Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Capacity Building Gone Right!

The whole point of capacity building is to transfer skills to others so they can do their jobs better and, in the case of NGOs like mine, scale up their systems and better serve their constituents. So, if you have "students" that are actively trying to learn and you are a dedicated "teacher", doing the job well should mean you are no longer needed. After all, if they learned the skills and can use them properly, then your constant presence is unnecessary. That is the goal.

True capacity building is terribly difficult and, often times, Peace Corps Volunteers feel like they are constantly hitting their heads against a wall. Basically, you're asking people to do things above and beyond their preexisting work and they often don't see the rationale or what benefits might come in working extra hard for a while. Plainly, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And our response to them is that, "just because they can't see the cracks, doesn't mean they don't exist". Try convincing someone to follow you with answers like that! It's TOUGH!

I decided early on in my service that I was going to be steadfast to Peace Corps' approach to development: "helping people develop the capacity to improve their own lives". This meant focusing on the development of people and not things. And it also meant that I wasn't going to do things on my own just because it would be easier (and much faster) that way. I was going to take the long road and do everything step-by-step with the people that I work with to ensure they learned what they were doing. Even if that meant spending hours going over and over and over the same things and taking the time to hand-write instruction manuals for even the simplest of tasks. (Yes, I even put a "ON/OFF" sticker on the power button on the computer and everything moved forward from there...)

I have had relative success in capacity building at my NGO, mostly in terms of systems strengthening. I think that is due, at least in part, to the fact that I have been patient in explaining things to the staff and have demanded they participate in every single thing that I do there. They are learning the skills to do everything from typing to drafting reports to financial management and administration and they are gaining the confidence in themselves to carry out their tasks. (I make a big fuss over them when they remember how to "align right" or enter something into QuickBooks. They laugh and cheer themselves on and feel proud of themselves for their accomplishments. In turn, I believe it also inspires them to keep trying.)

Just this week, there have been a number of huge examples of the success of capacity building at the center. I am like a "proud mom" because I can see how much all of our hard work (theirs and mine) is paying off. So here we go:
The ladies at the NGO successfully put together their very first financial report. This meant going through an entire year's worth of receipts and bank statements, organizing them by category and entering them into the computer, tabulating results, and building charts.
The center had its very first Annual Meeting where the staff presented their very first Annual Report. Although I helped with the report, the ladies presented it on their own and fielded all of the questions from the Executive and General Committees. (We spent days prepping for every possible question and brainstorming solutions. The ladies took the initiative on this end and even worked extra hours to get ready.) 
The Administrative Officer at the center installed the ink into our new printer, typed up multiple letters, and printed them off all on her own. I wasn't even present for any of these actions. This may not seem like a huge deal but, less than a year ago, she couldn't even turn on a computer.
They have learned the definition of "promptness" and are using it in their lives. This is no small feat. "African time" is very real and has been a frustration of mine throughout my service. Today, when I told the ladies I would be at the center "around 8am", which in the past would have allowed me to stroll in any time up until 10am, garnered me a phone call at 8:01 because I wasn't there yet and they were ready and waiting to get started on projects.
When I first arrived at the NGO in February 2012, I recognized a need for better communication among the staff. I started bringing the staff together for meetings. It was a time, I explained, to share about projects, successes, and problems; to brainstorm; to discuss policy changes; and so on. I was informed by the Center Coordinator today that she had called for a staff meeting. She apologized because it would be during a time when I was scheduled to be at one of the schools but assured me that she could facilitate it on her own. She then handed me a typed agenda for the meeting. I scanned the agenda and asked her if she felt confident in bringing up and explaining some of the policy changes she was calling for. She said that she was because she understood the reasons for them and was sure that she could tell the staff in such a way that they would understand as well.
Whoa! What a week worth of successes! Now that's capacity building gone right! It's such an awesome thing to see your need slowly start to fade away... And it definitely makes it easier looking ahead to leaving. It's a relief and such an amazing feeling to finally feel like they are getting it! :-D

