She wished she’d had the chance to educate her village on coronavirus and imminent health issues. There wasn’t time. She did say this at the clinic: “Remember that health talk we did on washing hands? We really need to reinforce that.”
She didn’t expect that when she told her host family father — also the head of the neighborhood, “a very serious Muslim man” — he began sobbing. Seeing his genuine sadness and the sadness of others was heartbreaking.
“In Togo they say, ‘How are you? How’s the family? How’s your job? How’s the house? How’s your courage?’ They keep asking. They care.”
Before she left, there was one small thing that a friend insisted on. In Western Africa, many countries have a tradition of protection scars — like a tattoo, where they break a bit of skin but the color wears off in a few months. Bair had been talking about getting one on her foot. “We’ll get it for you now,” her friend said. “We need to protect you before you go where coronavirus is worse.”
She plans to train as an EMT. In August, she began graduate work in public health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. She keeps in touch with friends in Togo via WhatsApp, “Which makes me both happy and sad,” she says. “They’re always most concerned about how I am. In Togo they say, ‘How are you? How’s the family? How’s your job? How’s the house? How’s your courage?’ They keep asking. They care.”
—Steven Boyd Saum
Togo | Ryan Blackwell
Home: Washington, D.C. Area
Medo gbe lo! ŋkɔnye nye Ryan Blackwell alo Kɔkuvi. Wodzim Kuɖagbe. That’s Ewe, a language widely spoken in southern Togo. Translation: “My name is Ryan Blackwell or Kokouvi” — which is what I was known as in my community. It means that I was born on a Wednesday.
I just got back from serving for almost three years as an English and gender education volunteer in Togo. I also worked a bit with Pathways Togo, a Peace Corps-affiliated organization that provides full scholarships all the way through university for outstanding female students.
Peace Corps Togo staff — Togolese and Americans — are doing incredible work, especially supporting Togo’s education system and girls’ education in the country.
A thousand words: 8th-grade English students show off the monsters that they drew and described to celebrate Halloween in Adeta, Togo. Photo by Ryan Blackwell
I had to leave my colleagues, my friends, my neighbors, and my students. I’ve never felt that connected to a community in my life.
In terms of unfinished business: We need to get the Peace Corps opened up again as soon as possible. Peace Corps Togo staff — Togolese and Americans — are doing incredible work, especially supporting Togo’s education system and girls’ education in the country. I can’t really put into words how grateful I am for being able to be a part of the Peace Corps and being able to work there.
This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Summer 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:
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