I figure that most people reading this blog are friends or family members. Perhaps others are interested in becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer. For those of who you don't know me, I suppose I should give a quick introduction. My name is Amelia Plant. I am 22 years old and on March 31st, I embark on the first step of my Peace Corps service.
Forty of us will be meeting in Philadelphia for Staging, a two-day Peace Corps event. We turn in our paperwork, meet each other, and get our last taste of life in the states for (possibly) over two years! We then head to Kanye, Botswana, for two months of training. We will be learning Setswana, the national language of Botswana, as well as how to navigate life in Botswana. We immerse ourselves in life there, living with host families for the first two months. Although all volunteers are expected to do side projects, our main role is to assist in ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Botswana.
Well, most of us didn't have a choice. The Peace Corps sends you where it believes your skills are best suited. It is a complicated placement assessment based on goals, experience, and health care concerns. That being said, serving in Botswana on HIV/AIDS is my dream Peace Corps placement.
The Peace Corps has had a great relationship with the government of Botswana. Volunteers served in Botswana from 1966-1997. By 1997, Botswana was doing so well economically that Peace Corps volunteers were no longer necessary. That all changed a year later. In 1998, then-Botswana President Festus Mogae announced that HIV/AIDS was a national crisis. Part of his plan to combat HIV/AIDS was inviting the Peace Corps to return, which occurred in 2003. As of 2008, according to UNAIDS, 24.8% of adults in Botswana (ages 15-49) are living with HIV. That is one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world.
What will we be doing there?
Unlike volunteers from 1966-1997, who worked on all aspects of Botswana development, we will be focused on HIV/AIDS. Some of us will be working in district offices, making sure the Botswana AIDS programs are being monitored, evaluated, and accurately implemented. Others will be specifically working with orphans. I will be a Community Capacity Builder (CCB). My assignment is to help engender self-propelled community responses to the epidemic. I may work on empowering women/girls, promoting male circumcision, providing support for caregivers, ending discrimination of HIV-positive individuals, expanding access to antiretroviral medications (ARVs), etc.
The title of my blog, MASA, comes from a Botswana program initiated in 2001. MASA's goal is to enroll every HIV-positive Batswana (what people from Botswana are called) in antiretroviral treatment (ART) for free. Former President Mogae also adopted an "opt-out" HIV testing policy, in which every individual who was treated in the health care system was given an HIV test unless he or she specifically refused it. President Mogae greatly expanded the dialogue surrounding HIV/AIDS.
The program was named Masa because it is the word for "new dawn" in Setswana. In many ways, this service is also a new dawn in my life, so I thought it would be a fitting title for the blog. I hope you all enjoy reading about my adventures.