Monday, December 8, 2014

16 Days of Activism

As you are all putting on your winter coats and getting cozy by the fire we are sweating our butts off over here.  It always makes me laugh when we go to town or just to our local market and there is a bunch of Christmas decorations, it just does not seem right when the temperature is pushing 100 degrees here in Botswana.  Just as Americans get ready for the holidays, the Batswana are winding things down in preparation of going home for the holidays as well.  Most people will take some of their “leave days” during this time of year and return to their home villages to spend time with their loved ones, just like we do back home.  The difference is that they get way more leave time than we do.  My supervisor will be out of the office from December 10th – January 15th, and that is very typical.  With that being said, very little is done in the way of work during this time.  Kids are out of school and most government workers are gone.  We are no different and will be spending the holidays with our African family again this year in Serowe.  We are really looking forward to it as we always have so much fun with them.  We are also hoping to get away and do a bit of camping for New Years. 
It feels like it has been quite a while since we wrote so I will give an update on what we have been up to.  After my parents left we were around the village for a few weeks leading up to our MST (Mid Service Training) which was held in Gaborone for a few days.  Immediately after MST we had our yearly medical appointments (physical and dental cleaning), yes they take very good care of us over here, no worries.  Some amazing news is that I got a high enough score on my Language Proficiency Test (not quite sure how) that I was able to use my score to satisfy the language requirement for my Master’s Degree.  I am officially an Advanced Low Setswana speaker.  I can’t express in words the weight that has been lifted off my back.  Also I am officially registered for the 1st of my 3 off-campus semesters that I need for my practicum.  I will be starting to work on my capstone requirement in early 2015, and graduating in December 2015 right after our COS (Close of Service) in October.  I have to say that even though it seems daunting at times, I am actually looking forward to the mental stimulation of research and writing.
After we got back to the village from MST, we started gearing up for the upcoming 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence activities that we were participating in.  16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence is an International event which is held every year for the 16 days that fall between International Day for the Elimination of Violence on Nov 16 and International Human Rights Day on December 10th.  Peace Corps Volunteers as well as NGO’s, governments, and individuals across the world use these two weeks to hold events which sensitize communities to the issues of Gender Based Violence and how they affect poverty, HIV/AIDS, etc.  In my opinion empowering women is one of the most important things we can be involved in here in Botswana, and working with our local counterparts on the various activities we participated in for 16 Days has been a powerful and important experience.
Peace Corps does their best to try and support volunteers on the ground by supplying them with materials.  This year they were able to order 20,000 purple ribbons with a pledge message that were distributed to interested volunteers in their villages.  Erin and I were given 1,000 ribbons to distribute in our village, and let me tell you we could have given out 10,000.  People love them, which is great, because the whole point of wearing the ribbon is to raise awareness and start conversations about GBV (Gender Based Violence).  We have been wearing our ribbons and will continue to wear them for the whole 16 Days.  
I’ll give you a quick recap of the events we have been involved in thus far.  First, Erin and I were invited to help facilitate a 2 day Sensitization Workshop in Francistown with another Peace Corps Volunteer.  The workshop was held at a hotel and the participants were various Dikgosi (chiefs) and Police representatives from Francistown.  At this point Erin and I have facilitated quite a few different sessions about GBV in many different settings, and are pretty comfortable doing so.  This one however was different and a little intimidating.  It’s just kind of a touchy thing when dealing with very respected members of the community such as Chiefs (no one is more respected) and Police.  We are guests in the country and don’t want to be disrespectful, especially when dealing with subject matter where men in particular can feel as though they are being attacked.  With that said, we still feel that GBV is something that needs to be talked about openly and honestly and thus even though some conversations can go down difficult roads they are still very important.  There is no way I can express in words the complexity of this subject in the context of a developing African nation.  I will remember things I’ve heard in these types of sessions for the rest of my life.  Let’s just say there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the overall treatment of women and children and the  opportunities which are available to them in this part of the world. It is a very fine line between what is wonderful and unique about different cultures across the world, and the cultural norms which can sometimes lead to negative outcomes for certain individuals within a society (usually women and children).
