I’ve been a little down the last couple of weeks, so I haven’t been good about blogging. Sorry! I know you probably don’t really care, but I said I was going to be better about it, so I care. This post is going to be a little long and as I started writing it, I realized it was going to be far too long. So it’s actually going to go out in installments. This first will be mostly about my job. The next will be about cultural differences and I’ll try to get it out in less than a week.
This series of posts is mostly aimed at the new trainees coming to Botswana in July/August. I promised them I would write a bit about what it’s like here, what I packed, etc. So, it’s aimed at them, but will also be pretty informative about what my life is like here for all you curious friends and family out there.
I’m going to get extremely real in this series of posts, so I just want to put a disclaimer that these are my perceptions and feelings toward my service currently. I do know many volunteers who agree with me on many points, but I really can only speak for myself and my one perspective out of the 120ish volunteers currently in country. I also want to make a point that this gives you an idea of what your service could sort of look like, but everyone has completely different services and faces many different challenges. So I don’t want you to read this and start building expectations that this is exactly what your service will look like. This is my service and no one else is going to have the exact same experiences as me. So here goes.
Here’s a look at my job, both what my job would have been in Ralekgetho and what my job is here in Kanye:
I’m what’s called a life skills volunteer in the Youth in Development sector. I’m in a unique situation because I’m going through a second community integration phase right now. While my fellow volunteers are really getting into their jobs, I’m still trying to figure out what my job is going to look like. That being said, because of my unique circumstances, I’m able to tell you about two very different Botswana experiences.
In Ralekgetho (my first village) I worked at a small primary school of only 160 students. That’s the smallest school I’ve heard of here. I refused to teach because I didn’t think that was sustainable or useful when what I’m here for is to help with HIV/AIDS work. The main thing we’re supposed to do in schools is help them to implement a curriculum called living or life skills. In the primary school level, it’s mostly about self awareness, self-esteem, and other basic mental and physical health topics. It really isn’t until standards 5-7, which are the last three grades at the primary level, that you go into more HIV related topics. A large issue we face here that the national language is considered English and so their standardized testing is done in English, but more often than not, the students are taught in Setswana and their English is not good enough to read the tests. This can lead to students failing out of school and falling into more risky behavior which can lead to HIV. So we are expected to help rectify this situation a bit.
So this is what I had planned for projects: I was going to start 3 English clubs, one for standards 1, 2, and 3, one for standards 4 and 5, and one for standards 6 and 7. I was also helping the health post in my village and they wanted to do monthly health talks for the community. So the standard 7 teacher and I had planned to teach the standard 7s a health topic and have them lead the health talks for the community. My tutor in the community wanted to start a girl guide troop and I have a lot of experience as a Girl Scout for 11 years, and the founder and leader of a large troop of 30 girls for 3 years, so I was going to help her with that. The community seemed a little disjointed from the school, so I was planning a monthly newsletter to share more of what was happening with the school and community as a whole. I was also planning monthly events to address vision issues in the school, oral hygiene, gender based violence, etc. I was also planning to fix up the school library, have library hours to talk to students, and start reading clubs.
I had a lot of plans and normally I wouldn’t try to start so many different projects, but I was really able to integrate in Ralekgetho and had many people who wanted to help with these projects. So I had a lot of hope that they would be sustainable and successful. Since I had to leave that village before I was able to begin anything, we really have no idea how successful I would have been. I’ve heard of volunteers who’ve had 20 or so ideas and not a single one was successful in their service. There are just too many factors involved to really know if something will take off. Ralekgetho was also one of the few sites that had never had a volunteer before. So I was really starting everything from scratch.
Kanye is very different. First off, I’m in a senior secondary school, so I’m working with form 4 and 5 students (11th and 12th grades). I am teaching, more like facilitating, 14 classes a week on guidance and living topics. So similar to the living curriculum for the primary school, just more in depth and we have a whole period to discuss the topics instead of just infusing it into other lessons. I also have office hours to work with students one on one for guidance and counseling. On top of that I am facilitating a club called teen talk and helping with the PACT (peer approach to counseling by teens) club. I’m also assisting a local man in starting a youth center. Besides the youth center, I am just filling in the shoes of the previous volunteer. I never really had interest in teaching, but my counterparts expected me to just do what the previous volunteer did. They had already made a schedule of my classes before I even moved here.
In Ralekgetho, I had all the control over my job and here I have no control. In the end, this job is going to be more applicable to my education and career pursuits, but is also less free and open for me to make my own path. In many ways, I feel like I am just acting as another guidance and counseling teacher. So I feel that this job is less sustainable than what I was doing in Ralekgetho. In Ralekgetho I had other teachers and counterparts who were equally as invested in the projects with me. Here, I am pretty much on my own with my projects. When I leave, what I’m currently doing is not going to continue. My teen talk club won’t continue, and my classes will most likely be dispersed amongst the other two teachers, but many times they don’t actually attend their own classes as is; other things seem to take priority. So the amount of teaching will also go down. It’s challenging to think that I won’t be making a real impact in the school, but hopefully I’ll be making a real impact with the students.
No matter what your work looks like here, you’ll have less control than you’ll be used to from American jobs; you just have to find the little things that can keep you going. For me, it’s knowing that I can be a positive influence to my kids. I can help that form 5 who’s being bullied because he comes off as gay (which is further complicated by the fact that any form of sex besides penile/vaginal intercourse is illegal here), or that student who wants to know how to make it through school when she feels all her motivation is gone. I can be that non-judgmental active listener, that I’ve never seen anywhere else in this country. A lot of the time, people just need validation, and I can give that. If that helps a student to succeed and in turn help or influence someone else in the future, I’ve made a sustainable impact. That’s what I have to hold onto.
Watch for my next post on cultural differences! (It is now available here.)