Summing it up at SAREP

After a third year of service, my year has come to an end and as of today I’m officially an RPCV. Spending my last day in Botswana, I’m sitting at a friend’s house, sipping coffee in my pajamas and basking in the fact that a chapter of my life has closed. It’s a pretty surreal feeling, but before it fades I want to share with you what I did this last year for SAREP.

My job at SAREP was to create a working HIV/AIDS program that could stand on its own as well as integrate with other components of the team (biodiversity, water and sanitation, livelihoods). Later on in the year I also helped develop their online presence with a Facebook and YouTube page. The HIV/AIDS component was relatively small in funding compared to the other components, so my supervisor and I created a workplan with support organizations that was broad enough to allow for a wide variety of interventions. In order to avoid arbitrarily teaching random facts about HIV to communities, I worked with local partner, NCONGO, to create and disperse an HIV/AIDS Baseline Survey. This survey brought together community leaders in twelve villages throughout Ngamiland to tell us what they thought are the most important HIV/AIDS issues in their communities today.

One of the big items of the workplan was the purchase and use of audio-visual equipment and HIV/AIDS educational films to screen to high-risk groups. We bought STEPS films, which are produced in South Africa (filmed all over Southern Africa) and focus on sensitive topics all around HIV. Often times it is hard to get people to discuss issues like death, drugs, condom use, sexual debut, and so on. This is a way to help educate and break the ice.

I worked with Peace Corps Volunteers in the area to put together a number of STEPS screenings for different high-risk groups. SAREP supported Lindsey Ferguson, a Volunteer based at the Thuso Rehabilitation Centre of Maun, in screening a film shot in sign-language to two groups of deaf and hearing impaired youth. The film focused on the discrimination that can occur to deaf people when they go in for testing, and also emphasizes the importance of staying safe and testing even when it is difficult. This is a group that rarely gets much HIV/AIDS education.

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Hearing impaired youth aged 14-18 participating in post-screening discussion of the HIV/AIDS sign language film. Sign language translator, left, and PCV friend, Lindsey, right. Lindsey is a social worker by profession outside of Peace Corps. SAREP helped organize the event and provided the film materials.

Below are photos of another screening I helped put together at SAREP, this time working with PCV Daniella Montemarano. She and I put together multiple screenings of a true-story film about an HIV positive couple going through the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission Process, a drug treatment program that has dropped Botswana’s HIV positive birth rate down to two percent. The audience seen here is mostly HIV positive pregnant mothers going through the same process. The film was made in Botswana, and the woman starring in the film was also in attendance to take questions and interact with the various audiences.

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Clinic visitors watching a film on a first hand experience of a woman undergoing the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission Process.

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Basha, left, speaking to clinic visitors about her experience in the film and undergoing the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission Process. Her son, who is HIV negative because of the process, was also there for the screening.

In addition to screenings, SAREP also helped organize and fund program design and management workshops for older HIV positive youth, and a number of safe-male circumcision discussions joined into water sanitation and hygiene workshops. Taking care of one’s health ties into taking care of one’s environment and leading an overall healthier life and better state of well-being.

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SMC speaker, Olatile Taolo, doing a great job of explaining the potential health benefits of safe-male circumcision to the Toteng community. To his right sitting down is the Kgosi, or Chief, of the village.

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Ruth Stewart, an independent NGO Consultant, working with Teen Club kids on project design and management. SAREP worked with Peace Corps to put this event together, and funded the space and materials.

The year was busy, full, challenging, and one of the most professionally rewarding of my life so far. I cannot thank Peace Corps and the SAREP team enough for the support they have given me. Being part of these world-changing teams has been an incredible experience!

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Welcome 2013

Yes, I know it’s already March. With only a few more months of this epic journey I wanted to make sure to get in a few more posts before it wraps up. A friend of mine who also happens to be a social media guru suggested to me recently that the best blog posts are ones where the text can fit within the size of one screen. If you’ve ever glanced at one of my prior posts you’d have noticed that’s never really been the case with me, so it is a 2013 goal of mine to begin posting more succinctly and then hopefully more often.

