Tuesday, March 11, 2014

RIP Ashley

Today I received news that my friend and colleague, both from my previous employment in America and also here in Southern Africa, has passed away.

I am saddened and startled to hear that she is no longer with us. I talked to her not long ago about her upcoming COS (she was set to finish her service in the next few days) and about her future plans. We commiserated about service and laughed about all we had overcome. And now she is gone.

I will always have fond memories of her teaching me to play Risk over coffees at Indaba on cold winter lunch breaks in Washington and of the moment we learned that each of us was applying to Peace Corps. And again when we found out we would be neighbors abroad. And once more when we both planned trips to Thailand only a few days apart. Our lives were intertwined and I am so grateful they were because my life was enriched by having her in it. She will be deeply and forever missed.

Rest in Peace Ashley...

Perplexing Botswana Observation #987

There are many things that, even after 1,075 days in Botswana, continue to confound me. For instance, in a country where sunshine prevails approximately 360 days per year, why not turn to solar power to charge the nation?

While this thought has perplexed me for some time, it is at the forefront of my mind these days because the entire country has been without electricity for nearly a week now. Yes, that's right, in darkness.

Why? you might ask. Because Botswana imports its power from South Africa.

South Africa has its own supply issues and has been clamoring to Botswana to address its own needs because they would need to cut back on delivery in favor of addressing its own needs. In other words, get your act together Botswana because we can't provide you power forever.

So, when the darkness came, it wasn't a surprise. We knew power would become more and more scarce and we expected load shedding to become commonplace. But when the power didn't come back for twelve hours and then twenty-four and then longer, we knew something else must have been the problem.

Rumors started circulating but one always sprang to the top: someone at the power plant in South Africa left the coal out in the rain so they can't use it until it dries up.


Africa is a funny place. It makes me smile that something as simple as "the coal was left out" is reason for an entire nation to be without power. Indefinitely. And few are crying out about it. It is a much simpler place here in Botswana.

I laughed a little and then gathered my things and came to my boyfriend's apartment because he is one of the lucky few (very few) that has a generator. Which is how I am typing this post to you now. Oh life. TIA.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Published: A Toolkit For Better Life Skills Education

Behold! The very first printed draft of the Adolescent Life Skills Toolkit I put together!
After meeting last week with relevant heads of all Botswana's Ministries and other pertinent stakeholders, it has been confirmed that the final draft of my toolkit will be adopted by the Botswana Government and used to strengthen the country's current national strategy for life skills education! Booyah! Now that's a Peace Corps win!

Friday, March 7, 2014

IECD and LS Technical Working Retreat

Much of my work at PCI has been focused on integrated early childhood development (IECD) and life skills (LS). I have been working very hard to improve the lives of young children and adolescents in Botswana by creating better systems and resources and enhancing the access to and understanding of programs for the most rural and vulnerable communities. As part of this effort, I have conducted focus groups on effective facilitation of LS material (LS topics include communication, self-esteem and awareness, critical thinking, and so on), lead workshops for single teenage mothers, met with stakeholders and partners from across the country, providing technical assistance to civil society organizations working in these areas, and drafted and compiled concept notes and resource books set for publication on both IECD and LS.

This last project is of particular note because it was a catalyst for a workshop eleven years in the making. Yes, eleven.

In 2003, the Botswana Government partnered with UNICEF to analyze the IECD and LS programs. They found both to be lacking and called for a technical team to be constructed and a way forward agreed upon. To date, nothing of substance has been done to address this mandate. They have, however, created "frameworks", which essentially are merely outlines, of what the desired outcomes would be for IECD and LS programs for children and adolescents. There were many MANY gaps left to be filled in and the right players had not stepped up to the plate.

Our week-long "technical working retreat", as we called it, brought heads of Government Ministries and stakeholders together to accomplish a handful of very important objectives. Of note: finally addressing the challenges and gaps with IECD and LS in Botswana; determining who is responsible for various components of these programs; reviewing the documents PCI and I proposed (which should act as the "filler" for the frameworks); and making technical, policy, and advocacy recommendations for national program revisions. We wanted people to understand what was going on, to take ownership over the situation and their roles, and to create a plan for what our ideal "model" would be for IECD and LS. This was an invariable who's who of leaders in their fields and they were poised and ready to tackle these hard issues. After eleven years of waiting, we made it happen.

Without going into too much detail about the five days (for fear of boring you with jargon and nitty gritty), I want to say that the retreat was an overwhelming success. The background was given, the studies were read, and a greater understanding was reached. The people became instantly motivated to make a change. We were able to have the conversations with all the right parties present and really hash out the intricacies of what works, what doesn't, and what we would like to see in IECD and LS education, especially for those most marginalized populations. And we did it in front of each other, meaning there should be accountability as we move forward. Basically, the environment was right. We now have task forces set up to deal with smaller issues and we have a larger plan for tackling the entire project. We are on the same page.

In the months before I close my service and finish my time with PCI, I will be packaging the ideas for our model program into something that can be discussed, marketed, and implemented, as well as meeting with all of the task forces to monitor their progress in addressing the key issues agreed upon at the retreat and finalizing the documents I have been working on and beginning to train partners and stakeholders on how to use them. There is still so much to be done but we are on the right track.

And what a beautiful place to be doing this all in...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

When It Rains, It Pours (Literally)

After nearly a year of intense drought, the country celebrated as the grey clouds rolled in. The skies became dark and the thunder roared in the distance. It was coming.

And come it did!

For five days the rain didn't let up. The fervent drops echoed through homes and the rumbling struck fear into adults and children alike. After all, it had been so long since such a storm had come, people were no longer use to their fierce intensity. And the rains had come with a vengeance.

Before long, rivers flooded, roads closed, and rumors of people drowning were being whispered from under warm blankets. With the ground so saturated, the reservoirs in the south began to fill. The main dam, which had been dried up and neglected, increased by 4% in only a few days. In the north, where the water crisis had subsided in recent months, bridges were being washed away.

Africa is a land of extremes. There is extreme heat, extreme drought, and extreme rains. For someone from the West, who is used to homeostasis, this reality can take some getting used to. Fortunately, Africa, and Botswana in particular, is also met by extreme gratitude and community. So, together, we celebrate the rains, even if they did come in the most extreme way.