Togo Togo, Ching Ching: Beyond the Data Points

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M&E. Developing proper tools of evaluation. Measuring impact. Epidemiology. Stats and data collection. Using GIS to see the trends.

We live in a data driven world, and in development data is the new king. I have a tendency to think of data collection, periodic project evaluation, etc as the necessary homework of development work. It’s in my nature. I like numbers. I like when a +b=c, things line up and the dots are connected making pretty pictures painted in numbers. I get a kick out of seeing projects implemented which address specific baseline information, and then being able to quantify or qualify a specific outcome. It’s like a magic elixer for my brain.

But trips to Togo do not always lend to these ideals. I have been in Togo for a couple months now, and waiting has been the main game. Paperwork can take a while here. It is not unexpected for an application for anything to take at least a couple months, and processing times are further slowed by documents needing to be physically sent from person to person with antiquated courier systems.

Now about this time, I’m betting that you, the reader, think I’m going to go into a negative tirade. Wrong. All this waiting has reminded me of one of the most important lessons of being abroad. The impact on the individual is nearly, if not impossible, to fully measure and quantify. Yes, I can count how many people know how malaria is transmitted, if babies are fed breast milk exclusively for 6 months or not, but one cannot count or fully understand the impact of research or a project without accounting for the human factor as well.

During this time of waiting, I have had the chance to meet some amazing doctors who are motivated to make positive changes in health care access, availability and quality, even when they are faced so many seemingly insurmountable barriers. There are the doctors who could leave for Europe at the drop of a hat, but instead choose to remain in Togo in order to help their own country progress. I have met people in various offices who are willing to take the time to explain types of letters and forms when I am confused by the French system, or those who have walked me from office to office to make sure everything is in order with the right people. There are young people brimming with talent and passion and ready to work as hard as they can. Those people make me feel excited to be here, like you are on the brink of something about ready to tip in the direction of massive positive change and local empowerment.

Beyond these new friends and mentors, I had the chance to go back to the village where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer. While there I was greeting with hugs, kisses, tears, smiles, saluers (formal greetings) about the duration of time since I’ve left, an unimaginable quantity of fufu and la pate (local corn paste dish) with every sauce under the sun, and the warm feelings of reconnecting with old friends and “family.” This visit to village reminded me of the fact that the data may tell one story, but that may not be the story that is most important. I will never be able to measure the impact of carrying Paul on my back around village for 2 years, the impact of sharing meals with families across the village, going to the river to fetch water or of just listening for hours over a calabash of tchouk while people have a conversation in languages I do not understand. But these are all parts of “the experience” of being abroad.

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The Affairs Sociale, and my previous Peace Corps homologue with his children.

As I reflect on this trip, I think about this silent impact, and also the silent impact Togo has had on me. I hope to carry these reflections with me into the future, remembering that although I may love being able to have a solid set of statistics, the real value of those statistics is that they represent individual people. It is for the people, not the numbers, that I want to continue to work internationally.

So as we say in Togo over a cold beverage, “ching ching” – to the people behind the numbers.

-Lauren Falk

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