Thursday, January 24, 2013

COS: The First Acknowledgment

We just now, while I was reveling in all the glory of Peace Corps service and gushing to my mom about my center's latest accomplishments, received our Close of Service (COS) Conference schedule. This was the first acknowledgement by Peace Corps that our two years are coming to a close. Officially. It isn't just us volunteers talking about it anymore. It's really happening. Of course, that date was always going to come - we have known it was May 28, 2013 since we were sworn in and we knew the conference would be in February to mark our "lockdown" period three months prior. This hasn't changed. But, in looking at the schedule and reading the discussion topics ("representing your experience", "saying goodbye and bringing effective closure to your last months in-country", and even "group picture") made me tear up. They tried to soften the blow by calling it "Close/Continuation of Service" for those of us hoping to extend but it didn't stop my water works. No-sir-ee. This sap is having a hard time wrapping her brain around it. Even the thought of trying to give this experience an abridged version is daunting and then trying to say goodbye to everyone here seems impossible. Here the tears come again...

Now, my reaction doesn't necessarily reflect my fellow volunteers' sentiments, although I'm certain we all have a tie to Botswana, and to each other, that will make this a tough transition even if the others don't cry like me. And my tears don't mean that I won't be thrilled to come home and see my family and friends (and have a triple grande sugar-free vanilla soy latte and a big plate of Thai food). But this experience has had a very deep and profound impact on me and the eye leakage was involuntary when thinking about it all coming to an end. (And please note: I'm writing this right now and both the power and water are out in my village. That's what should be making me cry, not this. Right?!)

Somehow this all seems sudden, despite knowing the COS date all along. So I am sharing this, in part, to document the day when Bots 10 received its very first COS Conference email and, in part, because it was an emotional reaction that I hadn't expected.

Quick Update: Pit Latrine DUG!

I wanted to give a very quick update on the House Building Project, mostly because there is progress! As of this afternoon, the hole for the pit latrine has been dug out! YAY! That's a huge process and absolutely vital for the success of a pit latrine. (I mean, imagine if you didn't have the super deep hole for the poo to go?!) The bricks for the structure are being delivered over the weekend and the entire pit latrine should be constructed by next week! Double YAY! And then this family will finally be able to go to the bathroom on their own compound and in an actual toilet. I am so beside myself with excitement right now. This is another huge success for this Peace Corps Volunteer!

Gardening success!!!

If you have been following along, you will know that my NGO's garden was tripled in size in October as a result of a partnerships with the Office of the President. There was a big event, complete with speeches, presentations of donations, a massive community service day, and attendance by His Excellency Seretse Khama Ian Khama and his entire cabinet. It was absolutely remarkable. And I am here today to let all the good people out there know that the efforts made on that day were not in vain.

Today, ladies and gentlemen, Gabane Home-Based Care sold its very first stock of vegetables to the community! In fact, we produced so many vegetables that we were able to feed our children, provide our most needy patients with food, and still have enough left over to put up a stand down by the combi rank to sell an abundance of extras. Not only that, but after cleaning all the vegetables and preparing them for sale, we added up how much we stand to make. I won't get into exact figures but our profits should be enough to buy all new seeds to re-plant, some saplings to continue planting our fruit tree orchard, and still have money left over to put back into our programs! Now if that's not a success then I don't know what is! Hooray!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

You Know... "The Really Fast Scary Train"!

Every so often, something happens here that makes me smile and reminds me that I have once lived in a different world. Today held one such event...

While chatting with the ladies from my NGO about all the great things that Botswana has to offer (and which they readily admitted to not taking advantage of despite proximity and their renowned splendor) - the Okavango Delta, the CKGR, Victoria Falls - the subject of the new amusement park that is just outside Gaborone came up. They were talking about the wave pool and the rides and saying how it could be a tourist attraction too and, with proud smiles on their faces, stating that they had actually been there. They then started talking about "the really fast scary train". I was looking at them absolutely confused. What in the world are these crazy ladies talking about?! What is a "really fast scary train"?! How did we transition to this?! And then it dawned on me. They were talking about the roller-coaster that was constructed last year! A "really fast scary train" is a roller-coaster! Ta-dah! I burst out laughing once I figured it out because it was the most precious thing ever and because I could understand why they were calling it that from what I can only imagine is a really awkward translation from Setswana. It's new, they've never seen one before, and their description fit the bill! Oh cultural and linguistic barriers, how you constantly make me smile!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Looking Forward: Third Year Extension

Yesterday marked the deadline for third year extension applications to be turned in to Peace Corps. In true Tija fashion, I submitted my application two weeks ago. While most would regard my promptness to be a positive attribute, it is causing me anxiety. Why? Because it is requiring more patience than I would like to muster. I want to know about my future and my extension now. After all, I have already been waiting for two weeks, right?! Sigh. This brings me back to my initial application to Peace Corps... Oh the waiting!

