The Montrose Daily Press has been a wonderful chronicler of my Peace Corps experience. When this month’s column was originally posted to the Daily Press website, it wasn’t available for public access, so I posted it here. A quick email to the Daily Press’ terrific editor, Matt, fixed that, and you also can read it here.
Editor’s Note: Amy is in her ninth month in Botswana, where she is serving as an HIV & Health Capacity Building Specialist with the US Peace Corps. She lives in a village near Gaborone (which she can’t name for security reasons) and works with two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help them better serve a country where one if five people is HIV-positive.
Dumelang, distala (hello, friends), and happy Easter! I’m typing this around the big table where we all work at one of my two NGOs (because this is the only place where there’s wifi) and I just asked my colleagues how they celebrate Easter. They said they go home to their villages to see family, go to church, and have braais (cookouts). I tried to explain the Easter Bunny to them, but I don’t think I did a very good job. We’re all looking forward to a five-day weekend (which includes Good Friday, Monday (the public holiday for Easter) and Tuesday, which President Khama declared a few weeks ago to celebrate the installation of the new President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, which occurs on April 1).
Last night, I attended my first football match. It was at Botswana National
Stadium and featured my village’s scrappy team battling the much bigger and better-funded Township Rollers from Gaborone. I donned my official team sekipa (jersey), hopped a combi (minibus) to Gabs with a co-worker, and joined thousands of Batswana in screaming, dancing, and blowing vuvuzelas (those plastic horns) for our teams. Alas, mine lost, 2-0. But I was proud of their performance and our fans’ sportsmanship, and I am officially hooked.
Yesterday, following the long-awaited repair of our combi, some of my coworkers and I headed out to conduct client assessments in five tiny villages along the South African border. Both of my NGOs receive referrals of families
in need of services (such as HIV testing, anti-retroviral treatment adherence, and counseling), and then our community service providers visit the homes to assess their needs and either provide or refer them to services. We drove around, dropping folks off at homes where they sat with the occupants in the shade of a tree (moriti wa setlare) and interviewed them. I really enjoyed getting out to the country (bush), and it reminded me of the trips I took to the West End to visit the Naturita Library. On the way home, a herd of impala crossed the highway.
On Monday morning, the same NGO had a visit from PCI (Project Concern International), the US-based NGO that oversees our grant from USAID (United States Agency for International Development). As this is our primary source of funding (something I’m working to change), we spent a frenetic hour sprucing
up the place to make a good impression. Then an SUV pulled up, and out stepped…two women from Telluride! One was Dr. Marshall Whiting, whom I’ve known (but had never met) for more than 20 years because she and her husband supported a US NGO for which I worked, and her friend, Dr. Judy Engels, who had accompanied her on the trip. And, if you can believe it, Marshall sits on PCI’s board and had come to Botswana to visit the NGOs with which PCI works.
After celebrating the incredulity of our encounter, our Program Officer, Thabo, and Coordinator, Ausi Stella, shared accomplishments and current programs of our NGO and we had a tour of our new preschool, where the children adorably counted to 20 and recited the days of the week (more or less). And then we had tea (a daily occurrence, usually around 10:30 and featuring bush tea (rooibos) and bread (borotho) and/or fatcakes (magwinya)) and Judy and Marshall and I talked about mutual acquaintances and snowpack and who’s running for the 7th Congressional District seat and it was so much fun. But then they had to head to Gabs to catch a flight home, so my sojourn with fellow San Juan denizens ended far too quickly. I am quite certain that western Coloradans are the most adventurous, passionate, and generous Americans.
Last Thursday, I got to hang out with more Americans when “the pleasure of [my] company” was requested by US Ambassador Earl Miller for a breakfast meeting at his house on the subject of Corporate Social Responsibility. My
other NGO’s director, who is from Utah (another Westerner!) but has lived in Botswana for 12 years, was invited to speak on “Bringing Together the Business Community and NGOs.” She did a great job, and I enjoyed conversations with members of the American Business Council and US Embassy. I also got to touch base with Tebogo George, the dynamic President of the Gaborone Rotary Club and Board Member of the American Business Council, and she informed me that the Club’s Board had met on Tuesday to give its blessing to my Big Idea, which is to bring a Rotary Vocational Training Team from the US to Botswana for three weeks in early 2019 to share expertise in topics to be determined through a community assessment that I’ll conduct in the next month.
