Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Message To Soon-To-Be-Volunteers: The Peace Corps Tale

A brilliant poem that shares the tale of a Peace Corps Volunteer perfectly. And, with that, I bid my Peace Corps service adieu.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The End Is The Next Beginning

My Peace Corps service is a story about overcoming adversity, rising to challenges, being grateful for small victories and good fortune, welcoming change, and accepting love. It was transformative in both the way I approach work and approach life. These three years have inspired me to continue living to help others and have showed me that I can make a difference through laughter, patience, grit, and determination. While my parents always told me that I could do anything, I finally believe it myself. And I do it with an overwhelming sense of love.

The work here in Botswana is not ending for me but rather is taking a different spin. While I have closed my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have recently been offered a full-time contractor position to help bring the lessons of my service to other volunteers and support them through their own transformations in order to find satisfaction in their service. So, for the next year, I will be piloting a new staff position at our post, acting as a Volunteer Support Liaison.

In addition to overseeing PCV committees, the PCVL program, and Third Year Extension Volunteers, my role as the Volunteer Support Liaison will be to offer overall support and guidance to volunteers as they face challenges throughout their service. This will be multi-faceted, acting with both the programming and training teams, but will focus primarily on helping volunteers integrate, navigate complex issues, and ultimately perform their jobs better. This is a job I believe I can do well and, with any luck, will prove to benefit our entire Peace Corps program here.

The decision to prolong my stay in Botswana for an additional six months (year in total) was made with careful consideration of many factors - family, friends, a desire to reconnect with my home country, and the potential impact here, among others. It was a hard decision and one that was not hastily made. I had to reflect and look at impact, for myself and others, in making this decision.

I believe greatly in the work Peace Corps is doing in Botswana and I feel extremely fortunate to have been chosen for a position that I believe will prove vital in assisting and enhancing the work Peace Corps Volunteers do every day. This is my chance to come full circle and fulfill the needs as best I can in every avenue I can here. It can be my last gift to Peace Corps Botswana for all the many blessings it has bestowed upon me. I will take all of the lessons of my service and impart them to the 80 new trainees who are arriving in a month and to all those serving volunteers, thereby expanding my reach (and my love for development work) across Botswana in an even more meaningful way. That, in and of itself, is an incredible opportunity. In the end, though, it was a personal decision that I think will help make the next steps in my life all the sweeter.

This next step will be the beginning of a bright and beautiful future. And, yes, one that will eventually bring me back stateside and then maybe abroad once more. For now, the ending of my Peace Corps Volunteer service is also where I start my new beginning...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Final Photo: Month 39 (June 2014)

On the 26th of June 2014, after 1,182 days as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I closed my service. This was a day full of intense emotions. It was a time to reflect and rejoice over these last three years. It was a time to be proud. Because, as our Country Director pointed out, we were now part of an elite group - RPCVs - and there are less of us than there are Fulbright Scholars.

At our COS ceremony, staff said words of thanks and encouragement to myself and the two other Bots 10s that ended their service alongside me. As the last three of our group to COS, it was a special time for us all. I was moved by the kind words that the staff shared but one staffer's words will stay with me as the most profound. He said:
"Tija, I want to thank you for showing the staff here the value of working with Peace Corps Volunteers. Before you, it was just something we said was important but now, because of the good work you have done and how much you have helped us grow and get stronger as a team, we look to volunteers in everything we do. You had a way of coming in with your positive attitude and good humor - we would laugh and that would break the ice - and then we could accomplish so much more. Thank you for showing us the great value you all have. You made that possible for us."

So, with that, I present the final photo in this photo reflection series, taken just after we rang the bell and closed our service. The final three Bots 10s alongside the staff of Peace Corps Botswana.

The End
I will forever cherish this team and my entire service. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 38 (May 2014)

As a lover of live music, I was very excited to learn
of an international music festival in nearby Swaziland.
And, what's more, it was also a nonprofit fundraiser to
help at-risk youth. Bonus. So we traveled there (and
to Durban, SA) on what I called my "birthday trip"
to hear some of the best artists from France, Spain,
Zimbabwe, South Africa, and beyond. How amazing.
"Hello Bushfire! Bring your fire!"

The traveling companions for birthday trip 2014!
(L to R, me, Dinah, Jess, Danielle, and Hobie)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 37 (April 2014)

Tuan had his wisdom teeth taken out in April and, due to some
complications with the surgery, was out of it for over a week.
At the same time, I was house sitting for a wonderful family and their
adorable English Bulldog named Otis. Here I captured a moment
between the two, who are truly madly and deeply in love. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 36 (March 2014)

My mom came back to Botswana!
We revisited the ladies at my previous NGO (pictured here),
as well as traversing across Botswana, South Africa, and Mozambique!
(This was also the trip when Tuan asked my mom's blessing to marry me!)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 35 (February 2014)

As a PCVL, I helped plan and execute Peace Corps Botswana's
very first All Volunteer Conference. This was such a fun event
and the only training that was unanimously voted as beneficial and fun.
I was very proud to have been a part of making this happen.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 34 (January 2014)

In  January 2014, my dear friend and
fellow (COS'd) Bots 10 sent me some loot!
It was an absolutely amazing package
and my first one in nearly two years!

