Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reflections And Thanks Given

Growing up, my parents told me countless stories of their lives that both captivated me in awe and amazement and which inspired me to do and be more. I heard about road trips and incredible jobs and travels and wild adventures. They spared few details - a fact I respected them for - and I laughed when their stories took a turn for the bizarre and smiled with every new tale. They were daring and pushed themselves. I remember knowing from a very young age that I had the coolest parents on the planet. This, I resolved, was undoubtable. I wanted to be just like them.

I wanted to have stories of my own to tell. Ones that would make my personal narrative hold memories and adventures that rivaled theirs. I wanted a glimpse at the full and vibrant life that my parents had shared with me. Their bravery to go and do and see everything gave me the strength to challenge myself too. They were my heroes for living their lives to their greatest extent. That is how I always felt, and continue to feel, about them.

Being raised by these two very adventurous and fun-loving parents who came of age in the '60s, it was inevitable that I would be a perpetual "flower child". The ideals I was raised with gave me a sense of purpose and a deep respect for community. Peace, love, and happiness were the end goal. If you could get there by dancing to the beat of a different drum (perhaps an African drum), then all the better. And it is because of them that I am where I am now and can tell so many great tales.

I am living in Africa. I have traveled halfway around the world and back. I have gotten up close and personal with elephants and lions, quad biked on the sand dunes, and out ran a hippo. I have explored Israel, sailed through the Bosporus, danced with strangers into the early morning in Istanbul, scuba dived with 300 pound groupers, and backpacked around Europe. I have lived without water and electricity and among some of the scariest creepy crawlies imaginable. And I have raised over one million pula in donations for agencies around Botswana. I have many stories to tell now... And sometimes it feels like my life is just beginning.

This post is a dedication of these stories and a tribute to my parents. They are a reflection of you and what you inspired me to do with my life. I am beyond grateful that you chose to share your exciting lives with me and pushed me to go out and live mine to the fullest. Thank you. Because of you I will never wonder what could have been but rather be able to say "This one time in..."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Problem With "Progress"

When we think about progress, most people envision the digital age. They see computers and databases and systems that make everything run quicker and easier. The problem with this in the developing world is that electricity is sometimes out for days or weeks, making it difficult to keep things updated electronically. Most organizations get along fine by having hand-written hard copies of all records too. While this is cumbersome and means doubling the time to do things, it is the only way. Even still, in the name of progress, people are eager to learn how to use computers and get everything online.

Gabane Community Home-Based Care, the organization I spent the majority of my service with, was no exception to this desire to enter the technological world. And, after getting eight computers donated, I helped them scale up operations using them - teaching courses and building systems specifically designed to move them in that direction. We spent tireless hours on typing and then building capacity to create and update financial systems (QuickBooks) and program databases. It was an effort that was bringing new skills to the staff at the center. They were learning so much and being able to do everything on their own. We were excited about our progress. It felt limitless.

A few days ago I received a phone call from the center coordinator. After the customary greetings and small talk, she informed me that she had bad news - "Kamogelo, I have something very sad to tell you." I braced myself. No one likes hearing these words and, within the context of the work I was engaged, it can be scary to hear them. She went on to tell me that a thief had broken into the computer lab I had put together and that all eight of our computers had been stolen. GASP! She said that they had just finished updating all of the systems and that, after so long, they had finally gotten everything organized into QuickBooks from 2010 to present. Be still my heart! I was at a loss for words. On one hand, I was impressed that they had kept up all the hard work in my absence (YAY sustainability!). On the other hand, I was devastated that nearly two years worth of work had been taken from us, just that easily. And taken from such a good-hearted charitable organization no less. How could this be happening?!

After some time in silence, I assured the coordinator that I had some records backed up on my personal hard drives and she confirmed what I already knew - they didn't have a digital backup of anything but they had been hand-writing a hard copy of some things and would have to continue in that manner since the computers were gone. Phew! In that moment, I was so grateful they had not completely discontinued their tedious hand-written work in favor of the more progressive technology. Had they, everything would have been gone. Losing the computers and all the databases and digital files created over the passed years was bad enough.

Crimes of this nature are increasingly common. It is a tragedy and it breaks my heart. But this is the reality in much of the developing world. Sure, it could happen anywhere, but the prevalence rate is much higher in some places. It is something that we, as development workers, need to be conscious of when imparting our perceived notion of "progress" on others. Yes, it may be true that this is the way forward but, at the same time, we have to keep these external factors in mind. I am relieved that we didn't completely do away with the common way of record-keeping in the village in our pursuit of progress. And, the coordinator assures me, when they eventually get computers again, they will be ready to use their new skills to go at it again... as a second means of documentation.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

PC/Botswana Project Advisory Committee

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer opens up many doors for unique experiences. This takes shape in the work we do, the people we stand to meet, and the places we get to see. Every day can be an adventure if you are open to it. I have been fortunate to seize many such opportunities. I am delighted to say that, in my third year, they continue to present themselves to me.

On 29 July 2013, my Country Director called to invite me to be a member of Peace Corps Botswana's Project Advisory Committee (PAC). The PAC is new to our post but has already made a significant impact on the work we do in Botswana. Essentially, PAC is comprised of Peace Corps Botswana's key project stakeholders, who are among the highest level officials in the country (having representatives from the heads of key Ministries and the National AIDS Coordinating Agency (NACA)) and acts as the voice that helps Peace Corps ensure that it develops credible, realistic, and responsive projects and training programs. Additionally, the PAC provides input and guidance to Peace Corps and helps to ensure stakeholder coordination and serves as an advisory body to the post's Program and Training Teams. My role on PAC, my CD explained, would be to represent the 102 volunteers currently serving in country and to shed light on what is happening on the ground. This offer was an honor and an opportunity I jumped at.

As I expected, my first PAC meeting was well attended and impressive. The stakeholders were outspoken, energetic, and eager to discuss the issues before the committee. Included in the topics were: the new project frameworks, preliminary results and a sampling of volunteer activities, administrative matters pertinent to the Ministries, site development, the incoming group of trainees, and projections for the upcoming year.

I was most taken by the collaboration between these groups and their passionate and keen interest in furthering and supporting the Peace Corps projects. This working group felt productive and I believe a great stepping stone towards enhancing the work we do around the country. It is no secret that I feel strongly about the potential of Peace Corps Botswana to make a real impact. PAC is a move in the right direction to get everyone on board and working together to ensure that our post can achieve a higher level of functionality and have a profound effect on the communities we reach. I am grateful to be a part of it as we move forward.