"I am certainly not one of those who need to be prodded…"

02.06.11 mogobane

Posted in personal by Stuart J. Sia on February 6, 2011

With my service ending in a little over four months, I find myself wondering, where has the time gone? It’s flown by faster than I ever imagined it could, which is both exciting (in that the number of months between now and when I finally see my family and friends again is countable on one hand) and frightening (trying to figure out if 4 months is really enough time to wrap up my work here). I’m tempted to update on everything since I last corresponded, but I feel that would be overwhelming for the both of us. Instead, I’d like to focus on one project that is at the forefront of my work right now.

At the beginning of 2010, I started working with the Mogobane Disabled Persons’ Committee (MDPC), an organization functioning primarily as a support and advocacy group for people with disabilities (PWD) in Mogobane. One project they had been trying for years to get started is a community garden where people with disabilities can work and thusly contribute to the community. After a focus-group discussion on HIV/AIDS and disability conducted by Colin Pappajohn, a Peace Corps Volunteer working at an organization serving PWD in the neighboring village of Otse, the MDPC established that PWD were particularly vulnerable to HIV infection and developing AIDS due to their dependence on caregivers. Revisiting their momentarily stagnant community garden project, the group decided that the community garden would not only benefit PWD by providing them greater autonomy and increasing self esteem with this avenue to contribute to and be involved in the community, but would also benefit people living with HIV/AIDS in the community (PWD and otherwise) whose immune systems would be bolstered by the nutritional foods produced in the garden.

Phanuel Nage, the MDPC Chairperson, Colin Pappajohn, and I have finally made headway with the project after a year of…extensive research. When I say “extensive research,” I’m referring to the number of government offices we visited, the number of bureaucratic steps we took towards dead-end grants, and the number of miles we hiked searching for an old government borehole that by all reckoning shouldn’t have been altogether too difficult to find, all in the name of this project. Now, I don’t regret that year of “research.” Rre Nage, Colin and I learned a lot in that time that I think has made all of us more capable community leaders and has assured me that we certainly know what it takes to build a community garden.

We submitted a grant proposal to the Peace Corps Partnership Program, which has as of last week been approved! Our donation page is on the Peace Corps website and I’m hoping it’ll been no more than 2 months before we’ve raised the $4755.63 we’ve set out to raise. This ought to give Colin and I a good 2 months to get this garden up and running before the bittersweet conclusion of our service.

For any of you who might be interested in contributing to the project or even simply learning more, we’ve created a website: http://mogobaneDPC.wordpress.com,

 

and a very short but entertaining video posted on youtube:

 

Please tell anyone interested in projects relating to HIV/AIDS or disability about our project! Every little contribution helps. If you know an organization that would be willing to hold a fundraiser specifically for our project, please let me know! And of course encouraging words, thoughts, and prayers in our direction are always most welcome as well.

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The Girl Effect: The Clock is Ticking

Posted in society by stuart sia on September 24, 2010

For anyone doing work in development, a short 3-minute video on why focusing on girls may be the most sustainable work that you do.

05.20.10 updates (mogobane, molepolole, sowa)

Posted in personal by stuart sia on May 20, 2010

It’s the 20th of May, just four days after the month after the year since I first left Los Angeles.

The new volunteers arrived over a month ago. As a part of the Peer Support & Diversity Network (PSDN), I’ve been in and out of Molepolole, meeting and counseling the trainees. I just had a couple of them (Anna Gianola and Tess Korbesmeyer) shadowing me a week ago, and it’s funny but I already miss them. It was great showing them around Mogobane, and it helped me realize and appreciate how well integrated I am in my community and how well my work is going after all. And beyond that, Anna and Tess are really great people and I couldn’t have asked for better company.

