18 May, 2014

Mid-Service Conference! (Part Imwe)

Can you believe I've been an official PCV for a year now! Yikes- time flies....and I have a week back in the village, after the wonderfully fun, much-needed vacation, before heading back to Windhoek for my mid-service conference! 

(I promise to give more details on the vaca this next week. Truth is, I've been unmotivated to write blog posts. Things at work have been slow and frustrating are times, and then I'll have an incredibly fabulous, satisfying day, and then the next feel like I'm back at the bottom of the mountain again. And so goes the roller-coaster they told us we would experience....)

Every 6 months, the PC requires us to fill out a detailed report on what activities we've been doing at site, as well as any other activities, such as teaching Namibians about Americans, and Americans about Namibians. Finally, the day before it was due, I completed it, and sent it in. This report will be reviewed by my Director, who will then send off a report to Washington, DC. Phew...... And although I felt I hadn't accomplished much, filling out this report made me realize that I have - though slowly - been accomplishing things. It also made me realize many things I have learned about myself, as well as the growth I've made as a young woman. Let's say this has sort been an "Eat,Pray,Love" kind of experience for me :) Ahhh...but I will write about that in Part Mbali (which means "two" in Oshikwanyama) of this post...

So let's talk work- some of the things I had wanted to accomplish at the school, never happened- at least, not yet. Goal #1- this next year will be much different- now that I've gotten to understand the flow of the teachers, learners, and the school, itself. I did get the chance to be part of a wonderful workshop for the grade 8 learners, called My Future My Choice. It's all about rights and responsibilities, making good decisions, HIV and sex and communication. It was a 3 day workshop, and although the first day was a little slow, as the children were not sure what to expect, the other 2 days were much better, with their active participation and learning to think critically. See, these kids are used to a teacher just standing in front of the class and lecturing to them. They aren't as used to thinking on their own and coming up with their own answers, versus the regurgitation of answers that they had come accustomed to. But I think in the end, they enjoyed it, learned a lot, and overall gained some knowledge and confidence from this workshop. Success!!

Also, at school, I have started to play guitar with the school choir. I also taught them the song "You Raise Me Up", and they seem to enjoy singing it, as well as taking turns playing my guitar. (When the kids first saw me walking around with the guitar in a lightweight case I can throw over my shoulder, I was told some of them thought I was carrying a big gun. Yikes. Not the impression I was trying to make! And not that I've seen anyone with a gun, here in the village. But I'm hoping now, they all understand it's just a fun musical instrument!) The choir teacher also wants me to help them become better, so they can enter a choir competition. These kids really know how to sing- it's become so natural for all of them- and everyone else in the village- to sing perfectly in tune and with perfect harmony! The problem is, they have no idea what notes they are singing, or how they created the harmony. For instance, they're so used to singing in the upper register, that they can't understand how, or even hear themselves, sing in the lower register. So, I'm looking forward to this challange. The choir director also took some singing classes over the holiday, where the instructor used a keyboard and taught them scales (at least, do-re-mi etc). So we will see what we can get accomplished this year!

I could give you excuses, but I consider them reasons, for why my girls club has not met yet, as well as only a few meetings with the AIDS club. But I'm trying not to think about the negatives- and many of the reasons it did not happen was because I had to go out of town for a meeting or workshop or there was a holiday. But I plan on changing that the rest of this year!

See, I've become comfortable. Too comfortable. And a lot of that is due to the frustrations I experience here, while trying to start projects. Many fail. Or are post-poned. And then post-poned again. So, after awhile, honestly, I guess I've slowly stopped trying. But this is the challenge of being a health volunteer. You have to, basically, find and start your own projects. But they're supposed to be "sustainable". So I try not to do anything without including a local Namibian. But then sometimes things don't move at the pace I would like them to, or am used to. So, patience is what I'm learning! I've also realized I need to become more assertive and confident, if I want to get anything done. And I am slowly beginning to see this change in myself...finally! 

I am also having great success with my NAWA project!! It stands for Nutrition And Wellness Awareness. It's a 3-day workshop at a person's home, with 2-3 of their friends.  We teach and help them start their own garden (Permagarden) give them seeds to plant, and teach about nutrition, HIV/AIDS (as well as give them male and female condoms) and TB and basic medical care, such as hygiene, wound and fever care. We also give them a bar of soap and a knee high stocking. You put this bar of soap in the stocking and then tie to a tree or branch nearby the cooking area. Then, you wet your hands, then lather up with the soap, and finally rinse! I have gotten a lot of positive feedback on this little set-up. (Right now, I'm using my own money to purchase these items, as well as other seeds, until we can prove this project works, and possibly get funding). 

While away on vacation, my counterpart actually held one of the NAWA workshops on his own!! Hello sustainability!!! Right now, I do have a company who is donating a few seeds, which helps. But I also want to give these people seeds for foods they will actually eat right now, such as spinach, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, peppers and squash. Then, later on, we can add in different foods- such as cucumbers, carrots, beets and more. See, it's not that they won't eat these foods. The challenge is, how can they prepare and incorporate these other vegetables into their traditional meals. So far, the houses we have visited, we're taken care of by the women, with little access to water (they walk a few kilometers one way, just to fill a jerry can full of water, then walk a few kilometers back home, and use this water for the day- to cook, bathe, and clean clothes), and only cook over an open fire outside- not with a gas stove in a house. They cook their meat in a pot, usually with tomatoes and onions, and of course, their oshifima (see a past blog post about this!). So, I can see this workshop creating another class, such as a cooking class. 