It turns out that TEN people from my Bots 10 group have applied for an extension (and I am unsure of how many from Bots 11 are pursuing extension and would begin shortly thereafter). That is an unprecedented number of people to apply, especially from a group with so few volunteers. That's nearly half of all those who are still here from Bots 10. If all of us were guaranteed placement, this would be exciting beyond compare. These people are my family here and I would love to share the rest of this journey with them. Unfortunately, placement for third year assignments depends on available funding, volunteers' skill sets and experience, and fit with the limited number of potential host organizations. Even still, I will remain optimistic that we all get accepted for extensions within our chosen fields. I believe we each have what it takes to make great contributions here and enhance our own capabilities. That being said, we will have stiff competition this year it seems.

The competitive nature of this third year application cycle makes me all the more anxious to hear back from Peace Corps about the next steps. I know most of us are already questioning the process and are ready to hear more. I, personally, would like the opportunity to begin a dialogue with the staff and look forward towards the upcoming year. And I would like that year to be in Botswana and working with my proposed organizations. Is that too much to ask?

I have been told this process is fluid and comes from a number of meetings with staff and potential host organizations. I have also heard that it is like a mini version of our initial application to Peace Corps, requiring renewed medical clearance and interviews. I am hopeful that it falls somewhere in the middle. And that it happens quickly.

Fingers and toes crossed for expediency with this application and with my future placement. Deep breath, though, just in case it takes a while...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hard Work, Final Push, and a Break

I am in the home stretch, so to speak, of my work in Gabane. Our Close of Service Conference is just over a month away and then begins our final "lockdown" period. From that point, we are supposed to be observing our agencies utilizing the skills we have taught them and closing down our projects, rather than implementing new things. As capacity builders, this is important for us to ensure that we have successfully imparted skills to our host country counterparts. I have discussed this eventuality with the staff at my NGO at great length, preparing them and encouraging them to keep striving to learn.

Yesterday, the NGO's coordinator and I talked about this looming date once again. I think it was a big eye-opener for her, realizing that the date is fast approaching. We set to work outlining all of the things we still want to accomplish before then. It is a daunting list with more than a few big picture projects left on the agenda. To keep us focused, we decided to make a wall-sized calendar and work plan -constant reminders of the things we have set out to do and a timeframe to do them in.

This morning, I came to the office bright and early with large pieces of paper to make into a floor-to-ceiling wall calendar. I had drafted priority lists for our programs (utilizing our new strategic plan!!) throughout the evening and was set to get down to business. The ladies, as they slowly trickled into the center, were curious (and speculative) about my determination and the project before them. Hadn't this been discussed yesterday and agreed upon? I continued on, explaining as I went what I was doing, why I was doing it, and how we were going to accomplish everything (or at least get started) in the next six weeks. The ladies sat before the new calendar and nervously chuckled and spat words of apprehension.

Before long, we were talking together and solidifying the plans. They kept asking if I could stay with them at the center longer to help them get through these lists. I constantly reassured them that they had many of the skills to do it themselves but that I would be here for some time still to guide them. We then set to work on the first of many tasks...

About three and a half hours later, after tireless work (i.e. no tea break), the ladies stopped and looked at me and said "Kamogelo, we are working too hard. I think you should go home so we can take a break." Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my calendar of objectives and deadlines put stress on the ladies to the point that they realized the kind of work they wanted to do so they did not pause for tea (an oversight due to diligence and earnest on all of our behalves) and became so overwhelmed that they felt I had to actually leave the center in order to get a breather! Whoops! But, before I left, they were sure to sit down with me and discuss what needed to be done next. And they want to get started as soon as the doors open tomorrow.

