Sustainable Agricultural Systems Agent

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Project Description

Each morning you wake up in Benin, you'll find a day full of infinite possibilities. Perhaps you'll finish your coffee surrounded by women in a Village Savings and Loans meeting. For lunch, you might meet your work partner to discuss plans for the rabbit raising training you'll be facilitating, over rice, soy cheese, and pepper sauce. Maybe today is the day of your business club. You'll bike to the high school, passing neighbors who call out greetings in local language as you pass by. If it's cool in the evening, a trail of neighborhood children may follow you to the garden and help water and weed. Endless possibilities await those interested in food security, cultural integration, and adventure. If that's you, apply to be a Sustainable Agricultural Systems (SAS) Volunteer for Peace Corps Benin today!

Project Description
Volunteers assigned to the Sustainable Agricultural Systems (SAS) program, work with their communities to increase food security by ensuring households have enough nutrient-rich foods to eat throughout the year, have sufficient income to access available food, and the economic stability and resilience to achieve long-term food security.

This will be achieved by the following four objectives:

1: Increase productivity and diversity of household food production;
2: Increase households’ consumption of nutrient-rich foods;
3: Increase households’ income through agriculture-based income generating activities (IGAs);
4: Increase households’ capacity for personal money management.

You will work with a combination of local partners: local associations and producers, women’s groups, secondary schools, and non-governmental organizations. You be assigned a local counterpart and have a supervisor, who may also serve as a local government official, the director of an NGO or association, or a leader from the community. It is important to know that at the rural level, organizations do not always have a well-established structure. Volunteers will also work with their organizations to improve their management. Your cultural sensitivity and resilience will be key to your success!

We will provide training to enable you to work effectively in your community, and will show you how to translate your existing skills to be an effective Volunteer in Benin. This work requires personal motivation, dedication, and resiliency to meet the needs of your community and accomplish your sector’s goals. You will receive training in both business and agricultural extension to make you an effective change agent, no matter your background.

To achieve project goals, SAS Volunteers work with their communities in the following activities:

• Promoting best agricultural practices and improved garden production techniques;
• Encouraging diverse food transformation techniques to increase the value to and income earned from harvested crops;
• Coaching women’s groups on entrepreneurship and creating youth clubs;
• Working with individuals and community groups to conduct feasibility studies, business plans, project design and management, savings and credit schemes (Village Savings & Loan Associations - VSLA), and yearly budgets;
• Organizing cooking demonstrations for women of reproductive age to improve infant nutrition and the merits of a diversified diet;
• Installing community and school gardens.

PC Benin Volunteers promote gender awareness and girls’ education and empowerment in all of their activities. Gender initiatives you might implement will be camps, clubs, and sports teams. You will receive training on gender challenges in Benin and you will have the opportunity to implement gender-related activities. During your service, you will look for ways to work with community members to promote gender-equitable norms and increase girls’ sense of empowerment.

Required Skills

Qualified candidates will have an expressed interest in working in agriculture and one or more of the following criteria:
• Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree in any field
OR
• 5 years' professional work experience

In order to address both food security and increased financial security in their communities, the SAS project seeks candidates that have either, or both, agricultural or business-related skills. You will learn how to effectively use your skills and be open to learning the other aspects of food security for which you may not be familiar. Your flexibility and resiliency will be key to your success.

Desired Skills

Competitive candidates will have one or more of the following:
• Basic skills and/or interest in business management, entrepreneurship, marketing and accounting.
• Experience and/or interest in vegetable gardening, nursery work/management, tree planting, small animal husbandry.
• Experience in program management and leadership.
• Experience working with youth is an asset.
Demonstrate flexibility to address community needs in structured and unstructured settings.

Required Language Skills

Candidates must meet one or more of the language requirements below in order to be considered for this position.

A. Completed 4 years of high school coursework within the past 8 years in a Romance language

B. Completed a minimum of 2 semesters of college level coursework within the past 6 years in a Romance language

C. Native/Fluent Romance language speaker

Candidates with no French should either have a willingness to take a French course or commitment to self-study prior to departure.

French is used as the official language in the Beninese governmental system. There are several local languages including: Fon, Mina, Adja, Bariba, Yoruba, and Dendi, to name a few.

Upon arrival, you will be tested on your ability in spoken French for language class placement. At the completion of Pre-Service Training, you will be required to reach a proficiency level of Intermediate High. If you are an experienced French speaker and test at a higher level from the beginning of PST, you will begin learning Fon, a local language widely spoken in Benin. At your assigned site, you are strongly encouraged to learn the local language spoken (this may or may not be Fon). Peace Corps will provide you with resources (suggesting a local language tutor and fee reimbursement) for your continued language learning for your first year of service.

Language is key for smooth community integration. Volunteers in the SAS program must have a good base in French, and then also learn the local language that is largely used in your community. Peace Corps will provide resources for ongoing language learning especially for local language. Your assigned counterpart will speak French, however your target groups (women’s groups, etc.) may not speak French at all and so your commitment to learning French and local language is key.