Wrapping up last year, all I can describe it as was one big learning curve. Serving as a PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader) while also heading up the HIV/AIDS program component for the Southern Africa Regional Environmental Program (SAREP) has been one of the finer experiences of my work-life. The work at SAREP, however, took some extra attention and effort to learn-quickly-as-I-go, especially with regards to the ins and outs of SAREP’s scope-of-work and a working knowledge of how these types of international development institutions, namely USAID and Chemonics, operate. Luckily I thrive on such challenges; I often crave that feeling of disjointed information coming together like a puzzle. So though this blog had taken a bit of a hiatus, I can say with enthusiasm and gratitude that this third year of service has been the most exciting and most rewarding of the three.

Also, Maun is really great. I’ll be ready to go when I do, but seriously, it’s lovely here.

Now I want to share with you an exciting new addition created just two days ago that will provide a sense of what SAREP is doing around the Okavango Delta region to positively impact livelihoods, biodiversity, climate change, water and sanitation, and HIV/AIDS.

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Behold – SAREP has a new Facebook page! If you have a moment, I invite you to go explore the page and learn a little about what we do and the communities we work with. Even better, “Like” us and stay up to date on all of the fascinating stuff. My colleague and I put it together, and though the page is new, we’ll be working hard next week to put up backdated photo albums and more narratives to better paint the picture of the scope of impact this incredible five-year project has undertaken.

Thanks! Hope you enjoy!

Life as a PCVL: No Sleep till Tsabong

The day I moved to Maun I spent the night in my new one bed-roomed apartment, sleeping on a bare mattress with a sleeping bag and surrounded by clutter and boxes. The very next morning I left Maun to travel south to Kanye, a village on the opposite end of the country. It was swearing-in time for the new Bots 12 group, and Peace Corps wanted the PCVLs (Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders) there for support. This is the life I’ve been leading since early June – fast paced, consistent travelling and direction changing at the whim of Peace Corps. As much as I love my new home in

Meeting my successor to the Francistown DAC office, Dominique Shephard, at the Bots 12 Swearing-In Ceremony

Maun and am glad when I have a weekend to do laundry, I’m acutally enjoying the opportunity to get out and interact with Peace Corps Botswana on a deeper level.

Our first action item as PCVLs was to set up tiny-regional meetings in various shopping villages in the country. The three PCVLs coordinated and conducted our own meetings and wrote follow-up reports, ensuring we accounted for all volunteers traveling and collected their feedback. I held meetings in three villages: Maun, Ghanzi, and Tsabong. If you were to compare this to Texas, that would be kind of  like having meetings in Ft. Worth, Odessa, and Laredo, respectively.

The meetings were great opportunities for the new volunteers to get to know the earlier intakes and ask questions like, “When will I get a house?”, “What do I do when strange men come to my house after dark?” and, “How do I check for gas tank leaks?” The earlier intakes helped to answer these questions, and also discussed issues of their own like communication problems with staff and each other, technical issues, travel issues, counterpart problems, and questions about other aspects of their service. Much of my job, aside from conducting the meeting, was to give and receive feedback and liaise between the volunteers and staff.

Some of the PCVs participating at the Maun tiny-regional meeting

It was also good just to hangout with volunteers from all over the country inside their respective regions. I’m trying to wiggle my way into a comfort zone with being a PCVL. PCVLs are not staff, and we’re still just volunteers, but other volunteers tend to look at us as a gateway to staff, and so this can put an awkward cramp on some normal volunteer-to-volunteer interactions. So I made a special effort to ensure volunteers that:  a) I’m here to provide support first and foremost, b) my job is not to rat on volunteers but to help them keep their service productive, and c) yes, I would love a beer.

A Decision to Extend Service: Goodbye Francistown and Hello… MAUN

It’s time to move on, challenge myself again, and get out of what’s familiar. As much as I miss home, before I get there I’m going to tackle the next year working in a whole new way here in Botswana.