Colin Pappajohn and I have been working with the Mogobane Disabled Persons’ Committee (a support group for people with disabilities and their caregivers) for the past 6 months, assisting them with a gardening project they have been trying to get off the ground. They’ve already acquired a parcel of land from the Malete Land Board in Ramotswa, and have purchased some building materials, but it’s still a long way from becoming a garden. We’ve submitted a proposal to AED for the funds to get the water connected, build a fence and handicapable pathways, and everything is looking good, though we have run into a couple snags along the way. We are still waiting on a quote from the water agency in Gaborone…forgive my language, but bureaucracy is a bitch. And we also need to start up a business account for the organization, which although relatively straightforward, has proven challenging with regard to the schedule coordination of all necessary parties. It’s been great working on this with Colin and Rre Phanuel Nage, the modulasetilo (chairperson), and although the snags along the way have been at times disheartening, c’est la vie. Andrew Sigman from AED has been very supportive of our efforts, and continually reminds me, it’ll all be worth it in the end. We are probably going to have to resubmit our proposal for the next funding cycle, but that’s okay, because that gives us the time we need to become an even stronger organization. Ga go na mathata.

In the meantime, we can get started on the peer-education program. Oh sorry, rewind, okay, so, it was Colin who first initiated contact with MDPC after holding a focus group with them last year. Colin and his wife, Amy, are working at NGO’s and his NGO, Camphill | Motse wa Badiri, works with PWD’s and has been conducting focus groups throughout the southeastern part of the country to find out how to better provide HIV/AIDS related services to this at-risk population. At the conclusion of the focus group in Mogobane, MDPC committed to training 10 volunteers to reach out to PWD’s and their caregivers in Mogobane to educate them on HIV/AIDS and their unique risk as people with disabilities…hence, the previously mentioned peer-education program.

At school, I’m teaching guidance & counseling lessons as usual, though I have since expanded my scope. We have weekly themes every Thursday morning, during which time each of the teachers meet with their “families.” Something unique that we have started at our school is the division of “houses” (the school is divided into two houses, the Gold House and the Diamond House.) into even smaller units that we call families. Each family has about 10 students, 1 member of the teaching staff (teachers, administration, and myself included), and 1 member of the non-teaching staff (cooks, groundsmen, cleaners, etc.). The Guidance & Counseling Committee comes up with themes for the entire term, but I’ve become responsible for drafting short lesson plans for the heads of family to follow.  The aim is to give students an even more intimate environment in which to share their thoughts and express themselves.

However, the project at school that I believe has the greatest potential for leaving a lasting impact is the Literacy Programme. Here’s an excerpt from my proposal to Mme Motswidinyane, the School Head:

In light of the previous year’s poverty of passing scores (2009) as compared to the number of passing scores the year before (2008), the School Head of Mogobane CJSS was prompted to explore possible reasons for the decline. This exploration discovered that poor literacy among our continuing students was perhaps the greatest contributing factor to the decline in examination scores. Upon the entrance of our incoming Form 1 students, it was discovered that they too experience a high rate of poor literacy, even higher than that of our continuing Form 2 and Form 3 students.

I go on to further propose 3 phases: Identification of struggling students; Testing for baseline literacy and possible learning disabilities; Remedial literacy lessons.

Right now, we just finally finished up with Phase 2, and seeing as how we’re getting into the 6th month of the year, I’d really like to get those remedial literacy lessons going. As it were, Colin’s mother, Jacqueline Starr, who I had the pleasure of meeting last year in Gaborone, happens to have a background in literacy and has played an immeasurably important role in this project. She has been kind enough to guide me along the way, and I can’t imagine how directionless I would be otherwise.

Okay, so I think those were all the updates I had with regard to my service…

Some snapshots from my life outside of service:

ロ   Another memorable language week; this time in Otse.

ロ   Playing guitar for the South East District Youth Against HIV/AIDS Day event. My students made me feel like such a rock star with the thundering ovation they gave me. The guest speaker (a news anchor from BTV) had to concede my celebrity nearly rivaled his own, but he was perfectly charming about it.

ロ   Running naked amid thunder and lightning on the saltpans of Sowa to celebrate 1-year in country.

ロ   Brainstorming a new TV show situated in town hall meetings with my friend, Erica. Go ahead, be skeptical, it’s gonna be a hit! We’re dead serious about this.

ロ   Going to a wedding in Molepolole in stunner jeans and leather sandals (like the ruggedly fashionable Californian that I am) with the diva fabulous Irene.

