Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day in the Peace Corps

"...the Peace Corps puts us 'on the front line' as it were, 
alone, armed with just our good intentions..."

"'s about service to our country to bring about a better world for everyone."

As Peace Corps Volunteers, we do not get this day off. We continue to work tirelessly on our projects and for our communities no matter the day. We work "24/7" they tell us. And, in reality, it's true. Our mere presence is a representation of America and all the aspirations we have and the skills we wish to share around the world. Our mission is "world peace and friendship" - to help others. We are dedicated and steadfast to that mission for our service of 26 months (or more).

Similar to other deployments, our service comes at a price. I have mentioned how we miss weddings and births and times spent with loved ones. Many of us live without water and electricity and all the comforts we left behind. We agree to serve under conditions of hardship and we do this happily, knowing we are making a difference. Sadly, sometimes it also comes with the greatest price of all. This has been the fate for 279 volunteers who have lost their lives during their Peace Corps service...

This Memorial Day, while you pay your respect to all of the service men and women who have laid their lives on the line to protect our freedoms, let us also take some time to thank all of those who have chosen to serve (and die for) their country in the Peace Corps.

"[When you serve in the military, you have] the role of military protector. 
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I represent my country as a capability builder,
not protecting but building. Trying to build skills and confidence 
in people so that they can live richer and more rewarding lives."
-PCV Botswana and Retired Air Force

Please read:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

First Glimpse of the House

Today was the first glimpse of the new digs and here are my impressions:

First, I have to state that it is still very close to the NGO and on an earthen road (not a path!) that leads to the main road of the village (aka it's in a really good location). It is back in the village more than my current house which has pros and cons. The biggest con is that my pretty view of the mountain and lands is gone. (No, this is not a huge deal  but I did really like my view.) The main pro is that I'm more in the community and will get to know people better. (In this case, I think the pro outweighs the con.)

Second, the outside of the house is really pretty. It's painted pink and brown, has some cool pillars on the front step, and is nestled nicely in between two friendly-looking compounds. The plot for the house has not been manicured yet, meaning that there are a lot of weeds and rocks and building materials everywhere, and the owner has yet to put a fence up. This is not such a big deal to me right now but it seems to be cause for concern with the staff from the NGO.

Third, peeking in the windows of the house, it has a nice layout. (I felt like a crazy stalker sneaking around the house and looking in the windows but oh well.) The rooms seem like a good size and I can see how I would decorate and make it feel like home. It looks comfortable and that's important.

Finally, and this is the big one, it is so so so far from being finished that it made me extremely disheartened. I mentioned that there are building materials everywhere outside but that doesn't even begin to explain the status of the inside. There are buckets and stacks of tiles and wood boards and paint cans and all sorts of things strewn about. The ceilings are only partially put in, there's no paint on the walls, the tiling for the floors hasn't been started, and the bathroom and kitchen were unrecognizable since no attachments or fixtures have been installed. The handyman from my NGO looked around and said the water hasn't been hooked up yet and the wiring for the electricity is unfinished. For someone who said the house would be completed in two weeks, the landlord sure has a lot of things left to do... Too many things for that timeframe...

So we called the landlord up and questioned him about it. He said that he will not receive the check for the loan to finish the house until next week Tuesday. He will go out immediately and purchase the rest of the things for the house and get to work. He believes there should only be about a week delay at most to finish everything. He also said that he will be putting a geyser in and fitting the kitchen and he doesn't think this should set him back additional time (from the already pushed back date). If that's the case then the house should be completed and ready for me to move in by the second week of June. That's what he's saying anyway...

With the way things go here, I don't expect the house to be finished within that timeframe. I would, however, jump up and down and have a great big smile on my face for weeks if it were the case. So, at least for now, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and keep my fingers crossed because, if it all works out, I think this is going to be a really great house for me. And, honestly, after five weeks without water what's another three, right? Right. Here's hoping!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

An End to the Drought IN SIGHT!!!

Drumroll please.... I have a new house!!! Well, probably... It's not entirely official and it is contingent on a few things buuuuuuuuut, if all goes as planned, it seems an end to the drought is in sight!

Apparently the DAC sent someone from the Council to my village yesterday to look at a potential house for me and they approved it for me to move into! (Hence my excitement since their declaration of approval is pretty much it since they pay my rent.) Since they came unannounced and saw the house on their own, I haven't seen it yet but I understand that it is two bedrooms, has electricity, and (the clincher) running water! (They are even saying that a geyser may be installed soon meaning I may have hot running water! No heating water up on the stove for baths?! Yes please! Fingers crossed this actually happens...) The house is still very near the NGO but it's a bit further into the village, which may prove to be really great for meeting more people. The house is not nearly as polished and nice as my current house (i.e. no fireplace, no built-in kitchen, no island, and no closets/wardrobes) but that really is not hard to do... But the landlord/neighbor (the house is kind of like a duplex) is supposed to be really cool and this house has something my fancy "posh-corps" house doesn't... WATER!

