Thursday, June 28, 2012

A roller coaster day

Tuesday (June 26, 2012) was an amazing day in both the positive and negative respects. I went into work at the RAC and my CCE (Community Capacity Enhancement) Project Manager in the DAC office where I work reminded me that it was the day of the Teen Pregnancy Workshop at Lehutshelo.  How this project worked is a group of us went into the school and had a Community Conversation with a group of the kids (50).  I was not available when the first conversations went on but I was able to attend some of the follow-up conversations.  Through the conversation the kids identify issues at the school and narrow it down to one they want to tackle, Teen Pregnancy.  They then come up with a solution, a workshop for the students where teens who have gotten pregnant come and share their stories with the other students.  The final step is to implement the solution.
CCEP & ADAC (workmates)
Mma Masweu and the organizers

Initially they were trying to find both mothers and fathers, but in the end only mothers were willing to speak.  They gathered the kids (only girls since girls were speaking) in three groups by form.  The first two mothers that spoke did so in person and the second two wanted to be anonymous so they wrote a script and had someone read it.  Some were in English and some were in Setswana, but all were amazing!  It was also impressive that they implemented this themselves basically.

After the first group, I asked if I could record it and they were fine with it.  The sound for the recordings was not great, but the kids love watching it.  Today I asked one of the girls who spoke, who I have become somewhat close with, if they would be willing to record it again and maybe we can make a video for the school or others to use.    She is interested and now I have to gather some of the other kids to see what they think.  School is done for 6 weeks beginning tomorrow, so I have to hurry.  I am going to miss the kids. L

I also spent the morning reading some of the short stories submitted for the Poetry and Short Story Contest.  The writing is tremendous and I am excited to give all of them their certificates and prizes tomorrow.  We are also planning on baking brownies to give all the participants.  There were only 14, so it is manageable this time.  I am also really excited about seeing the kids faces when they receive their prizes and the feedback forms.  Instead of just choosing winners, etc, we decided to put together some feedback forms to tell the kids their biggest strengths and areas for improvement along with how it was graded.  This was amazingly hard to do because often Kabo & I did not agree with how the graders graded plus we have been developing personal attachments to some of the kids we work more closely with (exactly why we didn’t grade).  I don’t often see the kids getting positive reinforcement, so us spending 30 mins or more per entry was well worth it.  We also know how to change the grading sheet to factor in things we didn’t think about.  I am also working on putting together a file to share with all the volunteers here to make their life easier if they choose to do it, so if any Botswana PCVs are reading this I promise I will do it soon so you can have it before the next term begins. 

Now, let’s move on to the ‘worst’ part of the day.  After this I came home to grab lunch before heading off to football practice at Makgakganye Primary School.  I am helping coach the boys’ team there and absolutely love it.  Actually it is an odd mix of fear and excitement every time I go.  Every time I head down there I am thinking “what do I really know about soccer”.  I played 12 years, but it has been 15 years since I played, which would put me at 27 if I started playing out of the crib…ha ha.  I digress.

Upon walking up to my yard something looked different.  The house looked so lonely and there was too much tan coloring.  Five of our trees were gone.  John had already seen it and warned me, but that didn’t really lessen the blow.  Luckily they left the big one in the front of the yard, but for how long…aarghh.   I almost lost it with a mix of anger, frustration, and sadness.  I saw years of growing in a climate with little water just sitting outside our fence in messy little piles.  It is not like there is a surplus of trees in our little semi-desert and they were a slight feeling of home and comfort.  I still have no idea why and need to talk to the landlord.  John tried to talk to the family member that cut them, but his English is not great and our vocabulary does not quite cover what we are trying to ask as well as the concepts of human desertification.  Hopefully this weekend we can take some time to go over there and speak with one of the family members who knows more English and we can study up on our environmental terms in Setswana.

I had the hardest time forcing myself to go to practice, but I am glad I did because it was amazing and made me feel tremendously better.

That’s all I have for now, but more will come soon I am sure.  On the walk home I heard John muttering something under his breath about wanting to do a blog post when I said I was going to write one.  Hopefully he will cover the computer club because it is going amazingly well!  Initially I did not think there would be need for me but with the number of kids coming both nights. Also we have been staying way late.  Normally we have to kick the kids out because it is already way past dark and we need to get home to cook, bathe, etc.

