Report from the 2015 West Africa Project Fair in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire

Report from the 2015 West Africa Project Fair in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire

Dear fellow Rotarians,

We recently returned to Santa Barbara after attending the 10th annual West African Rotary Project Fair in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire (aka the Ivory Coast) and believe that you might be interested in hearing about the adventure.  We had previously spent time in Africa both individually and as a couple and had talked about returning at some point in the future. When Terri received an email in late-August about the Project Fair we quickly decided that we wanted to go. Terri had previously been slated to participate in a Rotary vaccination program in Nigeria in 2010 that was canceled at the last minute due to the volcano in Iceland grounding several international flights. It was because of that previous commitment that she was on the mailing list for the West African Project Fair.

The Project Fair provided incentive for us to join the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara. For Terri it was a return to the club in which she had previously been a member along with her late husband Dr. Bob Young.  Her recent retirement from the County of Santa Barbara, where she was a nurse and social worker, would allow time to participate in Rotary activities. Until the discussion about this trip Don had been aware of Rotary but had little detailed knowledge about Rotary and particularly about the international activities of the organization.  Having spent 6 months after his retirement from Raytheon doing logistics work with Doctors Without Borders in a hospital in Northern Nigeria, the chance to return to West Africa for a humanitarian activity had a strong appeal.  We very quickly made the decision to join the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara and to sign up for the trip.

Traveling to Cote d’Ivoire and a Meeting at the U.S. Embassy

The trip to the Project Fair was organized by Brad Howard who has been a major participant in the event since its inception.  Brad is currently the Rotary International Director for Zones 25 and 26 and has had extensive experience traveling in Africa as a Rotarian. Our group was made up of approximately 30 Rotarians from various location in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. We all arrived in Abidjan, for what was going to be a week filled with activity on November 11th.

The first day was started with a tour of the city. Abidjan, which was previously referred to as “the Paris of West Africa”, has been making a strong recovery along with the rest of the Cote d’Ivoire in the wake of the internal conflict in 2010-2011. The relatively calm presidential election that took place on October 25th , shortly before our arrival, is an indication that the country is moving forward again.

On the afternoon of the first day, after having had lunch with Rotarians from our host clubs, we took a trip to the U.S. Embassy where we met with Ambassador Terence McCulley and members of his staff for an insightful briefing on various aspects of Cote d’Ivoire.  Both the Ambassador and the senior staff member for the Center for Disease Control talked about their long-term personal connections with Rotary. The day concluded with a dinner attended by many of the Rotarians who would be attending the Project Fair. It was a chance for us to meet members of the host clubs and other participants who would be presenting their projects later in the week. We were treated to an energetic performance of local music and dance during dinner and most of the members of our group were coaxed out of our seats one-by-one to “show their stuff” and become active participants in the dance performance.

The Two Day Project Fair

The first day of the two day Project Fair was used for presentations related to various aspects of international Rotary projects. Since we were in West Africa the day’s activities began with a live musical performance to get us energized.  Marie- Irene Richmond Ahoua, the very dynamic Governor of host District 9101, welcomed all of the participants to the Project Fair. We especially appreciate the warm welcome and the boundless enthusiasm that she provided throughout our weeklong visit.

The 15 countries of West Africa have English and French  (and to a much lesser extent Portuguese) as their primary languages. Even though presentations were done in one of the two languages, adequate translation was provided throughout the visit so that there were no gaps in comprehending what was being presented.

Speakers during the first day included Ron Denham, Vice President of the Water and Sanitation Rotary Action Group (WASRAG) that coordinates international Rotary projects related to water and sanitation. He focused on the increased focus within Rotary on sustainability of projects to ensure that there is ownership at the receiving end.  Allison Randall and Ellina Kushnir from the Rotary International offices in Evanston briefed us on the updated Rotary International Grant Model and resources that are available on-line related to potential projects and the grant process.  Jack Dotse from Ghana, Wale Ogunbadejo from Nigeria and Bakary Yeo from the Cote d’Ivoire gave presentations on successful international projects that their clubs had initiated with the participation of international partners including Rotary clubs from the U.S., the Netherlands and Germany.  Dinesh Gajalee talked about activities that are taking place to better communicate the role of Rotary to the public at large.


During his presentation, Brad Howard focused on working through cultural differences to create successful international projects and respective roles that the host partners and the international partners perform along with some of the associated potential for difficulty along the way.  He summarized by reiterating that the objective of the West African Project Fair is to create relationships, initiate projects, establish communication and to share cultural differences.


The second day of the two-day Project Fair itself was dedicated to presentation of candidate projects to fair attendees.  The venue was on an outside lawn with approximately 30 booths set up in a rectangular pattern.  Participants in the Project Fair activities came from at least 49 different Rotary clubs in West Africa. There were representatives from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo. Rwanda (East Africa) also had representation.  Projects weren’t necessarily presented by every club in attendance.  Learning about each proposed project was captivating but also took lots of concentration.   We were relieved when a brief shower mid-morning brought some moderation to the heat of the early morning.  Projects included water well drilling, sanitation facilities, education, disease prevention and treatment, etc. We will gladly share details with anyone who may be interested. At the end of the day the participants re-grouped to have some candid discussions to share what had been learned and what opportunities exist for improving future project fairs.  In the evening there was a dinner to celebrate the conclusion of the Project Fair activities.


Sub-National Polio Immunization Day

One of the key elements of the overall trip was to participate in a polio immunization activity. With the elimination of any new cases of polio in Nigeria, Africa has now been polio-free for a year. On Sunday we made a two hour trip to the village of Nigui-Saff to participate in a polio immunization activity for the village and surrounding areas. Activities like these are intended to keep polio from re-emerging in areas where it has not been detected recently. The immunization was clearly one of the most memorable parts of the trip. It was a full day which, in addition to the immunization, included welcoming formalities live musical performances and a shared lunch.  Quite a full day and we returned to Abidjan as darkness was falling.


Tourism, Rotary Fellowship and a Surprise Visit

The last three days in Cote d’Ivoire included a variety of activities. We visited an agricultural training school sponsored by local Rotarians, had additional social activities with local Rotarians and did some sightseeing.  We also were received by the Prime Minister of the Cote d’Ivoire in his offices, an event covered by the local media.

Next Steps

Since returning home we’ve been working to consolidate what we learned from our experience in the Cote d’Ivoire. We’re organizing the materials that we received at the Project Fair and have started discussions with the other participants from North America about what we might do as a group of individual Rotarians from several different clubs. The two of us recognize that the major international project for our own club is the support provided to Mayan Families in Guatemala and we have enthusiastically signed up for the work trip in February.

One of the proposed projects that we learned about while we were in Cote d’Ivoire is for the National Hospital in Niamey, the capital city of Niger. We learned about the plight of the hospital during discussions with a female surgeon there who is also a Rotarian.  Because Niger imports 85% of its electrical supply from Nigeria and because that electrical supply is highly unreliable the hospital sometimes goes without electricity for up to five days. For us it is almost impossible to imagine for a hospital having almost 1,000 beds and performing up to 40 surgeries per day. Generators would be a logical solution except for the difficulty in finding fuel to run them in a very poor country. The proposed project would install solar panels, battery storage and related equipment to provide electricity for the hospital We are still gathering information about the details of this project but expect that we may be able to help as advocates in addition to whatever other personal contributions we might be able to make.

West African Project Fair 2016    

The West African Project Fair for 2016 is already in the planning stages. It will be held in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

Terri Eddy and Don Jack
Rotary Club of Santa Barbara


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