Washington — Peace Corps volunteers Katy Todd of Forestville, California, and Melissa Bernard of Freeport, Maine, are working with local Togolese community members to promote women's empowerment by organizing the third annual national women's wellness and empowerment conference.
Throughout the five-day conference, scheduled for March 2013, 30 women will participate in seminars and activities to enhance their personal development and entrepreneurial skills. Seminar topics will include family planning, maternal health, nutrition, food security, social entrepreneurship and financial literacy. A portion of the funds for the project will be raised through the Peace Corps Partnership Program, which helps support Peace Corps volunteer community projects worldwide.
"In my community, women are often overlooked as a resource," said Todd, a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, who has been living and working in Togo since June 2011. "They are the hubs of their communities, and in addition to raising their children and managing their homes, women participate in many informal activities from church groups to savings clubs."
A small women's group based in the Western Plateau region of Togo developed the concept for the inaugural conference, which took place in May 2011.
"The information discussed in the first conference has reached more than 100 female leaders from all of Togo's five regions," Todd said. "In follow-up visits with past participants, we have seen that 100 percent of these women have taken what they learned back to their communities and shared it with those around them."
In order to receive funding through the Partnership Program, a community must make a 25 percent contribution to the total project cost and outline success indicators for the individual projects. This helps ensure community ownership and a greater chance of long-term sustainability.
"The conference helps women realize their potential to become leaders and role models, and to have a positive impact on those around them," said Bernard, who has been living and working in Togo since September 2011. "Participants leave equipped not only with valuable information, but with confidence in themselves and a belief that they can make a difference."
More than 2,680 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Togo since the program was established in 1962. Currently, 118 volunteers serve there. Volunteers work in the areas of education, environment, health, business, and information technology. They are trained and work in these languages: Adja, Bassar, Ewe/Watchi, French, Gourma, Haoussa, Ifè (Ana), Kabiyé, Kotokoli, Mina and Tchokossi (Anoufo).