This program is organized by Duke faculty/staff in collaboration with DukeEngage.

Program Dates

June 20 - August 15

Service Focus  

Working with local community organizations to enhance youth culture and stem youth flight from remote villages in northern Togo, West Africa, to the plantations of Nigeria and Benin. Students teach computer classes (in a cyber café built by former students), give out small microfinance loans to teens, run a writers’ collective, and evaluate a health insurance system, among other service projects. Service themes include:

  • Children/youth services
  • Community development/outreach
  • Health/human services 

Program Leaders

  • , Professor, Department of Cultural Anthropology & Department of African and African American Studies, Duke University. Piot conducts research in Togo on globalization (and its effects on local societies), on changes in politics and culture since the 1990s, and on Togolese who apply for the US Green Card Lottery; he teaches courses on African politics and culture, Development in Africa, and anthropological theory. 
  • Fidèle Ebia, Togolese graduate student, Site Coordinator/Assistant to the Director


Building on projects begun by Duke students four summers ago, a small team of students, the program director and a graduate assistant will spend eight weeks in two villages of northern Togo to address the pressing issue of youth migration. We will interview teens who leave for Benin and Nigeria (to find adventure and make money) and continue to develop projects that cater to youth need, by providing support for a solar-powered cyber café built by Duke students in 2011, financing alternative sources of income for youth, evaluating and improving a local health insurance system, continuing a writer’s collective, and working on a range of more technical (engineering) initiatives.

The program director has conducted anthropological research in northern Togo for over two decades and has partnered with local community organizations over the past four years in bringing DukeEngage students to carry out service projects in the area. Coming to terms with migration in one of the world’s poorest regions — through engaging the intimacies and everyday lives of teens themselves — is a transformative experience for students.

Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes

This program is deeply immersive. Students live with local families and experience daily life, as well as ceremonial life, in the villages of this culture-rich area. They also acquire up-close exposure to development in practice, with all its promises and frustrations.

Service Opportunities

Specific projects will be developed throughout the academic year and will match student skills to community needs. There is substantial room for creativity and innovation on the part of volunteers. Potential partners include:

  • Affaires Sociales Farendé, a community service organization with a focus on youth
  • Centre Liberté, a youth center in Farendé with a cyber café
  • Case de Santé Kuwdé, a health clinic in the mountain village of Farendé

Projects might include:

  • Working in the cyber café to make it more user-friendly — teaching typing and internet skills, creating pen-pal relationships with students at Duke, providing technical support for staff;
  • Working with microfinance for teens established by a DukeEngage student in summer 2013 and continued in 2014, 2015, and 2016;
  • Continuing to work with a local Writer’s Society established by a DukeEngage student in summer 2013 and continued each summer since. The aim of the workshop is to produce online-publishable works, both fiction and non-fiction, by local teens (see http://www.farendewriterssociety.com/ and http://ecrivainsdefarende.wix.com/cljf‐2014);
  • Exploring ways of enhancing local library and school resources, including collecting and digitizing the writings of local scholars about Kabre history, language, folklore, culture; and
  • Other potential projects: students interested in health might evaluate a local health insurance system established by Duke students or focus on the effects of migration on health (e.g., the spread of HIV); students interested in archiving local culture can continue the project of a 2016 Engage student who began collecting folktales in this folktale-rich area; students with backgrounds in the biological sciences and human-animal relations might explore ways of mitigating the ravages of monkeys on village fields (which makes farming ever more risky, and further drives youth away); engineering students might work on a nut sheller that will have revolutionary impact on the work of women in the community, or continue to work on a latrine sanitation project (created by Pratt students in 2013 and 2014), which produces bio-gas and algae for a fish pond.

Placement will be based on matching student interests and skill sets with community need. The program director will consult with students during the spring semester to determine appropriate placements.

Program Requirements

Language: Advanced beginner-to-intermediate French is required. Students will be encouraged to take French classes and/or attend language labs during the semester prior to departure.

Coursework: Students are encouraged to take an independent study in spring 2017 with Professor Piot, in which they will read background material — about life in West African villages, about the politics and history of the area, about youth migration — and brainstorm their projects. A second independent study will be offered after returning for those who might be interested in working up their summer work into publishable form.

Personal Qualities:  Students must be adventurous and willing to live without the usual comforts (electricity, running water).