Candidates with no or low-level French language skills, should take a French course or make a commitment to self‐study prior to departure in order to prepare yourself for living and working in Benin. There are numerous free on-line resources available.

Living Conditions

Housing
Volunteers in Benin are assigned to sites in semi-urban centers, rural towns, and villages. Housing is provided by the host organization and may vary in size and amenities. Houses are normally located in a compound with other families. A typical house for a Volunteer will have one main room, a bedroom, kitchen area, and a private shower and latrine. In more rural areas, you will may not have running water or electricity.

Diet
Access to Western foods may be very limited and Volunteers have to adapt their diet to local foods such as rice or "pâte" (a stiff porridge made from corn, sorghum, millet or yams) with various leaf sauces, local vegetables such as okra, eggplant, tomatoes and various kinds of meat. Other protein sources are local cheese and soy products. Couscous, pasta, and bread are readily available staples. Access to fruits, vegetables, and proteins will also vary by region and season.

Transport
Many of the roads and means of public transportation are in poor condition. Rural travel is mostly by local taxi or motorbikes used as taxis. Peace Corps provides training on how to safely ride a motorbike as a passenger. Along with walking, Peace Corps also provides Volunteers with a mountain bike, which may be the principal means of transportation around your work zone. Since this may require considerable physical exertion on the part of the Volunteer, you should be in reasonably good shape or at least willing to improve your physical fitness to meet this work demand.

Connectivity
Volunteers are strongly encouraged to bring a laptop which will enable you to complete required assignments off-line and upload them at a later date. Having a laptop will facilitate successful participation in training. Tablets, Chromebooks, and smart phones are not an effective alternative. There are regional workstations with computers and Wi-Fi access.

Attire/Dress
Beninese people dress well and tailored outfits is common in both men and women. Appearance plays a large role in integrating into a community. Long pants, blouses/shirts, skirts (below the knee) and dresses are appropriate attire for work. Particularly in the north where there is a sizable Muslim population, dress is very conservative. If dress is inappropriate (shorts, halters, short skirts, form fitting blouses or low-cut blouses, spaghetti straps, dirty or torn clothing), it will be difficult to find acceptance in the community. Dressing appropriately will help you gain respect in your host community, facilitate integration, increase your credibility and effectiveness, and decrease unwanted attention. It is advised to take cues from your Beninese colleagues, and dress to their standards of professionalism. Sturdy sandals are a must.

Religion
There are two main religions in Benin: Islam in the north and Christianity in the south. Religious tolerance is respected in Benin and religious differences are not an issue. The cultural practice of Voodoo is common throughout the country and many Beninese maintain a strong belief in both Voodoo and another major religion. Benin is known as the “home of Voodoo” and many perceptions of this religion have been skewed by Hollywood and cultural misunderstandings.

LGBTQ
Although same-sex sexual relations for both men and women are not explicitly illegal in Benin, people in the LGBTQ community continue to face widespread persecution and are rarely open about their sexuality. Most LGBTQ PCVs live a dual life in Benin. If a LGBTQ PCV chooses to be in a romantic relationship, it will almost always be with another LGBTQ PCV, an expatriate, or someone from the urban areas who is already “out”. Volunteers will also need to be mindful of cultural norms and use their best judgment to determine how to approach topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity in their communities. Staff and PCVs will address this during pre-service training, and identify support mechanisms.

Learn more about the Volunteer experience in Benin: Get detailed information on culture, communications, housing, and safety — including crime statistics [PDF] — in order to make a well-informed decision about serving.

Couples Information

Benin is happy to accept couples, but can only accommodate couples in different sector programs. Your partner must qualify and apply for:

TEFL Teacher
Health Extension Volunteer

Couples will train in separate locations during PST and live with separate homestays. Couples will see each other once a week during CORE days (joint-sector training days) where all trainees will receive full group sessions.

Once in-service at permanent site, couples live in the same accommodation and will work in the same community.

Going through the Peace Corps experience as a couple allows for ample growth in trust, confidence, and communication. There will be times when you will both need each other’s support. Understand that you will need to put in an extra effort to be an ally to your partner. Although you will not be able to completely eradicate many of these challenges, they can be coped with and overcome with time, patience, and a most importantly a good sense of humor.

Medical Considerations in Benin

  • Benin may not be able to support Volunteers with the following medical conditions: asthma, including mild or childhood; dermatology; gastroenterology; some types of gynecologic support; insulin-dependent diabetes; mammography; requiring a psychiatrist for psychotropic medications support; seizure disorder; ongoing counseling.
  • The following medication(s) are not permitted for legal or cultural reasons: none identified
  • Volunteers who should avoid the following food(s) may not be able to serve:  gluten, peanuts, and shellfish. 
  • After arrival in Benin, Peace Corps provides and applicants are required to have an annual flu shot, to take daily or weekly medication to prevent malaria, and to receive mandatory immunizations.

Before you apply, please review Medical Information for Applicants to learn about the clearance process and other health conditions that are difficult to accommodate in Peace Corps service.


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