So how the deal goes is that this new house is still unfinished and under construction (it needs floor tiles put in, the security door attached, and some finishings) but all of the work should be completed within two weeks. If this happens (and the Council says it will) then the house is mine! This means that I could have a move-in date around my birthday! I'm going to be hoping and wishing that the landlord pulls through on getting everything finished in this timeframe and the agreement sticks! I mean, by that point it will "only" be seven weeks straight without water... But, if I can have water again, then it's worth the wait! (Nothing like going without to make you appreciate every little thing so much more!)

I'm going to get a first glimpse, drive-by style, tomorrow so stay tuned for my initial thoughts and continued updates on this pending move!

A Happy Moment: Kindness, Communication, and Smiles

I have been sharing a lot of happy moments lately. This is no coincidence as my life is abundantly happy these days. But I wanted to take a moment to share one of my happiest moments ever since coming to Botswana. I am actually surprised I didn't blog about it before, especially since I share this tale so often because it has truly been one of those simple blessings that makes my heart flutter time and time again. This moment takes place during a particularly rainy day on the 24th of December 2011...

Over the holidays, I had the good fortune of hosting Hanukkah for a number of my friends here. People began coming in around the 22nd and continued to arrive throughout the week. As was the usual in Kumakwane, my Kums Kids came a-knockin' and were particularly excited to meet, greet, and play with other Peace Corps Volunteers. My little Bokena and Bofelo were a regular fixture whenever we were sitting around the house.

You may remember that Bofelo is deaf. We became friends and communicated mostly through miming. Yes, it was difficult, but we made due. Love is a universal language, after all, and we certainly shared that.

On that particular Saturday, however, everything changed. Why? Because sitting on my couch was my dear friend Clayton, who just so happened to have grown up in a deaf community and had also studied speech and hearing sciences in college. After explaining to Clayton (and the rest of my visitors) that Bofelo is deaf, Clayton decided to try and "talk" to Bofelo, realizing that sign language in Botswana was probably different than American Sign Language. After some time, Clayton called me outside to "show me something". I came around the corner and the two of them were giving me the "I love you" sign! It turns out that ASL and Setswana Sign are not that different and Clayton was able to talk with him with relative ease! He showed me Bofelo's name sign and they gave me one of my own. After a moment of shyness, Bofelo lit up. He was literally beaming with excitement and his face held a smile that was contagious. This was an exciting moment for me - one that no other could compare to. Here, in front of me, was a boy that I had befriended many months before and had been inviting into my home and cherishing but who I could not converse with. And I now was able, through Clayton, to talk to him and find out what made him tick. Without my friend, this moment would not have been possible.

Since that day, I have been able to "talk" to Bofelo with much more ease. I know now that he can write in english so we write each other notes. He has also helped me learn things in sign language so that I can communicate, even a little bit, that way too. We have grown even closer. It has been truly magical.

A connection started by kindness made even stronger through the kindness of another. The ripple effect - it is such a powerful thing. So I want to make a heart-felt THANK YOU to my friend Clayton, who gave me one of the most precious gifts and one of my happiest moments in Botswana. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The World Needs You Now

I started following the work of the Acumen Fund nearly two years ago after reading its Founder and CEO's, Jacqueline Novogratz's, book The Blue Sweater. Her book inspired me. I have often thought about the story as I continue my work here and have used that memory as fuel to continue persevering, knowing that I am here for a greater purpose and that there is so much good to be done. Patience, dedication, passion, following your gut, trusting yourself, and the knowledge that we can all make a difference are the key morals I was left with.

In that same vein, I wanted to share this video, hoping that it would inspire each of you in the same way it has me. The video is of the commencement speech that Ms. Novogratz gave at Gettysburg College a few days ago. It has a message that we all need to hear and internalize. Please take a moment and watch - let her words resonate and encourage you. I truly believe that together we bridge the gap and create the kind of world we can be eternally proud to be a part of.

Below is the full-text version of the speech
(since I know that viewing videos can be almost impossible 
for those of us in the developing world - myself included)

Thank you, President Riggs.

David, you’re a hard act to follow. In the past 24 hours as I was listening to your classmates speak, I was thinking that I finally have a sense of what it means to be “Gettysburg Great.” I am so honored to be with you and so honored to be receiving this degree with Karl Mattson who’s such a wonderful person. And I am absolutely inspired to be here with the Class of 2012 as you graduate. I thank you, distinguished faculty, who care so much about the students, the staff, the  team here, the alumni, the trustees who give so much, the proud parents and grandparents who love so much, the inspired siblings and friends – I could not thank you more.

