Sunday, May 31, 2009

An update...

When Mom and Dad came in March I had been in a low place for a while, struggling with work and having no close friends.  After returning home from the airport to send them back to the states I had a rough couple of days getting back into the swing of the quiet and solitude of my life here.  The half-way point of my service came during their visit and landmarks like that always lend themselves to evaluation of the past, present and future.  What have I accomplished so far?  Am I happy with that?  What am I working on now?  Is there anything sustainable?  What do I want to do before I leave?  What kind of impact am I truly making here?  It took a few tears and a lot of serious self-reflection to realize that I needed to change my attitude and outlook on my work.  Better yet, I had to fully embrace the serenity prayer if I was going to survive another year here.  There are so many problems bigger than me but heartbreaking and frustrating none-the-less.  I wrote down some personal goals to focus on and went back to work with a fresh mind and that felt really good. 

In the past 6 weeks the workers of Aletuke have been making great strides in their organizational development and contribution to the community.  Most of my energy is in developing a solid management team that functions in a way that can support further programming.  They are learning how to use and maintain a calendar and schedule so they can get more done.  Priorities and time management are constantly addressed and roles and responsibilities are talked about and enforced everyday.  I’m teaching a weekly health lesson and facilitation workshop to all the carers/workers and that’s going really well.  I’m working with one of the supervisors to start a Youth Empowerment Program right now that I think is going to be a great success.  Youth, in South Africa, refers to people ages 19-34.  We are going to provide them with skills and information to make better choices for themselves.  It will be an opportunity once a week for them to gather, learn, have fun and socialize in a healthy environment. 

I’m teaching the carers/workers how to present health topics in a fun and interactive way so the children stay interested.  They are learning how to ask questions, check for understanding and maintain a positive learning environment, none of which are qualities present in village classrooms today.  The biggest reward is when they come back from a school visit with their eyes wide and a smile on their face all excited about how fun it was and involved the learners were in the lesson.  For me, I give them huge credit for their job well done and I go home at the end of the day feeling “mission accomplished.”  With my increased involvement with the workers I’m getting to know them better and receiving a little more social satisfaction at work which is helping to support me more emotionally.

But it’s not all cake and ice cream (which I would give my right arm for right now).  I’ve been struggling with the tribal authority to get a building site for my project.  I got fed up with the corruption and lies and went to see the mayor of my municipality.  By the end of our meeting he said that he wanted to be a part of my project and help make it happen with me.  Next week he will be coming to visit my center and we’ll have another meeting to talk about what’s next.  I continue to battle the language barrier that often leaves me “alone” even when in a group of people.  So to be proactive I often choose to leave groups and gatherings before I get frustrated and sad.  Yesterday on my way to the taxi rank in my village to go to town there was a dog lying on the side of the road out in front of it’s home (I assume).  I thought it was dead until I got close.  It was emaciated and when it looked up at me it had tons of thick green snot stuff coming from it’s nose and eyes.  I had to fight the tears.  It’s stuff like that that pushes my emotional capacity all the time.  Another day it could be watching an old Gogo (granny) washing laundry by hand with a little one tied to her back.  I just want to go over and help her.   Women work so hard here.  I see women mistreated all the time and young girls being pursued by boys who don’t back off when the girl clearly isn’t interested.  I love being here but my heart takes a beating everyday with the things I see that feel so wrong and I feel so helpless to.  So I have to celebrate my small successes everyday and give the little kids who pass by my house a bit of my time to greet me and give me hugs.  They are so cute and their future is so grim and they don’t even know it yet.  What does one do with that?  So, again, I just ask for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

In May we had a conference in Pretoria.  Those are the times we refuel and spend time with our friends.

This is my good friend, Jesse.  He lives 6 hours away so we only get to see each other at Peace Corps events.  Unfortunately this is our last conference until our close of service conference.

Therese is another friend I've made.  She taught me a lot about writing letters to get funds for my organization.

This is most of my Peace Corps group.  We are SA17, the 17th group of PCVs to be in South Africa.  This was taken at our last training in May.

While in Pretoria I went to my first Rugby game.  I spent most of the game not knowing what was going on but there was a beautiful sunset on the opposite side of the stadium and the chips (french fries) were pretty good too.

A group of us went out dancing.  What a fun time.  I sure do miss the no-smoking-in-public places law.  

Practice Makes Perfect

I facilitated a lesson on condom use and how to do demonstrations.  The workers had a fun time learning and gained a lot from the lesson and activity.  They were full of great questions which tells me what the people out in the community are in need of knowing.  These young men and women are so dedicated to their work and have an insatiable appetite for good information.  We started off with a Q and A activity covering condom facts and breaking myths (which there are many) then moved on to the steps of putting on a condom.  When you only have one wooden model penis, all your bananas are over-ripe and you only have half a cucumber in the fridge one must rely on free resources.  They all got a kick out of this one. 

The workers each had a step in the process of appropriate condom use.  They had to put themselves in the correct order.

Then we posted them  on the wall and put them into action.

Do you know the steps of appropriate condom use?  Let us teach you...

Step 1.  Talk about condom use with your partner.  

Step 2.  Check the expiration date and make sure the package is not damaged.

Step 3.  Carefully open the wrapper.  Don't use scissors or your teeth.

Step 4.  Set the rolled condom on the head of the penis.  Make sure the tip of the condom is facing up.

Step 5.  Leave a half-inch space at the tip of the condom for semen collection.

Step 6.  Pinch the air out of the condom's tip with one hand.  With the other hand roll the condom all the way down the shaft of the penis.

Step 7.  Have protected intercourse. 

Step 8.  After ejaculation pull out before the penis gets soft.  Hold on to the base of the condom so it doesn't slip off when pulling out.

Step 9.  Slide the condom off the penis.  (Not only does this photo say it all, but it's my favorite picture of the day.)

Step 10.  Appropriately dispose of condom. (This was taken at a community clean-up campaign I was a part of.)