ロ   Celebrating “Diez y Cinco de Mayo” at Mich’s in Kanye with comida mexicana, a palate I have for over a year been deprived of. And, yeah, we know fifteen is quince…it’s a joke…relax…

ロ   Oh, almost forgot, I have a new nickname that has persisted despite my best protests: Stu-balls…thank you Erica for the neologism, and asanteni sana Tunda na Irene for making it stick…

ghanzi

Posted in Uncategorized by stuart sia on May 13, 2009

I went to Ghanzi last week.

We left early Wednesday morning. I’ve been having trouble sleeping since I got here, not that I slept much better in the States. I’m on some malaria meds called Mefloquine, of which “nightmares and vivid dreams” are side effects. Last Thursday night was certainly no exception, and I was not surprised to find myself waking up around 2 am. That was a couple hours early than I was planning on waking up (I was getting picked up at 5 am), so I went back to sleep. About two minutes later, I woke up to a car horn. Groggy and blurry eyed, I checked the time…4:54!!!

Certainly, not a great way to start my trip, but fortunately, not any indication of how things would go.

We had fairly cushy travel arrangements on the way there. A government combi (an Afrikaans word for van, I think) took 10 of us up to the western part of the country, through the Kalahari Desert. We dropped of Kip and Steve in Charleshill and continued on to Ghanzi, where Laura, Heidi, Glen and I were dropped off. The combi continued on to D’kar with Cay, Cherry, and the Pappajohns on board. Laura and Heidi had an hour and a half of travel ahead of them to New Xade (yes, that “x” is a click). But Glenn and I had arrived at our destination, and those 8 hours of travel were certainly enough for us.

We stayed with Brian, who is working with the DAC (District AIDS Coordinator) for the Ghanzi district. We couldn’t have asked for a better host. We ate and drank like kings.

Menu for those four days:

Wednesday – chicken gumbo

Thursday – steak

Friday – chicken adobo (by yours truly)

Saturday – IMPALA!!!

Yes, I had impala for the first time, and I must say, it was the most delicious meat I’ve ever ripped my canines through.

Thursday we shadowed Brian at the DAC office, learning a little bit about its organizational structure. We went to a conference where he was presenting some statistics, which turned out to be a most interesting and informative experience. The conference was conducted by a faith-based NGO known as TLW (True Love Waits) and attended by several leaders of the community. They were discussing the incidence of MCP (multiple concurrent partnerships) and its contribution to the spread of HIV/AIDS. The discussion took place in Setswana for the most part, so, Glen and I didn’t understand a lot of what was said, but we were able to figure out the gist. There was some fairly heated debate, especially with regard to gender roles and the various cultural customs of different tribes. If there wasn’t an impetus to learn Setswana before, wanting to understand what was being said in this debate certainly became that impetus for me that day. From what I could gather, there was disagreement over the acceptance of older men having multiple partners, some asserting that it was not an accepted part of their culture and some asserting the contrary. Regardless of whether it is or isn’t, was or wasn’t once accepted, they all agreed that MCP is indeed a major contributor to the proliferation of HIV/AIDS and that modernity has made such relationships at least permitted if not accepted. While I do not entirely agree with the abstinence-only approach promoted by TLW, I learned quite a bit about MCP.

For those of you who know me well, you know my disagreement with the abstinence-only approach has more to do with my frank disbelief in its effectiveness (because it frankly is not) than with any disbelief in the practice of abstinence itself. Indeed, it must be noted that abstinence is the ONLY 100% effective way of preventing pregnancy and STI’s like HIV, and this is something we reiterate in Planned Parenthood Los Angeles’s Middle School Program. In fact, we devote an entire lesson (of six) to discussing the several reasons a person might decide to abstain and brainstorming other ways people express their sexuality. While it is my sincere hope that each student is able to identify with at least one of these several reasons (because it is my personal belief that middle school students are much too immature for sexual relationships), the pragmatic and realistic part of me knows that such reasons may not ring true for all students, and that students who do choose to engage in sexual activity should be equipped with the skills to minimize the risks.

The next day, we went to D’kar, a small “village” of sorts about half an hour north of Ghanzi. The land is actually privately owned by a faith-based umbrella organization named Kuru, I believe, who is doing a lot of work with the Naro people. The Naro people (who number about 10,000) are one of the several tribes of “Bushmen” or “the San people” well-known for their phonologically unique “click” languages.

