National Women’s Day Celebration

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! 🙂

Abbotspoort AIDS Day

AIDS Day

Abbotspoort Home Based Care put on an AIDS Day event on Nov. 23rd to raise awareness and educate the village about HIV prevention and treatment. It was quite progressive! Male and female condom demonstrations, a drama about the importance of taking antiretroviral medications vs. solely relying on herbs from traditional healers, and a variety of speeches from male and female community leaders. The Abbotspoort Clinic and Love Life branch joined the Home Based Care in putting on this successful event. It was very encouraging to see these stakeholders come together to provide such a motivational, educational program for their community. 108 people were in attendance. The Waterberg District (where we are located) is among the highest in HIV/AIDS populations in Limpopo, but events like this give hope to fighting the devastation. This event was, undoubtedly, the first of many of its kind we will attend and assist with while here in South Africa.

Ups and Downs

Ups and Downs

Hey, everybody! (Susie, here). Since we’re over two weeks late on our blog update, Ben and I decided to tag-team this one. And…hand-off!

Life at Abbotspoort Home Based Care, these past two weeks, has been a real mix of highs and lows (which, any Peace Corps Volunteer will tell you, is just par for the course; part of the “toughest job you’ll ever love” byline). Let’s start with the lows, just to get them out of the way…Several of my weekdays have been spent in the office, lately, assisting the management team with formatting, typing, and composing their “Financial Plan,” a comprehensive budget prescribed by the European Union. (Not sure if I already mentioned this, but the NGO receives funding from three different sources: Department of Health, Department of Social Development, and the European Union. They are still lacking in funds for their actual program development & implementation, but these three sources at least provide their stipends, office supplies, and part of their transport costs). I do want to help wherever I am needed, but I am also naturally more passionate about some areas of service than others, and budgeting/office work is not exactly among my favorites or what I envisioned myself doing when I first dreamed of volunteering in Africa. This being said, I am happy to report that after nearly a week and a half, the Financial Plan is finally done. The big next office-related task will be developing administrative policies. (I know, I know, try to contain your excitement, please!) Oh, well; I figure if we can get most of these technical office projects done during my first few months, here, the next two years will be a breeze!

Although it may feel like it, occasionally, it really isn’t office work, all day, everyday; a few times, now, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the more physical work of helping the drop-in center cooks serve food to the orphans, wash dishes, stack chairs, and sweep the floor. (Who knew these jobs could be so much fun? I guess when you’re learning new Sepede words, laughing about your horrible mispronunciations, and hanging out with fascinating African women, it isn’t all that unbelievable, after all).

Exactly a week after getting to visit the homes of the orphans, I had the opportunity to shadow a carer (Helen) in her daily routine of visiting terminally-ill adults. Once again, it was humbling and eye-opening to see some of the poorest of the poor in this area. It also provided a nice insight into what the actual home-based carers do. At the first house, Helen bathed an elderly woman who was partially paralyzed from the waste down–cause unknown. I assumed hospice care was difficult work, but I was still surprised at how strenuous and time-consuming bathing another person could be. (Abiding by Peace Corps protocols, I couldn’t assist with the actual washing, but I did help moisturize the patient’s legs and feet, afterwards). The care provided to the other four households we visited was not nearly has tactile; Helen verbally checked-in with the patients to see how their “treatment” (medication) was going, asked if they had any new health problems or concerns, and completed her report forms.

Recreation Dreamin’

Recreation Dreamin’

