Goodwill ambassador-- Veteran of Peace Corps in help mode once again

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

For the next month, Mike Lavoie is returning to his Peace Corps roots.

It will be a far-flung journey throughout the tiny country of Burkina Faso in West Africa, where Lavoie will help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps.

It was there, in the landlocked country, that Lavoie performed a two-year stint in the Peace Corps upon graduation from the University of Notre Dame in 1975. His home during that 24-month stint was a primitive hut in a remote village. Lavoie, with only two weeks of technical training, was charged with directing a well-digging effort in several villages where water was as scarce as hope for a better life among villagers.

An attorney with Butzel Long, Lavoie is now president of the Friends of Burkina Faso. He has made it his mission over the years to assist with humanitarian and economic development efforts in the country, enlisting the support of friends and colleagues in Metro Detroit and beyond. The need took on even greater urgency last summer when a flood wiped out homes throughout the village where Lavoie stayed during his Peace Corps assignment. His host family, including Simeon Baguian and his sister Noelie, was among those affected.

A former assistant U.S. attorney in Detroit, Lavoie has agreed to submit regular reports to The Legal News on his work in Burkina Faso. Several e-mails appear below:

Saturday, Feb. 5

Not long after arriving I was forced to resort to the wisdom of our anniversary's proverb. "When the creek zigzags, the crocodile has to zigzag too." My checked luggage of three large bags did not arrive. So, I did not come out of the airport immediately and Simeon, Noelie and their families were left to wonder whether I was coming at all. Simeon later told that his son, Daniel, just 3 years old, said that Michel was still coming. And we talked about how 5 years ago the same thing happened when Noelie and Simeon came to Michigan and their luggage did not show up.

Then, we had a hug-fest. No amount of e-mails and telephone calls--and there have been hundreds--can substitute for the joy of being face to face. We last saw each other 4 years ago, and then in 2000 before that, and in between in 2005 when Simeon and Noelie came to Michigan. We all went to a restaurant for Cokes and Fantas and frites. So cool. I asked to begin by saying a prayer in Moore (the native language) about "Karemsamba," Simeon and Noelie's father, who passed away in July 2008 and who was such a great life teacher for all of us. We started to talk of all the plans for the 50th anniversary celebrations and how they can be better. And we took some pictures, including one of the "3 Michels"--Simeon's wife, Micheline, Michelle, the first ever woman PC driver here, and me.

And finished off the day with a very nice Burkina welcome from Peace Corps Country Director Shannon Meehan. I quickly saw that she brings impressive experience, concern, and innovation to her work. Particularly, her plans for the 50th this year are busting at the seams with creativity and effectiveness.

At Shannon's invitation, I already attended an exciting training meeting with about 10 PCV's on Saturday. They were so impressive and passionate--you would be so proud of them! Examples about their work and creativity and determination in health and education work, for example, was really interesting.

Monday, Feb. 7

Learned some impressive things about PC's Country Director Shannon Meehan. There is a chapter about her in a book called "Those Who Dare" by Katherine Martin (look for book on Amazon). It describes in detail her frontline humanitarian, and often risky, work in Kosovo, Liberia, Iraq, and elsewhere. She concludes with this observation, "We all have the responsibility of helping our neighbors in some way. Not that everyone should do international charity work, but we all must reach out to people in need."

Received a wonderful tour of the PC office from Aicha, Shannon's executive assistant who also provided a much needed French translation for the Resolution from Central Michigan University. And I would be remiss not to observe the tremendous warmth and encouragement that was extended by every member of the PC staff.

Xavier Bationo was exceptional and came to the rescue with computer tech issues and he also agreed to handle all my photograps--sending them on to Guy Fipps and also keeping track of them for PC records of these events.

And we also contined with increasingly powerful connection events:

(1) I met with Prosper, Denny Fitzpatrick's friend, this afternoon at the Peace Corps office. It was beautiful. We talked of each others friendship with Denny. We talked of the importance of liberty, independence and peace in these two great anniversaries. And upon receiving Denny's 50th anniversary t-shirt and the photo of Denny wearing it, he was visibly touched and immediately put it on. When leaving, he folded up the t-shirt with reverence as if it was a flag. We tried to call Denny but there was no answer. Of course, Prosper invited me to his house and I will try to do that. Actually, both he and my friend Simeon are members of the Assembly of God Church. In short, Denny, we had a good day at the well!

(2) The meeting with two Ouagadougou students who lived with the host family of RPCV Amanda Whitty (Sweeney) was no less emotional. They are named Kinda Rodrigue and Jonathan Rodrigue. Amazingly, Amanda called me literally as I was walking to the front door to greet them. We passed the phone around while in turn each one carefully, in full smile mode, checked out all the wedding pictures from a special Colorado mountain escape. Amanda's engagement with them was captivating. She got up to date with them and they learned all about her wedding to fellow rpcv Kevin Sweeney and that her dog was named "Aurora." Separately I chatted with each about the 50th and their educational pursuits. I observed that Jonathan, the more talkative of the two, might consider a career in the law!

(3) Also met with two different BF associations. The first was a group of four representatives from the Association of Friends of America. They described their objectives of promoting friendships with pcv's current and former and of pursuing democracy and nationwide integration or a "melting pot." We also made arrangements for them to attend the celebration at Koupela.

(4) The second group was the Association for the Development of Namtenga. It consisted of four representatives who were raised in Namtenga and sought to develop projects assisting with education and awareness in Namtenga. We discussed in detail the 50th anniversaries and JFK's quote about service to one's country. They agreed that the same principle applies to their village and the country as a whole. I showed them the video of Brookside School, the sister school of the Namtenga school. We all agreed that it showed again that children are universally the same. One of the representatives had given me a translation to a beautiful Floby song called "Kiema" many months ago and I gave him a gift of a cd player in appreciation. We parted with warm salutations and eagerness to reconvene at the Namtenga celebration on February 16.

Also heading to airport again later this evening to hopefully retrieve the final third missing bag--this one with the health, educational, and sport supplies to Namtenga.

Published: Mon, Feb 14, 2011