Thursday, February 27, 2014

Africa, Meet Mom: Reunion Edition

In exactly two weeks, mother and daughter will be reunited in the land of zebras and sand!

We will embark on a two week adventure that will take us from around southern Botswana to South Africa and finally to Mozambique. The beaches and wildlife are a perk to the main attraction - we will be together! Talk about lighting up a girl's life! I can't wait!

PC Botswana's First All Volunteer Conference

Peace Corps Botswana held its very first all volunteer conference to commemorate 10 years of HIV/AIDS work in country. This was a monumental time for our post and something worth acknowledging on a grand scale.

For three days, all 134 volunteers from across the country gathered together in one of the capital's nicest hotels to share best practices, to coordinate collaborations, and to be briefed on the scope of key issues facing Botswana to date as a means of developing pragmatic solutions and innovative projects.

I am proud to say that the conference was an overwhelming success. It was met with praise by volunteers and distinguished guests alike, both for the content of the sessions and for the overall event. And this is no small feat when your guests include the American Ambassador to Botswana and the heads of many international organizations like the CDC and Baylor Center for Excellence.

I am even more proud because the planning, logistics, and execution of the entire event was entrusted, in large part, to myself and a fellow PCVL. This meant long hours working alongside staff, making calls to representatives from various international and national organizations, meeting with banquet managers at the site, making session plans and outlining evening activities (complete with a "coffee house"!), and stuffing personalized folders and making name tags for every PCV, among other tasks. It was a tireless effort that paid off in spades. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to support such a significant event for our post - the very first of its kind. And I am so happy that it was deemed "the best training to date" by PCVs. Because, after all, they're who it was all for!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Young Single Mothers Workshop

We all too often take for granted things that shape who we are. Things like upbringing, presence of supportive caregivers and adults, nutrition, and friends. But what if these things didn't exist in our lives? Or if they were offered in fragments and then taken away from you? What if you were an orphan and raised yourself? There are lessons learned in life that naturally happen in so many of our homes and schools that we don't even recognize. What happens when people don't learn how to communicate effectively or care for their basic needs? I am now much more conscious of that reality, as it is the basis for much of the work I have been doing in the past months. This has given me the opportunity to delve deeper into the issues facing the youth of Botswana, in particular, young women.

Twenty-three young single mothers turned up for the two-day workshop run by one of our implementing partners in a nearby village. I was invited to attend to support the partner and assist in facilitating sessions on self-awareness, self-esteem, and communication. I was joined by two other members of the PCI team and some nurses from the local clinic, who were scheduled to discuss sexual reproductive health and topics on caring for young children.

The workshop was designed to be participatory, encouraging the young women to search for their own solutions and to create a sense of community among those in similar circumstance. As such, activities were collaborative, involving a lot of group work and discussions, and the women were challenged to work through differences in order to create viable options for their collective future. This meant focusing on problem solving, planning, and critical thinking - all of which are often neglected in a country that prides its education system on rote memorization.

Overcoming the challenges of the workshop model was met first with argument and then, in time, with laughter. The latter lead to dialogue that brought great results and the girls began to prosper. It wasn't long before the women were opening up and starting to acknowledge some of their commonalities (something we believe will unite them and give them strength). It was empowering to witness.

In the end, the women made great strides in both their approach to examining and addressing issues, as well as in creating a team among one another. They were able to learn from one another and, thereby teaching them lessons long deprived. What's more, the partner organization gained the experience in facilitating a workshop of this nature and have vowed to follow the women and support them as they work towards implementing some of the activities they decided, as a team, to go for. They are no longer orphans, alone, trying to overcome hardship and raise children. They are together.

This is the sort of sustainable development that we always hope for - the kind where people learn how to help themselves and local organizations gain the skills necessary to support those efforts. I am going to be mentoring this organization for the final months of my contract but I am confident in their ability to continue in this manner. I am just proud to be there to witness it.

"Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you."

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

“There is some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for.”

Even among employees and organizations that are qualified, passionate, and maintain strong values, apathy and atrophy tend to set in from time-to-time. It is a disheartening truth that impacts the quality and amount of work that is able to be done. Sometimes, when these infect a single (but key) person, the ripple effect can be great. These negative attributes, then, can lead to an under-utilization of motivated human resources or a withdrawal of those resources altogether. This is the reality I have been facing.

I have spent the last few months as a stunted version of myself. I have felt somewhat ineffectual in carrying out significant meaningful work within my primary assignment and have struggled to find a way to make a contribution within the confines outlined to me. Simply, I didn't have the freedom to create the change I wanted - and have become accustomed to - and I saw myself falling into professional doldrums.

That is not to say I have been stagnant. Besides my work for Peace Corps (as a Volunteer Leader), I have, in fact, been working on a couple large scale projects that stand to be extremely influential in the future. These include a Life Skills Toolkit and an IECD Resource Pack, both to be published and adopted by the Government of Botswana to strengthen its current National Strategies. Unfortunately, despite my dedication to these efforts, my work was constantly being put on hold in favor of, what seemed to be, waiting around for others to get motivated and involved enough to sign off on my (finished) work. This has caused me great frustration. I hold myself to a certain standard of giving back and helping others and have dedicated myself to that. Not being able to achieve to my full potential is a difficult pill to swallow, especially when you want it so badly.

Something had to be done. And now.

So I had a few conversations - conversations with colleagues that led to conversations with my superiors at Peace Corps that culminated in some very staunch heart-to-hearts with my counterparts and supervisors at my primary assignment. While the conversations were difficult, I am optimistic that positive change is on the way. Why am I so optimistic? Because I am no longer directly tethered to others within my agency so what happens next is up to me.

I am now taking over and managing a number of fairly high profile national projects and have been granted independence to build capacity of implementing partners across the country. This means I can go out in a technical capacity and work directly with the providers in the field to help them integrate and actualize programming, as well as strengthen systems and organizational capacity in order to improve service delivery. Working directly with the implementing partners is a resource and valuable experience both for me and for the organizations I now have the authority to work with. And the quality and level of my involvement is mine alone to determine, with the support of my counterpart, her supervisor, and the agency as a whole. Hallelujah! I am finally free to start making an impact  in a much more meaningful way again! Good news all around!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Water Water Everywhere But Not A Drop To Drink

This is a road about six hours north of Gaborone. Can you see a road in this picture? No, me neither because it is completely flooded with water. This is what most of the mid to northern part of the country looks like right now after intense and long-lasting rainfall. In fact, the overflow of water has been declared a national disaster, as many of the rivers have overrun their embankments and roads have become impassable.

Gaborone and the southern part of the country, however, is still without water. It has not rained, our dam is at 11%, and water restrictions remain at three days per week without. We are also experiencing a national disaster but ours is because of drought. The experiences within one country when you drive a mere few hours away is expansive.

What now?

Well, the logical thing would be to build a pipeline to funnel water from the north to the south to more evenly distribute the water. The government assures us this is in the plan. But it has been for some time and to no avail. Protocols, red tape, materials acquisition, and so forth take time, and significantly more time in the developing world than this American would like (and most Batswana too, for that matter). So we wait and we deal with our individual struggles and we take comfort in the fact that we can escape from one world to the next within this crazy beautiful country that we live in.