Francistown.    Source: http://www.flickr.com/ photos/ennor/4789822402/

I pondered the idea to extend back in October. Back then it was all about the comfort and connection I felt with Francistown. I didn’t want to leave. The pull of this place is eerie – you’re in a city yet everywhere you go people recognize you. Low turnover in the businesses means store owners and employees know your name, what you like to eat or drink, will help you out if you’re stuck, etc. Living is easy, relaxed, and each year it grabs a little more of you and makes you think you could live here for years. I realize now that Francistown is actually a pitcher plant, and I almost fell in. Note to the incoming Francistown PCVs.

After that epiphany I decided that for my own good I had to get out of Francistown, no matter what. The idea to extend, however, still lingered in my mind as an option for the next year. Why? Well, third-year Peace Corps Volunteers have more say in where they work, what they do, and are usually able to find great opportunities for professional growth. In making this decision I told myself I would not settle (operation “Go Hard or Go Home” is what I acutally called it), and that if I did extend it would be for something really worthwhile.

Luckily that happened, and so a week from Thursday I’ll be “Going Hard” and relocating to Maun.

So for the next year I’ll actually split my time between two jobs. The first is tied entirely to Peace Corps, and is one of three third-year positions called PCVLs, or Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders. PCVLs provide guidance and support to other Volunteers, liaise between the Volunteers and Peace Corps staff, conduct Volunteer site development, and participate in the development and implementation of Peace Corps programs and trainings.

Map showing the three PCVL regions. Mine’s the blue one.

We also regularly visit Volunteers at their sites, which means lots of travel. There are three of us so we can divide the Volunteer placements up geographically and give our focused attention to those in our region. Due to the low density of volunteers in the North and West parts of the country, I’ll be managing the area shaded in blue. Wish me luck.

My other role will be as the HIV and Volunteer Coordinator for SAREP, the Southern Africa Regional Environmental Program. This is a USAID funded project operating in Namibia, Angola and Botswana. It focuses on:

  • Protecting Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
  • Increasing Access to Water Supply and Sanitation
  • Addressing Global Climate Change at local levels
  • Integrating HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment
I’ll be working in their Maun office and heading up the HIV/AIDS portion, which entails creating partnerships with HIV/AIDS organizations all over the Delta area and building a working program that effectively disseminates HIV/AIDS information to people in the region. I’ll also be managing any volunteers who sign on to help the program.

So there you have it. It’s quite a big change, and I’m pretty excited to get started. I hope you’ll stick with me! Another perk for third-years is the month of home leave provided by Peace Corps. I can’t imagine a better time to visit the States than around Thanksgiving, so hey let’s make some plans.

Shadowing Fin – Maun

Saturday morning we hitched a ride in the back of a truck to the bus junction. It saved us about an hour’s walk, and I greatly enjoyed experiencing the business-like practice of hitching in Botswana. Hitching is how some locals make their car payments; others give them out in exchange for the company. Unless the driver is drinking or rowdy, one can assume that it is a relatively safe thing to do on occasion in Botswana.

We took a bus from the junction to Maun – and I began to count the immense number of hours I spent on a bus during my trip so far. After everything was said and done I’d spent 28 hours on a bus in five days.

Maun is a heavily visited tourist town. There are white people everywhere, I hadn’t noticed until then was a strange sight to see. We had some time to kill before our second evening at our comfy hotel room, so we hit up the Education Park to try to catch a glimpse of some animals.

The Education Park was pretty amazing. Though it was built for humans, the setting consisted of an expansive bushy grassland, with tall trees and termite mounds reaching 6 ft. from the ground. Animals were just living there, not separated from the human observers, and thrown rocks and loosely made signs pointed us on some sort of a trail. There we encountered warthogs, impala, strange blue-headed flightless foul, and lastly, a couple of incredibly tall giraffe. I mean, I know they’re tall, but I had forgotten just how tall. These creatures are like dinosaurs. 

 

My trip up to Etsha 6 enlightened me on what is to come, and helped solidify my desires for my own site placement. The announcement for our permanent sites will be on May 22nd.  I’ll be sure to post the news up then!!