Hope and Strength in Sad Circumstances

   I'm finding that as I near the end of my service, I have an even greater appreciation for the experiences I've been fortunate enough to have here and the people I've been blessed to have met. I'd like to share some stories that highlight this. 
   My friend Elia is one of the most hardworking and caring people I have ever met. She is from Werda and returned here after school and working outside of the village for sometime to help orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and their families. She has been working very hard to start an NGO to serve this population, and in the meantime she visits families in need in the village to see how she can help them. She doesn't get paid at all and is doing all of this out of kindness and love for her community. She also has a young son she is raising herself. I have had the privilege recently of visiting OVC families with Elia and of helping her to document that there is a need in Werda for an NGO serving OVC families through interviews with families and photographs. There are 95 documented orphans and vulnerable children in Werda right now, and this doesn't include the OVC at the junior school who are from other villages but board in Werda. Though many of these families are getting some type of governmental assistance, usually in the form of some food each month, it often is not enough to sustain an entire family.
    Since visiting more of these families with Elia, I've been reminded of what true poverty can look like: Children taking care of children and living in a one room house without any bed or even a mattress/ sleeping on concrete floor, a child who is unable to walk and has no way of moving around so he can't go to school, and grandparents struggling to raise their late daughter's three young boys even though they themselves aren't well. Yet, these families are still trying so hard. Some of my PACT students are in OVC families and despite some difficult situations at home, they do well in school and are among some of the most polite, intelligent, and creative students I have ever met. 
   I also found out, through this experience of visiting these families,that some of my former junior school PACT students who have graduated had been cooking and cleaning for some orphaned children during their school break because they saw that there were hungry and alone. They told Elia they wanted to give back to their community. The fact that there are times when people do step up and help each other renews my faith in humanity and warms my heart.  Although there is a lot of sadness that exists here, there is also a lot of strength and hope. If people who have so little can remain so hopeful, then I certainly can. 

GLOW Camp #3

Last weekend I participated in the third GLOW camp that I've been a part of during my Peace Corps service. This time the camp was in a small village right outside of my village. I've written a lot about GLOW camps and the purpose of GLOW in the past so this time I just want to write about a few highlights/ key parts of my  experience at this particular camp.

1) I facilitated a session about basic mental health and coping skills and lead an activity during which the girls made mailboxes as a craft activity coping skill. The girls then wrote kind notes to each other throughout the rest of the weekend to help build each other's self-esteems. 

2) We had a question box- girls could write questions they were too embarrassed to ask out loud with out writing their name and put them in the box. Then we addressed the questions at the end of the camp. Some of the ones that came up were about very sensitive topics such as abuse and HIV, and fortunately we were able to address their questions because of the box existing. 

3) We slept in classrooms at a primary school on mattresses on the floor. I slept in a  room with two other PCVs and about 20 girls between the ages of 13-16. Also, there were giant beetles that kept flying into us all so once one was starting to sleep either a giant beetle would fly into one's face or one would hear a giant "WACK" sound as someone else was killing a beetle with her shoe.  I did not sleep haha. 

4) The water was out for a lot of camp. This is not unusual in Botswana. Us PCVs didn't really care and just didn't bath for a few days, but our counterparts cared much more, which was kind of funny.Also, I sprayed myself with really gross bug spray that my PCV friend brought to the camp. It smelled kind of like cat urine. I ended up smelling like that for three days.

5) Kids, no matter where you are in the world, say ( or write) the funniest things sometimes…The rest of the PCVs who were there know what I mean haha.

6) We drank a lot of Oros ( a juice mix that is mixed with water)

7) Transportation problems always exist here. Always.


79 Days. Bittersweet Times

 79. That is the number of days I have left in Botswana. 

   I recently attended my Close of Service Conference with the rest of my group, Bots10. We went to a lodge in Nata, up in the North Eastern part of the country. We stayed at a lodge near the bird sanctuary and salt pans. A lot of the conference was about the paper work and practical things that we need to do before we close our service in May. Another major component of the conference was reflecting on our time here and planning for the emotional and psychological aspects of returning to the U.S. I really appreciated that we were given time to reflect and prepare.
   The highlight of COS conference for me was our group dinner on the pans. We spent time telling funny and sentimental stories from the course of our time here together and spoke about each of the 17 Bots10 members who early terminated their service over the  course of the past couple of years. There are 23 of us left!
   What will the next 79 days look like for me? Well, at the end of this week I will be part of my third GLOW camp to empower young girls in my district that will take place in a village right next to mine and include 10 girls from the junior school in my village and 20 other girls from around the district. Then at the end of this month I will be traveling up north to an event that two of my PCV friends have been planning, a Half Martathon/5k and Health Expo. I will be run/walking the 5k and painting children's faces at the Health Expo following the run. Other than this, I will be focusing on wrapping up projects in my village, saying good byes,  medical appointments,and finishing reporting and paper work that I need to do before I finish my service. I have a feeling this is all going to pass by quickly.

    People keep asking me what I'm most excited about. Really, I'm proud of myself for making it to this point and I'm looking forward to having completed my service and being able to say "YES, I DID IT!". Being a PCV was a dream of mine since I was 14, and it is pretty cool that I've been able to follow my dream and see it through. There have been some tough moments, I had many opportunities to leave. I'm glad I didn't.  I'm also of course looking forward to seeing my family and friends very much. When I picture myself seeing my family for the first time I get tearful. I haven't seen them at all during my service so it has been a very long time. I'm also looking forward to things like the mountains and lakes of Maine, food I miss, and graduate school. 
   At the same time, there are things I will miss about being here, and I think it may be hard for people at home to understand that at times, which worries me. I will miss the quiet. Life here is slow and quiet, and sometimes that can be difficult, but overall, I have come to appreciate that. I worry that I will feel overwhelmed at times in America by things like busy streets, large stores, and the general fast pace of life. I will also miss people here. I will miss friends I work with and the children in my village. It will be strange to leave them because I will most likely never see them again. When I left America, I at least could be pretty certain that I would see people again when I got back home, but that is not the case for people I've met here ( with the exception of volunteer friends). I've also become more accustomed to being alone. Before I came here I was on the go always and had a really hard time being by myself. My experience here has changed me because I've had to get so used to being alone. I worry that people won't understand when I want alone time sometimes when I get home. I will also missing being around my volunteer friends here who get what it is like. Going back to the U.S. will certainly be an adjustment. 

This is a bittersweet time!