Wame aka Tracy

Monday, June 18, 2012

Computer Club and Packages Info

I have started a computer club for the students of the Junior Secondary School.  There was a large amount of interest when registration began about a month ago.  Around 57 kids signed up.  There are only 22 computers in the lab so I assigned either Wednesday or Thursday for each student and decided to split the club in two.  (A quick note:  There was a strike of all government workers, including teachers, which occurred before we arrived.  All clubs and sports at the school had been postponed until the issues were resolved, with the end result of a bunch of bored students.  Many of the students live in dorms and room on school grounds.  They have little to entertain them on weekends so I thought a club would help.)  The first week of the club only 1 student showed up.  The sports and other clubs had finally started, but that meant this new computer club was a distant memory for them all.  As interested as the kids are with computers and technology, soccer (or football as the English influence has it called) is king.  Needless to say I was discouraged and upset since I had set aside two days a week instead of just one like I had planned.  A good friend and fellow teacher assured me there were plenty of kids that were not playing sports, but were merely watching them or just hanging out in other places.  He advised me to target those groups rather than kids that registered.

The next week I made sure to remind the students about the club on the assigned days and got 5 or so students.  After an introduction of themselves and gauging their knowledge I asked each of them what they wanted to learn about computers or what they wanted to do with them.  They all replied in a very similar way “I want to know everything about computers.”  It is a weird feeling trying to guide a class where the students have no expectations or understanding of the possible rewards.  I am still not sure how to keep them interested since most of the goals I tell them about are too abstract to be real motivation.  We are getting there though.  We did some training with Mavis Beacon (the typing teaching program) and they are not ready for secretary jobs, but they are hunting and pecking much faster now.  The last club meeting had 15 students and we watched tutorials on Excel usage.  The progress has been different than I had expected, but it has left me hopeful for the next term and next year.  My next initiative will be a study club that offers tutoring.  This is not directly in line with my Peace Corps mission (as I understand it) but the school can certainly use it.

After Junior Secondary School, which I teach (and is equivalent to our middle schools in the USA) the student has to make certain grades or gets removed from the school system.  There are some other government options for the kids such as the brigade which focuses on skilled labor work i.e. making bricks, electrical work, plumbing, etc.  I don’t know how easy it is to get accepted or enrolled in this option.  In the JSS system there are Form 1, 2, and 3, 3 being the last year of the JSS.  Right now the students are writing their exams for the end of the term and I was looking over the shoulder of an English teacher and saw a Form 3 student that got 0 out of 50 on her exam.  I have heard the student answer basic questions about the text the exam was on so I am left wondering how they prepare for these exams.  The highest score was 36 out of 50, so it is a widespread issue.  I am hoping to get the new materials together and come up with some good techniques for studying ASAP.  The good news is the students I have spoken with showed interest and seem willing to put forth the effort.  Either way I will remain optimistic and keep on keeping on.  Also I will try to get some photos up next time.

When you send a package please email us that it is on the way, so we can keep an eye out for it.  Also please write down the Customs Declaration id number located above the spot for your last name.  We have had a couple of package go missing and they advised we can track them using this number.  It has been suggested that when you send a package you can write a religious saying on the package – we have been told it helps “ensure” proper delivery.  Who knows if this is true, but it is worth a try.  Thanks again for all the support and goodies - they make our worst days into our best ones.  

Love John and Tracy

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Every day conversations

One of the most amazing things about serving in the Peace Corps in Botswana include the conversations that happen.  This morning I am working in the DHMT (District Health Management Team) helping with April’s data compilation and reporting. 

I started talking with a friend and coworker, initially it was about the weekend which turned into a conversation about her friend who passed away late last week.  This family has had a very hard couple of months.  The woman who passed away was young, not yet married and didn’t have kids yet.  One night she had a really bad headache and neck ache but it did not seem like anything out of the ordinary crick in the neck from sleeping wrong. The next day she never woke up. 

To make it worse, last month her brother, who was also somewhat young, passed away.  What this means on this side of Botswana is every day between the point when the person died and the burial (from Thursday of 1 week to the Saturday of the next week in this case...10 days) around 5pm friends stop by the family’s house for a vigil.  The family of the deceased feed dinner to all the guests, and in some cases lunch.  This can be a huge expense and large stress.  She mentioned that on the other side of Botswana this has been changed to where guests are only fed on the day of the burial which is much more manageable for the families of the deceased.

Later we ended up discussing the specifics of her position (TB health educator) and how to battle some of the main issues she works with such as lack of transportation for patient home visits and delays in contact testing for large groups such as the prison. Which later turned into differences between Botswana’s main struggles of basic health issues and access to food and clothing for many vs those in the US (some do have those struggles, but we also have more resources to fight against higher level thing such as child/domestic abuse and whether disabled people have access to public facilities).

