Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Replacement

Several weeks ago, a dear friend of mine came to visit and say goodbye. As a fellow PCV, she was asking me about how I was feeling about leaving soon... and bless her heart for asking, but everything just spilled out at once. Vocalizing the things that I knew made the feelings that much more real, and so, I cried with her as I told this story. 

This helps to explain the difficulty in me leaving. 

* * * * * 

Before any PCV arrives at their new site, the organization they are placed with is required to help secure proper housing. The nurse-in-charge at my clinic desperately wanted a PCV, but there was no clinic housing available. Because of this, she had to find private housing and asked her family if they would be willing to rent their house for two years. Lucky for me, they agreed, and I was scheduled to arrive on June 12, 2012. 

Well, one week before my arrival, the woman who owned the house, Monica, passed away. They had the funeral for her the weekend before I arrived. I was unaware of the death until weeks later, leaving me bright-eyed and excited about moving in with a family. I did what I know best: I just loved. And played. And shared. I became a part of their family, slowly but surely. 
me in front of my house
I was new and exciting to them. I was something that distracted them. And together, we grew as a family. 

After learning about Monica's death, I asked the family what she was like. She was young (I think late 40's early 50's?), loved the kids, was very active, and missed by everyone. She sounded like a wonderful ray of sunshine, and I felt so grateful to be living with the family she loved so dearly. 

Then ever so gradually over the two years, I became the replacement. The replacement daughter. The replacement sister. The replacement auntie. The replacement mother. 
some of my beautiful family
I filled the gap - however imperfectly - for each of them, in some capacity. 

My granny calls me her daughter - and boasts to everyone about how much she loves me and how much I help her. My sisters share their life stories with me - asking me for advice along the way. My kiddos come knocking on my door each day - Bula boitshepo (open the door, boitshepo!)... wanting to play. 

And now, after two delightful, yet challenging years, I've left them in Kang with the house empty for the first time. My sister sent me a message saying, "U cum nd make us proud nd I forget the loss of mi mum,,,now is hurting me".

The house is finally empty, and I'm moving on to a new chapter of my life. The Peace Corps has been everything I wanted it to be and more...

* * * * *

This morning was rough, to say the least. I left tears on everyone's shoulders. Granny wiped the tears from my eyes, my kiddos held my hands and walked me to the clinic, and I was sincerely touched by everyone who came to see me off. We all smiled at each other through our tears.
my little humans
And little Romeo was the last to give me a hug - - and he says in my ear, "Boitshepo, Ke batago doga." (I want to go with you.) While tears streamed down my face, I gave him another hug and kiss, then said, "Tshameka, ni ni. Ke da go go bona kgantele. Teboga!" (Go and play, ni ni. I will see you later. Run!) And with that, he took off smiling and running to catch up with the rest of the family.

I'll see you all again soon, I promise.
You're all a part of me. 
Boitshepo o le rata lotlhe. 
Sala sentle, ritsala tsame. 

Love & Light, 

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Labor of Love

I just can't get over what an incredible family I have. 

I am SO grateful for each and every little thing that you do. And I am SO proud to call you my family. 

Reve (my sweet stepfather) decided he was going to make reusable sanitary pads for the girls in my village. He got the templates to make the cloth pads from an NGO called Days for Girls... and he went to town! He recruited help from my mom and my aunt terry as well. They worked tirelessly to track down fabric, sew for hours on end, and ship these beautiful homemade kits to Botswana. 

After long discussions of selecting the right girls, I had the chance today to distribute 44 Days for Girls Kits to girls at my Junior Secondary School (the other 6 went to women in my family here). The girls who were selected were identified as the ones most in need.. orphans, students registered with the social work office, etc.  I sincerely wish my family could have been here to see the twinkle in their eyes and their excitement to receive these homemade treasures! 

happy girls! 
It was a long process... and very well worth it! These girls now have reusable pads that will last for years with proper care. Many of these girls face economic issues on a daily basis, so this is just one less thing for them to have to worry about. The girls thanked me profusely, wanted me to pass along my thanks to my family & everyone left with a smile on their face. 

photos with the girls who received the kits and their teacher who helped me organize the distribution!
THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone involved in making such a big difference in the lives of these young women! 

Love & Light, 

God-Given Cheerleaders

This evening when I set out for a run, I was feeling a bit down. I'm bummed to leave this place and start a new chapter... so my mind fills up with all kinds of worries and insecurities. I felt tired before even leaving for my run, so I expected my mid-run slump. But the more I started to feel like quitting, and the more I worried about the future, the more surprises I received. 

God-Given Cheerleaders. 

