"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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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…