You, the Graduates, have earned this moment… so no matter how exhausted or bleary eyed you might be feeling after last night’s celebrations, take a few seconds to look around at each other.

Look to your left...

and to your right…

and take this moment and feel it.

Because so often life rushes by us and we forget the most critical moments in our lives. It is so important to live the minutes even when the world is moving at breakneck pace.

So breathe it all in and know with your whole heart and body: You did it. You really did it. Congratulations.

I remember being your age like it was yesterday, full of an amazing mix of certainty and a rolling list of questions.  There was the first job –if you could even find one – for like you, I also graduated in a time when the country was just coming out of a recession.

I dreamt of changing the world, and had worked hard to finance my college education so decided to take a year off before starting a career.

As you can imagine my parents thought that was a miserable idea, and yet, my parents are quite wise. So they negotiated with me that I should at least go through the college interviewing process. So I bought a suit, took my resume, and dutifully deposited it in the boxes for foreign affairs and economics majors.

My first interview was with Chase Manhattan bank. I walked into the interview, sat across the table from this handsome recruiter, and he asked me what would turn out to be the easiest and the hardest question.

He said, “So tell me, Ms. Novogratz, Why do you want to be a banker?” I’m a terrible liar, so I said, “Actually I don’t want to be a banker – my parents made me do this interview. I really want to change the world.” He said, “Well that’s just too bad – if you got this job, you would be in 40 countries in the next 3 years, learning all about the economics, the politics, the people of those places.” And the truth was, all I ever wanted to do up to that point was to know the world – to travel it and understand its people. And I was feeling this great opportunity flying away.

So I stared at him and I said, “Do you think we might do this interview over?” He said sure. I left the room, knocked on the door, walked in, extended my hand and introduced myself. He said again, “Tell me, Ms. Novogratz, why do you want to be a banker?” I said, “Ever since I was six years old, all I ever wanted to be was a banker.”

Shockingly, I got the job.

As it turned out, I loved being a banker. I loved how numbers could tell a story, and how smart investment could transform ideas into jobs and sometimes things of beauty.

What I didn’t like was that poor people were not in the mix.  The banks felt it was too expensive, too difficult and too risky to lend to the poor. And low income people themselves were often too frightened to even walk into the bank’s doors.

Three years after starting, I decided to leave the bank and try something different to fill that need.  I had read about Muhammad Yunus who had started making tiny loans to women in Bangladesh a decade earlier – and that inspired me to decide to move to Africa, ultimately, Rwanda, to try my own hand at banking for the poor.

Not surprisingly, it seemed I was the only one I could find who approved of the idea.  My boss told me I was making the worst career decision of my life and gave me a book called the Innocent Anthropologist.  My friends thought I had lost my mind. My little brothers and sisters said they would miss me too much.

Telling my parents, however, was the hardest. Now looking back at what they were going through, I understand. Their daughter, who had a promising career, was leaving Wall Street to move to a continent very few people understood. To a place they couldn’t find on a map. To do something they couldn’t explain to their friends.

But I knew somehow in my deepest being that I had to do it. And that if I didn’t go then, I might never have the guts to do it again.  I also knew how fiercely I loved them and was connected to my family and that I ultimately would not let them down.

And so, with a mix of love, sadness and excited anticipation, I boarded a plane for Africa, and ended up in Rwanda, where I met a group of Rwandan women and together we started the country’s first microfinance bank. And there, I learned first-hand that a small group of people really can change the world.

I tell you these stories because there will be moments in your life when you have to make those hard decisions that can come only from listening to the deepest part of yourself.  And you will certainly have those moments if you decide to venture out and do something few have done before.

Now, I don’t say any of this lightly.  I know it comes at a price.

You will find that people might not always understand you. You might even close off certain relationships.  But in paying that price, you’ll discover who you really are and who you want to be. You’ll discover what you are capable of doing.

And of course, that journey of change and of self-discovery comes with the high risk of falling flat on your face. Repeatedly. I have fallen down and gotten up more times than I can say.  But as that American philosopher John Wayne once said, “Life is getting up one more time than you’ve been knocked down.”

We have become a society craving instant gratification. We want simple answers and clear pathways to success.  But as you all know from the many community projects you’ve undertaken, from the very world around you  – life doesn’t work that way. And instead of looking for answers all the time, my wish for you is that you get comfortable learning to ask the questions.

As the poet Rilke said: “try to love the questions themselves”, he wrote, “as if they were locked rooms or books writing in a very foreign language.  Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is to live everything.  Live the question now.  Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

For me, one of the biggest questions we face today is how to build a world beyond poverty. To confront that challenge, both materially and spiritually, we need to renew and revitalize our systems of government and capitalism. Mostly, we need a new kind of leadership, one based in the notion of moral imagination, of building trust and solutions from the perspective of those being served.

