Orange County Resident Leads Empowerment Program for Girls in Togo

January 9, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 9, 2009 - Natalie Best of Villa Park, Calif., a recently-returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Togo, made a difference in her Togolese community this September by initiating "Take Our Daughters to Work Week," with funding from the Peace Corps Partnership Program. The project successfully addressed gender and development issues in the Plateaux Region of the West African country.

"The Peace Corps Partnership Program is an incredible resource for Volunteers," said Peace Corps Director Ronald A. Tschetter. "It gives Volunteers like Natalie a mechanism to work with community members in their country of service to identify local development needs, then raise funds and find creative ways to meet those needs. It also allows Natalie's family, friends, and community a way to connect in a meaningful way with people in Togo she is serving."

Best developed the project in working with local community members who established gender awareness as an important developmental issue in their community. The project brought thirty girls in middle and high school together for six days in the regional capital, where they were introduced to successful Togolese women, including a paralegal, a referee/athlete, a midwife, a pediatrician, a professor, and a university student.

These successful women encouraged the girls to continue their schooling, and to stop limiting themselves based on their gender. In one poignant session, girls buried the phrase "I cannot," pledging to believe in themselves and their potential for future success.

Over the course of the week, the girls also attended sessions that addressed issues such as gender equality, the importance of education, self confidence, nutrition, women's rights, HIV/AIDS, and future planning.

"I would say the best part of the project was watching the girls speak up during the week to ask questions and share personal stories," Best said. "I also greatly appreciated our outstanding Togolese teachers and speakers who were chosen based on their active participation in society, self-motivation, and specifically for their support towards girls' education and gender equity. They took initiative to continually lead the sessions with energy, and showed a strong passion for what they were teaching."

The project was funded through the Peace Corps Partnership Program, a program that allows individuals or groups to donate funds to specific Peace Corps projects. Rather than simply giving money to communities, the Peace Corps Partnership Program works to create true partnerships between donors and the communities Peace Corps Volunteers serve. In order to receive funding through the program, a community must make a 25 percent contribution to the total project cost, as well as outline "success indicators" for the project. This helps to ensure community buy-in, a greater chance of long-term sustainability and, ultimately, the success of the project.

Whether a project provides microfinance funds to women in Benin, creates a computer lab in Costa Rica, or establishes a job training center in Ukraine, one-hundred percent of every tax-deductible donation goes toward the development project. To see other projects currently in need of funds, visit www.peacecorps.gov/contribute.

As the Peace Corps approaches its 50th anniversary, its service legacy continues to promote peace and friendship around the world. Historically, over 195,000 Volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 139 countries in which they have served. Applications to serve in the Peace Corps have increased 16 percent this past year, the largest boost in the last 5 years. Currently, 7,876 Peace Corps Volunteers are serving in 76 countries. Peace Corps Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.

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