Tiny humans kept running out from their houses to greet me, yelling, "DUMELA, BOITSHEPO!" Friends kept appearing along the way to share good news about their business I helped them start. The sky was changing colors to paint a vibrant mural for me. My beautiful village was giving me the strength I needed to carry on and to know I've made a difference here. 

It was delightful. 

I was reassured that God has - and always will - provide me with the cheerleaders I need to keep me going. And that is a beautiful thing. 

Thank you to all my cheerleaders out there, you know who you are. 

Love & Light, 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Bana Bame

Bana Bame,

Moving away from Botswana will be very difficult for me, since this means we will be very far apart. But I want you to remember something: I’ll always carry memories of you close to my heart.

I watched you grow. I held your hands as you learned to walk. I experienced joy when I heard you say my name for the first time. I kissed your boo-boos, took care of you when you were sick, handed out endless amounts of band aids and sweets, and I smiled down at you when you fell asleep in my arms. I shared all my meals, played with you in the yard, colored pictures with you, and read you the same book over and over again. I forced you to ask nicely for things, give high fives, hugs and kisses. I helped you with homework, taught you to cook, and encouraged you to ask questions about the world around you.

You knew exactly how to turn my bad days around, subtly helping me find the beauty in each day. You didn’t like to be disciplined. You didn’t like picking up your toys. You knocked on my door each and every day asking to play. You taught me how to be thankful for what I have. You challenged me and showed me what love was all about. You invited me to be a part of your life. You asked endless amounts of questions and you learned some questions don’t have clear answers. You met my friends and you loved playing with my kitty. You were eager to help with anything I was doing.

We are a family. We have fun together. We are partners in crime. We make mosadi mogolo laugh, and sometimes I think we annoy her too :o) We nap together. We laugh until our tummies hurt. We sit on the floor and drink tea. We snuggle on cold days and learn new vocab words. We make big messes in my house and then we clean it up. We are a team. We love each other.

Bana bame, ke ratjago thjathja. Thank you for loving me, too. You’ll always be a part of me.

Boitshepo ya go

* Bana bame, ke ratjago thjathja (My children, I love you very much)

* Boitshepo ya go (your Boitshepo)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Let's Talk About Sex

One year of planning, $2,500 from donations, 50 village women, 4 counterparts, 5 Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV’s), 2 venues, a healthy dose of stress, a splash of last minute meltdown… Stir to mix well. Bake for four days in sweltering 100 degree Kalahari sun and what you have is 50 vocal and empowered women! 

GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) camps are trĂ©s popular in the Peace Corps world; they are wonderful events to put on and be a part of. Hundreds of girls throughout Botswana have been energized and empowered, but what about their mothers and grannies? In a grown up style GLOW camp, five PCV’s empowered adult women from the Kgalagdi North District in two villages over four days. Let’s Talk About It: Leadership and Empowerment for the Next Generation as it was a mammoth achievement for us! 

It all started one year ago in the village of Tshane during a Month of Youth Against AIDS event. A community discussion and panel were being held when a mosadi mogolo (old woman) stood up and said, “We don’t know how to talk to our kids about HIV/AIDS.” The old woman talked a little bit more about the cultural practices when she was growing up and how they don’t address current problems. The brain storming began that evening over pizza and wine. 

Because Kgalagadi North is a large sparsely populated district, we decided on two separate workshops, one in Kang to cater to Kang and the surrounding area and one in Hukuntsi for women from Lehututu, Tshane, Lokgwabe and Hukuntsi. Each workshop would be two days long- a full day on Friday then a half day on Saturday so the women could still spend time with their families. 

What about funding? Initially we wanted fund our workshop 100% locally. After several unsuccessful meetings with the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture we decided that a Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) would be our best choice. For the 25% community contribution required by the PCPP, we used donations in the form of labor and materials. It took months to get the PCPP on the Peace Corps website, but within two months we had P19, 000 pula in our bank account! We were ready to go!

The basis of the workshop was to give women knowledge (and power) to share the information they learned with their families and communities. For sustainability, we chose to make a notebook full of information for each woman to take home and share. Several boxes of wine, a pan of enchiladas, 10 glues sticks, and countless paper cuts later, we had 55 notebooks full of handouts and space for note taking. Making the notebooks was a labor of love, and it was cheaper than buying binders. 

Inviting the women to make affirmation envelopes and to sign our empowerment poster
To advertise for the workshop, we put up fliers throughout Kang, Hukuntsi, Tshane, Lokwabe and Lehututu. Potential participants filled out applications to weed out those who just wanted to come for a free lunch and a t-shirt. The application included questions about challenges women face as parents in Botswana and how the participant would use the information learned in the workshop. The fliers generated so much enthusiasm that we rearranged our budget to accommodate 50 women instead of the original 40 that we had planned. 

