Friday, February 17, 2012
In the remaining days I find myself more busy than ever. I am official managing two building projects, both of which are going really well. At the pre-school I am in the final stages of my garden project. The shade net is nearly up, over the 300 square meter garden and all of the supplies for the rain gutter drip irrigation system are ready to be assembled. With any luck I will have the whole thing finished in 2 weeks! Secondly, I have been spending most of my afternoon time at Home Based Care either overseeing the construction of Lindsey's new conference center or I am traveling to the building supply store to buy more materials. This project is moving really fast and it seems like we will be able to hold several meetings in the new building before we leave.
I keep saying that I am ready to go home because I have truly accomplished everything that I originally set out to do. When I first arrived at my NGO I spent some time getting to know the issues, then I worked to set some goals of what I wanted to accomplish before I left. Well as of Wednesday that list is complete! I wanted to see that our teachers were certified, purchase a school bus for income generation, and secure licensing for the pre-school. Actually, we only obtained a conditional license until April so I am now working hard to make updates to the school that have been requested. They are easy things like replace door handles and such; most of which I accomplished today. So I guess I will get this garden built, make sure the license comes through and then basically sit back Botswana style until June.
Now doesn't that sound like a lot of work... And you just thought all we did is go on exotic vacations!
Friday, October 7, 2011
I originally hoped that by shadowing a Home Based Care (HBC) volunteer, or caregiver, I would gain a better understanding of the functioning of the organization for the purpose of writing a grant proposal that we were working on together. Of course, after spending a morning with a long-time caregiver, Florah Keitsemetse, I learned more than just the roles and responsibilities of a caregiver. I was able to experienced firsthand the love, compassion, and dedication that goes into this position. I saw the emotional rewards, and especially, the challenges that come with volunteering as a HBC caregiver.
Two of the HBC staff members took me to meet Florah at her home on a sunny, spring day a few weeks ago. She was expecting us and immediately greeted us warmly. Proudly, she showed me a small hut that was full of fat, white chickens which she told me she was raising to sell to make an income for her family. I promised to buy one someday but only with the agreement that she would do the killing and de-feathering first! Florah is an older lady herself, but she seemed healthy and very active. I asked her, though a translator, how long she has been a caregiver. She replied that she has been with the HBC Society since it began in 1996. She added that before this she was a volunteer for another HIV/AIDS community organization. When questioned about why she would give up so much of her time over the years to this organization she simply said that she has seen the suffering of so many people who have no one to care for them, especially those with HIV/AIDS. I reflected to myself that it must have taken a lot of courage to take on the role of a caregiver to people living with HIV/AIDS during the 1990’s at the height of the epidemic when there were no ARV treatments and fear and stigma of those living with HIV/AIDS was very strong.
Florah then sadly informed us that the patient we were scheduled to visit with that morning had passed away the night before. She had just heard about it from the family herself. The patient was a young woman who had been referred to the HBC Society by the local hospital a few months ago. She was HIV positive and was also diagnosed with cancer, most likely what is called an opportunistic illness because it sees the opportunity to easily attack the already weak immune system of a person living with HIV/AIDS.
We decided that we would still visit the family of this patient and share our sympathies. When we arrived Florah was greeted warmly by the grieving family. It was clear to me that they were comforted by her presence. We gave the family our condolences and Florah promised them that she would come back soon to visit with them. We left after a few minutes and I asked Florah to tell me more about the patient and her role with the family. She told me that she went to visit the patient almost everyday to bathe her, make sure she was eating properly, taking her medicine, and going to her doctor’s visits. She said sometimes the patient was strong and vibrant but lately she had been very weak. She told us that the family loved her very much and took care of her as best they could, but because they were struggling financially it was very difficult for them at times.
Then we went to visit another, newly referred patient. This man was having circulation problems which had caused his legs to swell up and also made breathing difficult. Due to these health conditions he stated that he could no longer work on his farm which was his only means of providing for his family of five. Florah explained to me that in this case one of her main roles would be to help connect this family to social support systems in the community such as the social work office where they could receive some food rations to help support the family until his health improved and he could go back to work.
After this we took Florah back home. All morning I had been struck by this woman’s compassion for others and her strength in times of tragedies like the death of the patient whose family we had visited earlier. I asked her how she copes with such tragedies and challenges in her job. She replied that it is very hard for her because she loves all of her patients like they are her own family members. She said that she will grieve with the family and support them for as long as they need her. I think that Florah is drawn to this kind of work because she is a natural caregiver and has so much love to give others, especially those who are suffering. I told her that I thought she was a very good and strong person and that she is an inspiration to others. She smiled and seemed a little bit embarrassed by the compliments as though she is not used to being the one receiving the care and compassion.
