As 2008 begins to draw to a close, I find myself thinking about the successes and challenges of my Peace Corps service. When we first arrived in our village in September 2007, I tried to make projects work at my NGO, Abbotspoort Home and Community Based Care, but soon realized that they simply were not ready for a Peace Corps Volunteer. So in January 2008, I transitioned into Abbotspoort Higher Primary School to start Chrysalis Girls Club, a young women’s empowerment program for the 86 7th grade girls. This has been an incredible, inspiring project, and I urge you to check out our girls club blog for more information–I just added 7 new posts! (Don’t worry, they’re mostly pictures with minimal text, just to give an overview of what we’ve been up to lately).
Volunteers from the home-based care (“carers”) helped with girls club at the beginning, but by June they were no longer able to assist with the program. Our main leaders are teachers from the primary schools, but it was disappointing to no longer have a joint community/school project when the carers left. I continued to search for a way to still involve the home-based care in Chrysalis Girls Club, which brings me to one of my most gratifying days in South Africa…
On August 8th 2008, the village of Mokuruanyane (Abbotspoort) experienced an event, as they would say, “it is for the first time.” Chrysalis Girls Club worked together with Abbotspoort Home and Community Based Care AND the Abbotspoort Clinic to offer a National Women’s Day Celebration for all girls and women in Mokuruanyane! This was a wonderfully collaborated effort…
I worked with Chrysalis Girls Club to design the program and recruit girls and leaders to speak. The home-based care rented an event tent, chairs, and sound system, and provided a full South African meal for all who attended. The Program Director of the home-based care also MC’d the program.
The Abbotspoort Clinic selected nurses to speak about women’s health topics and opened their courtyard for us to hold the event.
Singing and dancing was had by all!
The day concluded with women’s health/empowerment-related craft projects. Here, Mma Hlako is teaching about the menstrual cycle and how a woman can use “Moon Beads” (one of the craft projects) to understand her cycle.
This “gogo” (term of respect for a grandmother or older woman) just made her “Moon Beads,” which were actually pieces of uncooked pasta due to limited finances :-)
Decoupaging tin cans with images of empowered women
It was so wonderful to see the clinic, home-based care, and schools working together to truly make this event a success. It seemed that with their powers combined, anything was possible! The home-based care was delighted to be involved and vowed to offer the program on an annual basis. It might not have worked for them to help with girls club every week, but the home-based care really made things happen for National Women’s Day. I realized that if they were only able to work with girls club at large community events like this, that would be totally fine and still be a tremendous asset to our program and the village!
Over 100 people attended the celebration, including women and girls of all ages and a few supportive men and boys. I left the event floating on cloud 9, because it had gone 10 times better than I ever thought possible. There are many, many hard days in Peace Corps, when it seems like nothing is working, but this was one day that I thought to myself, “THIS is why I’m here. THIS is what being a Peace Corps Volunteer is all about, connecting and empowering different groups in the community to positively impact the greater village.” Every Peace Corps Volunteer has their own unique experience without a specific job description, but I felt, on that day, that I was “doing the right thing.” It dawned on me, at that moment, that although my official project title is “NGO (Non-Govermental Organization) Volunteer” or “CHOP (Community and HIV/AIDS Outreach Project) Volunteer,” with my main project being Chrysalis Girls Club and the success of our National Women’s Day Celebration, my Peace Corps role in South Africa is really that of a “Women’s Empowerment Volunteer.” And I couldn’t be happier with that assignment! :-)