The workshop was organized so each session built upon the information discussed in the previous session. We opened the workshop with a session about communication, where we covered basic communication styles, listening skills and conflict management. We then gave the women homework: to have a conversation with their child or spouse that evening at home. After communication, we focused on the meat and potatoes of the workshop, how to talk to children about sex. A large portion of our PCPP was money to buy every woman a copy of Power Parents. This book was written by previous PCV’s who served in Botswana, designed to address the issue of talking to children about sex, specifically in relation to the culture in Botswana. 
Facilitating sessions at our first workshop in Kang
During lunch we screened the STEPS film One Love One Life and had an awesome discussion about multiple concurrent partners, stigma/discrimination, and intergenerational sex. We wrapped up the first day with a session about financial management and gave the women their own budget books, donated by an NGO in Gaborone. 

On day 2, we opened with a communication follow up, discussing the women’s experiences talking to their kids the night before. One woman explained that when she tried to tell her young grandchildren about childbirth, the children insisted that babies are born when a woman vomits her child out of her belly. After hearing that, we were reinforced in our conviction to teach women how to talk to kids about sex and how to protect themselves about dangers like HIV. 

Second Workshop in Hukuntsi 
We spent the next few hours talking about Gender Based Violence (GBV). We discussed symptoms of child abuse, what to do if a child/friend reports abuse, and Botswana sexual abuse laws. We demonstrated GBV warning signs with role play scenarios, including jealousy and explosive temper, and the women had a chance to participate in a heart-wrenching activity called “In Her Shoes”. To lighten things up after the heavy GBV session, we led a short guided meditation. The ladies also learned about stress management skills and goal setting techniques, to help improve their lives, as well as their children’s. 

Day 2 ended on a high note, STIs and condom demonstrations. Who doesn’t like talking about sex and playing with condoms? There was a short ceremony, where each woman was given a certificate, a hug by each PCV, and an envelope full of affirmation notes. The months of stress, the many meltdowns, and the hours on the phone were all worth it when the women, one by one, sang and danced their way up to receive their prizes. 
Learning about condoms, participating in a GBV activity, and celebrating a successful workshop! 
After reading our own affirmations and the feedback that we received from the women who attended the workshop, we are confident that the workshops made a lasting impression here. Many days PCVs feel like we haven’t made an impact, but when you stand in a room with 25 women singing to God in appreciation of your hard work, you can go back to America knowing that you did something amazing and lasting. 

Celebrating our successful workshops! 
Love & Light,

Monday, May 19, 2014

Third Botswana Birthday

25! A quarter century young...

It was my third birthday in Botswana. Now I have been four ages in Botswana: 22, 23, 24, and 25. Typing that out really makes me realize how long I've been here!

I spent the day with the people I love the most in my village: my family! The kids helped me blow out my birthday candles and we played games together in the sand. I got hugs, love, and cards from people all around the globe. Skype allowed me to connect to my loved ones back home and hear them sing me happy birthday.

It was absolutely delightful.

But something I love more than all of that, is my desire to spend time in my village. I've come to love the people in my village and the life I've established here so much that I prefer to spend birthdays and holidays in Kang, living simply.

I spent my birthday just the way I wanted to... in Kang, Botswana as a Peace Corps Volunteer, surrounded by people I love.

Love & Light,

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Fond Farewell to Bots 12

Bots 12.... my original training class, a group of stellar individuals, a cohesive unit. 

We arrived in Botswana as strangers and we're parting as a close group of friends - - dare I say family? We've endured all the ups and downs together. We've laughed, cried, celebrated, and mourned together. We left our homes to come and try to help in Botswana. And although I'm quite biased, I must say that I am very proud of all we've accomplished. 

Meet my wonderful Bots 12 family 
In March, we all gathered one last time as a group in Maun, Botswana for our Close of Service Conference. We had the opportunity to reflect upon our past two years, discuss future opportunities, and say our final good-byes. The conference was very bittersweet. I'm not sure when I'll have the chance to work so closely with such a fabulous group of human beings... so I know I'll always cherish the time we did have together. 

We had time for fun too, of course - - the Peace Corps arranged for us to go out on a boat trip on the Delta and they organized a traditional dance group to come and perform. 
enjoying one last view of the delta
We also discussed all the big kid stuff that comes along with closing our service - - administrative details, how to sell our service to potential employers, resume/cover letter advice, etc. We all stood on the edge together - - the edge between the life we've established for ourselves here and the unknown that life holds for us in the future.
genuinely wonderful people
Our close of service conference went by quick, just like our two years together as Peace Corps Botswana Volunteers. Bots 12 will be in my heart forever, along with all my memories from this remarkable experience. 

All my love, Bots 12. Thanks for everything! 

Love & Light,