I have deliberately been delaying my update about my primary project with the NGO because I had nothing positive to report. In truth, two weeks ago the organization officially closed its doors with no promise of reopening them in the near future. Since then, I have been going to the office and sitting on the steps of the preschool and trying to talk with the staff about what needs to be done to get up and running again. My sense of urgency was lost on the staff, as my gentle prodding, mild threats, and Jewish guilt did nothing to motivate them. In the interest of capacity building and sustainability (and not doing it myself), I had decided that I would wait it out and see what the staff did. Sadly, what that looked like was them not coming into the office, beginning to search for new jobs, and not doing a whole lot about the NGO. I was disheartened. Despite the complications we have been facing, I believe so strongly in the staff's abilities and whole-heartedly want to get the NGO back up and running for the children (that's what it's really all about anyway).
Yesterday morning I called my counterpart to see if he was back from his home village (where he's been spending a lot of time since the NGO closed) and he said that he was and that he was at the NGO. I half ran down the road from my house to the NGO in hopes of seizing this opportunity and getting to put my two bits in about what needs to be done. (Here's where things start taking a turn for the better...) Together with some other staff members that were in, we decided that we would encourage parents and caretakers to pack lunches for the children and coordinate their own transportation to the center and, in turn, staff would take turns volunteering one day a week to teach preschool to the OVCs. Besides helping the kids continue learning, this would also give us an opportunity to check on the orphans and make sure they are still doing okay (and adhering to ARVs in cases of HIV+ children). I am drafting a Volunteer Staff Contract to make sure that staff fulfill their commitments and it's still up in the air as to if the children will be coming with food (or coming at all since we cannot provide them with transport at this time) but, as of Monday, we will be opening back up on a volunteer basis! This is obviously good news for the children but it is also good news for me because it means that I am guaranteed at least one staff member to be there each day and I can utilize them to start working on proposals (which could hopefully get us the funding we need to offer the rest of the programs and offer paid positions to the counselors, teachers, and staff). It's a small small step but it is something and I value those little victories the most these days!
Speaking of little victories... I have two more to share about my life at site.
1. Tomorrow I will be planting the fruit tree saplings in our garden! (Remember, the garden is going to support and feed the orphans and those infected and affected with HIV/AIDS.) It will be the first thing to be planted and will most likely be one of the most important and long-lasting contributions I will make to Kumakwane. We are planting orange trees, mango trees, and peach trees. Of all the things I could do in Botswana, this feels like one of the most stereotypical Peace Corps-esque contributions but I feel so good about it. I literally squealed when I heard the saplings were getting delivered.
2. I have started working at the Kumakwane Primary School. I will be teaching English and co-facilitating the English Club with the other PCV in my village. In today's club, we worked with standard 5 and 6 students (around ages 10 to 13). What we decided to do was teach them about debates and have them practice arguing points. The rationale behind this was that it would help the students learn critical thinking skills and make them more articulate and cognizant (and ultimately give them their own voice). We explained the concepts to the students and asked them what they would like to debate. They decided (on their own) that they wanted to explore Corporal Punishment, which is a huge issue in Botswana. We first explored the sides as a group and then broke into two groups to delve deeper into the arguments. After the first few minutes feeling somewhat uncomfortable talking freely about the issues, the students opened up and identified some really high-level and poignant points. In formulating arguments, they discussed such things as: depression, suicide, self-esteem, HIV/AIDS, abuse, and so on. (I was impressed by their thought patterns and knowledge of the issues once they felt confident enough with us to discuss them. It was magnificent to watch.) They are going to continue researching and exploring the arguments and we will meet again on Monday to practice actual debates. Then, next week Wednesday, we will do the debate for the school so that all of the students may benefit from the work these students have put in. It is something that I feel can be extremely beneficial and I am beyond excited to start working with these students.
In the end, I am really happy that I waited to give an update because I am now optimistic about things at site. The projects that I am working with have some real value and I am encouraged. (Family, as I type this, the clock just turned to 4:44. Good sign? I think so!)