In the end, I consider it a success. It is important to look ahead and make a plan and that is something that has been lacking here. So, in putting up the calendar and showing them exactly what needs to be done, I issued them a challenge and it's one they have accepted. I truly believe that, in seeing the work that lay before them, the ladies will accomplish more and feel more confident and successful. Plus, I got an afternoon off guilt-free! :)

Names and Meanings

The other day, I was at the clinic working with the home-based care nurse on a project, discussing the mobile clinic, and brainstorming future health trainings to do for the community. I spend a fair bit of time working with this nurse on various projects and have gotten close with her so mornings spent in this manner have become commonplace.

In the midst of a particularly insightful and hot debate on continued HIV counseling, she stopped and asked me what my "other name" means. (Note: in Botswana, it is common for people to have two first names and they go by both depending on the situation and/or preference. One is their Setswana name and their "other name" is their Westernized name.) I explained that my name didn't have a particular definition but that it was a combination of my parents' names and I proceeded to tell her the story of how my name came about. She looked at me questioning. She then inquired further - "How did you learn your name when you were young? Isn't it just random letters put together with no reason and no meaning then? That must have been confusing." I hadn't thought of it that way before.

Setswana names all have a meaning and children are often named for very particular reasons. For example, I have friends that are sisters. The first is a young girl named Neo, or "gift", and the second is another girl named Gape, or "again". Neo was named because a mother's first child is a gift and obviously Gape was named because the mother had another baby girl... Again!? Or take my Setswana name, Kamogelo, which means "you are welcome". My host family named me that because they were welcoming me into their home when I first arrived in Botswana.

Similarly, Batswana's "other names" are drawn primarily from the Bible. There are many girls named Esther and boys named Moses. There is something to point towards with each name and some sort of message or meaning behind them.

I told the nurse that my name did not have a meaning but that I don't remember having any problem learning my name when I was young. It was always just my name and pointed to me when said. After leaving the clinic, however, I continued to ponder this. Today, four days after this conversation, I have decided that my name means "Of Tina and Jeffrey".  I have also decided that "Westernized names" have a broader definition than Batswana can possibly imagine right now. It means creativity and uniqueness. My name is encompassed in that.

Happy Tuesday tidbit about Botswana - cultural exchange to both Batswana and Americans!

Monday, January 14, 2013

House Building Project Update

Last week we finalized the paperwork to move forward with the house building project. This meant meeting with the Kgosi to authorize (and ensure) inheritance of the plot and its structures to the children and grandchildren when the mother eventually passes and then submitting the forms with the land board. This was of utmost importance to me before continuing the construction, primarily because I want to make sure the young ones do not get overpowered by long lost relatives or anyone else who might sweep in during the 11th hour and leave the kids even more destitute. Fortunately, we were successful in getting everything organized and officially filed so it was all systems go on the project over the weekend!

The interior of the house has been plastered and the doors have been ordered. Painting and installation of windows, doors, and so forth is set for some time within the next two weeks. If our financial resources hold out, it looks like we will also be able to get the house wired for electricity. In total, the house should be ready for the family to be moved in by Valentine's Day! Now that's what I call a "gift of love"!

This is a collosal achievement - building a home for this family will improve their lives beyond measure. This is possible because of the kind, generous, and wonderful support of the Gabane and American communities who have pledged so much. I will forever be grateful to each person who shared in this project.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Holy Mackerel!

I know I stated in my passed blog post that it was a little over five months until my group closes its service and heads onto the next adventure. Well, folks, I was somewhat mistaken in my calculations. It turns out there are only 139 days left before we hit the pavement (whoa, pavement?!). That means it's actually closer to four and a half months! I over-estimated by nearly a month! How quickly the time goes... But why am I mentioning this? Could it just be a clerical error that I wanted to fix? No way. I've made a number of those throughout my postings, I'm sure (whoops, sorry), and I haven't made a post about it (I just fixed it in the original post and moved on). Could it be because I can't wait to get out of here? Heck no! If you couldn't tell, I love it here. So much so that over the weekend I officially sent in my application to extend my service for another year. So then why!? you might ask. Fear not, I will tell you! It's because I JUST NOW, while having a casual IM conversation with my mother, had to have my very first "plan around this when you make arrangements to come home" discussion. Yes, folks, I am coming home so soon that I am actually having to consider things and plan around them for when I get there! (WHAT?! Are you kidding me?! I can hardly believe it!) Although I don't have the exact date yet for when I will be in the great state of Washington (check back in with me near the end of February), it's close enough that we can start murmuring about that day. And, more importantly, start planning the epic party that will be had! I mean, after all, it will be a "30th birthday" slash "welcome back" slash "we've missed you" slash "good luck in your third year" (hopefully) party! That sort of thing has to go down in history I think! So watch out family, friends, and followers... I'm coming for you! And SOON! :)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Ramblings on Change and my Beloved Group