Today’s world is more complex and interconnected than ever before.  Think about it…

The wealthy live better than most kings and queens of history.   At yet, 1.5 billion people – nearly 1 in 5 of us – have never had a glass of safe drinking water.  They still light their tiny homes by kerosene, an energy source used mostly in the 19th century.  And one in three of us have no access to a toilet.
In the words of my young nephew, that isn’t good for any of us.

Ultimately, this divide between rich and poor is too stark and too unsustainable. It strips not just the poor but all of us of our collective dignity.

And people your age all around the world know it. They see it.  And they are calling in the streets for dignity.

The tectonic plates of society are quickly, dramatically shifting. You can hear them creaking, pushing – moving to fever pitch with the Arab Spring, clanging with dissonance of the financial crisis, the hope of the Occupy Movement.  Planet Earth is swirling, full of possibility, yet somehow tumbling with confusion, seemingly not knowing which way is up.

And everywhere, everywhere, people are asking, “Where are our Leaders?”

From my work with Acumen, I am privileged to meet extraordinary individuals all around the world. They dare to dream and put their dreams into action. Usually they fail again and again – until they win, even if their dreams don’t look exactly like they did when they started out.

I think of Shaffi Mather who decided to fix the broken ambulance system in India. In India, if you want to go to a hospital, you call a taxi. If you want to send someone to the morgue, that’s when you call an ambulance. Shaffi decided there had to be a better way. He started with just 9 ambulances donated by friends and family, and everyone thought it was just a fool’s errand. Well today with patient capital invested, and hard work, and lots of bumps along the way, his company now has almost 1000 ambulances, 5000 employees, 1 million served this year. By the end of this year, he will be the fourth or fifth largest, ethical ambulance company in the world.

Shaffi saw something broken and decided to fix it. And if he can do it, so can you.

I think of a group of young leaders, just out of university, I met a week ago in Peshawar, in Northwestern Pakistan on the Afghanistan border.  It is a place known mostly for burkas, for suicide bombers and for desperation, a place where many live in fear.

Yet I met young people there who want to see a different future – and they’re intent on creating it, despite the risks of speaking out, despite the risks of collective action.  They used Facebook and other social media to get more than 4,000 people on to the streets of Peshawar to pick up the litter, whitewash the graffiti-laden walls, and clean up and green their city. They are not waiting around for political leaders to show them the way.

Like Shaffi, they are just doing it.

And they are just like you. They are your counterparts. They dream a better world. And they want to do something about it – even if they don’t know where to start, even if they don’t have the answers. Maybe mostly, they want to be seen. They want to know that their lives matter, that they can make a difference before they die.  Just like I imagine each of you do.

I was so struck that some of you sent in notes to President Riggs who sent them on to me to help me prepare for today’s graduation – and I thank you for that generosity and for the words which so embodied the spirit of “Gettysburg Great.”

Nearly all of you mentioned Community. And learning.  And the idea that you want to meet the challenges of the world in big and small ways.  Just by reading those words of yours, l came to like you.

A lot.

In liking who you already are, I want even more for you to come to know the world, to love the world, and to be in closer touch with counterparts who are like you in so many ways even if those similarities are not immediately evident.

I think of a group of young men I know who live in the vast and sprawling slums of Nairobi, Kenya.
When my book came out, a guy named Kevin, HIV-positive with a 3rd grade formal education, read it. He wrote and then texted me a long review of the book, saying how much he related to me for he had failed just as I had failed and that he, too, wanted to bridge the gap between rich and poor.

I was so taken by this young man who lived on so little income in a shack in the slums that I told him I’d get him books if he wanted to start a reading club. He asked for 100, which I sent, and then he and a few other young men hosted a giant book club in the Kibera Slum to discuss poverty and the book.  That lead the group to start a business plan competition. And then they decided to do the first TEDx in the slums. I know that you all recently held a memorable TEDx here, organized by Steve Meehan and others.

They didn’t have internet but it didn’t matter – they burned TED talks onto CD roms so they could include talks from around the world. They decided they were so tired of seeing only workshops about HIV and microfinance and tired of privileged Americans coming with their smiling faces intent on saving their communities, when in fact, no one was asking to be saved.  So they pulled together the best journalists, graffiti artists, entrepreneurs, and teachers. It caught the attention of the TED organizers, and today, Kevin and his band of brothers have hosted more than 40 TEDx events across East African slums.

Just two days ago, Kevin sent me another long text, this time describing his experience on stage at Doha, Qatar, telling 750  organizers around the world what it takes to do a TEDx and spread ideas in slum communities.

All of us are needed to renew the world.  Every single one of us.

