So, I really suck at this whole updating thing, huh?
Well, after such a long absence I am happy to report some good news: I am happy, healthy, and things are GREAT! As some of you may remember, initially Peace Corps assigned me to work at two different nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in my village. I was told to spend about four days at my primary NGO and one day a week at my secondary NGO.
I was miserable for MONTHS at my primary NGO. I wasn’t doing anything. I spent all of my time sitting and staring at the wall. When I wasn’t doing that I was hiding behind the building, crying. I tried so hard to find projects to work on or people there to work with, but there was so much negativity in that office due to disorganization, egos, and ridiculous office politics. I kept begging Peace Corps to remove me from that NGO and let me work exclusively with my secondary NGO, but Peace Corps wanted me to stick it out and try to make it work (like I wasn’t already).
Finally, I said “screw it” and I stopped going to my primary NGO. You’re shocked, right? It’s a very unEmily thing to do – not follow the rules and disregard the instructions of my superiors. But I’ve changed a lot since I’ve come to Botswana. I have a much firmer grasp now of who I am and what I need than I did before I came here. And I knew, with every part of me, that working for that NGO was not good for my mental and emotional health (and since I’m an emotional eater, it wasn’t good for my physical health, either). I’ve also learned how and when I need to advocate for myself – something I’ve never really been able to do.
Well, my insubordination worked! Two weeks ago, after weeks of only going to my secondary organization, Peace Corps officially removed me from my primary organization. I now work exclusively for what was once my secondary organization. VICTORY!!!!!
I LOVE the NGO that I now work with exclusively. Believe it or not, I’m actually busy at this place. I went from spending weeks sitting around and doing nothing to not having enough time in the day. It’s a great feeling. I’m respected, valued, and appreciated here. My opinions are taken seriously. I’m an honorary member of management. In fact, last week my coordinator told me that I AM management. That’s not really true, but I’m treated as such. I’m gaining so much experience here – experience that is directly related to my master’s degree. I can see the impact that I’m having on this organization and on the people that I work with every day. I couldn’t be happier.
I’ve been working on a bunch of different projects. I wanted to take a moment to share with you some of the most prominent projects that have been keeping me busy.
Six months ago my organization created a youth group for out-of-school youth. Our Youth Group has approximately 25 members between the ages of 18 and 29 (in Botswana, you are considered a “youth” until you turn 36 – I KNOW!). The Youth Group does a lot of volunteer work and fundraising for my NGO.
I spend most of my time working with the youth, and I LOVE IT! We just finished an 11 day business and entrepreneurship skills training with them, teaching them how to start and properly manage small businesses. I’ve been assisting them with creating business plans – teaching them how to conduct market research, how to create a budget, how to look for start-up funds, etc. Just today I spent most of my time going around the village, speaking to different business owners, requesting to place our Youth Group members at their businesses for a week or so in order to gain real world work experience in each of the youth’s desired business sectors. I also assist the youth with finding different funding opportunities to assist them in continuing their educations.
In April, I co-organized a Sponsored Walk for our organization, whereby we walked eight miles to a neighboring village and then eight miles back to my NGO’s site. Following the walk we held a Volunteerism and Economic Diversification Ceremony and Fair on my NGO’s grounds. We raised over 5,000 Pula for our Youth Group! The youth donated 2,000 Pula to my organization and are now using the rest of the money to engage in different income-generating projects to help fund their small businesses and improve their economic statuses.
I also organize and occasionally facilitate P.A.C.T. Clubs with our Youth Group Members. P.A.C.T. stands for Peer Approach to Counseling by Teens. These are clubs that teach adolescents lifeskills, covering topics such as HIV transmission and prevention, gender-based violence, decision-making, goal setting, alcoholism, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, etc. Our Youth Group members facilitate P.A.C.T. sessions in three different schools, reaching over 160 adolescents.
Every week, I sit down with our Youth Group members and together we create a lesson plan for that week. I also create quizzes that we distribute to the students each week. The quizzes cover information on the information that was covered in the previous lesson as well as the information that will be covered in the upcoming lesson in order to ascertain our effectiveness as educators.
Basic Computer and ICT Lessons
I teach basic computer and ICT lessons to my NGO’s staff and to our Youth Group members. My organization doesn’t have Internet access, so the local library has allowed me to come in and teach lessons to staff on Tuesdays and to youth on Thursdays between 7:30am and 8:30am – an hour and a half before the library opens. This village has been very good to me. With the youth, I focus on teaching them how to properly research and how the Internet can assist them in their small businesses. I’m teaching the staff how using the Internet and computer technology can increase their productivity, improve communication, and assist them when conducting research.
Morale Lifting Activities
I also do various projects to help boost the morale of my organization’s volunteers. Our volunteers provide palliative care through home visits to 416 people in and around my village who are infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS and/or other chronic illnesses. These hardworking ladies often feel as though they are not appreciated by my NGO.
I regularly do something very simple that has surprisingly been very effective. I made a list of everyone’s birthdays. When a volunteer’s birthday approaches, I make a personalized card for that individual. I then pass it around to all of the staff members to sign, each of them writing a message thanking that person for their service and dedication to the organization. I then give the card to the volunteer on her birthday. I have had women CRY when they start reading their cards. It’s insane. Birthdays commonly aren’t acknowledged in Botswana, so it can be a big deal, especially for older women, when someone just says, “Happy birthday.” I had one volunteer tell me that we were the only people to remember it was her birthday.
Last December, I also organized a holiday party that coupled as a Volunteer Appreciation Event. It was really successful! We barbequed, played holiday music, danced, and had a good time. It was one of the first times that the staff interacted with the volunteers on a social level. Everyone got to know each other a bit better. At the end of the party, our coordinator gave a speech thanking the volunteers for their hard work (and thanking me for organizing the event!). It was really lovely. I have already started organizing another Holiday Party/Volunteer Appreciation Event for this December.
So those are my biggest projects, not including the random, small capacity building projects I do at my NGO (e.g., creating a calendar, creating time sheets, creating weekly work plans, etc.). I stay busy and I LOVE it!
Sorry this post wasn’t as fun as the others, but I wanted you all to know what I’ve been up to. Not only am I busy with work, but I’m also trying to finish my thesis so that I can finally knock out my master’s degree! I’m also busy planning numerous trips (In early September I’m going to Morocco! In October I’m going to Namibia! In November I may be going back to Zambia!).
Thanks for all of those who have called, emailed, Facebooked, and sent cards and letters. Your support means the world to me. My first eight months in my village were all kinds of awful, but as you can see, things are really wonderful now. I know that I wouldn’t have been able to get through that dark period without your support. I now have about 11 months left in Botswana, and I know that I’m going to enjoy each and every one of them. =)
Take care, everyone! And thanks for reading!