By Mrs. Jennifer Aldridge (USACE)July 11, 2014
LOME, Togo -- He is draped in interwoven black and orange cloth. The fabric covers his shoulder and migrates south, flowing to his feet.
The cloth, or kente, as it is called in West Africa, is traditionally worn by village chiefs. The black threads of the kente symbolize the man's maturity. A deep-red elder cap sits on his head. The cap is embroidered with metallic stars and the moon to represent his tribal coat of arms.
The traditionally dressed Togolese man, Togbui Yegbe Kokou Kini, is the village chief of Gblainvie. In April, he ceremoniously greeted a team of U.S. officials visiting the Gblainvie School project -- one of seven U.S. humanitarian-assistance projects being built across Togo.
While Togo is a relatively small country, the U.S. Embassy in Lome supports an active humanitarian-assistance program. This is due to a unique partnership between the embassy and Department of Defense's U.S. Africa Command. The embassy program is unique because there is no physical U.S. Agency for International Development presence in Togo, and therefore no duplication of development work. AFRICOM, in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District, executes projects ranging from schools to medical clinics to garbage depots here.
Throughout Togo, $1.8 million in recent construction and renovation work is underway, said Amy Seaman, the AFRICOM humanitarian-assistance program manager.
"The facilities we build are designed to use local resources for long-term sustainment in regions where humanitarian needs may pose major challenges to stability, prosperity and respect for human values," Seaman said.
Like other countries in Africa, the need for assistance in Togo is high, said Mich Coker, the embassy's economic and commercial officer. But unlike other countries on the continent, where USAID is present, AFRICOM has the only humanitarian-assistance program building brick-and-mortar projects in Togo.
"We find the situation here to be special," Coker said. "Humanitarian assistance is one of the most conspicuous forms of diplomacy and outreach we have. There aren't tons and tons of other programs here. These projects are highly visible in a small country, so they make a huge, huge impact."
The humanitarian-assistance project requests originate at the community level, are submitted to the embassy, and ultimately, sent to AFRICOM for consideration. If approved, they're added to the annual budget request for Congress.
AFRICOM looks for projects that will increase partner capacity, Seaman said.
"The country team in Togo does a great job coordinating the process to make sure projects are properly vetted through the U.S. government, host-nation leadership and end users," she said.
Obtaining project approvals and funding is labor-intensive, Coker said.
"It takes a lot of sweat from our team," he said. "We're always ambassadors of the program. We go around the country talking to communities. It allows us to stir up interest and some pretty good professionalism from the communities putting together packages."
It's a yearlong process, added Lukas Jaakson, the embassy's development officer.
"Every day we are calling or answering calls, exchanging emails or meeting with communities to get applications that we think will shine," Jaakson said. "Only the applications that go through a lot of vetting are sent forward to AFRICOM."
The embassy development team attributes much of its success in securing humanitarian-assistance funding to its Togolese employees, Coker said.
"We are fortunate to have a very dedicated team of locally employed staff," he said. "That is the jewel in our crown."
The seven active construction sites throughout Togo -- from the southern coast, on the Gulf of Guinea, to the northern border of Burkina Faso -- are testament to the program's strength.
New school projects dot the map in Gblainvie, Atome, Matchatom, Tonte and Papri, with another recently completed school in Assoukondji. The construction work includes indoor and open-air classrooms, administrative offices, storage rooms, verandas, rainwater-collection systems and latrine buildings.
As work progresses on the schools, Fagnide Djagnikpo, the Atome village chief, said he looks forward to having a safe place for children to attend, despite the weather.
"We won't care about the rainy season," Djagnikpo said. "In the new school, rainwater won't destroy [the students'] books. Their writing on the chalkboard won't get wet and disappear."
The U.S. is also building health care facilities to benefit large populations in rural areas. The Agbave Health Clinic will serve 800 people in seven surrounding villages. Upon completion, the clinic will have a reception area, labor and delivery rooms, a pharmacy, recovery room, covered bathing area and garden. The project will also include a rainwater-collection system and latrine building.
New clinics, such as Agbave, directly support health care development goals to reduce disease and provide more accessible facilities across Togo.
Access to care is an issue here, said a local midwife, working out of a teacher's house in Agbave.
"Most of the time, expectant mothers don't make it," she said. "With the new clinic, more people will be saved."
In the absence of medical equipment and a health care facility, the midwife relies on her knowledge and experience to treat people. Soon, she will have a clinic to work in, said Togbui Adzobade Koffi, the Agbave chief.
"People here see the beginning of construction and disease is going away," he said, with a laugh.
Further north, at Dapaong Regional Hospital, a pathology lab expansion is in progress. The new lab will include a waiting area, reception desk, lab room, doctor's office, storage area and latrines.
It will alleviate the "jam" in the current facility where blood is drawn, vaccines are administered and results are shared with patients, all in one overcrowded area, said Dr. Agbenoko Kodjo, the laboratory chief.
"We will be able to see up to 70 people a day in the new lab," he said. "It will be easy to serve the community."
Two additional humanitarian-assistance projects were recently completed in Lomé -- Kanyikopé Health Clinic and Lankouvi Garbage Depot. The clinic will provide care to an area in need and the depot will allow neighboring communities to better manage their litter and improve sanitary conditions.
The spectrum of education, health care and sanitation projects contribute to a healthier, more educated Togolese population. In the future, the Togolese military can draw upon thata healthier population as it continues to participate in African Union and United Nations peacekeeping missions, as well as national and regional counterterrorism, counter-piracy and anti-trafficking efforts. This adds to the security of the region.
Looking forward, two additional humanitarian-assistance projects are expected to break ground in late 2014, said Kornell Rancy, the USACE program manager for AFRICOM.
"USACE continues to be available to contribute our engineering expertise in support of development, diplomacy and defense goals in Togo and the whole of Africa," he said.
As construction nears completion on the Gblainvie School and six other projects throughout the country, excitement grows. The Togolese communities are happy and thankful for the projects, village chief Kini said.
"Only God can learn the joy I have in my heart," he said. "We were waiting a long time for this project."