Last week I taught the children in my new NGO's preschool program the "Kums Kids secret handshake". (Yes, I realize this makes it less "secret" but oh well - best to share the fun I think!) Learning the handshake - how to make a fist, when to pound it, and when to "blow it up" - made the children laugh uncontrollably. After all 41 of them could do it, we did the hokey pokey and danced around and wiggled until we fell over. It was a bonding day for the children and me. It was the first day we truly interacted and had fun together. We have been growing closer ever since. Today I started to learn their stories.
Learning about the children in my community/communities has been among the things I cherish most about my time here. It is also among those that elicit extreme emotions. Today was no exception. After playing a round of "cat, cat, dog" (read: "duck, duck, goose" but with animals the kids have seen and know about), I sat down with the Head Teacher to discuss the needs of the NGO. In this discussion, I learned that most of the 2- to 6-year-olds that we work with are orphans and come from extremely poor families. Many live with sick grandparents or hardworking uncles (or similar family structures) and are left to care for themselves when not at the preschool. I also found out that one of the little girls that I started to grow attached to last week just lost her mom in December and is now being raised by her teenage cousin, who is her last living relative. Understandably, this child is having an extremely hard time ("adjusting to the loss" as the Head Teacher put it) and is wetting herself and exuding other trauma signs. She is not alone by any means. Two other children in the class are living in a one-room house with eight other people - a hodgepodge of orphaned family members taken in and being raised by an HIV+ aunt. The NGO is trying to pull together funds to help build them a new house and get them food baskets. (This is something they did once before for another struggling family. I learned that it costs roughly US$3,000.00 to build a four-bedroom house in Botswana. This could make all the difference for a family like this. Amazing to think.) The staff struggle too, as they have never received salaries and still have families and bills and basic survival needs. Things are difficult. And I'm just beginning to know the realities in my new village.
While the stories are sad, I want to also point out the positive side here, at least as I see it. For one, family members are reaching out to take in children in need. Next, my NGO and the Gabane Community have come together to offer education and services to help these families. Third, no one is giving up and everyone is pitching in to help. And lastly, I am here and I am inspired to keep these children laughing and to helping find resources to make their lives a little bit better. Their stories, however sad, are what inspire me and are the reason I am here.