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, February 21, 2013

Valentine's Day in Shoshong

I have been working with a handful of dedicated youth about starting a youth body in Shoshong.  The idea behind the youth body is to better advocate for youth in Shoshong.  They are dependent upon government handouts.  One of the goals of the youth body is to spearhead programs that will help the youth to become more economically independent and self-confident.  We decided to hold a meeting to form this youth body, calling all youth in Shoshong to attend.  We planned to have it on Valentine's Day.  In addition to introducing the youth meeting, we thought it would be a good idea to have a theme to the meeting.  So, we decided to hold a candle lighting ceremony to commemorate victims of passion killings in Shoshong.  Unfortunately, there have been a handful of those in the last few months.

We invited a pastor from Mahalapye, Pastor Kenny, to come and address everyone on the subject of passion killings.  He talked about respect in relationships and how to have a good one.  He is the one standing in this photo.  To his left is Moitshepi Ramotshudi, a member of the Bokaa Village Development Committee.  To his right is Masego (don't know her last name) and Raite Gobopaone.  They are volunteers at the Youth Office.

Some youth in Shoshong listening to Pastor Kenny

The small crowd in Community Hall

Raite describing the purpose of the youth body

February is a difficult time in Botswana because so many people are out at the lands plowing.  So getting people to help with publicizing events poses a challenge.  The people we asked to announce the event around Shoshong with a loudspeaker let us down.  So unfortunately the turnout was pretty low.  But we made the best of it and had a good time.  And some youth heard about the project so hopefully it will travel well through word of mouth.  

In projects like the youth body, it is imperative for a small group to organize it and then invite others in later.  People like joining something that is already established.  With any luck we'll have more chances to announce the group and get better buy-in as time goes on.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Welcoming the Form Fours

In Botswana, schools are divided into three categories: primary, junior secondary and senior secondary.    Primary consists of standards 1-7 (like grades 1-7).  Junior is forms 1-3 (like grades 8-10) and senior has form 4 and 5 (like grades 11-12).  There are exit examinations at standard 7, form 3 and form 5.  The form fours just arrived at Shoshong Senior Secondary School this past week.  The senior teacher in Guidance and Counseling, Mma Jabane, invited me to come address the students on life skills and peer education.  We have been trying to work together for a year with little success because of the busy schedule of the students.  So this was a great opportunity for us to present to all of the 705 form fours.

I worked with my friend Boitumelo to plan the presentation.  We were going to do a drama involving alcohol, drug abuse and teenage pregnancy...a lot of the issues facing the students.  Then we would try to elicit feedback from them and start a discussion, albeit a bit difficult with the large group.  Boitumelo's friend Keagile was also involved.  We thought we were going to have a few more people to do the drama.  But two hours before we were supposed to be at the school, they weren't showing up.  So we had to change our game plan.

We decided that I would begin the day by talking about life skills and peer education.  I would explain that no answer is wrong and that we want to hear what they have to say.  I would introduce the concepts, giving examples of life skills, like decision-making and self-esteem.  In terms of peer education, I would stres the importance of listening in a non-judgmental way.

Then, Boitumelo and Keagile would do mini dramas or conversations between the two of them.  They would act out scenarios between friends that are common in the school--like skipping class because you didn't do your homework, stealing from fellow students, being rude to teachers, getting involved in relationships, etc.  I am happy to say that the day went really well!

Here are some photos:

Boitumelo and Keagile have just finished one of the dramas and are asking for questions/comments from the crowd

A student from the back coming onto the stage to give her opinion

Mma Jabane was also active in adding onto the discussion (pictured left)

From left to right: Boitumelo, me and Keagile...outside of Shoshong Senior Secondary School

Mma Jabane loved our presentation.  She wants us to do it for the form fives as well.  The dramas sparked some interesting discussion.  One thing that students often say is that they want to wait to start relationships until after school.  One girl got up on stage and said that she wanted to be in love, but that love doesn't mean that you have to have sex.  All of the kids were cheering.  It was a great moment, challenging notions of when one should begin to have sex and the importance of sex in a relationship.

The best part for me was that I was on the sideline for most of the time.  I am confident that Boitumelo and Keagile can go into classrooms and lead discussions with students, if I am able to give them some tools to do so before I leave Shoshong end of May.  The best part of our role as PCVs is bringing people together who otherwise wouldn't know about the opportunities to work together.  Now Mma Jabane and these ladies can meet and plan events without me.  That is really encouraging to me.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Seen and Not Seen

At some point, we may begin to wonder how we will be remembered in our villages.  Will people say good or bad things about me?  Will they tell the next volunteer that I did a bunch of projects I didn't do?  In many ways, thinking about this is futile.  We'll never know and it can only make our heads spin.

On the one hand, it would be nice to be remembered in conjunction with projects.  On the other hand, having locals forget about me and view all of the work as their own would be amazing.  The "official" point of all of this...Peace Corps I to empower locals to do things themselves.  So if they look back and think, "Hey I organized a great event!," they will feel a lot better than thinking, "Hey that Peace Corps volunteer put on a great event!"

I began thinking about these things because of a conversation I had with someone in Shoshong.  I had worked with him on some community projects early on in my service.  Although I have invited him to more recent meetings, he has been unable to attend.  This was our conversation over text messaging:

Him: U once had an idea to mobilise funds for a youth center.  Any progress?
Me: No.  It's not right for me to embark on things alone and no one else has shown interest this past year.
Him: Sorry about that.  Which means you gonna leave without at least one project.
Me: What do you mean by that?  I have done many things and assisted many people.  Not everything I do is visible to people.  You can do projects that aren't about buildings...
Him: It's okay.  I was not aware of those projects.  Thanks.

It was pretty discouraging.  This is a man who has known about a lot of my projects.  He is a leader in the village.  And he thinks that I have not had any projects?

Part of me thinks: should any of this matter?  So what if this guy thinks I haven't been doing anything?  I know he is wrong.  My co-workers at the clinic and my other partners in the community know he is wrong.  Regardless of what I tell myself, it struck a chord.  Is this what people generally think?  That I am just taking up space?  After two years of community work, it was hurtful to hear that.

But perhaps his view of Peace Corps is the view of many...that we are here to build infrastructure and do very public projects.  Some volunteers have done that...they have built pit latrines, houses for poor people in their villages, held races and other large events.  We did a large event in Shoshong for Month of Youth Against HIV/AIDS last year.  Those events are great, but most of what we do is behind-the-scenes...teaching at schools, advising someone on a business proposal, etc.  The real sustainable change often comes from one-on-one interactions.  And most people in our villages won't see our daily work.  At the end of the day, that has to be okay because it is the reality.

Because our "work" might not always be visible, the best thing we can do is be good members of the community...we can be respectful to people in a culturally-sensitive way and try our best to attend important events.  And we are making a difference.  I know the friends I have made and the people I have helped will remember me.  That's what has to sustain you.