Monday, December 14, 2009

Happenings and Hoppings

Major publishable events:

  • There is an ice cream maker in our lives
  • We're looking after a house with a pool and internet!
  • We're going on vacation for Christmas! Yea, and we're gonna pet baby animals!

December is a strange month here in South Africa. For one it's Christmas time, but it's really hot outside. I feel so empathetically uncomfortable seeing Santa in the full Santa outfit at the mall. I haven't been able to pull out any Christmas music, I think I'll save it for July when it's cold. For two, the entire country seems to go on office is on a skeleton crew--we are waiting to hear if grants have been approved so that we can start planning next year's good times.

I'm hoping to get funding for the drop-in centre/feeding scheme, I'm trying to get kick started at the site where the orphans are staying. Let me give a quick update on the last few months of fun times at my Childline project:

1. Korean Doctor Week: a team of Korean specialist (including an orthapaedist, internalist, dentist, OB/GYN, and pharmacist) came to Extension 11 for a four day free-medical services extravaganza. The area has no clinic within walking distance, in an area where most people are living on $1 or less a day. So over 800 people received specialized medical attention. It was very exciting to be part of the "planning" (it was a kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience) and to have it at my site!

2. Trees4Schools (supported by Puro Coffee) came and planted trees at the site, they also did an extensive training with community members and children on taking care of trees and how to plant more trees. And they provided a great, easy training on permaculture gardening using used tires. Tires are used because they are small, easy to start and it is easy to add more tire gardens--they don't overwhelm the gardener. Permaculture gardening is like taking organic a step further, it's creating a garden that protects itself by planting things strategically--not planting all your cabbage in one spot all alone, but mixing them with things like spring onions that will keep bugs out and other plants that will restore nitrogen and good stuff back in the soil. Tire gardens were planted for the houses where orphans are staying and at the church and day care center. (I'm hoping to train more community members on this style of gardening so as to increase access to better nutrition. I need to get funding for doing a large pilot project of it in the community).

3. I've stopped the door-to-door campaign in Extension 11 for the time being, the amount of children who are in need of emergency services is too high for the project to currently handle. As I'm not allowed to drive per Peace Corps rules, I have to depend on others in my organization to get people to the proper government department...this can be difficult as it is so time consuming and expensive. I'm trying to get caught up.

4. Written a bajillion grants! and reports on grants received! It's not that exciting.

5. Oh! and best of all, families have moved into the OVC site houses! 14 children who were living in crowded and unsafe housing have moved into new 3 bedroom houses, complete with bathrooms. The three other houses being built are almost finished and will be inhabited soon (I hope). 11 of the children who have moved in are orphans due to mothers dying of AIDS, when the children got to see their new homes for the first time, it was the first time I ever saw them smile or have any expression. For their caregivers it is a sigh of relief, they are safe. There isn't any furniture in the houses yet (working on it) but for them it is like living in a palace. The Korean missionary who is backing the project calls it the "Haven of Angels".

Lastly, Glenn and I have been blessed abundantly in the relationships we've been making with people in Potch. We are starting to call Potch 'home' and we thank all the people in this town who have opened their hearts and doors to us. We still have another year and 3 months to go in our service, I'm glad we get to spend it here.


Monday, November 23, 2009

since then

Hey there, it's been too long since we've updated our blog. i wanted to give an update of some new developments w/ my side of the Peace Corps.

here are some of the highlights since i've written last: i found out that the Peace Corps was sending my mail to Chubby Chick (a large organization based here in Potchefstroom - bad news because the modem that was sent to us is lost); we took the train to and from Cape Town (we advise to get the sleeper coupe); i've found a somewhat reliable internet connection that is a free wireless spot; the outdoor swimming pool is open (it's 48 meters by 25 meters)

i began a working relationship with a secondary project called The Gap Year Project. during our IST in September, we were given a presentation from JASA - Junior Achievement South Africa, whereby, I thought it might be a good idea to present to the Gap Year Project. i brought forth the idea of incorporating JASA material/curriculum to the GYP and it was well received. JASA learned of our program and became interested in instituting a Pilot Project for the GYP. since that time, we have presented a proposal to the PC requesting the funding to assist us in covering the costs of the JASA program.

what is the Gap Year Project? the founder of the GYP, Riaan de Bruyn began establishing relationships with the children at the local orphanage in Potchefstroom. he saw a need to equip them with further skills once they become of age and leave the orphanage. once the children leave the orphanage, they present themselves with little or no skills to enter the work force or to have sustained an honest education (being labeled an OVC or being from the orphanage, there is little self-esteem and motivation to be successful at school). Often times, children are moved up to the next grade level without gaining the minimum skills or children are placed in "special" classrooms where their learning opportunities are stunted. Riaan began the idea of grooming potential candidates to participate in a Gap Year Project in a home environment upon leaving the orphanage (at the age of 17 or 18, or once they finish their H.S.) The participants attend willingly and agree to a set standard of guidelines/requirements. The first year is now finishing up and the next project cycle will begin in the mid month of January 2010. The past year's project did not end the way it had been envisioned. The management of the GYP learned valuable lessons and have restructured the design of the curriculum and aspects of learning focuses for the new candidates that will begin in January 2010. During the past year, the participants were not ready for the next level of education that were provided to them. they were enrolled in (what i'll classify as junior college coursework).