My hope was to write about this experience and simply share it with others. There are many people like Florah working at the HBC Society and other organizations here in Mmadinare. They need your support to be able to continue to do the things that they do and to expand their services to those who need it most. If you are able to give anything to support the HBC Society of Mmadinare then please go to this link and read more about a project we are currently working on with them that needs funding.
Written by: Lindsey “Lesego” Thomas
U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer
Friday, September 2, 2011
So it has been awhile since I have last written anything about this adventure. I suppose the lifestyle has become a bit common place and some of the excitement has worn off. This does not of course mean that the adventure has ended... no I assure that it continues. Nearly a month ago now my parents came to visit which was incredible. To see them in my village shaking hands and conversing with some of the people that we have gotten to know just puts a smile on my face. Lindsey and I took them on the trip of a lifetime! We rented this huge green machine 4x4 and took it gallivanting through the African bush. We saw elephants like you could not believe. I mean real wild elephants, large bull elephants not more than 30 feet away just looking at us like what the hell are you doing on my turf. We saw male lions resting after feasting on an elephant with their faces still covered with blood! We saw some of the most beautiful sunsets that I have ever seen and the great thing is that we were able to enjoy it sitting with family!
In the past few months we have had fun and exciting times partying with peace corps friends. We had professional times with the Ambassador, well that was pretty fun too. We actually had a nice intimate dinner with the U.S. Ambassador (who is great by the way) and just kind of talked about traveling, children, gardening, and of course HIV. We have had quiet times were you literally have the whole day with nothing to do and you just kind of sit back and take what comes. Life is just slow here sometimes. Walking around the village, greeting people and interacting with the kids is usually the most exciting thing to do.
Nearly 9 months left and so much more to do before we come home. I have just been awarded a 68,000 pula grant for my school! I could not be more excited to get started on my projects. We will be certifying 3 teachers and building a huge garden. Lindsey is also working on a fund raising project that will build an HIV conference center.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Great pic of Mark in the top left, i'm a little cut off at the bottom but I think we will get an even better picture soon from Peace Corps.
Meeting Mma Obama…..
Well the timing could not have been better. Our year of service just passed on June 11th and last weekend we were honored by a visit from Michelle Obama here in Botswana. At first we were told not to get our hopes up about meeting her or even being invited to an event at which she would be speaking. She will only be here for a few days, we were told, and she is so busy.
Well, I am not really sure what happened but that all changed. Peace Corps has always been important to President Obama’s administration. In fact, several of my Peace Corps friends say that they made the decision to join Peace Corps after hearing him talk about it in some of his campaign speeches. So I figure that this had to have worked in our favor and Peace Corps staff here in Botswana worked with the White House to get us “on the list”. We were so happy when we heard the announcement that 50 volunteers would be invited to an event at the US ambassadors house in Gaborone (the capital city). But at the same time we were told that it would be so quick and there would be no guarantee of getting a picture with her or anything. I think we were all just excited to get included anyway, and if nothing else we would meet the new ambassador (Michelle Gavin who is only like 36 herself and very nice and personable too) and go to her house which is also pretty exciting. So on Saturday morning we woke up and went out into the cold (yes, it is winter here and cold in the mornings!) to the ambassador’s house. We waited several hours outside because of security checks, there were real secret service guys standing around with sunglasses and ear pieces just like in movies!
Finally, Mma Obama (as Batswana call her) came out to deliver her speech. She was very stylish looking with skinny pants on, a jacket, and a scarf tied around her neck. She gave a short but personable speech thanking all of the Foreign Service workers AND PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS for the important work that they do for the United States aboard. Then, amazingly, they had all of the PC volunteers get together off to the side and told us we would be taking a group picture with her. We were jumping around in excitement and there might have been a little bit of pushing to get to the front of the picture…..After a few minutes she came over and started shaking our hands and talking to us. She told us that she loves Peace Corps and thanked us again for what we are doing here. She said that she has a nephew that might join and that she would love for Sasha and Malia to have the experience themselves someday! Can you imagine the former first daughters as PCV’S?! Not likely to happen, but still it was a nice thing to say and showed how much she respected Peace Corps as a program. One of the female volunteers in our group who is funny and brave said to her when she was standing right in front of us, “Wow your makeup looks so fabulous!” She was right, because it did and Michelle is really beautiful in person. She just laughed (a real laugh I might add) and thanked her for “getting right down to business”. She made a few other little jokes like telling one of the smaller volunteers that she was too tiny to be standing in the back and had her move up closer to her (lucky girl!).
So overall, it was just a really amazing experience and I’ll always remember it. I’ll remember that she was so personable and seemed to really want to be there with us in that moment. I’m also glad that Peace Corps was given this opportunity, she visited a PCV at his site as well, because Obama has talked about the importance of Peace Corps service for building positive world relationships and this shows that it wasn’t just talk and that they really meant it.