Each of you, more than at any time in history, with the privilege of your Gettysburg degree has it in your hands to serve, to inspire, to work across boundaries to create the future you dare to dream. Your education at Gettysburg has taught you to be curious, to keep learning.  The world needs you more than ever.

The good news is there are so many enormous opportunities for leadership. They are simply disguised as insoluble problems.

Think about the richness of a life focused on what it takes to bring clean energy to millions of people who otherwise would live in darkness. Or finding ways to use technology to crash through bureaucracy and get serious about educating all of our young people, whether they were born in an urban slum or a wealthy suburb.

Each of you is needed. Each of you has the chance to make a dent, if you have the curiosity, determination and focus to do so.

And if I have any wisdom to share, it is this.

1.  Focus on being interested, not on being interesting.  Don’t make decisions according to title or status or position.  Pursue opportunities where you will learn about the world, and build the disciplines and practices you need to contribute.  Follow incredible leaders. Focus more on listening and learning.  The rest will come.

2. Don’t worry about what other people think of you. Most are too worried thinking about themselves.  So take risks. Ask the dumb questions.  Fail if you have to – and then get up and do it again.

3. Avoid cynicism. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.”  The pessimists can tell us what is wrong with everything, but it is up to the optimists to dare to make the change.

4.  Remember you are standing on strong shoulders. Daily, I’m astounded at how dependent we are on the work and ideas of so many who have come before. I’m not talking only about the greats of history. Before you’ve finished getting out of bed, turning on the light, brushing your teeth with water from a tap, putting on clothes making breakfast and walking out the door of your room, you are benefitting from hundreds if not thousands who have made those simple acts possible.

So walk with humility and a reverence for the human endeavor. Know it is your job to help take that forward in ways big and small.

And know you are incredibly blessed to have attended a school on the hallowed grounds made famous not only by a battle, but by a President whose quest for justice ensured that what happened there would not be forgotten.

“It is for us the living,” Abraham Lincoln wrote…”to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. “  Of course, he was talking about human equality. It is to your generation to extend that fundamental assumption to every human being on the planet.

And if we can, we must. You will hold the spirit of Gettysburg always in your heart. And you will be a part of the school’s own legacy as well.

5.  Finally, remember that inspiring hope in others may be the most radical thing you can do in a cynical world.  Hope may not feed us, but it is hope that sustains us. I’m not talking about an easy, treacly hope, but a hope full of power and love, of grit and resilience. It is inside every single one of you. The path won’t be easy, but nothing of importance ever is.

So, Class of 2012, I congratulate you, I celebrate you, and now I’m going to challenge you…

I urge you to lead your life in the minutes, to live the questions, to walk out of this place and into the world with both arms extended and open to the experiences, good and bad, that life will hold for you…

The world needs you and I know you will not let it down.

I wish you good luck and Godspeed,
Thank you.
Jacqueline Novogratz is the Founder and CEO of Acumen Fund.

Monday, May 21, 2012

My water is dried up like the rivers in Botswana

So begins my fifth straight week without water...

On the down side, this has left me with a pile of dirty laundry and a layer of dust and grime that I can't seem to get rid of. On the plus side, however, I still have brand new bottles of shampoo and condition that were purchased nearly two months ago in preparation for running out (i.e. more money in the pocketbook) and I have met many more of my community members while I wander around the village with buckets asking people for water (i.e. I have been much more social). Best to stay optimistic at a time like this!

As for what is next? House hunting is in full effect. People around the village are keeping an eye out for available housing but, as they say, "housing is mathata ma tona", or a really big problem. I saw one house over the weekend that had promise but, sadly, it will not be my new home. Although it had running water (huge plus these days!), the foundation was a mess - tiles literally coming up and apart due to uneven shifts in the ground, an interior wall starting to lean in on itself, etc. We have a call in to someone who is just finishing a new house not far from my NGO. The house is said to have two bedrooms, electricity, and pipes for water (that still need to be connected). We are all keeping our fingers crossed that this one might be the one (provided, of course, the house gets finished in due time).

Even the Batswana keep telling me how I'm "suffering" without water. But, if I am being honest, I don't really feel like it. Yes, things are significantly more difficult right now - I can't clean very well, I am almost out of clothes, cooking is a chore, sometimes I am a bit parched, and, yes, I am stinky and unclean much more often than I once was (or would ever care to be), but things could be much much worse. I am trying to keep things in perspective and what I have, even without water, is so much more than most. Regardless, I am pretty lucky and definitely living a life of abundance comparatively. So, until some new development in this water(less) scenario comes around, I'm just going to play with the village kids, chat with the mosadimogolos at the NGO, dance around my living room, and laugh out loud about how goofy and ridiculous this whole thing is... (And maybe even go say "dumela" to some of these new friends I've been making!)

"Every day may not be good, but there's something good in every day."