Program Details

Description of Community: Students will be based in villages about 6 hours from the nation’s capital. While strikingly beautiful — the villages are located in a small tropical mountain range, lined with terraces — over-worked soils and mountain habitat allow little more than subsistence farming (hence, youth’s desire to leave) and amenities are minimal. The area is culturally rich and students will have the opportunity to witness initiation and funeral ceremonies during their stay. Each Wednesday, students will take public transportation to a market town an hour away to buy supplies. On Saturdays, students will attend a large regional market in Farendé. These markets are the lifeblood of the villages, sites of vigorous commerce and sociality.

Housing and Meals: Students will live with families in mud compounds, where they’ll also be surrounded by children and animals — and within short walking distance of the other students in the program. The families are gracious to a fault — they treat visitors like royalty — and Duke students have had nothing but praise for their homestay experiences. Amenities are scarce, with kerosene lanterns, bucket showers and latrines the norm. Each student will have their own room and key. Families are protective and respectful of students’ need for privacy.

Families will provide food at noon and in the evening, with students feeding themselves breakfast.

If you do not eat certain types of food for cultural, religious or personal reasons, please contact the DukeEngage office, , to discuss whether or not your dietary needs can be reasonably accommodated at this program site.

Transportation: Students will use public transportation — taxis in the capital, large Greyhound‐type buses to get to and from the north, and smaller VW mini-vans in the north (in going to market to buy supplies, for example). When in the villages, all transportation is on foot.

Communication: Each student will have a cell phone provided by the program. Although not strongly recommended, students may bring laptops. Internet access is available intermittently in the villages, thanks to two internet cafés installed by Duke students.

Opportunities for Reflection: All students will keep daily journals, one personal, the other work-related. Twice each week, the entire group will convene over a meal to discuss the week’s work, brainstorm their projects, and learn about local language and culture. These meals are attended by the program director and the site coordinator, who will take turns leading discussions. A group blog will be kept, with each student making four entries during the summer (about their projects and everyday life in the villages).

Other Opportunities: When not working on their projects, students are free to be with their host families, to attend local events (workgroup sessions, ceremonies, church services), or to spend time together.

More Information

  • Charles Piot, ed. Doing Development in West Africa: A Reader By and For Undergraduates;  Charles Piot, Remotely Global: Village Modernity in West Africa; Charles Piot, Nostalgia For the Future: West Africa After the Cold War.

Curricular Connections

  • “Development and Africa” with Professor Piot, offered in Spring 2017.  There are also opportunities to take an Independent Study class with the Program Director upon return — to write up and possibly publish the results of student projects.
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Elie Karma, Our DukeEngage Togo Partner, Remembered and Admired

The DukeEngage community is saddened to hear of the passing of long-time community partner and friend, Elie Karma. Elie worked closely with DukeEngage students and faculty in Farendé, a north-eastern village of Togo, on community welfare projects. Under his leadership, students helped develop a cyber café by installing solar panels, batteries, and laptops in a building Elie had built with the help of his church. Participants in the DukeEngage Togo program were then able to teach computer and Internet skills to the school children of Farendé. He also led the creation of a latrine sanitation system, which aims to produce biogas, protein-rich spirulina, and algae, ultimately providing a source of electricity, nutrition, and income for his village. The range of Elie’s community projects reached far beyond his collaboration with DukeEngage. He also built and ran a kindergarten for children in his village, and aided the reforestation process by maintaining a large tree nursery.

According to DukeEngage faculty, staff and students, Elie constantly expressed the ambitious dreams he had for Farendé. “He was a visionary – he had big dreams and plans for developing his home village – and spent much of his life trying to bring those into being, despite limited resources,” says Professor Charlie Piot, leader of the Duke in Togo program. Piot also recounted that while attending the Community Partner Conference at Duke last year, Elie shared these aspirations, marveling at his Duke surroundings and proclaiming that Farendé could one day look the same. Elie inspired DukeEngage participants and leaders as he faced the challenges in his life courageously and with unwavering optimism.

Uzo Ayogu, a Duke student who worked and built a strong relationship with Elie during DukeEngage Togo 2014 noted that he “had a rare lust for life, that energy and fearlessness to dream and envision beyond what [his] reality showed.” Ayogu spoke of his own desire to follow in the footsteps of his dear friend, and someday touch and tangibly impact communities the way that Elie did. Despite struggling with sickle cell anemia, Elie persisted in working towards making Farendé a better place for its citizens, and encouraged those around him to do the same. Elie was not only deeply dedicated to his village but also to his wife, Simone, and their three children. We send our condolences to his family and community, and hope that new endeavors through DukeEngage Togo will continue his legacy of improving lives within Farendé.

    • Elie and Family
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