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, January 19, 2012

A New Focus

I promised more pictures of my South Africa trip and once my internet at home is fast enough to post them, I will do so. Until then, I figured I would talk about my attitude about my time in Shoshong.

A few posts ago, I talked about difficulties I was having at site--frustrations with my projects, annoyance with the culture, etc. The Botswana government has done so many campaigns about HIV. People know it exists and they know how to prevent it, for the most part. They may not know the biological intracacies of the virus, but mass education on HIV is not what is needed to curb the epidemic here. It is pretty simple. People must change their behavior. And I cannot do that for them.

Ross Szabo, a Peace Corps volunteer who blogs for the Huffington Post, compared changing sexual behavior to dieting in the United States. People know the risks of not doing so, but it doesn't mean it's easy to change their habits. I compare it to alcoholism, because that's something I know better. You cannot tell an alcoholic not to drink. Unless he or she comes to that decision him/herself, there is nothing others can do. I believe sexual behavior in Botswana is the same way. I can tell you to use a condom, reduce your number of partners and get tested all I want. But unless you have a compelling reason to do so, you won't.

With this realization, you may ask: so what can Peace Corps volunteers actually do in Botswana? This was the question I was grappling with the entire month of December. I decided that, if my focus was to impact HIV in Botswana, I would leave feeling unfulfilled. My original motto for my service was to "increase the conversation" surrounding HIV. I think that is still a worthy goal, but the point of the conversation has shifted. I still want to use films to inspire youth to talk about safe sex, effective communication skills, cultural values, violence against women, etc. But I don't want to do this because of HIV in Botswana. I want to do it because positive things happen when people feel more open to talk about these issues. Openness and honesty is an end in itself.

And I am confident that I can begin this dialogue in the secondary schools. The life skills curriculum in Botswana also gives me hope that the students can develop the tools to make good life decisions. An example is its description of rape as "violence expressed through sex. Rape involves a perpetrator and a victim. It can happen to both boys and girls. Nothing that the bictim does warrants this act, regardless of how the victim dresses, speaks or acts. In other words, the victim never deserves it."

After reading that, I was blown away. Many people in the United States do not describe rape in such an all-encompassing way. I feel like I can make an impact helping to develop young peoples' understanding of the world and the opportunities for them within it.

That brings me to my real new focus: supporting people. This is why I didn't do any "work" Monday afternoon. Instead, a visited a friend's mom in the hospital. If all of the projects I want to start--building a playground, holding business skills seminars at the library, beginning health talks at the clinic, writing a comprehensive life skills book for secondary school students--fail, then at least I will have shown love to those around me. And what's better than that?

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