The UNITE Foundation was formed by four returned Peace Corps Volunteers who had also served as organizers of Camp UNITE in Togo, West Africa. Beginning with knowledge of Togolese culture and what it takes to run Camp UNITE, we began outlining our goals. We produced a mission statement and a strategic plan to describe how we would meet them. We created our Articles of Incorporation and bylaws describing how we intended to govern the organization, and conferred with a nonprofit consultant to gain insight on how best to organize our work.
The cultural exchange program began in a similar fashion, as we outlined the goals of the program and creating a strategic plan including upcoming goals for the first year to the first five years. We then created a work plan in which we delegated the tasks of creating materials, recruiting volunteers and speakers, and communicating with our partners at Camp UNITE and camps in the U.S.
Thus far, we have measured the success of the cultural exchange program by the participation of volunteers and the expressed interest of potential partner camps and schools. Members of the West African community have expressed their support for the program and the foundation itself, including the prestigious African dance troupe Balafon. In addition, The UNITE Foundation has recruited several volunteers and has tentative agreements to work with three American camps in 2009.
This past summer, The UNITE Foundation began its first camp partnership with PCCASP, an academic camp for gifted students in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Two of our guest speakers were able to visit the camp for a day with the campers and to provide a presentation about Camp UNITE and The UNITE Foundation. During the presentation, the guest speakers provided information about West Africa, gave examples of young people they had known in Togo, and played a game to introduce gender equity issues. The PCCASP campers were so moved by the time they spent with our guest speakers that they contacted us at the end of the summer to let us know that they had collected over 300 soccer balls from friends and family that they wanted to send to Camp UNITE so that the campers could enjoy soccer matches in their home villages.
While this was a different kind of involvement than we had expected, it was obvious that the time we spent with these campers had made an impact. They had continued to think about the problems that Togolese youth face and they had pinpointed something they could do to improve the lives of their contemporaries in West Africa. The PCCASP campers had chosen to affect change in Togo in their own unique way. This is exactly the kind of result The UNITE Foundation cultural exchange program aims for. We hope to continue our partnership with PCCASP by adding additional cultural exchange activities to the camp schedule for 2009.
In the coming years, we hope to increase the scope of the cultural exchange program, while working with additional partner camps to extend the reach of The UNITE Foundation and engage more American and Togolese students in cross cultural education and development.