I have been very introspective and reflective these passed few days. As you may remember from my ramblings nearly two years ago, this is part and parcel of a Peace Corps Volunteer's routine - having ample time to just sit with their thoughts. As a general rule, PCVs are deep thinkers and even more passionate planners. This makes us very efficient and diligent workers, able to tackle hard tasks in grassroots development, but has often also provided much anguish in the long hours alone in the village. The time spent by myself, left to ponder my life and my existence and, truly, humanity, used to rattle me to the core. I had things I needed to work through and personal obstacles to overcome. Since then, I have grown to love and appreciate my alone time and can literally sit in silence for long hours reflecting and, albeit to a lesser extent, looking forward. Now I recognize that this time alone is precious. It is something that once was more than I could handle but now seems harder to come by so I am grateful for these passed days. Most of my thoughts come back to my group and our time here...

My group has just over five months left in Botswana. The time has flown by at a rate that I can only refer to as "lightening fast". When I think back to the last minute scramble to throw things in my hiking pack into the wee hours of the morning before I left, it seems like only yesterday. But when I think about how far I have come and everything I have experienced and been through, it seems like a lifetime ago. The girl that stuffed an extra skirt into her pack in lieu of extra face wash hardly exists anymore, at least not in that same way.

We have all changed. Looking at pictures with other members of my group from when we first arrived here, we all laugh and clamor about how young we all look. We have aged. We look a little haggard and rough around the edges now but I think it shows wisdom and courage. We are also a little jaded after all this time dealing with hardship but we are also more aware of ourselves and our capabilities and have maintained the will to try. We are not afraid of failure because we know how much sweeter it is when projects finally work out.

I have watched my group-mates grow in such unique and beautiful ways. For one, that might mean coming out of her shell and becoming strong and independent. For another, that might mean overcoming the ebbs and flows of his service to ultimately feel happy and successful. And, for yet another, that might have meant knowing when to say goodbye and head home to pursue the next big thing in their life. We have all had our own battles to fight and hardship to overcome along the way but we have done it as a group. I have loved watching my friends be transformed into these incredibly inspiring people.

And, on top of this evolution of being, we have had a rockin good time together. From quad biking on the sand dunes in Namibia to kayaking with penguins in South Africa to croc hunting in the Delta, it has been one crazy amazing adventure.

It's hard for me to believe that, before we know it, this time together will be complete. All of these realities will become memories and those extra grey hairs in our head a quiet reminder. I am proud of my group and where we have come and grateful to have shared this adventure with them. It's not every day you feel grounded by both your head and your heart but, for me, that's where I'm at. So a deep breath and a smile for the quest. I intend to relish in these last five months with my group and brace myself for what's next. It's going to be a wild ride!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

"Top 12 of Twenty-12"

To highlight all of the fabulous adventures of the past year, here are my "Top 12 Moments of Twenty-12":

12.  Cape Town, South Africa

I started 2012 out by ringing in the new year in Cape Town. We ate food, saw the sights, went shopping, tasted some amazing wine, and went kayaking with penguins. It was a really fun trip with over a dozen other Peace Corps Volunteers to a place that everyone should visit at least once.

11. Moving to Gabane

In early February 2012, I moved from my quaint little village of Kumakwane to a new site 15km down the road. Gabane became my new home and Gabane Community Home-Based Care became my new primary project. This move marked a significant milestone for me and was one that opened so many doors. I have really flourished in my time here - gaining invaluable experience and helping the NGO grow and expand its reach.

