Hello, thank you all for your continuous support and encouragement through my Peace Corps service thus far. I am excited to introduce to you all a new project I am involved in and also ask for your assistance. I call it the bakery project.
As previously stated, I am currently living in a village in South Africa, volunteering through U.S. Peace Corps. I work with a community based organization that helps operates 4 drop-in centers, 5 early childhood development centers, a home based care, a bakery, and a technical/vocational school.
Click on this link to support this project: http://www.gofundme.com/833lv0
In the beginning of the year, I was approached by the women in charge of the bakery to assist them in running the bakery. Because of some unplanned events such as equipment failure and a non-fatal motor accident, the bakery found itself in debt. They explained the structure of the bakery and all of its processes to me. Some of the key issues that I picked up are listed below. I agreed to assist them for a short period of time to turn things around. I am currently the manager of the bakery with one of women working closely with me to take up that position within 6 months.
Apart from skills development, one thing that bakery is financial assistance for a short period of time. There is a huge market for the bakery’s product so a quick turnaround is highly possible but will require some cash inflow. I am therefore asking if you can please kindly support the bakery for a month so that it can recuperate it debts and stand on its own again. Your money will be used to purchase stock in bulk, pay for a month’s electricity, buy a water tank, some aprons, and other protective gear for the women at the bakery.
As the old adage goes, “Little by little fills the measure” thus we will appreciate every dollar you can donate $5, $10$ $15, $20, etc.
Thank you and please click on the above link for more information about the bakery.
In 5 days, I will be left with only 12 months to go as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The journey thus far has been so and so. The first year went by slowly and confusing. I struggled to find what I wanted to do within the organization I am based with. I always told myself I didn’t sign up for Peace Corps to be a camp counselor but this past week, I found myself at camp for the second time this year. Crazy huh! The first camp was a boy’s leadership camp in Kwa-Zulu Natal Province. I was invited to this camp by fellow Peace Corps SA27 volunteers and I must admit, I had a great time. So during this short school break in April, I decided to have my own camp for high school learners in my village. Ok, that’s half lie. My counterpart who I took to a Grassroot soccer (GRS) training in October kept pushing me to do a GRS Holiday Camp and I gave in.
So, on March 31st, I took 33 high school students (co-ed), grades 10-12, to a boarding school right outside the provincial capital, Polokwane. I trained 4 other people from my village how to run GRS (PC SKillz) activities to assist me at the camp. We were joined by another Peace Corps volunteer that brought the number of camp counselors to 6 (including me).
Grassroot Soccer (GRS) or the PC Skillz program creates simple and powerful connections between soccer and life. The Peace Corps SKILLZ approach helps young people have meaningful and relevant discussions about life, take small steps to achieve their goals, stay strong when faced with challenges, and protect themselves and others from HIV and AIDS. Peace Corps SKILLZ uses soccer language, metaphors, and activities to address key behaviors that drive the spread of HIV in South Africa, such as unprotected sex, multiple sexual partners, older sexual partners, and gender-based violence.
All activities at the camp ran smoothly. My favorite activity at the camp was Gender Stadium. For gender stadium, participants form two circles, an inner and outer circle. One sex, male or female, occupies the inner circle at a time and talks about issues affecting that particular sex such as gender norms within their communities and cultures. While the inner circle speaks, the outer circle’s job is to listen and be quite. This active brought up some sensitive things such as gender base violence. It was interesting to hear how these teens thought they should be treated in a relationship. Some words that stood out for me during the gender stadium for both sexes include:
“it is okay to beat a woman, women are like children sometimes. You have to correct them sometimes. This time it is not spare the rod and spoil a child. It’s spare the rod and spoil a woman.” – Male Participant
“It is never okay to beat woman. You cannot say you love someone and then beat them. You have a problem with a girl/woman, you must talk to them.” – A different Male Participant
“If a man does not beat you [a woman] for your mistakes, you [woman] will keep repeating it.” – A Female Participant
“Women, let’s remember that men are key to this world. We must listen to them.” – Another Female Participant
“Just because I am married or in a relationship with you does not make me your slave, a captive. It is never okay for a man to hit a woman.” – Another Female Participant
The camp counselors in addition to some participants made sure we drove home the key message which was it is NEVER okay to hit a woman, whether in a relationship or not.
