Friday, November 22, 2013

Virtues Project Workshop A Success!

Buddha said: "Just as treasures are uncoverd from earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue." It was with this sentiment in mind that a team of us brought The Virtues Project to Botswana to host its very first skills workshop (which I discussed in an earlier post).

I am very proud to announce that the workshop, which was held earlier this week, was a huge success! Nearly sixty people were trained on the Five Strategies of The Virtues Project, which emphasize love, patience, and compassion. The material, which was geared at educators in rural Africa, provided a fresh way to work with children and youth and offered new ways to address the key issues of punishment, boundaries, and relationship-building. All of these being vital to growth and progress when working with this demographic, and issues that need to be refocused in Botswana specifically.

Positive feedback from all participants gives us confidence that the lessons will be implemented across the country. Acclaim for the workshop came from Peace Corps Volunteer participants who work in youth development, primarily within the school system, and from their host country counterparts: "A lot of us wanted to bring these methods to our schools but didn't know how. This is a great way to do that. Even better, my counterpart liked [the training] too!"

I want to congratulate everyone that was part of the team that brought this workshop to Botswana and thank all participants for their willingness to examine a new approach to these issues. I was honored to be a part of this workshop and hope it's something that will continue on in the years to come... And I know the teachers I spoke with afterwards would too!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Movember: A Global Movement

This is my boyfriend. No, he doesn't always look like he just stepped off the set of Super Troopers. But each November, however, the facial hair makes a very special return in honor of a very important cause, dubbed "Movember".

As an official global charity, Movember’s vision is "to have an everlasting impact on the face of men’s health [quite literally]. During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of millions of moustaches on men's faces around the world. Through the power of the Mo, vital funds and awareness are raised to combat prostate and testicular cancer and mental health challenges." The Mo isn't just for hipsters anymore - it's a revolution!

Although renowned in much of the developed world, Movember (and awareness of health issues like those it addresses) is still relatively new in Botswana. The Movember movement has, however, made huge strides over the last two years. There are now national events and people are finally starting to take notice (and grow their own mo!). 

This is a significant event and one that, we hope, will help men take more ownership over their own health. For Botswana, this extends beyond those health issues specifically addressed with Movember. Issues like HIV testing (which men often leave up to their female partners) are also encompassed in this movement. So, for those of us working in public health in Botswana, Movember is the perfect outlet to encourage men to discuss their health and learn how to protect themselves.

If you would like to learn more about Movember efforts in Southern Africa or support my boyfriend's mo, please visit this link:

If nothing else, grow your own mo and support this great cause! Look, even I'm doing it! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Endless Water Saga: A Desert-Dweller's Dilemma

This is a picture of the Gaborone dam on the 1st of November. As you can see, it isn't much to look at these days. In fact, the Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) stated that the dam is at about 14% (although this photograph begs to differ). Of the four dams in this area, half are already completely dried up. This equates to the southern half of the country having mere weeks of water left. When a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer asked someone in her village what happens next, the response was: "we die."

Now, I don't think the situation is quite that bleak. Despite having their own water issues, I can't imagine South Africa letting us die before offering some water and the Botswana government has consistently been meeting with WUC to discuss a way forward. Plus, if we're lucky, it will rain for more than five or ten minutes at a time... (But that requires Mother Nature playing a more active role here and that's not a reliable solution.) The truth is, the villager's assertion may be the reality for some in the most rural of villages. For those of us near the capital city, however, it is looking as though WUC will likely start funneling treated recycled water to homes or, they are suggesting, setting up pay-as-you-go standpipes and shutting the water off otherwise. Hopefully this method will work and it can be extended out further into the southern part of the country. If not, the four plus days per week without water will seem like a cakewalk.

I would like to state that Botswana is a desert country and its inhabitants are no stranger to going without water for extended periods of time. This is not to say that very serious issues don't arise as a result of droughts like this, but rather that people here live in such a way that they are constantly prepared for water issues - storing water, learning to bathe and clean and live with less, and so on. (Plus, I'm not going to lie, somehow folks seem to survive without drinking nearly as much water as my constantly dehydrated self needs. I think this may be to their benefit in times like these.) Peace Corps Volunteers adopt many of these practices throughout their service so we, in turn, become adept desert-dwellers. We become part of this place, including its challenges. We are fortunate here, though, in that the country is also a tight-knit community full of hearty people who tend to take care of each other whenever possible. And they have embraced us. It may be hard in the coming weeks but we are survivors and we will make even this work.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Very Thai Vacation

After living abroad for thirty-one months (and particularly in a developing country), traveling takes on new meaning and I see the world in a whole new light. I see my travel destinations for what they offer their inhabitants and my experiences are charged with a different energy, a whole new level of understanding. It becomes about both experiencing a new place through the eyes of a tourist and through the eyes of a local. You see a place more holistically through these eyes. Until recently, this new perspective was confined to my travels around Africa. I saw other African nations and compared them to where I was living. There was something that bound them all together and was familiar, even if some aspects varied.

I recently traveled to Thailand with my boyfriend and two fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. We spent two weeks traversing the country - navigating overnight trains, local buses, tuk tuks, longboats, and bicycles. Everywhere I went seemed like "the best place in Thailand". Until, of course, I reached the next destination of our journey. (Can they all be "the best place"?) I felt my worldview expanding. Beautiful temples and historic ruins filled my soul and dancing children in the jungles of the north made me smile. White water rafting tested my courage, while long hikes pushed my strength to its brink. (And lets not forget the beautiful beaches that tanned my skin!)

But there was even more to offer there. There was an intricate and well constructed transit system, wide-spread high-speed internet, and more restaurants and coffee shops than one person could visit. There were markets and small businesses and entrepreneurs and opportunities for growth. There was ambition and drive in its populace - extending from the capital city to the southern islands to the hill tribes outside Chiang Mai. It is a dynamic and bustling nation. My travel companions and I discussed this at length (along with some of the challenges we saw along the way). After all, we all know what it's like to live in a developing country and we did not allow ourselves to become too consumed by the tourist sites to take notice.

Thailand was everything and nothing like I expected.

I loved Thailand. Everything about it. I could see myself living there and envisioned what that life would be like. It was beautiful.

Here's a glimpse at what my life in Thailand might look like, through the eyes of a traveling development worker, tourist, and girl with a dream to explore the world:

What a glorious life it would be.

And what an amazing life I lead to be able to experience it and see what that world is like.