10. Making New Friends

I became closer with those I befriended in my first nine months in Botswana and I made many new friends. These friendships enriched my time here. In my down times, these people lifted me up and brought a smile to my face. In my happy times, they made all the more special by sharing in the successes and joys of service.

9. Kumakwane Community Football and Wellness Event

On 10 July 2012, alongside a fellow PCV, an RPCV, and Friends of Sonoma, I hosted an event in the Kumakwane community to bring people together for health and wellness (and a whole lot of fun). It was a day filled with laughter and tears of gratitude from event hosts and Batswana alike. It was the practical application of everything you learn in studying grassroots development and programming. It was a success by every measure.

8. Teddy Bear Day

Teddy Bear Day was a way to honor and show love to 147 orphans and vulnerable children in the Gabane community. In association with the Mother Bear Project, we were able to give teddy bears to each of these children. These bears were more than a simple gift, but rather represented our continued commitment to helping alleviate the pain that they each carry. It is a symbol of the work I have been doing in Botswana. And, in the end, their smiles alone make it one of my top moments of the year.

7. Seeing a Leopard

This highlight goes along with another favorite moment of 2012, but its significance makes it deserving of its own spot in the list. The first moment that I saw a leopard was emotional for me. I hadn't expected it to be - we had just spent an hour sitting six feet from a pair of lions - but that first sighting touched my soul and my heart and made me literally cry because I was so moved and overwhelmed.

6. Christmukkah

I have known how much my boyfriend loves me for quite some time. He makes sure not only to tell me but also to show me he cares in a million different ways. But this holiday season, he went above and beyond to ensure that Hanukkah and Christmas were extra special. It will go down as one of my favorite holidays ever - and the first since my dad died where I have truly enjoyed it.

5. Okavango Delta Trip

The Delta is one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been. Having seen it, I now understand why it is one of the 1000 Places To See Before You Die.

4. Presidential Visits (Yes, TWO!)

In October, Botswana President Seretse Khama Ian Khama visited my NGO to help us with our food security project. During his visit, we tripled the size of our garden, enabling us to better feed the orphans and vulnerable children that attend our preschool as well as having enough produce to feed the home-based care patients. Wow.

In July, I hosted an event at my NGO for Former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. This event challenged me in ways I could never adequately express and opened my heart and  freed my mind in truly remarkable ways. Plus, it was an incredible honor.

3. Cassie's Visit

One of my very best friends boarded a plane and came all the way to visit me. We had the most ridiculous time - full of all the misadventures that I could expect when the two of us get together. We traversed the country (or at least half of it), saw some uniquely African sights, and had a whole lot of fun along the way. Sing-a-longs karaoke style included.

2. Falling in Love

Sometimes you have to travel halfway around the world and risk everything to find the life you have always wanted. That's what happened to me. In coming here and in sticking it out, I fell in love. I fell in love with a new country, I fell in love with development work, I re-fell in love with my home country, and I just plain fell in love with the most amazing man. I never knew I had the capacity to love and be loved like this. No matter what happens, I will forever be grateful for my heart expanding so much.

And finally....


The number one spot on the "Top 12 of Twenty-12" list...

1. My Family's Visit!!!

In August, my family came to visit me! Nothing could compare to the moment I saw them step off the plane except, maybe, the moment I got to hug them all after so long. And then having them experience my life and share in this crazy Peace Corps adventure was beyond compare. Not to mention all of the new things we got to see and do together. It was a trip of a lifetime - for me, for them, and for everyone they got to meet along the way. There is nothing that could have compared to that time together. (Plus they brought me enough coffee to last me the rest of my service!)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013!

My boyfriend and I often joke that 2012 was "the year of the Angry Bird", mostly because that's when he introduced the game to me and when we set to work mastering every level of every version we could find. But, if I am being honest in reflecting over the past year, I would say it would more aptly be referred to as "the year of love". It was the year that I fell in love with Botswana, the year that I recognized all that I love about home and my work and myself, and the year when I learned how to love and be loved more fully. It was a truly special year. I can only hope that 2013 can be filled with so much love... and I can hardly wait to see what's next in the next 365 days! Wishing you and yours a very happy, healthy, and fun 2013! Happy new year!

From our heart to yours... love.