The opinions expressed in this blog are mine, and mine alone. They do not represent the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Until We Meet Again...

Since I am not sure when I will have access to internet, I figured I would post once more before I left the country. I woke up this morning feeling nothing but excitement. As the day wears on and the list of things to do continues to grow (even at 6 pm the night before I leave), the nervousness begins to set in. But it is nice when the list consists of: make copies of forms; get money out of the ATM; finish writing thank you notes; and pack chocolate. At least I don't have to find a winter jacket or pay overdue bills. I just want to spend the last night with my parents. This may vary well be my last night in this home. My parents are planning to move, even though there is no concrete plan yet. I am going to enjoy this time.

A few days ago, as my mom and I were packing up my childhood, I felt so overwhelmed. I didn't think I could get everything done. Many other volunteers going to Botswana with me were packed before I had even finished buying everything I needed. One full day shopping trip with dad on Saturday fixed that. I have two checked bags and I am even a couple pounds under the 80-pound weight limit set by the Peace Corps. Space bags (in which you vacuum the air out of your piles of clothes) are unbelievable, I tell ya.

My mom, unbeknownst to me, has been making me a quilt over the last month or two. She invited some of the most important people in my life to contribute a square. I can't express how beautiful it came out and how much it means to me to be taking this abroad. My mom contacted many of my close friends from childhood, high school, and college. My grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are all represented, as are close family friends who have watched me grow up.

We also had the final goodbye party on Sunday. My parents honored everyone in the room, stating why they were all important in our lives. Then everyone gave me their personal wishes for my safe travels. It was especially touching because everyone in the room felt appreciated. And isn't that what it's all about? Giving back a little?

It has been both bittersweet and amazing saying goodbye to everyone. Of course I feel sad and I know that I may miss some important milestones, like weddings and births and graduations, but it's worth it. And it's not really goodbye. To me, it continues to be, "until we meet again..."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

On the Road to Staging

The fact that I will be spending the next two years of my life in Botswana becomes more real each day. I'm nervous because I still have to do some last-minute shopping and my bags aren't packed yet. There are also a lot of unknowns, which is part of the reason this is such an amazing process. I don't know where I will be living for two years. I don't know exactly what I will be doing. And I am so excited for that. No expectations. The idea is just to go in with an open mind, some patience, and a sense of humor.

Although I am sad to say goodbye to everyone, I feel ready to start this adventure. There is nothing else I could imagine doing at this point in my life. A couple days ago I received the last Peace Corps email before Staging. It included the "Bridge to Pre-Service Training" and information for family and friends about our stay in Botswana.

We spend the first four days in Botswana in a hotel in Gabarone, the capital. During this time, we learn skills to adapt to living with a Setswana family and attend a welcome dinner with "high level project partners and representatives of the US embassy." On April 7th, we go to Kanye, where we are matched with our homestay families. Kanye is about an hour outside of Gabarone. Although it is a large village, there is no guarantee of having internet access during training. That means I may not be able to get online at all for the first two months.

The best way to reach me during the first two months, then, is by regular mail. Mail in Botswana is pretty reliable, according to the Peace Corps. Volunteers mostly receive packages 2-4 weeks after they are sent. So if you want me to receive a letter shortly after arriving, send now! :)

If you are thinking about sending something, here are some tips:

1. Use a padded envelope rather than a box if you are sending more than just a letter. Boxes are taxed more frequently.
2. Number your letters so I know if something has not arrived.
3. Write my address in red ink. That is often used for official government correspondence and is less likely to be searched or taken.
4. Write "Sister Amelia Plant." I found this advice from a book I read called "An Insider's Guide to the Peace Corps." This is because customs will open something less frequently if they believe it is going to a religious organization. I find this really amusing and hope that it works.

Please send things to the Peace Corps headquarters in Gabarone (address posted on the right). Once I have my placement after Pre-Service Training, I will update my contact info.

Thanks for all your love and support. I can't wait to update you all from Botswana with real stories about my experience.

Friday, March 18, 2011

13 Days and Counting!

Welcome, everyone!

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.

Why 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.