Sunday, September 1, 2013

Finishing Up: Gabane Community Home-Based Care

Yesterday was a truly epic day. It was a day when I got to witness the end-game of my work at Gabane Community Home-Based Care (GCHBC). And, what makes it even more memorable and exciting, is that I got to do it in the form of an amazing event, alongside all the people who were part of those efforts from the community at large. My heart will be overflowing with joy, pride, and gratitude when I think about this day for the rest of my life. What was supposed to be a small event became something so much more.

A few days ago, the coordinator from GCHBC called to let me know there was going to be an event to hand over and unveil a brand new playground at the center. This had been a last-minute project that I pursued, mere weeks before I finished my time in Gabane and went for home leave. Although PCVs are encouraged not to start anything new at the end of their service, I believe that when opportunities present themselves it is important to grab them, so we made the effort. Getting the playground would offer a safe place for the children to hang out and have fun, as our previous one was dilapidated and in great need of repair. Two days before I left, I received word that our proposal was accepted and representatives from a local bank branch would be sponsoring the playground. Over the past two months, this effort came to fruition. And yesterday, I got to see the labor of love and watch the children's eyes light up when they saw their new play area.

I was so overwhelmed with love when I arrived at the center. I had been gone for two months and hadn't seen my Botswana family in as long. Hugs were the first thing on the agenda. But, not long after our familial embraces, I was sneaking around the event tents, media, and special guests, towards the new playground. I couldn't wait until the unveiling. I had to see it now!

When I saw the new playground, I could hardly believe my eyes! The new playground has swings, a climbing wall, teeter-totters, a bridge, slides, and an in-ground trampoline! And it was all new! And beautiful! I nearly burst into tears imagining the kids seeing it - how was I going to react when that time actually came?! I mean, who actually has an in-ground trampoline at their preschool center? It seemed impossible. This was just too magnificent to behold.

I went to run over to the ladies to gush about the playground but was intercepted by the donor, who I immediately hugged. She laughed and laughed because my excitement and my gratitude was so palpable. I hadn't seen the plans for the playground before I left so it was a complete surprise to me. It exceeded all of my hopes and expectations. I knew the children's reaction would be even more amazing.

Finally, after a few words with the donor, I went in search of the ladies from the center. As I rounded the corner of the event tent, I saw it. There, parked in front of me, was the combi we had written a proposal for many months prior! SURPRISE!

No one knew it was coming. FNB Foundation, who we were awarded the combi through, had talked to the bank branch weeks before and asked to surprise us with the combi at the handing over ceremony. And surprised we were! I honestly couldn't believe my eyes! Everyone must have been waiting for my reaction because, as I squealed with joy and shock, I turned around to see all the staff and donors laughing and smiling. IT WAS HERE!!! THE COMBI WAS HERE!!! And it, too, was beautiful!!! Goodbye old combi! Goodbye spending 47% of our funds on vehicle repairs! HELLLLOOOOOO riding in personalized style! WE HAVE A BRAND NEW COMBI! The combi was the last out-standing award I was waiting for to complete my time at Gabane Community Home-Based Care. I needn't wait any longer!

And all of this happened BEFORE the actual event and handing over ceremony!

The event was well attended. Our Kgosi and Minister of Parliament were there, as were the heads of the donor agencies and our entire board. The community came out in hordes. Every major village organization was represented - the clinic, health post, support group, school heads, and the other NGO in the village. Everyone who had been a part of my service in Gabane was there. And, over and above, the media came out to photograph and televise the event. It was truly spectacular. I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to be in attendance. The represented everyone that was part of time in Gabane.

On a very personal note, during his speech, the board chairperson made a very special "thank you" address to me for my efforts with the center. His words were kind beyond compare. He then asked me to stand. Everyone applauded me and the children came rushing over and hugged me. I was overwhelmed to the point that tears welled up in my eyes. To me, the only reason I was able to achieve so much was because I had a great team alongside me. They worked so hard and absorbed all I had to share with them. It was a joint effort. But I was so grateful for the acknowledgement and pleased they spoke so highly of me. I, of course, think the world of him and the ladies at the center.

As an added surprise, the donors also presented fleece blankets and small mattresses for each and every child in the center (54 of them!!!). The children clung to these blankets (which were a great gift, especially with how cold it was yesterday), even as they saw the playground for the first time. It was adorable watching them try to run to the playground and jump on the trampoline and climb the ramp with their blankets in tow. But they were just too excited to part with anything. Precious.

(Side note: When I went into the classroom to greet the children before the event started, they came running over shouting "Kamogelo! Kamogelo" and all wanted to do our "secret handshake". It warmed my heart that they still remembered everything because it was so special to me. And, I know you're likely thinking "But, Tija, it's only been two months, how could they forget?" Well, humans are incredibly resilient. Now apply that to 3-year-old orphans. I left them and was worried they would have blocked it all out in the name of self preservation. I am happy to report that they haven't. Smiles all around!)

After the event, I took some time to walk around the center and check out a number of projects we had done during my service, including the garden. Nearly a year later, the garden is thriving. The center feeds only from there now and it is still producing enough for income generation. It was amazing to see the plants flourishing. I was proud that the staff at the center were keeping up with it and, if anything, had improved the already gorgeous garden. It also a relief to see that nutrition is now taking a front stage in the efforts of the center's work towards helping the children and the home-based care patients.

The same goes for the new fruit tree orchard. This was a slower effort, but potentially more sustainable in the long-term. We grew these from tiny saplings that had been donated by a local greenhouse. There are now nearly twenty fruit trees - papaya, mango, and orange - that accompany our bustling garden. Small buds are beginning to flower on the trees, as the first signs that fruit will come. This is a joyous sight. And, if I may get sentimental for a moment, these trees are representative of our joint efforts at the center. They started out small and we weren't sure what would come of them. But then they were planted and nourished and strong roots began to take hold - a foundation for growth. Now they are strong and the potential limitless. How wonderful to witness.

As I walked into the office after witnessing the event, our awards, and the progress made in the fields around the center, the coordinator impressed me yet another time. She pulled out a new financial report they had made, unassisted, in preparation for an upcoming audit. The report was beautiful. They had learned everything I had shown them and were able to do it all on their own. There were QuickBooks reports and breakdowns and everything was substantiated with perfectly organized ledgers and more. I knew they could do it but it took my breath away to see the end result.

Lastly, the ladies announced that they refurbished a proposal I had written months ago and submitted it to a local foundation. They are meeting with a foundation representative next week about being awarded sponsorship for the next three years. If this happens, the center stands to receive upwards of P1.2 million to support its programs. That would give them the resources to grow the preschool, implement the Kids Club, and expand its reach to help even more people. I am so proud of the ladies for taking the initiative to pursue this opportunity. They are stronger than ever and ready to push forward to a new level. I am blessed to have been a part of their journey to now.

In the words of the coordinator, "All that's left to do is sing and dance and celebrate!"

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