Friday, May 11, 2012


I have been on cloud nine lately. My successes have become plentiful and my joy abounding. Things have truly come together for me in a really positive way, both in terms of my life and my projects, and I couldn't be happier. The latter, in particular, is what I wish to share: project successes!


The Scout troop that I am working with has reached a new high. First, our normally small group of 25 kids has grown to over 60 kids attending each meeting this term with many more pounding the pavement to sign up. The kids are not the only ones who are excited to participate - we have had six new teachers ask to participate in one capacity or another! This is a far cry from our initial months, where the other PCV and I felt like we were pulling teeth just to meet with a single teacher to get things off the ground. And, as if to reward our troop for its efforts, we won a prestigious award for the school. The award totaled BWP 12,000.00 (a ridiculously huge sum in Botswana!) and our troop has also been invited to compete against other troops from the area next week in two categories: marching and entertainment/drum-line! The kids and teachers have been meeting every single day after school to practice and are looking ready to strut their stuff! This is huge for our troop, which only started this past term! Go Segoditshane Scouts!

Gabane Community Home-Based Care

As I mentioned a few days ago, my NGO in Gabane was selected as one of only ten organizations as part of the Southern African Development Community's HIV/AIDS Fund, which aims to strengthen CBO/NGO organizational capacity for the HIV response in Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. I did not confirm to the blog-o-sphere but we did receive the official invitation from SADC and went to the welcome banquet and continued assessment interviews yesterday in Gaborone. These interviews went swimmingly! The women from my NGO also were invited (as part of this event) to attend an introductory workshop led by notable experts from Southern Africa on a variety of topics, including: leadership and governance, financial management, and aligning programs to Botswana's National Strategic Framework.

Today, when I came into the NGO, the women that had attended the workshop were already elbow deep in the notes and powerpoint slides they received yesterday. They were going through the papers and "studying". I sat with them to help clarify some of the details and translate some of the jargon. After some time, the women stopped and looked at me with a sense of urgency then proclaimed: "We are going to work very hard to learn everything and prove to these folks that we are the best out here - that we want to learn and we want to do more. That way, when the training portion is over and they are looking to help with funding, they will know they can trust us to get the job done and do our best." My heart skipped a beat - this is every Peace Corps Volunteer's dream come true. And, the best part about it, I know that they mean it and that they truly will do everything in their power to make the most of this opportunity.

BOCAIP Tumelong Counseling and Childcare Center

It has been a long time since I have mentioned my old NGO in Kumakwane. As you can probably recall, it closed many months ago. This was devastating, not only because it meant that I had to move from a village that I loved so much but also because it meant hundreds of children would be going without the care and services they desperately need. Not wanting to see this happen, I continued working on proposals up until the minute I left but, sadly, had not heard anything from those submissions. Well, yesterday I received a call from a friend from Kumakwane that I used to work with who informed me that Tumelong was being repainted and cleaned up. I immediately asked for more details. It turns out that one of the proposals that I had written before moving had finally come through! The NGO now has funding to run the daycare center and the afterschool program for an entire year! (Note: the funding will carry them through June 2013, my expected end-of-service date! Hooray!) The facility is getting polished up and ready to re-open next month! That means, once again (and finally), that all my Kums Kids are going to have a place to go for food, psychosocial support, and fun! We did it!

Basically, what all of this means is that all of my service's key projects, even those that I thought were long gone, are having a banner month and I am reveling in their success!

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.  ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Water Saga Continues

What follows are a few of the realizations I have made from not having water for three full weeks (and counting):
  1. My order of preference for using (precious) stored water: drinking, cooking, washing dishes, flushing the toilet (moved up in the list in some instances, obviously), miscellaneous cleaning, bathing, laundry.
  2. Underwear is the first thing you run out of when you can't do laundry for three weeks.
  3. It is extremely exciting and worthy of a happy dance when you turn on a tap (someplace else) and have water flow out instead of hearing the screech of dry air (as is the case at my house).
  4. I am I extremely grateful that I "practiced" not showering for multiple days in a row in my past life (i.e. before coming to Peace Corps) because, without that experience, this has the potential to be exponentially more miserable. 
  5. I am now able to have a complete bath, including washing my hair and shaving, using only the water from one 32oz Sigg water bottle. (And, miraculously, feel quite clean!)
  6. Baby wipes are essential.
  7. My neighbors are pretty generous people. They have filled up my water bottles from their own water sources on more occasions that I can count.
  8. Nothing feels better than a hot bath after many many days without one.
You may be wondering what is next for me in the water department? Will I or won't I have water again? And, if so, when? Admittedly, I have been wondering this same thing for what feels like an eternity... 

