The contents of this website are ours personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government, the Peace Corps, or any other institutions.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

It's Been Sixth Months, and Now It's Time to Get to Work!

Current State of Life in Botswana

I have just returned from a two-week mandatory workshop put on by the
Ministry of Education for myself and the other Life Skills volunteers
that work in schools around Botswana (our counterparts were also in
attendance). The upside of the workshops was that we were able to
spend two weeks working closely with our counterparts (we are each
assigned a counterpart to work with at our school), and we also had
some interesting cross-cultural exchanges. But, overall the workshop
was not very educational which may be due to the fact that it was
planned at the last minute in order for the Ministry to use up some
extra funds before the end of the fiscal year.
The cross cultural exchange gave us an interesting look at the way our
two cultures approach critical thinking and constructive criticism.
The workshop was focused on the topics of Guidance and Counseling
along with Emotional Intelligence. During the Emotional Intelligence
workshop we were given a very scripted presentation that included a
lot of semi-dated information and was mostly aimed at being a
self-help seminar for us and our counterparts rather than being
formatted to teach us more about how to help our students. Emotional
Intelligence, or the ability to deal with emotional issues in a
healthy way, is something that many of the students in schools here
need. And, in fact, this need also extends to many of the teachers
because emotional intelligence and life skills education is still a
growing field in the school system here which means that many adults
here have not been exposed to healthy ways to manage the emotional
pressures that they face. This state of affairs is one of the primary
reasons we have been assigned to enrich the impact of the life skills
curriculum at our schools because this could prove to have a positive
impact on the HIV/AIDS concerns in Botswana.

As I mentioned earlier, the Peace Corps volunteers were always eager
to learn more from the presenters by asking further questions about
the slides and information they were showing. However, the questions
which were aimed at critically assessing the information we were being
given were often glanced over or ignored altogether. In fact, during
the first week's workshop these questions were taken as an affront to
the presenters and there were moments of poor cross-cultural debate
when this happened. During the second week's workshop, which was led
by a different group put together by the ministry of education, the
questions were mostly ignored and the scripted format was stuck to.
Our counterparts often mentioned outside of class that they agreed
that some of the information was mistaken and/or that certain aspects
of the workshops were poorly planned and unorganized. However, they
added that it is a cultural norm to show the presenters respect by
taking in everything they say and not asking critical questions. The
tension between the peace corps volunteers' desire to delve further
into the information and the presenters' desire to share their
information and be done with the workshop kept things on edge, but
things never got too hostile, save for a few confrontations during the
first days of the workshop.

Aside from enduring the two-week workshop sessions during the day, the
life skills volunteers were treated to two-weeks of time to reconnect
and be with our friends/fellow volunteers. We have a great group of
people with a diverse range of backgrounds that has coalesced into a
fantastic group of supportive friends. Most of the nights were spent
having dinner at the lodge or eating at restaurants nearby. Our meal
expenses are supposed to be covered by the ministry through a
reimbursement process. However, like most all reimbursement processes
(both in the US and in Botswana) things can get complicated quickly
and often payments are delayed for excessive amounts of time. I am
just now beginning the process of wading through the countless forms
that I need to fill out.

The workshop also presented Hayley and I with an interesting
experience in that Hayley's program is not Life Skills education like
mine. So, she stayed behind at our site while I traveled 8hrs away to
Molepolole to attend the workshop. The time away was a new experience
for us because we had rarely had reason to spend 2 weeks apart in our
lives in the US. But we stayed in contact by phone and were very happy
to be back together when the workshop was over and I made it back to
my home village.

So, now that the workshop is over and I have returned to my site
Bots11 (the group of volunteers that I came over here with) have just
passed the 6 month service. At times, it feels like we have been here
much long because of the sheer immensity of new experiences and
interactions that we encounter each day. However, when I look back at
my actual work accomplishments it feels like I have only just begun.
The standard Peace Corps approach to looking at your service is that
most of your first year is spent relationship building and testing the
waters for projects that will only really get into gear during the
second year of service.

The feeling of having not gotten much done is made worse by the fact
that the timing of our arrival in Botswana put us into a meeting cycle
that has only given us a total of a few solid months at site. After
Pre-Service Training we were sent to our sites for 3 months in order
to conduct community assessments. During this time we were instructed
to not become engaged in the work of our primary assignments, instead
our job was to get to know the community and our places of work. After
Pre-Service Training we were called into Gaborone for In-Service
Training for 10 days where we processes our first few months at site.
After this we were given another month or so at site and then were
called in to participate in Regional Meetings where we met with
volunteers serving in our area of Botswana (the farthest southern
portions). This lasted over a weekend, and then the Life Skills
volunteers were sent to Molepolole to participate in the Ministry of
Education's workshop (the one spoken about at length above). Amidst
all of these workshops we have not been able to really get projects
going, because the ones that we have attempted to start get
interrupted by our having to leave site for workshops. Now, the hope
for any and all of our efforts here in Botswana is that our projects
will be sustainable. Meaning, they will continue on without needing
our presence to keep them going. Building sustainable partnerships
within the community requires a lot of time, however, and so we are
still working towards the goal of sustainability and we are really
hoping that next block of time that we have at our site will allow us
to get things going in a sustainable way (we don't have another
official Peace Corps meeting until the beginning of next summer here,
which would be the beginning of next winter in the US).
That's all for now! Thank you for reading, and please let us know what
you think!

- Michael