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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Overview of our Experiences Thus Far

I was recently asked by a friend to write a little about our work
here, so I thought I would share the short overview of our work and
experience with the Peace Corps in Botswana.

In Botswana, everything that the Peace Corps is involved in is
centered around addressing the HIV epidemic that has hit the country
so hard.

(there are many theories about why the southern africa has been the
worst hit by far, and currently the best explanation centers around
the cultural practice of having multiple concurrent sexual partners.
HIV is most communicable during the first few months of infection. In
Botswana and other regions of Southern Africa it is a common practice
for people to have multiple sexual partners at the same time and
because this means the disease has a "super-highway" for transmission
because as soon as someone is infected they unknowingly pass the
infection on to all of their other partners. To make matters worse,
the disease is often not detectable during the first few months of
infection. Thus, during its most communicable time period the disease
is also difficult to test for and with people sleeping with multiple
partners it has spread fast, or so the theory goes).

Even though the prevalence of HIV is extremely high in the country, it
is still a very taboo subject and although students have rote
memorization of all of the basic information regarding the disease,
people are still reluctant to ever acknowledge actual infections and
deaths that are related to HIV. Botswana has the 2nd highest
prevalence of HIV infection in the world. There are three categories
of volunteers: NGO, Health, and Education. I fall under the education
category and have been assigned to work at Tsabong Junior Secondary
School (students are the equivalent of 7th-9th grade aged) where my
primary assignment is to work with the guidance and counseling staff
to improve the students education in life skills which covers just
about everything that falls under "good to know in order to live a
happier healthier life". I teach a few classes each week with
different classes of students where I try to incorporate games and
activities while teaching them about nutrition, relationships,
contraceptives, personal finance, etc.

The country is on its way to falling under the "first-world"
classification and so people here have access to running water, paved
roads in most towns, satellite television, and internet which has
helped them begin to connect with the global community more and more.
The students are all very interested in American media (movies, TV,
music) and we have had a lot of fun talking about things from back
home. A secondary project that I am doing at the school is to improve
the students' computer awareness. The school I am at is lucky enough
to have a sort-of-up-to-date computer lab with limited access to the
internet. So the computers work well for teaching computer basics but
are not very functional when it comes to teaching the students to do
more than send emails and setup facebook pages (which most already
have figured out anyways). I focus on teaching typing skills and using
the Microsoft office programs.

Those are some basics regarding my work here. Hayley's job is involved
in using her Masters of Public Health degree experience to work with
the district health management team to plan and coordinate initiatives
and events. She is currently attempting to compose a questionnaire
that will yield statistically valid data for further analysis and
planning with regards to community health needs.

Our daily life consists of walking to most places that we need to go
around our village which is home to 7000 residents and is about 5
square miles in size. Most volunteers live in villages that do not
have grocery stores so they take weekly or bi-weekly trips to the
nearest large village to do their shopping. Our village, however, does
have its own store and we walk about 30min to get there and then 30min
back with our groceries. It has been an adjustment to be car-less but
we have found that life in Lawrence, KS had helped prepare us for some
of the walking because we used to walk to campus and Mass St a lot. We
had considered getting bikes, but have scrapped the idea for now
because there is no law enforcement of the speed limits on the roads
here and the legal blood alcohol level for driving is 3x that of the
US standard and it is common for drivers to be drinking and or clearly
drunk while operating their vehicle, especially during the after work
hours and at night. But Botswana has a basic public transportation
system that is well regulated and allows us to travel around the
country when we need to.

Our free time is mostly spent relaxing at home, especially in the
summers when it is around 90 degrees both day and night and we just
want to stay out of the sun. But now that winter is starting it is in
the 40's and 50's in the mornings and at nights while the days are
usually in the 70's. We hear that it will eventually be 40 degrees all
the time, and without any airconditioning/heating in the houses here
we are prepared to spend most of our time in a sub-zero rated Marmot
sleeping bags!

We watch a lot of movies and TV's shows on our computer and also read
books on our Kindles. While we have only made it through 6 or so books
each, we can proudly claim to have watched over 100 movies and every
more TV show episodes! I think that clearly indicates where our
priorities lie... :)

I hope that this information has helped to answer a few of your
curiosities about our lives and work here. I am happy to answer other
questions anytime!