A likely topic for the Vocational Training Team is developing “individual giving” in Botswana. Currently, most NGOs are funded by international aid, the Government of Botswana, and/or corporations (through “Corporate Social Responsibility” and I take my hat off to companies here for honoring this principle). But few NGOs are asking ordinary Batswana to invest in their organizations. In contrast, individuals provide 80 percent of private charitable giving in the US, with corporations giving five percent and foundations 15 percent. Developing individual giving programs in Botswana has become my mission, and I’ve led sessions on this topic for both of my NGOs and at a reunion last Friday of participants from a European Union training I attended in December.. And so far, the concept has met with great enthusiasm.
At these sessions, some will protest that Batswana don’t have as much money as Americans, and therefore, individual giving isn’t viable. Further, they say, it’s not in their culture to invite people to support their organizations. Luckily, I attend the Dutch Reformed Church in my village, which has no problem asking for madi (Setswana for money), so I bring that up. And then I show them a slide that illustrates that Americans with incomes under $25,000 give five times more (as a percentage of adjusted gross income) as people who make $200,000, and that income is not a sign of generosity.
At last Friday’s reunion training, I could have kissed one of the participants when he told a story about when he was a young man in Zimbabwe. He and his friends wanted beer, so they went out on a street corner in their poor neighborhood and asked for money (I’m not sure how they presented their case), and within a few hours, they had more than enough. Thinking they could get more if they went to the rich part of their village, they went and came away with next to nothing. I’m buoyed by a recent study from Gauteng Provence in South Africa that interviewed 1,200 people on the streets of Johannesburg and found that 92 percent had contributed goods, money, or time in the past three months, and their reason was, “I believe I can make a difference.” I think the same holds true in Botswana.
For those wondering about my quest to meet His Excellency the President, Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, I met with his nephew a couple of weeks ago, and he pledged his help. In turn, I’m helping him gain support for the President’s cause, the Lady Khama Charitable Trust, which focuses on vulnerable women and children in Botswana.
Eish! (A Setswana expression which means something like, “Holy Moley.”) I’ve gone on for far too long, and I’m sure that Matt is wondering when I’m going to wrap things up. I haven’t told you about my delightful visit with the Queen
Mother of the Bakgatla (I mentioned last month that her son and the Bakgatla’s chief, is in South Africa) or the crazy bridal shower I attended, or ten thousand other things. I will tell you about one more thing, which is the Motse Cookie Company (note that Motse means village in Setswana…my village’s name is much cooler, but I can’t tell you what it is.)
I was asked to serve as the advisor for an “income-generating activity” for the afterschool program for the orphans and vulnerable children at my other NGO (the one run by the Utahan) and given that I’ve made a name for myself by bringing homemade cookies to work, the kids decided to bake and sell cookies. There are six of them in the Company, and we met to create a business plan. Through some market research, we decided that we could sell two oatmeal raisin cookies for 3 pula (30 cents), and that our expenses were 70 thebe (seven cents) per cookie, which meant that our profit was 80 thebe (eight cents) per cookie. I gave the kids some order forms and they solicited family, neighbors, teachers, and classmates and came back with their orders. I bought the ingredients and taught them how to make cookies (I think it was the first time any of them had baked and there was much squabbling about who got to break the eggs and stir the batter). When they were done, we had to taste them, of course. And then we packaged them, with a label featuring our logo which has the Bakgatla totem, the monkey (kgabo) and the kids distributed them and collected the pula.
Two days later, we reckoned, and I showed them how to use the Excel spreadsheet I’d made for them. They entered the number of cookies sold, and it told them how much they get and how much they need to give back to the Company. Consistent with the Peace Corps’ theory of development, I’m teaching them how to carry on without me, which I’m very motivated to do, since I’ve served my time with teenagers and I’ve got a lot of other stuff on my plate.) But….it warmed my heart to see the joy on Lebo’s face (not her real name) when she went home with 13 pula ($1.30) for the cookies she had sold. She announced that she was going to sell twice as many cookies next time, and the boys proclaimed that they were going to sell twice as many as Lebo. So, I guess this is one small way that I’m helping to unlock the potential of orphans and vulnerable children, which is the mission of my NGO. One cookie at a time.