Villagers in Toussiana, Burkina Faso eat a meal. Toussiana is a small village in the southwest region of Africa.
Villagers in Toussiana, Burkina Faso eat a meal. Toussiana is a small village in the southwest region of Africa.
March 11, 2013

In a small room with yellow walls and mud-covered floors, yards of fabric and already-made clothes - a rarity in this tiny west African village ­- young apprentices have hope for a brighter future.

They are tailors-in-training. Ages 15 to 25. They stitch and sew pants, shirts and dresses.

Some have no chance at other jobs because of common physical ailments, such as club feet, that in a richer country could have been cured. Others had fled forced marriages.

Most of them had never been to school in their village, Toussiana, in Burkina Faso. Their ability to speak French - a language that transcends a region with many dialects - was poor.

The apprentices learn from the Association des Tailleurs, Tisserands et Assimilés. The name is much simpler in English: the Association of Tailors.

A villager there - himself uneducated - had a goal to teach the youth of his village to make the clothes and garments that might allow them to feed themselves and marry and raise children of their own.

And a Carroll native, Anne Greteman, 25, helped him do it.

The little room with yellow walls and ready-made clothes, known as The Boutique, where the tailors-in-training sold their goods, was perhaps the pinnacle of a string of accomplishments Greteman made in her two years with the Peace Corps.

"In West Africa you see a lot of images of Sierra Leone and blood diamonds," Greteman said. "They have health issues to deal with and overwhelming poverty.

"But there's a young entrepreneurial spirit."

Greteman is the daughter of Jim and Mary Greteman, of Carroll. She is a 2006 graduate of Kuemper Catholic High School.

After spending four years running track, spiking volleyballs and playing in the Carroll Orchestra, Greteman moved to South Bend, Ind., to attend the University of Notre Dame.

She first traveled to Africa in the summer of 2008 for a school internship that placed her with Global Mama's organization, whose goal is to help women provide money and food for themselves.

Greteman was sent to Ghana, which is just south of Burkina Faso, to teach women to make glass beads and fabric that were fair-trade certified. The fair-trade beads lack lead paint and can be sold in places like the United States.

After the summer-long stint, Greteman returned to Notre Dame to finish her degrees in accounting and political science.

It was during her first semester of her senior year that Greteman decided to volunteer for the Peace Corps.

She sent in her application and was later asked to interview in Chicago for the global organization that places volunteers in third-world counties for two years at a time.

"It was a very personal interview," Greteman said. "They made sure you react well under pressure."

The Peace Corps put her through a battery of medical exams to be sure she was fit for an oversees trip.

She later enrolled in a beginners French class at Notre Dame. She was taking 21 credits that semester and had the added challenge of trying to speak passable French.

Greteman spent the next several months wondering where she was going to be placed. She chatted online with Peace Corp members to learn where missions were being planned.

Greteman graduated from Notre Dame in fall 2010 and returned to Iowa. About one full year passed before her marching orders arrived.

Greteman's hope to return to Africa came true. She would leave for Burkina Faso that October.

Greteman flew from New York with 30 other Peace Corps volunteers.

She trained for two months just outside the nation's capital city of Ouagadougou. Each day she learned about the country's business, health, safety and security.

She'd then ride a bicycle to her host family's home. They were a civil servant family, which meant they had running water.

"By running water I mean they had a spout outside and a shower," Greteman said. "So I was pretty spoiled."

After training, Greteman and the 30 other volunteers with were sworn in at the U.S. embassy.

It's the same oath the president takes.

"I ... do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."

The volunteers were then shipped to different parts of the country.

Greteman ended up in Toussiana, in the southwestern portion of Burkina Faso.

It was a year before she comfortably spoke French.

Greteman said almost everyone in her region spoke Dioula, a dialect of the Mande, which is the traditional language in West Africa, as a first language. French was everyone's second or third language.

Her first job was basic.

"It started with easy stuff - working with kids, watching, learning and studying languages," Greteman said.

She helped start a girls' camp and club. She taught children English and about the American political system. She drew a couple of six-by-three-meter maps of the world on walls outside of schools.

Most of the children had a weak grasp of their place in the world.

She said it took her a long time to figure out what her role in the community was going to be. The Peace Corps told volunteers to limit their projects during the first year in country.

"They want you to learn the language and what people needed and assess what needs to be done," Greteman said.

Greteman's patience paid off for the youth in Toussiana.

The Boutique she helped create now jump-starts the careers of young adults who live in and around Toussiana.

Because of Greteman, the association was able to offer low-level business classes to the young apprentices.

She made computer Spreadsheets to help Souleymane Ouattra - the uneducated village who launched the association - manage money for a store where he sold sewing materials.

Greteman helped the apprentices expand their reach. They developed traveling businesses to sell at local markets.

The apprentices learned how to meet with clients and could move back to their villages to sell their own clothes.

Greteman said building the boutique and helping the apprentices was easily her biggest accomplishment while in the Peace Corps.

"They were illiterate. They're like the lowest of the low," Greteman said.

She said teaching the apprentices to do inventory and book keeping and watching them eventually take on leadership roles gives her great pride.

Greteman returned from her two-year assignment in the Peace Corps this past Christmas Eve.

Her near future includes a move to Washington D.C., where Greteman wants to pursue a job in emerging market finance.

As for the future of Africa, Greteman has hope things will get better - in part because of people like her. She said the continent is going to be a place for business in the future.

"You always hear the bad things about Africa," Greteman said. "I think ten years from now there will be a very different Africa."