[Note: I sent this to the Montrose Daily Press a couple of weeks ago, but they haven’t had room for it. You can read the other columns from the links at the top of the page. I am very grateful to the Daily Press for its coverage of this journey.]
Dumelang, babadi ba me (Greetings, my readers)!
Happy Summer Solstice! It’s the first day of mariga (winter) in Botswana, and I’m looking forward to longer days and more sunlight. When we were in the middle of weeks of 40°C+ days (104°F) I promised myself that I wouldn’t complain about the cold. And I’m not, but I wish I had fingerless gloves so my hands would be warmer as I type this. It’s 05:30 (one of the many things I like about Botswana is its use of military time) and it’s 3°C (37°F) outside, which is very near the temperature in my house, since I don’t have heat. Cold weather brings baking season (and residual warmth from my oven), which delights my neighbours and coworkers.
I apologise for skipping last month’s column. It was a crazy month, because the Vocational Training Team from America was here to provide resource mobilisation training and consultation to more than two dozen HIV-focused organisations. If you’ve followed these columns, you’ll know that the Team’s arrival culminated more than a year of preparation. It’s part of a bigger project called “Se Tlogelwa Tsatsing.”
This phrase comes from a Setswana proverb, “Se tlogelwa tsatsing se ikisa meriting,” which means that when someone leaves you in the sun (or you face a difficult situation), you must get yourself into the shade (or solve your own problems). The project’s Advisory Committee adopted this slogan to reflect its commitment to moving Botswana’s HIV response from dependence on international donors to funding from within Botswana.
Vocational Training Teams are a product of Rotary International and are groups of professionals who travel to another country to either learn or impart skills. Our Team was supported by grants from The Rotary Foundation and Rotary District 5470 (serving southern Colorado) and Botswana’s National AIDS and Health Promotion Agency (NAHPA). Team Leader Richard Male arrived on 30 April and the five other Team members arrived on 2 May. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of trainers, and I am humbled that they put their lives on hold for a month to share their skills with Botswana’s civil society.
Richard is from Denver and has spent more 40 years working with nongovernmental organisations all over the world, including many in Southern and East Africa. The other Team members also hail from Colorado, including April Montgomery from Norwood, who is Vice President of Programs at Telluride Foundation, and Scott DuPree from Denver, who has trained internationally for nearly thirty years and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana in the late 1980s. During our trip around the country, he returned to the village where he served and ran into an old neighbour!
On their first day in Botswana, the Team met with leaders from Botswana Open University to discuss the possibility of online classes in nonprofit management, and then lunched with the Rotary Club of Gaborone. In the afternoon, they had the privilege of meeting with Botswana’s third President, His Excellency Festus Mogae, who led the nation’s HIV response in the 80s and 90s. After hearing about the project and sharing his thoughts, President Mogae stated that he was “very much encouraged by the presence of the visitors from the United States, because their message and mine are consistent,” and he “look[ed] forward to working with the Government, these volunteers, and others.”
The Team spent Saturday and Sunday resting and touring Gaborone, and on Sunday afternoon we went to the Mokolodi Nature Reserve for the project’s opening reception—a braai (barbeque) and kgotla (traditional community dialogue) about Botswana’s civil society. Forty guests sat around a fire and discussed the country’s rich tradition of helping each other, which has subsided in recent years. Alice Mogwe, Executive Director of Ditshwanelo—The Botswana Centre for Human Rights moderated the evening with presentations by the wife of the late Paramount Chief of the Bakgatla and Kgosi Kebinatshwene Mosielele, Chief of the Bahurutshe. Both are longtime leaders in the HIV/AIDS response and provided powerful insights.
On Monday, the Gaborone workshop began, with an inspiring keynote address by Rre Richard Matlhare, National Director of NAHPA. After a tea break, the Training Team launched two and a half days of sessions for more than fifty staff, board members, and Peace Corps Volunteers from a dozen civil society organisations (CSOs). Topics ranged from how to set up “social enterprises” to forging partnerships with corporations and individual donors. Participants provided evaluations at each day’s conclusion, with many positive comments. One wrote, “Well done! I enjoyed this training THOROUGHLY! It was so well organized. I thought it would be tedious, but instead it ended up being pertinent and interesting! Much appreciated!” Another wrote, “Best training ever! Looking forward to more of these.”