All in all, this was a successful camp. The learners learned about the consequences of engaging in risky behaviors that led to HIV such as multiple partners, older partners (sugar mommas and sugar daddies), unprotected sex, and substance abuse and sex. The learners enjoyed themselves and did not want to leave on the last day. They have already started contacting me about when the next camp is going to be. I am glad I had this camp and might another one in July with fellow Jersey PCVs. Shout to Taylor Crosby for helping me out at this camp. Now she is some of the learners favorite American. That’s okay. Lol
Until next time, enjoy some pics!
And the beat goes on! Since September 2013, I have had the pleasure of working with a wonderful young man from village. This young man impressed me in so many ways and changed my perspective of some of the youth in my village. In a village that unemployment is estimated to be around 80%, money is a scarce commodity. Young male, with a good education, to work for free is rare occurrence because he has the ability to find a job elsewhere. When my counterpart agreed to work for my host organization till November 2013 for nothing and then R500 after that, I was shocked. He said he was doing it for the community and that working with the organization is a good use of his time while he looks for employment elsewhere.
Volunteerism is common in my village but most people seek more than R1000 as stipend per month to volunteer at my organization. I understand why people ask for this amount because most volunteers at my organization works about 8hrs a week in a demanding environment.
The plan for my counterpart was to work 3 days a week and use the other two days for job searching. He ended up working 5 days a week, sometimes even on weekends and more than 8hrs a day. The organization and I were impressed with his dedication, intellect, and hardworking skills. He was instrumental in our recently completed village-wide census data collection. He and I worked tirelessly in designing the census survey, outlining an implementation plan, and inputting data as they came in.
It was a bitter sweet moment for me at the end of January when he told me one of the departments of the municipality that he interned at wants to bring him back for another year. This is a great opportunity for him as it can turn into a permanent employment plus they are compensating him at a good rate for him to live modestly. My supervisor and I were happy when he told us this but we were finding it hard to part with him. He had great ideas that we were working on and I still plan on seeing through some of the things he wanted to implement. I wish my organization had enough funding to keep this young man because he could have been part of the organization’s future, a great future.
Why this whole blog post singing praises of this counterpart of mine? Well he is currently working with the department of economic development 6 days a week. From Monday to Saturday. On Saturdays’, he gets off at 2pm. He called me a couple of nights ago and told him he will try to come in two Saturdays in each month after work so we can finish what we started. Honestly, how many people do you know in your life who will be willing to do that?! That is not it, he asked if I am comfortable giving him some of the completed surveys for him to take home and do data inputting on the weekdays after work. What more can ask from an individual?
And the beat still goes on so we enjoy the moments and work that we have accomplished with him while he was on the team (he still is on the team but a substitute player now) and hope for another individual who is also dedicated to join the team. My supervisor and I have met with 3 individuals who have shown the same commitment and willing to accept our minimal stipend. These individuals have skills that we think will complement that of our current volunteers.
I am happy to see the youth in our village stepping up to become part of the organization. The future truly lies with them.
It has been months since my last blog post. Some people following my blog probably thought I ET’d (Early Termination of Service). Nope! I am still here. I am out here grinding it out. I have passed my one year mark, 15 more months to go. I will try and fill you in with what I have been doing through pictures, videos, and few written words.
How was my Kruger National Park trip?
How was the Color Me 5K Run & Music Festival in Johannesburg?
Work has been great. I finally figured out a similar answer to the question, what do you do? If you ask me what I do, I will simply answer community development work. This might have been obvious to some but it took me a while to arrive at this answer. In Peace Corps South Africa, I am part of the Community Health Outreach Project (CHOP). Our overall goal in this project is to reduce the burden of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. This is in line with the South African Department of Health goal of zero new infection, HIV/AIDS free generation, and treatment for all PLWHA (People living with HIV/AIDS). In the beginning if you have asked me what I do, I would have given you all these goals and stated some of the activities I do in effort to create an accurate picture for you.
After a year in my community, I realized I am dragged in all directions depending on the needs of the community, my host organization, and people I meet. I am at times a high school teacher, a soccer coach, computer technician, management consultant, etc. All in all, everything I do is towards developing the community.
From September to December, my main focus at my host organization has been developing a 5 year strategic plan for the organization and restructuring and developing a business plan for the organization’s bakery as it has potential to make money but at the moment running on a deficit.
In addition to that my counterpart and I developed a community survey, census type survey, to get an accurate image of the village. Everyone in the village will give you a different answer if you ask them how many people live in the village. The answers range from 15,000 to 60,000 people. My guess is less than 10,000. This community profile would give us a good estimate of the number of household and population of the village.