Friday, June 20, 2014

PCVL Orientation

This was my last official week as a PCVL and no better way to cap it off than to lead an orientation for the new group!

The orientation was a few weeks in the making and the activities leading up to it included a complete overhaul of the PCVL role. This was spearheaded by myself and another PCVL with support and oversight by our post's Director of Programming and Training (DPT). We wanted to make the position more meaningful and find ways to add additional value to it and to the post through PCVL involvement. This meant meeting with program staff, admin, and the training team to see exactly how PCVLs could be of greatest use and then negotiating the new job description accordingly with the DPT and Country Director.

The big reveal happened the day before the orientation and the current PCVL team and the staff were very excited about the direction the role is taking.

The orientation was jam-packed with sessions to explain the enhanced position, with technical training and meetings with all the departments in Peace Corps to provide practical application and explanation of PCVL duties. Round-table discussions added value and we were able to unpack the position and come up with even better ideas for working together. Everyone left with renewed vigour towards the position, myself included and I only have days left!

I am really excited about the direction the PCVL role is taking and I am happy to be a part of that movement. I genuinely believe that this position, which is still fairly new at our post, is going to be one of the best that Peace Corps has to offer.

Photo Reflections: Month 33 (December 2013)

In true Botswana fashion, six months after I closed out my two years of service
in Gabane and moved to the capital, my NGO held a going away party for me.
This photo is of the support group's chairperson singing me a farewell song.
Moments later, the rest of the guests joined her and their words filled the room.
... I cried.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 32 (November 2013)

Movember arrived in Botswana and Tuan participated.
His moustache may go down as one of the creepiest.

I began working with my counterpart in a very meaningful way
to bring IECD programs to most at-risk communities. This is
our first meeting together to discuss scaling up the services at our
"model site" and ways to begin implementing in other rural villages.

IECD Resource Pack In Action

For nearly a year, I have been working as part of a technical team to develop a resource pack to train educators and communities about integrated early childhood development (IECD). In my final days working at PCI, we finished the IECD Resource Pack and received approval from the Government of Botswana for it to be used as part of a curriculum to certify pre-school teachers from rural and remote communities. This was a huge feat for us and something we were very proud to achieve because of its potential positive impact for these most at-risk communities.

This week we started our very first training using the IECD Resource Pack. My counterpart in the effort called me to thank me for all of the great work I did and to let me know that the training was going exceedingly well and she was so happy. Yesterday, the US Embassy in Botswana posted about this training (and, subsequently, my resource pack) on their Facebook page. It is wonderful that our project is getting accolades and visibility in this way. I am so proud to have been a key player in this project and am excited to see where it goes from here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 31 (October 2013)

A Very Thai Vacation - Railay Beach
A Very Thai Vacation -Ayutthaya
A Very Thai Vacation -Chiang Mai
A Very Thai Vacation -Mai Tang Region
Vacation in Thailand with the love of my life and some wonderful PCV friends.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Crossing the T's and Dotting the I's: An End Grows Near

Today I turned in my Description of Service and had my exit interview with the Country Director. There are only nine days left of this 1,182 day journey as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I have to admit that it has been very challenging at times, often pushing me to see and feel and do things I never could have dreamed of, but it has also been the most rewarding experience of my life. I am the same girl that boarded the plane to Botswana more than three years ago but I have new eyes and stronger convictions and thicker skin. I now have the skills to go along with my passion and conviction. And, most of all, I am grateful for this experience and humbled by the amazing people I have met along the way. What a beautiful world and a beautiful life this has been.

Photo Reflections: Month 30 (September 2013)

Handover event with the FNB Foundation at my previous NGO
in Gabane. On this day, we were awarded our new combi, the
new playground for the pre-school was unveiled, and all of the
children received new warm blankets and sundries to call their own.
It was a remarkable day and one I was grateful to still be in country for.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 29 (August 2013)

Tuan and I flew to Ghoha Hills in Savuti for the weekend.
We spent two days relaxing, eating amazing food, and seeing wildlife.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 28 (July 2013)

I began my work at Project Concern International as a
Technical Advisor for the Integrated Early Childhood Development
and Life Skills components of a USAID-funded project addressing
the needs of orphans, vulnerable children, adolescent girls, and women.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 27 (June 2013)