Side note….An example of things I took for granted in the US was that all kids on sports teams (or most kids in general) have shoes.  I started helping coach one of our primary school’s football teams and noticed that only 2 of the almost 50 kids (both boys and girls team) had shoes.  The govt does not fund primary schools sports equipment (although it does fund secondary schools) and many of the parents cannot purchase them.  It is also important to realize that there are burs all over the sand and in some cases large stickers (one went right through John’s running shoe). The kids are going to be in a tournament in a week and many of the other teams have shoes.  I worry for my kids toes.  L  We are discussing ways of acquiring funding.

The funniest thing is that at the end of any event the kids want me to say something to them. I used to never be prepared, but I have gotten pretty good at thinking quickly and having someone translate because thinking quickly in Setswana is never an option. One thing I still haven’t gotten used to is being introduced at any public event along with the honored guests, no matter how far back I try to hide myself. Now back to my previous stream of thought.

About 10 minutes later One, who I had met a couple other times, stopped by the office looking for someone and we got to talking about a few things.  Such as how she used to work with kids doing environmental education which then led to a conversation about the environmental club at Lehutshelo.  One thing led to another and she invited me to a bridal shower for someone I do not really even know.  This will be my first bridal shower, so I am excited to see any differences here.  I have been to a few baby showers, one for a woman I only barely knew and another for a good friend.  It is amazing the difference that makes.  My friend had me sit by her and explained what was being talked about when I did not understand. As far as I can tell some baby showers are a time to completely embarrass the mother to be.  (Now I have another reason to wait to have a baby although everyone keeps telling me we should start our family here and just stay.) I am excited to meet her baby in a month, which will probably be walking and maybe saying a few words when we leave Botswana (and only a few months behind our new niece). 

Then a couple hours later I found myself in a co-worker’s office giving him some training material for Microsoft office and he mentioned how he was going the next week to Gabs to deal with an ongoing court case. Several years ago he was robbed at gunpoint. This of course turned into conversations about the criminal system, etc. This got me thinking about a random 5 minute conversation we had with a street vendor we have gotten to know. (disclaimer…I have no idea how far from the truth this is) She mentioned that Botswana does have the death penalty and it is not done by lethal injection. She said there was some sort of chair used that basically hangs the person by lifting the head.

Sometimes I come home at the end of a day and feel like I have only had superficial conversations, mostly niceties.  I wonder how often days like this happen and due to the lack of attention to detail I completely miss them. 

Go siame!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

May 23 – International Candlelight Memorial

This post is a few weeks overdue, but I am finally trying to catch up. Hopefully you will see a few more soon

On May 23 the DAC office worked with several other organizations in our subdistrict (such as Men’s Sector, BNYC, Minister’s Fraternal, and the local Kgosi) to put together a beautiful memorial for those lost to AIDS.  The event was at the Kgotla in Moselebe which is the village touching Hukuntsi on the other side of our salt pan and was schedule to start in the afternoon.

My workmates

As expected there were a few hiccups during the implementation of the event such as transportation availability, and the event starting on time. The main reason the event did not start on time was that our guest speaker cancelled at the last minute and we had to find a substitute. Luckily Masita, who is the Assistant District Admin Officer and performs the legal portion of weddings for Kgalagadi North. He is an eloquent speaker and has the ability to draw the listener in to the mood of the event!

Speakers during the event included several local ministers, the DAC, two local Dikgosi, our district Councilor, one of our S&CD officers, and Miss Stigma Free.  Miss Stigma Free’s speech was beautiful, heartbreaking, and emotionally charged.  Of course it was all in Setswana but I was able to pick up pieces here and there and a friend was kind enough to fill in the gaps when I asked.

After the speeches, attendees were asked to pick up a stone for each person they personally knew who died of AIDS then place them in a pile in the front of the Kgotla and candles were handed out to everyone. Songs were then sung while a cross was placed with a white linen cloth in front of it and two large candles were lit. The rocks were then gently moved to the cloth and it was all carried to a display of red candles arranged as a ribbon in the sand. A procession of people began lighting their candles and carrying them over to light the candles in the sand.  Another speech followed this and eventually the event wrapped up.

It was a beautiful and breathtaking event as well a good reminder of the amount of pain and loss that HIV and AIDS have had on Botswana…has had on my friends. The longer I am here the more normal everything seems. It is good to have a reminder of why I am doing the work I am doing and what is truly at stake.

Wame aka Tracy