Up until today, the only answer I have heard is: "sit tight", "be patient", "keep taking water from your NGO and neighbors", and other similar one-liners. This morning, however, I had a candid conversation with my DAC about the reality of the situation with my landlord, the house, water utilities, and so on. Ultimately, there are some unforeseen problems that could hold up getting my water reconnected indefinitely. Basically, what we have learned now, after three weeks of calls and messages, is that my landlord has not finished paying for the plot and therefore cannot directly authorize my DAC to pay the Water Utilities Corporation. To do so, he would have to finish paying off the plot but, unfortunately, he hasn't the money to do that right now. He is also stating that he cannot (or maybe will not) pay off the water bill in total, meaning that the water will not be reconnected for some time. These new facts are quite disturbing if you're the girl living in the house without water for almost a month...

That being said, calls have been made and a full-scale search for a new house for me is underway... In fact, when I was walking through the village a mere hour after hearing that I will be moving, I was stopped by a half dozen people from my community all telling me that they are aware of the situation and are looking for potential new homes for me! If nothing else, it feels good to know that I have my community behind me! Anyway, it looks like move number three since coming to site may be happening in the next week or so. Sigh. I'm keeping the faith though - things have worked out for the best so far and I am hopeful this next move will be every bit as good. (But I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed just to be sure...)

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Wonderful Women Of My NGO

There are so many times when I look around at the women that work at my NGO and think to myself how very special and wonderful they are. Watching them interact with each other, the children, and the patients is such a blessing - they are the sort of kind and caring and gentle people that we all should aspire to be. They truly look out for everyone's best interests and want everyone to be happy and feel loved. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by them every day. Today, in particular, I felt a sense that I was a part of their "family".

This morning I received a phone call from one of the women stating that they had the water hookup to the shower at the NGO fixed so I could come and take a shower there and get clean (since I'm now on day twelve without water at my house). I gathered all my things and ran over to the Center to take advantage of the opportunity. I got there and they were all smiling, proud that they were able to help me, and we all did a little "excited jig" together because I was literally skipping with excitement on my way there (and they saw). After my shower, they smiled huge smiles and laughed with me because I was so happy. Then we sat in the kitchen area bantering about the day - passing inside jokes and quips back and forth - and helping each other prepare the lunch for the children today. After some time, I noticed the cooks giving me coy glances as they put something in a large cooking pot. I looked closer and saw they were making madombi! This is my absolute favorite Setswana food and I never ever have it so I literally jumped up and down and they all giggled seeing that I noticed. They said they were making it in my honor because I have had a hard couple of weeks and wanted me to have something comforting and also because they are thankful for the work I have been doing. How sweet is that? This whole day was designed by them especially for me. Wow. It warms my heart to know that I am part of what they are concerned about now and that I am part of their little family. And, outside my own amazing family (both given and chosen), I can't imagine a better group to be welcomed into.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Crucial Meeting, Progress Achieved

When I first arrived at my new site, I was taxed with putting together an organizational profile and strategic plan. This profile would include everything from the community needs to our goals, response, and programs and then information on the NGO and its financial and programmatic future. The document totaled 22 pages. I sent the finished report to someone at a national organization that oversees projects for NGOs and CBOs like ours, mostly in an attempt to set up a meeting to discuss networking and to show that our organization is doing great work.

Yesterday, I received word that this same national organization wanted to come do a site visit at my NGO and that they would be bringing representatives from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to evaluate our organization and assess our needs. This was to be done in the belief that, if they liked what they heard and saw, they would partner with us on projects and provide capacity building tools to help us grow.

This afternoon, three representatives from my NGO (the Coordinator, the Administrative Secretary, and the Board's Vice Chairperson) and I had the opportunity to sit down with four representatives from SADC and the Program Manager from the national organization to discuss my NGO. For nearly two hours we discussed our organizational capacity in terms of governance, finances, and programs. They stated their interest is in helping build strong foundations for organizations making a positive and long-standing contribution by providing expensive programs (like Quickbooks) that NGOs like ours would not be able to afford and then intricate training on these systems to help them thrive. They also stated that they have internal access to future grant funding that they would help secure on the organization's behalf. Essentially, what this means for the organizations chosen is that they will provide the materials and training to develop strong financial systems and then grow from there by assisting in funding programs. Unfortunately, they explained, they had to pick only ten organizations in all of Botswana to offer such assistance. They told us they have spent the last two weeks touring the country to meet with and assess different organizations and that we are the last one before they will make their final decisions.

After our long discussion, I made a plea on behalf of my NGO to receive this assistance, stating that the staff is among the most dedicated and hard-working people I know, that they have a passion and a desire to learn, and that I will be here for a year to help support them in their endeavors and to help ensure sustainability of their efforts - plainly: their choosing our NGO would not come to naught (I would make sure of it).