Welcoming committee for my first weekend back in Washington
after 26 months in Botswana!
My 30th birthday with my mama at one of my favorite spots, Zola!
With my sister at the dog beach in Southern California!
Tacos with my bestie in San Diego!
 All that mattered in June 2013?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 26 (May 2013)

I hosted a new friend for two weeks and our souls instantly connected.
Brittany came to volunteer with a hospice care center in Gaborone but
when she wasn't being an all-star social worker there, we were together
visiting my NGO, seeing animals at Mokolodi Nature Reserve, cooking,
market shopping, watching Rent, having intense conversations for hours,
laughing uncontrollably, and sharing in this beautiful adventure of life.
Her visit proved, once again, that everyone is a stranger until you open
up to them and then they may just be your very best friend!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 24 (March 2013)

Little Thing ("LT"), the dog that adopted me in Gabane, after nearly a
year together, finally felt comfortable enough to come inside my home.
She came in, plopped down, and didn't leave for many many hours.
Such is the fate of many Peace Corps Volunteers with nearby pooches.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 23 (February 2013)

A lot happened in February, but nothing more important than our
Bots 10
Our final picture together.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 22 (January 2013)

Overcoming my fear of Tuan's dirty hippy feet because he said
"I love you so much, lets hold feet"
A true sign was something special here...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 21 (December 2012)

A side of Botswana I had never seen before
The Okavango Delta via a boat cruise and camping trip.

My first Christmas with Tuan's family in his home village of Mahalapye.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 20 (November 2012)

Just before my NGO closed for the holiday season, I brought the
community together for a sort of Christmas party to honor the
orphans and vulnerable children in Gabane. Together with the
Mother Bear Project, we gave teddy bears to 100 OVC at a
ceremony designed specially for them. The ceremony included
songs and speeches made youth that had gone through our program,
popcorn and cake, and individual awards for each kid in attendance.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 19 (October 2012)

Cassie came to visit!
One of my best friends from home came to visit me
and we joined up with one of my best friends from Peace Corps
(also a Delta Zeta!) to go on a whirlwind trip slash comedy of errors!
Here we are at the pans.

The President of Botswana, responding to my NGO's need, came out to support us
in tripling the size of our garden. This expansion project was part of our long-term
goal. The effort far exceeded our wildest hopes for the project. With his assistance
and the overwhelming support of the community, the garden now provides vegetables
for our OVC feeding program and to our most needy home-based care patients.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Photo Reflection: Month 18 (September 2012)

Teddy Bear Day in my bestie's village, Werda!
This was the first time I saw the value of The Mother Bear Project.
Because of the joy it brought to the children's faces in Werda, I
wrote a proposal to the organization to bring bears to my village
for all of the orphans we cater to. It was an amazing weekend.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Photo Reflection: Month 17 (August 2012)

My family came to visit!
This was, by far, the most special time in my entire service.
I could never explain how amazing it was to have them there,
to share in my life in the village, and to experience so many
new and exciting things with them. I will never forget it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Photo Reflection: Month 16 (July 2012)

Event Day
With the ladies of GCHBC and the former President and First Lady
Event Day
With the ones who this was all really about: the kids

Monday, June 2, 2014

Photo Reflection: Month 15 (June 2012)

On my birthday, while working intensely on a strategic plan with my NGO,
I received a phone call from my Country Director asking if I would apply
to host an event "for a VIP". The rest of the month was spent on the application,
meeting with secret service personnel and advance team members, and preparing
to host an event for Former President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush.
The kids are creating American and Botswana flags to wave as the VIPs
arrive at Gabane Home-Based Care. A fun art activity and a little something extra.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Photo Reflection: Month 14 (May 2012)

Camping in the Tuli Block for Easter Weekend

Two of my absolutely favorite people from Kumakwane were married!
A match made in Peace Corps heaven!
Congratulations Mary and Fila!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Photo Reflection: Month 13 (April 2012)

In lieu of a photo for April, let me share this hilarious (and true) link to every PCV's favorite tumblr page, What Should Peace Corps Volunteers Call Me:

To explain this in a way that brings clarity, I had one mirror that I could barely see my entire face in throughout the entirety of my service. Also, re-read this blog post regarding mirrors in Botswana.

Also important to remember, this marked Bots 10's one-year in country. A huge feat and a wonderful celebration.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Photo Reflection: Month 12 (March 2012)

March was spent learning about my new village, assessing
the NGO I was assigned to, and getting to know my neighbors.
This goat was a particularly flavourful neighbor!
(And, yes, he did come hang out like this almost every day!)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Photo Reflection: Month 11 (February 2012)

With tearful eyes and a solomn heart, I bid farewell to Kumakwane
and to the Kums Kids. I relocated down the road to the village of Gabane,
where I would spend the remaining sixteen months of my service.