January 29, 2012
Recently, we were brought into Gaborone for a workshop that has lasted about 10 days. The focus of the workshop was to give us further training sessions and also to help us process the first couple of months that we had spent at our permanent sites. Mostly, though, everyone in our Bots11 group has been focused on reconnecting and having fun with all of our fellow volunteers.
In an experiment in light packing, we decided to try only bringing a few sets of clothes. So far it has been manageable but washing out clothes in a sink with a bar of soap has been interesting. This part of the country is much cooler, and on top of that our rooms at the lodge are air-conditioned, so the things we wash don't dry near as fast as they do at our home in the Kalahari Desert.
The lodge has a few odd animals that wander around the area inside its walls. One is a large leopard tortoise that walks around the edge of the area by the wall doing orbits of the lodge's campus. There is also a small flock of guinea fowl that are pretty noisy in the morning and in the evening when they go through there territorial rituals. Lastly there is a pair of white rabbits that seem almost tame but act like cats when you approach by just barely staying out of reach. It has been a nice change of pace to see these animals in place of the usual batch of goats, cows, and chickens that we usually see at our house.
We recently took a trip into the downtown area to purchase a mobile USB modem from one of the local cell phone service providers but didn't have any luck because all of the shops closed early due to the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament that Botswana is playing in. The mall we went to is a lot like a smaller version of the Town East Mall in Wichita, KS. Facing the masses of people and heavy traffic has been a very strange experience after spending the past couple of months at our home village in a rural section of the Kalahari Desert. During these first few months we were tasked with conducting a community assessment which we were trained to do by conducting interviews, making friends, and shadowing people at work. Basically, it has been a time to get to know our new home and start integrating into community. I spent most of my days at the school. However, we arrived in our village two weeks before the schools closed for the Christmas break and classes started about two weeks before we had to leave for Gaborone in order to attend the In-Service Training that we are currently at.
The beginning of the school year here is interesting because it seems like most of the administrative work and scheduling of classes/teachers doesn't really get done until classes are supposed to have started. So, during the first two weeks of school the students have been left to sit in their classes rooms and go to classes in which there is usually no teacher. Sometimes the teacher doesn't show up because the schedule isn't completed and other times I have observed teachers cutting classes because they don't really feel like working. This fact of life here is one of the things that I intend to put a lot of time into addressing. The general lack of teacher motivation is somewhat understandable given the poor teaching salaries and the general neglect of the ministry of education in listening to and supporting the teachers. But, in the end I would like to think that working with the kids of the school would supercede these issues and that the teachers would continue to work hard in the face of the challenges that they are facing, but this doesn't seem to be the case (of course, not all teachers skip classes and neglect their responsibilities. There are some teachers at my school that are passionate about their jobs and are eager to help the students).
One last experience that I have had in the schools that has had an impact on me is witnessing the implantation of corporal punishment (hitting kids with switches). This punishment is executed on a daily basis on any students that cause trouble in one way or another. During the first to weeks of school, when the students were generally left unattended, corporal punishment was very common. This was because in being unattended and unsure about where they were supposed to be and where their teachers were the students had to manage things by themselves. Usually, the students stayed in their classrooms. Some classes would actually work on studying their past years notes and others were full of commotion and students terrorizing the classrooms. Thus, the teachers were randomly patrol the classrooms and make examples of the more troublesome students by beating them in the front of the classroom. One teacher described this practice as "an African solution, for an African problem".
I am very opposed to corporal punish in any part of life, but I am certainly going to put some effort into the issue here in the hopes of improving the Teacher-Student relationships. As it stands right now, most all of the students are terrified of their teachers and this has had many obvious ramifications on the students' ability to perform in the school. This is because they are less eager to participate in class, and are especially afraid to approach teachers outside of class when they need help with homework or want assistance with some other issue that they are facing.
After two losses (the second of which was really bad 1-6 when Botswana played New Guinea) the Botswana team only has one more game and it isn't looking like they will make it into the next round of the tournament. This reality does not seem to disappoint the locals too much, which is probably because Botswana has never had a team that was able to perform well on the international level. But news stories do talk about the country's efforts to improve their professional sports programs in the hopes of putting together an Olympic team. The prospects of this, however, do not look to promising because there is currently is little to no sports training taking place in the schools here. After a teacher strike a few months before we arrived, the teachers have stopped doing any extra work to coach school teams and lead sports clubs in after school activities. This is because the teachers feel that these types of endeavors should come with extra paychecks and until the ministry of education pays them more there will not be much of a chance of getting sports back into the schools. The students here make due with pick-up games of soccer whenever they have a chance, and one teacher at my school even continues to conduct Karate classes a few times each week.
I apologize for the long lapse in our posts. Once we are able to obtain a mobile modem we should be able to keep you all updated on our activities and experiences!