the current plan is to secure the new house parents who will live w/ the participants and provide them w/ direction, guidance, and offer them a good influence for their Gap Year experience. the participants will be required to attend the JASA classes which i will oversee and manage, attend a work force integration program once a week (which will provide them w/ their spending money), attend to a community service project once a week, and engage in chores or gardening at their home.

it's looking like the program Outward Bound may be able to assist us in providing our participants with a 2 week wilderness experience prior to their start of the GYP. we hope this works out - b/c it will enable the participants to form cohesiveness and give them a great start to a new kind of living.

amy and i are looking forward to some of our own wilderness experience at the end of December. we're traveling w/ a couple of other PCV's to the coast (towards the south eastern side) we hope to avoid the mad rush of travelers and enjoy our time hiking, canoeing, and relaxing. during the month of December, many people are traveling and going on their "holidays" -


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hirax?!? Leaving the concrete jungle

from Glenn: i've been thinking lately what i'll encounter in culture shock when we return to the states - thus far, it will be: that there is life after noon on Saturdays and Sundays - all the stores close early and the streets are nearly desolate; people don't end their comments or agree with you w/ the sound "aaaay" - that's about it -

from Amy: i don't think about such things, i like to think about what i'm going to be eating this week. the nice thing about living here is that everyday i leave work at 4:30, even if there is more work to do, everyone goes home, there's no such thing as overtime. as a result, i get to eat dinner for real every night. it's quite thrilling to think that i'm in control of how many vegetables i get to eat, or not eat. but we kind of blew our budget for the month of july, so this week we'll be eating lasagna every single night (which is my favorite food) with no wine.

We visited the largest and oldest meteorite impact on the planet earth. Last week we drove 30 minutes out of town to the Vrederfort Dome where we saw mountains, monkeys, and hiraxes! (yes hyraxes, if i wasn't paying per megabyte i'd upload you a picture, you'll have to figure it out yourself). We went up and down and around a mountain on foot. It was 2 and a half hours of pure bliss. The peace corps has been trying to turn us into city kids, keeping us in this concrete jungle for so many months, we finally got to break free. We went with a fellow south african another pc volunteer (a geologist!) who shared a wealth of knowledge of our surroundings. Then we went to this little town nearby where they have a spice store where they sell bay leaves! basmati rice! and other wonders.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Did we say it gets cold here?

There is ice in our bird bath! Where am I? The whole lack of insulation or central heating is making things a little tricky. At night we just sit around wrapped up in blankets, it gets hard to read because your hands get cold holding the book. But the sun is always our salvation, the African sun is so hot even in winter. This shouldn't last very long, maybe one month, but I can't wait for summer.

So, we've officially tried S. African Biltong. Glenn prefers the type that tastes more like "jerky" as the original Biltong tastes more like raw meat. I like the fatty stuff. It's meat hung to dry w/ spices and it's craved here with beer while watching rugby.

I saw this man riding his old bike, he was old too, he had an African Grey Parrot on his shoulder while he road down the busy street.

We're plugging away at our work. I've been extra busy giving out blankets, warm clothes, and food parcels. I'm learning about the issue of trafficking in child prostitutes for the World Cup. The Dept. of Education has decided to have a school holiday while the Cup is going on--three weeks! News is already coming out of foreign children being found within S.A. who were trafficked in for the purposes of prostitution. The organization I work with, Childline, is very involved in raising awareness and preventing all kinds of child abuse throughout South Africa; it'll be interesting to see if any major awareness campaign will be able to catch on. The Cup is still 11 months away...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Time flies when you're busy

It's hard to believe that June is almost half over. The first three months we were here time crawled like a sloth, but these last two months are flying by and I've got more to do than I've got time...

It was a tough day yesterday, I was out in Ext. 11 doing follow-ups on cases. At one house, the child we've been working with had passed away two weeks ago, he was only 7. His death certificate said he died of TB, which too often also means the child was HIV+. Then at the next house we visited, we're doing the assessment for foster care placement of an HIV+ baby and we're talking about the need for the foster mother to look after the health needs of the child; when the 14 year old niece in the room broke down crying--she had been raped on her way home from school a year ago, she had found out recently she was now positive. In this place, the pain is overwhelming at times. It was a nice sunny day, warm after a cold spell. The kids were all walking home from school with big smiles on their faces, no hint of sadness. My heart was so heavy. You can't help but speak continual prayers for healing of hearts and bodies.

On a lighter note, Glenn has started to read fiction. He read the book 'Q&A' (basis for the movie Slumdog Millionaire) and he liked it. This is a big deal, he's been a devoted non-fiction reader for way too long.

