Work

Like a friend and fellow volunteer once said to me, many people leave well paying, horribly lit cubicle jobs to join the Peace Corps, and are disappointed when they arrive to the same fluorescent environment in a foreign country. People don’t join the Peace Corps to become “Cube Dwellers.”

That’s why my job is new. Revamped. New to me, new to Peace Corps, and new to the District AIDS Office where I work. Previously called the “District AIDS Coordinator,” Peace Corps changed the position because A) each District AIDS Office already employs its own District AIDS Coordinator (they head the department) and B) the volunteers in this position used to spend every waking moment inside their office.

Now called the District Community Liaison (sexy, no?), this position needs to be broken-in like a new leather loafer. As one of its first occupants, I’ve been attempting to set precedents and hold my ground so I can defend the main difference between the two positions – that I am to spend half of my time in the office and half of my time out in the community.  From the beginning I knew I had to set the right example so coworkers wouldn’t assume the new PCV is just a slacker.

I arrive at work at 7:30 sharp each morning, dressed in the best PCV work clothes I can muster (ha). On the surface, the DAC Office in FTown is similar to a typical office in America.  I encounter the usual office chatter, people sitting at desks typing on computers, and coworkers calling each other on their respective phone extensions. Of course, the screaming difference being that most of this is done in Setswana. For half the day I attend office meetings, read materials on the current AIDS situation in the district and country, and plan my community work. I always eat lunch at home, and for the other half I venture out into the community. To keep me focused, I’ve taken the list of  ~80 organizations in connection with the District AIDS Office – the NGOs, churches, clinics and other HIV/AIDS affiliated organizations in the community – and walk to four or five of them a week to meet their leaders and become familiar with the layout of the city.

So far it’s worked out splendidly. People are pleasantly surprised to meet me, especially knowing I’m taking time out of my day to introduce myself to them.

The other part of my first three-month plan is to compile all of that contact information and make a public listing on Google Maps.  I want to make one website that will direct people to a map and listing of all of the HIV/AIDS services in the area. The internet is catching on in Botswana, and especially in FTown. All of the corresponding organizations could use it as a referral, and though many people still don’t have internet in their homes, they do go to internet cafés. With this one site people could easily and anonymously get the HIV/AIDS information or counseling they are looking for.

The position will shift a lot in the next two years, and I’ll have more goals as soon as I find my footing (which, in this city, could take a while), but at least a precedent will be set and people will know more why I’m here.

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