I write a lot about Peace Corps in this blog, ranging from my own emotional experiences to the mind-numbing details of our conferences and trainings. I try not to bore you with the mundane minutea of my day-to-day life, but recently someone asked me, “So, what exactly is your job over there?” Good question.
As you have probably gathered, I am a RAP volunteer, or a Rural Aquaculture Project volunteer. RAP volunteers are some of the last of our kind, as aquaculture programs have slowly been phased out across much of Peace Corp. But, here in Zambia aquaculture is still going strong (and expanding), so my daily tasks revolve around one of my great loves in life: fish.
The RAP program (redundant, I know) focuses on a few main goals:
1. Construction and maintainence of new ponds
2. Renovation and maintainence of existing ponds
3. Establishment of fish farming groups and cooperatives (because two heads are better than one)
4. Establishment of fingerling production centers (locally produced fingerlings instead of buying them from large commercial centers)
5. Establishment of fish food production projects
6. Development of local markets and business skills
7. Training farmers to be proficient at all of these skills
Within each of these goals are a myriad of objectives and initiatives and other monitoring and reporting terms that, should I go into any further detail, would make your brain leak out of your ears with boredom. So, in the spirit of preventing internal hemmorhaging, let’s talk about what these goals really mean. In essence, what is it I do everyday that helps Peace Corps accomplish these goals?
Enter Exhibit A:
I spend a lot of time visiting farmers, looking at their ponds, and, slowly and methodically through heinously butchered Mambwe, explaining what techniques and changes they could use to make their ponds more productive, expand their operation, or refine their current projects. I also hold a lot of meetings.
Sometimes people just come to see the muzungu with the weird hair attempt their language, but sometimes people really do want to learn more about how fish farming can help them diversify their lifestyle. So, I tell them all about how fish farming can help improve their personal and local food security. I explain at length the process of getting started, and how easy ponds can be to manage if you spent just 30 minutes a day on management (post digging, of course). I elaborate laboriously on the economic possibilities that could await them if they are serious with their work and diligent in their labor. I preach about protein content of fish and expound on integrated agriculture techniques! And, sometimes I get to the end of an hour of rapid Mambwe and wild gesticulation and someone will raise their hand and say, “So, you speak Mambwe?” *facepalm*
BUT, sometimes I get to the end and someone will say, “So, will you help me find a place to put a pond?” AMEN!
I bike all over
creation my catchment area holding meetings, helping with harvests, talking about fish production, building compost cribs, and occasionally even getting to eat fresh fish. I help (but mostly watch) farmers dig ponds, slog through waist deep water to help clear aquatic weeds from the ponds, and belabor the value of good pond management until I’m blue (but mostly red, because DAMN hot season heat is intense!) in the face. Sometimes I get through to folks (or my Mambwe makes enough sense to be understood, anyway), and sometimes I don’t. Either way, I get to make a tangible difference in how people live their day-to-day lives, I get to play in ponds, and I get to work with fish.
If you ask me, that’s a pretty good catch of an assignment.