Leaving Botswana…

[Note: This is an article I wrote for the Rotary District 5470 International Newsletter #22, May 2020.]

On the morning of Monday, March 16, I walked to work. Past the people waiting for the combis (minibuses) and the old woman selling airtime and sweets, across the dusty football pitch at Gaborone Secondary School, and up the stairs to the office of the Botswana Network of AIDS Service Organisations (BONASO) where I had worked since September.

My BONASO colleagues: Ashllah Mmusi, Sadie Gabankalafe, Gobe Taziba, and Chedza Barwabatsile.

I sat in the hallway, sweating, until Gobe showed up with the keys.  As my colleagues filed in, I opened up my laptop and logged into Gmail.  There was a message from Jody Olsen, Director of Peace Corps from the previous evening that began, “As of today, March 15, we are temporarily suspending all Peace Corps operations globally and evacuating all Volunteers. Please be assured that more information is forthcoming, and that we are together as a team and as a Peace Corps family during this challenging time.”

The message contained a list of the tasks we were to complete before our departure, including a medical evaluation, closing our bank account, canceling any contracts, packing up and distributing our belongings, and receiving administrative approval from Peace Corps that we had done all of these things.  All Volunteers, from every corner of Botswana, were ordered to get to Gaborone by Wednesday. 

Over the next day, I plowed through the tasks while trying to tie up loose ends at BONASO.  On Tuesday afternoon, I found out that my flight to Colorado was leaving the next day at 1 pm, and that’s when the Rotary Club of Gaborone (RCG) came to my rescue.

The Club’s Treasurer, Roy Davies, called and asked if I needed anything.  “Yes,” I told him, “boxes and a place to store my things until I make it back to Botswana.”  He arrived at my flat at 5 pm with a carful of boxes.  I packed most of the night, and Roy came by the next morning to pick up my possessions and put them in his garage.  Then it was off to my office to say farewell to colleagues, to the security company to cancel my contract, and to the Peace Corps office to get administrative clearance.  As I was departing the office at 10:30 am, someone shouted to me that the airline had called and my flight was leaving at 12:30.  Uh oh.

I hurried to the taxi rank and as I did, RCG Past President Bill McLellan called and asked how I was getting to the airport.  The previous day, Peace Corps had said something about arranging a driver but I hadn’t heard anything more, so Bill said he would meet me at my flat at 11:00.  We got to the airport at 11:30 and as he parked the car, I went to the South African Airways counter and checked in.  Two other Rotarians had come to the airport to see me off, so we enjoyed a bottle of wine and a plate of chips in the airport café.  Thirty-one hours later, with flights through Accra, Dulles, and O’Hare and some spectacular sprints to my gates, I landed in Montrose (as did my luggage!),

This week, I submitted the progress report to The Rotary Foundation for Global Grant (GG) 1871731, which brought a Vocational Training Team of fundraising experts to Botswana last May.  The Team trained HIV-focused nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in how to raise money within Botswana.  This is necessary due to diminishing international funding for Botswana’s HIV/AIDS response. 

I’m excited that the project has met or exceeded five of its seven impact measures.   The project held two three-day workshops in southern and northern Botswana and trained 113 individuals.  Of these, 67 were medical and health professionals and 23 were board members.  In addition to the 32 NGOs that participated, there were 12 participants from eight government/agency offices.

Toward the objective of “inspiring charitable giving among the people of Botswana,” the project sought to obtain at least 19 media stories about the need for increased domestic funding for HIV/AIDS work in Botswana.  The project generated 22 stories, in print, radio, television, and online, including three stories on BTV, Botswana’s lone television station, and a story on the Government of Botswana’s Facebook page.

We have not met two of the seven project impact measures, and COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in the plan to do that.  The project sought to establish ten mentorships between NGOs and the private sector, such as recruiting an accountant to help an NGO learn how to use QuickBooks.  The plan was for me to work with my counterparts at BONASO to set these up, and I had begun the process to do that.  Now, those NGOs are busy with Botswana’s COVID response, and I am in Colorado. 

The project also included a measure about the creation of “resource mobilization plans” at 18 participating NGOs (these were selected from NGOs that applied for the opportunity to receive consulting time with the members of the VTT).  Twelve of the 18 NGOs have submitted their completed plans.  Again, I was working with my BONASO counterparts to follow up with the remaining six organizations.

Each of the project’s six “Cooperating Organisations” (Peace Corps, Botswana Business Coalition on AIDS, BONASO, Project Concern International, Bakgatla Bolokang Matshelo, and Stepping Stones International) made significant contributions, as did the Rotary Club of Francistown (Botswana), a project Partner.

The Rotary Club of Gaborone provided tremendous logistical support and financial oversight of the Botswana GG funds.  The Vocational Training Team Committee of Rotary District 5470, led by Richard Dangler, provided invaluable assistance in filing the Global Grant application.  District 5470 Foundation Chair Ann Harris graciously provided financial oversight for the US share of the GG funds.

So, where does this leave the project and me?  I will not be returning to Botswana as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  My third year was set to end in November, and Peace Corps has said that there will be no Volunteers placed until September at the earliest and probably later.  I am pursuing several options to go back as a “civilian,” once the borders open up.  (As of 19 May, Botswana stands at 25 confirmed cases and one death.)  If the Botswana options don’t pan out, I will look to getting back into fundraising/grantwriting here in the US.  (Contact me if you know of any opportunities, please!)

As soon as the HIV-focused NGOs in Botswana return to their regular routines, I will reach out to my former BONASO colleagues to try to satisfy the remaining project impact measures.

All in all, the project has been a success.  Through BONASO, I had contact with many of the participating organizations and I witnessed a big shift in the way that they think about sustainability and the need to find funding beyond international donors and governments.  As far as I know, this was the first Global Grant to employ this level of cooperation between Rotary, Peace Corps, NGOs, and national government (the Government of Botswana contributed more than $34,000 to the project).   I think it could be replicated in other southern African countries where Peace Corps is working to end HIV/AIDS, and I hope to reach out to the other Rotary Clubs and Peace Corps headquarters in Zambia, Lesotho, Namibia, and elsewhere to share the project.

I am grateful for you, the members of District 5470, for making this project possible through the District’s financial support ($15,001) that The Rotary Foundation matched.  And thanks to Peter Jeschofnig for editing this newsletter so I can share this story with you.  Ke a leboga (Thank you, in Setswana)!