Secondly, I had spent months working with my organization (Tonota Society for Gender and Human Rights) planning a commemorative event here in Tonota for 16 Days.  We had secured a great guest speaker, a women name Mma Mosojane.  She was a Kgosi (chief) in Francistown and an activist who is very respected in the community.  Beyond that our program consisted of speeches from the Tonota Kgosi, Gender Based Violence survivor, the Police, and youth from the community.  Being in the event business for many years, it was a lesson in patience trying to organize this event.  Let’s just say that things are done very different here but like most things in Botswana somehow, someway things have a way of working themselves out.  The day began at 6:00am at our Bus Rank (station) where we had a group of volunteers participate in a March.  We walked to the Main Kgotla (community meeting place where tribal court and community events are held) about 6K with banners, ribbons and posters.  We even had a police escort leading the way.  Our program began around 8:00am and to our surprise, we had well over 100 people show up.  Everything did not work out as planned but none of that mattered in the end.  
 It was a very successful event and everyone was very proud to be a part of it.  The highlight for Erin and I was getting to invite one of the PACT groups (Peer Approach to Counselling by Teens, a program that empowers teens to make informed decisions about important issues in their lives) that we work with at one of the schools.  Youth do not often participate in these types of events and it was inspiring when the girls pulled me aside and asked if they could have a chance to address the crowd.  We made room in the program for them and when it was their time, this girl around 15 years old got up in front of the Kgotla (Chiefs, Councilors, Community members, Elders etc.) and gave them a piece of her mind.  It was one of the greatest moments of my Peace Corps service.  I love that we were able to give the youth a voice.  Overall the event was a huge success and it was really satisfying for Erin and I to see it all come together.  Sometimes it is hard to measure our accomplishments over here and it was nice to see so many people positively affected. 
Lastly, we traveled to Masunga for the Botswana national commemoration event for World AIDS Day which is held in different villages every year on December 1st.  We had previously attended the World AIDS Day commemoration for our sub-district in a very small village called Shashe Mooke.  As virtually every person in this country is affected by HIV in some way, there are many different commemorations across the nation.  Our friend Sarah who lives in Masunga was obviously very involved in the national event, and we went up to help her out and participate.  The President of Botswana His Excellency Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama (yes that is his full title) was there to give a speech along with other dignitaries and guests.  In a country so vastly affected by HIV/AIDS it was a powerful event to say the least. 
Overall the 16 Days has thus far been a great experience and we really believe this type of work has a lasting impact on individuals in our community.  Our Thanksgiving was pretty mellow this year.  Erin and I had a nice dinner at home on Thursday, and then went and met several other volunteers for a few days of camping over the weekend.  We both are missing all of our wonderful family and friends.  It’s toughest during the holiday season, but we are lucky to have each other and a great group of friends here in Bots.  We hope that everyone is well back home, and that you all have a joyous holiday season.  

Peace and Love, Jojo & Erin

Okay first off let's talk food - priorities people.  Homemade pasta is nice.

Apple pancakes make life yummy.

Bagels have kind of been a game changer.

A traditional mud hut which is being built on our compound.  Very interesting to see how it's done.

Erin and Botho representing Ruby Jewel.

Very typical scene at a PCV's house. This one is at Christy's in Mosetse.

What happens when Kelly tells Erin to shave Tony's head.

The start of our march at the bus rank.

Tonota Society for Gender and Human Rights, minus Erin who was our photographer for the day.


The guest of honor Mma Mosogane, a very important figure in the women's movement here in Botswana.

"We are the one's being affected by GBV, believe us when we tell you that we are being abused..."

A survivor of GBV giving another very powerful speech.

Our PACT (Peer Approach to Counseling for Teens) Club from Ruthwang JSS.  We absolutely love these kids!!!

These folks were distributing condoms at World AIDS Day.  I loved their energy.

World AIDS Day with Sarah who lives in Masunga.

Our garden at home.  Herbs are doing great, other stuff less so.