The project’s Advisory Committee recognized that workshops are only effective if you put the knowledge to use, so the Training Team members were assigned to three CSOs apiece and asked to spend two days at each, with the objective of creating a resource mobilisation plan and six-month implementation plan. The Team reported this time as the most rewarding part of their month in Botswana, with much hard work done and many friendships formed.
The following week, we loaded up our minibus and with our driver and new friend, Bee Mosamo, headed north to Francistown for the second round of workshops and consultations. Along the way, we spent a night at Khama Rhino Sanctuary where the Team got their first look at some of Botswana’s “Big Five” (rhinos, elephants, lions, leopards, and Cape buffalo….the Team saw the first two).
On 20 May, the Francistown workshops commenced with almost 40 participants. The keynote speaker was Kgosi Ludo Mosojane, one of Botswana’s few female chiefs (she is now retired). She spoke passionately about the need for Botswana to regain its culture of giving. She said that in the past, someone might give two cows to his less fortunate neighbour and ask her to take care of them and use the milk for her children. Five years later, he would return to the neighbour and ask for his two cows back, but in the meantime, the two cows had multiplied and now there were 10 cows, but the neighbour asked for only his two cows. She said this was done out of love for one’s neighbours and for Botswana.
At the workshop’s conclusion, the Team members again dispersed to spend two days with their assigned CSOs. Patricia Yeager, who is CEO at The Independence Center in Colorado Springs, hopped a three-hour westward bus to Lethlakane to consult with the Botswana Council of Women. Lauren Palumbo, who works at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in Denver, was dispatched to Bobonong Community Home-Based Care in the eastern tip of Botswana. Scott, who I mentioned earlier, made the six-hour trip to Maun to meet with Bana Ba Letsatsi (Children of the Sun).
And finally the Team was nearly done with its training and consulting and had earned a few days of well-deserved fun, so we headed north to Kazungula. From there, we took a day trip to Zambia to see Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall (in terms of surface area—5,600 feet by 354 feet). We hopped across the border to Zimbabwe to get our passports stamped, and made it back to the Zambezi River in time to catch the last ferry to Botswana. We also went on a game drive in Chobe National Park with my favorite guide, TK. He’s a former wildlife officer, and this is my fourth time to go out with him. Botswana lifted its hunting ban on elephants while the Team was here, and one of them, Barclay Jones, asked TK what he thought of it and boy, did we get an earful. In a nutshell, he thinks that Botswana can manage its wildlife just fine, thank you very much. Alas, TK didn’t work his magic to serve up a leopard or lion sighting, but we saw nearly everything else, including jackal, wildebeest, Cape buffalo, zebra, kori bustard (Africa’s largest flying bird and Botswana’s national bird), and many more.
Then it was time for the 1,000 kilometer drive back to Gaborone, a farewell reception, and a trip to the US Embassy for a meeting with Botswana’s new Ambassador, The Honorable Craig Cloud. He was very interested in and supportive of the project and the Team identified several opportunities to work together. Then Bee and I dropped the Team at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, where we had found them four weeks earlier. They’re all back in Colorado, and are still engaged with their CSOs and Botswana. In fact, in a complete coincidence, the Executive Director of the Botswana Association of the Deaf is visiting Patricia’s organisation this week as part of the International Visitors Leadership Program.
One of the project’s objectives is to raise awareness among the people of Botswana for the need to increase domestic support for the HIV/AIDS response, and we’ve had great media coverage, thanks to Dan Poiso from NAHPA who arranged stories in nearly every national newspaper and on radio and television. I even had the pleasure of appearing with April Montgomery and my Peace Corps Programme Manager, Rosemary Mokgosi on my favorite morning radio show on GABZ-FM.
Alas, no rest for the weary! The Se Tlogelwa Tsatsing Advisory Committee wants to build on May’s momentum, and has several related efforts to implement immediately, including a mentorship program between CSOs and the business sector, and a training on donor databases. We’re exploring sending a group of six CSO leaders from Botswana to Colorado in May 2020 to continue the relationship. And we have another couple dozen ideas…
Happily, I will be a part of this journey. On 20 May, I received an email from Monica Smith, Peace Corps Botswana’s Director of Programming and Training, inviting me to extend my service for another year with the Botswana Network of AIDS Service Organisations in Gaborone, which was a critical player in Se Tlogelwa Tsatsing, especially its Executive Director, Oscar Motsumi. I am honored and elated to be part of building Botswana’s civil society capacity to control the HIV epidemic by 2023 and end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. Thanks for reading, and enjoy your summer!