[To briefly explicate on the terms “Bushmen” and “San,” there is disagreement as to which term is acceptable and which is pejorative. Linguists and anthropologists believe the term “Bushmen” to be pejorative in the sense that it connotes a primitive lifestyle and that it is gender biased. That being the case, they prefer the term “San” in reference to the Khoisan language family, of which their languages are a part. But, of course, the term “San” originates from a phrase meaning “one who eats off the ground,” which clearly has perhaps even more negative contexts than “one who lives in the bush.” The debate continues.]

We were able to meet a team of Naro scholars (they themselves are Naro) working on translating the entire Bible into Naro by 2020. They have been essentially working from scratch, creating an orthography to represent the 28 different click sounds and using both Greek and English texts to translate from. One thing they have been doing, which I am so excited about, is teaching the Naro people how to read and write in Naro, which is hopefully instilling in themselves a pride for their language and their people. I have come to learn that there are people marginalized in every society, and for Botswana, it seems to be the Bushmen who experience such treatment. But, I do have hope, and it is inspiring to see much of these efforts coming from within the Naro people themselves.

For our last day in Ghanzi, Glen and I were set to take a swim in a water-filled quarry owned by Brian’s friend, Julian. Julian is a British South African who has lived in Botswana for several years and owns a number of quarries in the Ghanzi region. Being the hospitable man that he is, he invited us to his home for some leg of impala before our adventure to his quarry. We had been planning on eating around 1 in the afternoon, but as it were, the leg of impala took longer than expected to roast, and we ended up eating around 4 instead. The time was well spent in conversation and drinking cider, but we were, unfortunately, unable to visit the quarry. Nonetheless, the meal was certainly worth the wait. What we had was nearly a Thanksgiving feast with, of course, a leg of impala instead of a turkey. The cook was a friend of his, also a South African, whose name escapes me, but whose company I cannot forget. We shared a love for witticism and exchanged wits throughout dinner. Mike, another volunteer, was sharing his experiences in the CKGR (Central Kalahari Game Reserve), to which she quipped, I’m not too keen on acronyms. I chimed in, FYI, neither am I. Cider, impala, and witticism: it was a charming affair.

first week of training 05.02.09

Posted in personal by stuart sia on May 2, 2009

so, i’ve been in-country for about 2 weeks now, and in molepolole for about a week, and i’m doing well. i’m living with a great host family, who have given me the setswana name, “tshiamo”, meaning “goodness” or “righteousness.” i like my host family, and i like the name they’ve given me. i was thinking i should be named “lesego,” which means “lucky” just because i felt so lucky to be placed into such a nice family. but, i like tshiamo. 

i’ve been going through intense peace corps training, which has had its ups and downs. i’m really enjoying learning setswana. i’m in a language cluster with erin, megan, and jonathan of indiana (yes, they’re all randomly from indiana) and we’re “lucky” to have a great teacher, named…wait for it…wait for it…lesego. i’m picking up on it fairly quickly i think, thanks to having learned swahili (asante sana, mwalimu zuhura), and i’m getting a kick out of the phonetics. gotta love those clicks. and those tones can really get you too. you really don’t want to go to town asking for human breasts when you’re really looking for sorghum.

we’re going on individual site visits next week, which we are all uber excited about. i’m going to a place called ghanzi, which is in the western part of the country. it’ll only be about 4 days, but i’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of the country. i’ll be traveling with another trainee, glen, and we’ll be staying at the home of a current volunteer, brian. brian isn’t a life skills volunteer, like i will be, but is instead working with the district AIDS coordinator office. nevertheless, i’m sure it will be helpful to see how he lives day to day and how he’s able to integrate into his community. and, i think it’s always beneficial to understand how other sectors functions. afterall, we are all intertwined in this multi-sector approach to eradicating AIDS anyway.

that has been interesting too, learning about the government of botswana’s approach to this pandemic. for those of you unfamiliar, botswana offers free HIV testing and anti-retroviral medication to its citizens, which is pretty amazing. but even then, there are still institutional and organizational inefficiencies to overcome. and when we take into account the perhaps more fundamental cultural challenges (issues of stigmatization, attitudes towards promiscuity, attitudes towards homosexuality…) ,  we find ouselves in a fairly similar boat as other people fighting the disease elsewhere.