Today, I was a super volunteer. I shy away from that label but sometimes we just deserve a big pat on the back. The day started badly, as most of these days do. I was in a bad mental place. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I struggled through the morning. I would have gone home except that I had afternoon commitments at the police station and junior secondary school.
I had made a plan with one of the police officers to go to the station, hang out and have lunch. When I arrived, there were 20 people (non-officers) sitting in a room expecting a health talk, which was news to me. Perhaps the officer explained this to me, but I often pretend to understand everything someone says even if I only know a couple words. Maybe I shouldn’t do that as much.
Anyway, I did what any of us would do. I made it up as I went along. I explained (in Setswana) who I am, the basic outline of what a Peace Corps volunteer does, where I live, what I am doing in Shoshong, etc. I asked them what sorts of things they think I should work on. This turned into a conversation about alcohol abuse and HIV. I explained why drinking alcohol while on ARVs is so dangerous. We then talked about male circumcision and I told them why it can lessen a man’s chance of getting HIV.
When I asked what we can do about HIV in Shoshong, one man said that we need more peer educators. So I asked them if anyone would want to work with me in Shoshong to peer educate. I collected about 15 names and phone numbers. Even if only half of them end up meeting me, I figure that I can create a great peer education system that they can continue after I leave.
After the police debacle that turned into a total win for my service, I went to the junior secondary school (called Mahutagane) I am working at. Yesterday the guidance counselor and I planned some great things for the rest of the year. Over the next 2 weeks, I am going to do some study skills classes with the kids who have to take a big exam at the end of the year. Later, I will be pairing with some nurses from the clinic and we will facilitate health discussions on healthy relationships, teenage pregnancy, abstinence and negotiating condom use. I also talked to the kids about helping out with the garden at the clinic and hosting an HIV/health-themed talent show. Lots of plans. Very exciting.
I befriended a student that I met at the clinic. He needs some extra help studying, so I intended to accompany him to the library after leaving the school. We were about ready to head out when there was commotion behind me. Someone was saying that a chair fell from the upper level of the school. The guidance counselor and I went to look, and apparently the chair fell on a student. All I could see was her crouching on the ground, sobbing, her hands full of blood.
The students were all standing around, most were laughing. No one was comforting her, not even the teachers. Maybe they were all astonished and didn’t know what to do. So I ran over, put my arms around her and rubbed her back. I was careful not to touch her blood. Then I noticed that the blood was coming from her head and I got really concerned. Head wounds are no laughing matter. One of the teachers said she would drive the student to the clinic if we could put on something to stop the bleeding. There was no first aid kit to be found, so I wrapped my cardigan around her head.
Someone finally brought over the first aid kit. I put on gloves and put some gauze on her head, then rewrapped my cardigan to apply some pressure (RIP cardigan). As all of this was happening, no one was really doing anything. We drove to the clinic and I stayed with her as the nurses cleaned and dressed the wound. No one was able to drive us home, so I decided to walk with her. The clinic is over 6 kilometers away from Mahutagane and it was already 5 pm, so I was nervous about getting home after dark but I called everyone I knew with a car and no one would pick us up.
So we began to walk. I was worried about the impending darkness, but I figured it would work out. And I discovered that if you are doing good things, sometimes the universe helps you out a little bit. A teacher at the school saw us and picked us up. He dropped us off at the school and I walked the student home. She didn’t say thank you, but she didn’t have to. Later, the guidance counselor called me and said, “You really helped us out today.” In Botswana, that is probably the most gratitude you will hear. I’ll take it.