On their way out the door, one of the SADC representatives from Zimbabwe pulled me aside and said that my presentation of the organization and my appeal to the committee has surely secured us a spot as one of the ten NGOs across the nation to receive assistance. He informed me that our acceptance packet will be sent to my email address tomorrow and that we will be honored at a "welcome banquet" next week Thursday. He then shook my hand and followed the others to the car.

After everyone left, I excitedly told my colleagues from the NGO what had been said to me and we all jumped up and down, gave each other great big hugs, and did a happy dance! This is a big day in Gabane, folks! A really great day! Hooray! :)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Oh This Life...

Last Monday I received a notice pushed under my front door from the Botswana Water Utilities Corporation stating that my water supply would be disconnected due to non-payment. I went over to my kitchen faucet to see if my water had already been turned off and, sure enough, after about four seconds it fizzled out. I went to another faucet and the same thing happened. I ran outside to check my tap and no water. Sigh. I tried calling my landlord (who is responsible for paying these bills with the rent check given to him from the government) but he did not answer. I then called my DAC (who is the government official that pays my rent etc) and also Peace Corps - both stated they would investigate the matter and get back to me. No news back from either on Monday or on Tuesday. On Wednesday, someone from my NGO managed to reach my landlord, who said the sizable bill was from the previous tenant and that he did not have the money to pay the bill in full for a couple months. (Translation: No water for Tija for a couple months.) Big sigh. I spoke to Peace Corps about this later that day and they said they would negotiate with the landlord and the Water Utilities Corporation and get back to me. It has now been a week and a half without water (although it has been dripping slowly out from the "hot tap" for a few minutes at a time - perhaps it is stored in my geyser for "safe-keeping" - so I am able to splash water on things to wash them and do basics like brush my teeth and use the toilet every couple of hours). I am still waiting to hear if my water will be turned back on or if I will have to move houses in Gabane (which PC said may happen if a solution is not reached with expediency) or what my future holds. For now, it seems my future includes carrying my buckets around to the neighbors to beg for water and traveling to Gaborone to steal baths from my generous friends. I will update everyone on the situation when I hear more - fingers crossed that it is soon!

P.s. As I type this, my electricity just went out... Now I am at no water and no electricity. Good thing I have a good sense of humor! Oh this life... TIA!

Food for Thought: What Is Africa?

The other night I went to an open mic night at a bar in Gaborone. There were people reciting their poetry, rappers and vocalists, musicians, and comedians. It was surely a display of some of the best (and worst) of what Botswana had to offer in terms of talent. One person, in particular, caught my attention (and I found myself wanting to befriend him almost immediately).

When he approached the mic, he started belting out, in the most amazing voice, the opening notes to "The Circle of Life" ("MAAAAA ZIFENGYA MADIVIMBENGAYOOOOOO!") He then stopped suddenly and said "Why do all tales of Africa start this way?" and the audience cheered. He then went on to discuss, in poetic form, what was one of his main frustrations - that people misunderstand Africa. His examples started with the tribal music that everyone equates with Africa (which is some of the coolest music ever so I understand) and extended to an example from earlier that day when a girl studying at the University of Botswana in the capital city asked him where the elephants were. His comedic response: "Oh, sorry, they marched this morning through the streets so you missed them, best to check back again tomorrow. Or you could visit Kasane." (Note: Kasane is where the elephants live en mass, but they are definitely nowhere near the busy capital. Everyone laughed, myself included, because asking about elephants down here is quite ridiculous and funny since there's no way elephants could wander the busy streets of Gaborone. But, we realize still, that this is because we live here so we understand the reality while others don't.)  The moral of his anecdote being that people abroad have a vision of what Africa is - full of mud huts and wild animals - and fail to realize that it is also civilized and developing rapidly.

Listening to his monologue made me think: What did I think Africa was like before I came? How has this notion changed? Could beliefs like this be keeping Africa from moving forward and gaining a foothold in the global community? What connotations evolve from this way of thinking? How do we educate people about this other side of Africa without losing all the support received for necessary development? Would tourism flourish if people realized there was a developed side too? What would happen to those children and families I am working with in the villages if people started thinking Africa was "all good"? Would they benefit from a new understanding of Africa or would it be a detriment? And many many more questions... Because, yes, the stereotypes are here for a reason - they do exist - but there is also another side of life here too. The village life that most PCVs live and talk about is a completely different lifestyle than that of the capital (and the two other larger towns), which is full of multi-story buildings, traffic, shops, and youth working laboriously to bring the world up to speed about the different faces of Botswana (and Africa). I want to help dispel the rumors and share that Africa has it all - the good, the bad, and the growing. Like the man who performed at open mic night, I wish everyone could come here and have their perspectives challenged. To see both the mud huts and the towers of Botswana and to experience the quiet life of the village and the growing abundance of the capital. The juxtaposition is unlike anything else I have experienced.