But one step at a time- first, to get them used to the idea of taking care of a garden and growing food YEAR-ROUND. Really, they don't do this because of their limited access to water, and during the dry season (9 months out of the year), it takes great effort to keep a garden going. (Of course, lots of things grow during the rainy season - and it's free water!) Especially when, according to these women, they will be the ones tending to it- not the kids or the men- while they take care of everything else. This is why you will find many organizations and projects created to help the women of developing countries and empower them. The reality is, in general in developing countries (of course there are always exceptions) men make money and use this money on themselves, instead of providing for their family. Women, in the other hand, if able to make or get money, will first feed and clothe their children, and if anything is left over, they may use on themselves. Women take care of the house and children. This includes cleaning, cooking, fetching water and collecting firewood (sometimes using an axe to cut down trees. These women are strong!!!!) Men help with bigger projects around the house, as well as herd the cattle and goats. And the thing is, this is their culture. I'm not here to change it. I'm only trying to make things easier and better for them, if at all possible!

Goal #2- train at least 20 people in the NAWA project. (Nawa, by the way, in Oshikwanyama means "good"). We have included a pre-questionnaire and will also perform follow-ups to make sure they are taking care of the garden and help them along the way. Many don't know how to grow a garden- on a small scale. They are only used to planting their big fields of mahangu and maize. Then, after training at least 20 people, with proof this program is helping the community, my supervisor has given me the OK to approach the Red Cross and see if there can be any compensation given to my counterpart, Daniel, for this program, as well as taking care of the clinic garden. See, Daniel is actually employed by the Red Cross, working as the TB Field Coordinator at the clinic. He has volunteered himself to do these workshops. And he's excited about them and doing them on his own! And if this can become a bigger program, he should be compensated for it. I may attempt to ask the Ministry of Health, but have been told I will probably have a better chance at asking for the Red Cross to help. So fingers crossed! Side note- Daniel is also going with me in June to a workshop to teach us how to run the Grassroots Soccer Program- a fun program using soccer skills to educate children on HIV/AIDS. Daniel is pretty excited about this as well! I know he has done some work in the past for the Red Cross with orphaned and vulnerable children. So maybe we can incorporate this program, not only at the school, but also with this population of children. 

*sigh* Ok- one last project, which is in the very beginning stages- we actually have a big meeting on Saturday about this! We are hoping to get a soccer field and basketball/netball/volleyball court built in my village. I have soooooo much I want to say about this project! But it's going to take an entire separate blog post. So, patience my friends, I will write about this after our meeting. But a few clues- we will, hopefully, be working with Courts For Kids (look it up on the Internet!) and YOU may be able to get the opportunity to help- by coming over here to my village and helping build the court!!!! Pretty exciting, huh? I will give all the details in the blog post- I just need to wait a bit longer, as I have already extended the invitation to a few college athletic departments. But we may still need YOUR help :) 

Well, that's a quick little update- apparently I had more to say than I thought! I apologize for my lack of posting. This experience has me up and down a lot...

(though I have never thought of going home- this is the absolute most amazing, wonderful, challenging experience I have ever had and I don't regret one moment of it! It has pushed me in my work ability, work ethic, a new career perhaps (?), my knowledge of health and HIV (and everything else) spiritually, physically and emotionally and I'm sure in many other ways!)

...and I have also given up on the Internet at times. It's just such a process to post things- especially pictures and videos, at times. Maybe I'll just write a book or a movie one day to explain it all....

Or you could just come visit :)

Well, gotta get some zzzz's. I have a lot of reading and research to do tomorrow on HIV and our program here in the PC with PEPFAR (more on that later)....

Peace and Potatoes,

p.s. I have learned that skipping makes you happy- you just can't be sad and skip at the same time. It's physically impossible...So yes, now the cattle and goats watch me skipping thru the sand.  I'm sure this village thinks I'm crazy.... :)

As well as singing everything you do...

Try it! 

p.p.s. I saw my first Namibian elephant on my way back from vacation- up here in Owamboland!!! Our driver actually turned around for us to get a closer look. Unfortunately, the elephant was walking away...but still, it's an elephant!!!

11 May, 2014

A Nam Holiday!

I know I have so much to update you all on...and hopefully that will happen soon :)

But for now, here is a picture of just one of the things I did while on a week-long, much-needed vacation around Namibia! We went to Luderitz, Sossusvlei (the dunes, where these pictures were taken), a little winery called Neuras, and then finally Swakopmund (we went sandboarding! It was incredible fun!). 

I have lots and lots of pictures, and am hoping to have them sorted out this week, as I get back to reality and onto my second year of service. I'm feeling very hopeful for this year and can't wait to share all I've been up to....

Hope you are all well!

Peace & Love