Right now we're getting some much needed R&R at a coffee shop, looking out on a cricket field, the sun is shining.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Life in SA

I was able to spend a week in Setlagole. A large village (12,000 +, 90% unemployment) not far from the Botswana border where Childline put on a training to train lay counselors to assist with social work related activities in the community. The presenter and I were able to stay at a Game Lodge about 40 minutes away. The best part being that there were baby lions there and yes! I got to play with them. This particular game lodge allows mostly foreigners to come in and hunt the lions. According to those running the show, most of these people come from Dallas, Texas or Spain or Germany. They get to decide which of the lions they want to hunt ahead of time; then 90-some hours before the hunt, the lion is ‘darted’ and taken to the hunting area where it can roam around until the hunters find it and shoot it—but the guy only gets one shot, when he misses the professional hunter steps in and does the job before the lion gets them. Then the lion gets taxidermied and sent to Dallas, Texas. It costs a lot of money to do this, more than $30,000 to hunt a good sized male—this is more than I made in a year in the states, all for one shot at a lion. People are really weird. (Amy)

Life in relationship to volunteering has been slow lately. The organization I volunteer with is having some quirks they are working out in regards to their financial status – this puts a damper on me traveling to the outlying areas where all the NGO’s are. I’d like to visit with more of them to gain a better perspective of their strengths and capabilities. Thus far, I have met all of them except two. To make up time I’ve been reading and thinking of ways I can assist the NGO’s under the care of the LAC. In the meantime I’ve also been attending some meetings that have put me in contact with community members that are dedicated to assisting the NGO’s in this area to become sustainable, governed well, and financially accountable. Sometimes, to pass time, I dream of where I want to travel to in SA. I’ve come up with one itinerary thus far. Here’s a common question people often ask here, “How do you find South Africa?” And then they usually wish us well for the remainder of our time here. After four months in SA, I suppose my internal answer to how I find SA is: there’s poverty, injustice, misconceptions of human kind based on the color of skin or ethnicity, and greed everywhere in the world. Then, there’s kindness of strangers that don’t presume you as a stranger, ubuntu, diversity of languages and cultures, and simply being able to say right now, “I’m in SA.” (Glenn)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's getting cold out here -

Hello all – it’s been quite the week in SA. It’s starting to get cold at night and our flat sees little or no sunshine to keep it warm. But we’ve got blankets, good socks, and each other. Central heating is obsolete – yet there are plenty of plug in heaters in the stores. We’ll see how far we can go w/o one.

My (Amy’s) job is going well – I’ve been a busy bug. My door-to-door campaign in Extension 11 (an informal township outside of Potchefstroom) is in full swing. My team is completing a survey asking what the needs of the area are. So far, one third of the children found are orphans, quite a few are HIV+ and many of those are not receiving treatment. It’s really difficult having to find answers to questions like how do I pay the fare to get to the clinic to get my child treatment, when I barely have enough to buy food? There are a lot of hard questions and not many answers. After the process of completing the community profile the project will proceed to provide services to Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs). I’m not sure where we’ll start, it seems that the more questions we ask, the more tangled the web of poverty becomes.

A quick story: One of my co-workers is HIV+, and living positively as she says, her baby was born HIV+. Terrifyingly, 17 days after the baby died at the age of 18 months, she received notification that her baby could start taking ARVs. The medication is supposed to be available freely to those who need it in South Africa, provided by the government, but the system is fouled up. Adults start taking ARVs once there CD4 counts are under 200; children can’t wait until their CD4 count dips below 200, their immune systems aren’t strong enough.

My (Glenn’s) job is going pretty slow thus far. I’ve been meeting w/ the NGO’s that are in relationship to the Local Aids Council – I’ve been asked to compile a quick report for a meeting with our local government council to report on the needs/challenges of the NGO’s. The list for each one coincides w/ each other in this way – they (NGO’s) are in need of proper governance, business planning, developing proper proposals, creating down to earth/manageable business plans, and overall, funding. One of the main issues that I hear from the Home Based Care providers is that they do not have the resources to assist the patients to get to the clinic for their medications. It is the same story as what Amy described above. Many of these volunteers use their own limited stipend money to assist the patients. So, we have a lot of good hearted individuals who care deeply for their community members – however, they lack the sustaining resources that will enable their organizations to provide long term care to the community members.

Our lives are very comfortable for Peace Corps volunteers. Our lives are really simple. We bike everywhere, we go to bed early and wake up early. We wash our clothes by hand (but yesterday we broke down and took two weeks worth of wash to the Laundromat—it only cost about $3.50, but that’s a lot of money to us right now! It’s so funny.) No dishwasher and a goofy oven/stove. We buy our milk around the corner, we take our bottle over and they fill it up. We’ve got some Christopher Elbow hot chocolate we’re saving for colder nights. We haven’t got a TV so we really don’t know what’s happening out there. We’re loving the library, they haven’t added many new books since 1994, but they do have Time Magazine. We eat lots of sausage and granola is the cheap cereal here (cheaper than corn flakes). Tonight we’re getting together with an American missionary family we met; they’re a cool bunch. This was written on 05/16/09.