Some of the fun activities I did between October and December include an early Thanksgiving Dinner with fellow Limpopo Province Peace Corps Volunteer, attending a Premier Soccer League game in Polokwane between Polokwane City and University of Pretoria with 30 OVCs, and a jump rope clinic at my organization put together by Children of the Dawn for OVCs in my village.
After months of planning and numerous rescheduling, the board of directors, the management team, and some community members met in the second week of this past December for a strategic planning meeting. This week long meeting was successful. We revised the organization’s vision, mission, and did a comprehensive SWOT analysis. We created a lose gantt chart for the implementation of key changes. Will these changes happen as planned? STAY TUNED!
Everything (schools, business, etc) closed for the holidays a week and half before Christmas. I spent the week before my Christmas in my village. For that week I played and watched soccer. The local team (Mathabatha Methodist F.C.) I play for made it to the second round of the Mathabatha Christmas Tournament. We were eliminated from the tournament by my supervisor’s team, Mathabatha Chelsea. He has bragging rights until league play begins or Easter tournament, whichever comes first.
For the rest of Christmas break, I spent it in Cape Town. I like Cape Town. The festive season brought people from all walks of life into the city, people from all parts of South Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Cape Town has a great night life and sightseeing destinations so there is a lot to do in the day and at night.
I spent New Year’s Eve in Durban. Durban is also a great city. Just like Cape Town, I also met people from all walks of life. Durban had great food and I was able to watch the sunrise at the beach with some good friends.
Thus far 2014 has been great. I am busy and have little down time and I love it. Hopefully, this stays this way till the end of my service. I highly doubt that will be the case.
On January 07th, 2014, I attended a Boys Leadership Camp organized by 3 female PCVs from my cohort in Kwa-Zulu Natal Province. I am so glad I accepted the invitation to be one of the counselors at this camp. We learned a lot at this camp, both counselors and campers.
The new CHOP volunteers, well trainees for now, arrived this past Friday after being snowed in in Philly. I am part of their training team so I am excited about that. I also had to opportunity to have 5 of them shadow me for 2 days. We had fun and I know they are all going to be great volunteers.
The only thing I have to complain about is my battle with scorpions, crickets, roaches, spiders, and ant. I think I won the battle against the ants but not so much for the others.
Looking forward 2014 is going to be a great year. I have some fun things on my calendar in addition to some critical changes that might transform the organization I am with for good if we are able to implement some of the ideas we came up with during the strategic planning meeting.
Stay Tuned! I will do my best to update this blog.
It’s been a while since I last wrote for this blog. Events elsewhere, our beloved America, have taken a huge chunk of my free time. I can feel change in the air and I hope it’s the good side of change. How is South Africa? Peace Corps lifestyle? Etc.? Well, thanks for asking. Life in rural South Africa is relaxing and peaceful. For a workaholic like me, life in rural South Africa is at times frustrating but I am coping well. It has also been a learning and self-discovery experience. More details later! Here are some past and upcoming highlights of my Peace Corps lifestyle:
- I started running/exercising. I try to run at least 3 times a week for an average of 3 miles each run. It is of exploring my community and meeting people.
- On the first weekend in July, I stepped out from my village to celebrate one of my favorite volunteer’s 60th born day. It was a blast. He is still young in heart.
- SA28, a new Peace Corps Volunteer cohort arrived in country on July 4th. I had the opportunity in meeting this group as a participant in their diversity fishbowl discussion of July 7th. Yay!
- Mandela Day was July 18th, happy belated 97th born day to Nelson Madiba Mandela. For our 67 minutes of service on Mandela day, we, Fanang Diatla Self-Help Project, cleaned the area around the org.
Since every day is a day of service/Mandela day, we will continue our celebrations on July 30th. We will be renovating a house for one of the families in the village. After that we will have a crime prevention program in collaboration with the local police.
- July 25th, I will be in Pretoria at Peace Corps South Africa (PCSA) headquarters for a Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC) meeting with the country director and PCSA staff. I am excited because they have some good Thai and Chinese restaurant in Pretoria.
- I also have a trip to Kruger National Park in the works. Hopefully, I get to see the big five, lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros.
- I am also excited for the Color Me 5k & Music festival run in Johannesburg in September. Just saw some pictures of a friend who just participated in the one in Korea, dope!
It looks like some fun couple of months is ahead but until those days arrive, I need to finish this strategic plan for Fanang. I am heading a team of 4 but most of the times it feels like a team of 2. Until next time! Stay healthy my friend! GeeBonsinSA