So, Re a leboga Mma Obama, thata!! (We thank you very much Mrs. Obama)
Thursday, February 24, 2011
We have had a busy few weeks over here so let me try to recap some of it for you. On February 4th Mark and I and a group of 4 more friends reached the highest point in Africa, Uhuru Peak, on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It took our group of 6 approximately 24 porters, cooks, and guides and 7 days of hiking to do it, but we did it! Reaching the summit was probably the most difficult physical and, at times, mental challenge we have ever faced before. There were times, especially during the 6 1/2 hour hike to the summit which started at midnight, that I thought..."Am I really paying to do this to myself?! Some vacation!" But when we did reach that summit it was with an incredible feeling of pride and accomplishment. In the weeks leading up to the trip I was especially worried about my ability to get to the top successfully. Thoughts about altitude sickness and just the general physical stamina needed made me nervous. So getting there despite my own self-doubts made it that much more rewarding for me personally.
We took the Machame Route, which is one of the more difficult routes. We summitted on the 5th day and it took two more days to hike down to the base camp. The entire trip was beautiful and diverse. We started hiking through lush rainforests and then went through alpine forests with some crazy looking trees and beautiful rock formations. Every night our porters had our tents and camp set up for us when we dragged ourselves in. Our cook made us surprisingly delicious food at every meal which was very much appreciated! There were also hundreds of climbers at every camp along the way as Kilimanjaro is a very popular mountain to climb because despite it's difficulty you do not need to be a "mountain climber" to do it successfully. Each day we hiked between 3-6 hours, always uphill of course. Some of the days were more challenging than others. On the 4th day we had some scary moments when we were scrambling up rocks with a vertical drop of quite a ways that was just one misstep away! The camp site on the 4th night was literally in the clouds and when we were watching the sunset that evening I remember someone saying that it could only be described as majestic and it truly was. Arriving at Uhuru Peak right as the sun was raising over Africa was also incredible. It was so clear and beautiful. I only wish that we could have stayed up there longer taking it all in, but at that altitude (5,895 meters or 16,795 feet) it was not safe to be there for long, plus it was so cold I was worried that my feet and hands were getting frostbite!
After all of that work to get to the summit it only took 2 days to hike back down to the base of the moutain, but that wasn't as easy as it sounds. I thought it was really scary to go down because it was so steep and you had to kind of run in order not to ruin your knees. The summit "marthan" day was a total of 14 hours of hiking starting at midnight and ending the next afternoon several hundred kilometers down the moutain. We were so sore when we got to camp that day! And so dirty too....7 days without a shower or a real toilet was pretty gross and hard!
Of course, everything was better during the trip because we were with a really great group of friends. Two of our friends from BC, Brendan Collins and Kelli Broekema, came to Africa a few weeks early to do Kili and Zanzibar with us before they went on to volunteer in hospitals in Malawi and South Africa. Two of our good friends from our Peace Corps training group also came, Mark Homco and Matt Leonard. The funny thing was that before the trip no one knew everyone except for us, but by the end of the trip we were all good friends with some great shared memories. All in all, it was an experience of a lifetime and I am so glad that we were able to do it together.
After this we went on to get some much needed R&R on Zanzibar Island...but that is another post entirely!
Saturday, January 8, 2011
Ngwaga o Mosha! Happy New Year!
I can't believe it is 2011! Time is going by so quickly. We just got home from a great vacation to Zambia where we visited the amazing Victoria Falls in Livingstone and then chilled out at a hostel on a small island in the Zambezi river called Jungle Jungle. We went with 9 other Peace Corps volunteers and had a great time. In Vic Falls we had some great adventures. Mark went bungee jumping off the 3rd highest bungee jump in the world. There was no way that I could do that so I went for a slight less scary option and took a microlight flight over the falls, which is sort of like a motorized bike thing. It was really beautiful and fun. We also walked across the top of the falls to a place called Devil's Pool where you can swim right up to the edge of the waterfall! We had to jump from this rock into the pool and we were only a few feet away from the edge! I'm glad I did it though and we got some pretty cool pictures too.
After a few days we left Livingstone and stayed at Jungle Junction which was a great little hostel on an island in the Zambezi River. We celebrated New Year's Eve there and had a lot of fun with friends. There was no electricity on the island so it was pretty low key. We took mokoro (a dug out canoe) trips at sunset and just relaxed.
On our way home we camped in Kasane in Botswana. We took a river boat cruise and saw tons of animals. So many hippo's and elephants! Lots of crocodiles too. It was really nice. So that was basically our whole trip. I was exciting to get out and travel and see more of Africa. Zambia was such a beautiful country and everyone we met was so nice. I can't wait for our next adventure which is climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in February! Stay posted for some pictures from the top of Africa!