My most exciting news, by far, is that the Project Manager for the OVC (Orphans & Vulnerable Children) drop-in center recently asked for my assistance in developing their activity programs! I was ecstatic. Currently, the drop-in center feeds the children three meals a day and they (the children) usually facilitate their own games and singing. Maria, the (new) Project Manager, would like to provide more substantial activities for the kids in the afternoons, so last Thursday, we sat down together to begin brainstorming a weekly schedule, including crafts, drama, health promotion (primarily HIV/AIDS Education), life-skills, and homework assistance, plus expanded games and music . Maria would like help in the planning of these activities, as well as in their actual execution–which means I’ll get to put my recreation program provider hat on and play more with kids–yippee! I’ve told the rest of the management team that the drop-in center seems to be the major area of their organization I feel I can best assist with, and although communication is still rather tricky, I think they’re generally supportive of this idea. Things take a while to get off the ground in these parts, but at least Maria and I have developed an initial plan to start from. We’ll see where things go from here! Hopefully, we can begin some of the activities, fairly soon, but many of the crafts, life-skills, and sports/games require funding to purchase supplies…All in good time, I trust; for now, I am simply grateful for the dream that has been set in motion.

Another fun picture from the drop-in center. (Maria is in the back on the left, light blue zip-up sweater). If only they weren’t so camera-shy.

Joining the “Road Show!”

Joining the “Road Show!”

Onto another exciting update: About two weeks ago, the NGO received a letter from the Office of the Premier in Pretoria, inviting them to participate in a “Community Development Road Show” on October 23rd in the Nicara ground (playing field), right next to our house. All non-governmental and/or non-profit organizations in the Lephalale area were encouraged to provide an exhibition and presentation of their services. Motivated to break away from the office hum-drum and allow my creativity to flow, I jumped at the chance to help prepare for this event. My immediate western-mindset interpretation of providing an “exhibition” was to set up a display table with handouts and pictures. Wanting to verify this interpretation, I called the Office of the Premier for clarification, and they encouraged us to go ahead with the idea. Still slightly unsure of the context for the event, but eager to take on the project, I plunged ahead. I first worked with Tseneke, the Home Based Care Project Manager, to make a sign to hang from the table. Then I helped Raisebe, the Administrator, put together a small photo album of staff, carers, and orphans, with captions and background information about the NGO. Finally, I made a nice tri-fold brochure (with Tiro’s help on graphics) for the display table that describes the NGO’s history, mission/vision, and services offered. Feeling good about what we had accomplished, but still slightly concerned that I had “westernized” our preparations too much, we set out for the ground on the morning of the 23rd…

The Road Show was scheduled to begin at 10am, but knowing how time runs differently around here, I was not at all surprised to see that preparations were still well-underway when we arrived at 10:15 to set-up our display table.

Two large white tents were being put up in the far right corner of the dirt field, and a truck with port-o-potties was parked behind them.

In the far left corner of the ground, this intriguing brick wall was being built. Upon asking about its purpose, I learned that it was a temporary visual representation,designed specifically for the Road Show, to demonstrate that successful outcomes result from communities working together. (Very impressive!)

No other groups seemed to have set up display tables, yet, but the event photographer directed us to a tree near the tents–the one partially shaded area on the ground. Without any hesitation, we situated ourselves near the tree, arranging our table, sign, brochures, and photo album as professionally as possible. 10:30 rolled around and still no other groups had set up tables…11:00 came and more people were arriving, but the program had not officially began…11:30 (still no other tables)…Finally, at 11:40, the Road Show coordinators from Pretoria kicked things off. By this time, about 300 people were seated under and around the white tents.

As you and can see, most of the people outside the tents were holding umbrellas to help shield the blazing sun.

A row of tables were placed in the front stage area for the designated speakers from different organizations. Large entities from the Waterberg District were represented, such as the Department of Health and the Department of Social Development, as well as human services organizations from the larger town of Lephalale and the even larger city of Pretoria. Locally-speaking, social workers from the Abbotspoort Clinic were present, Abbotspoort Home Based Care was obviously represented, and one other non-profit organization participated. It was like pulling teeth to get someone from our NGO to speak about their services (stage fright, I guess), but one of the carers came through and I joined Joanna in sitting at the “VIP Tables” up front. After several motivational speeches (mostly in Sepede), the different organizations began their presentations. I had agreed to walk up with Joanna and introduce myself after her speech, so I amped-up my standard Sepede introduction to include a few new sentences. It wasn’t anything too elaborate, but I was decently pleased with how it came out. I’ll give the English translation, for your convenience:

  • Hello! (instant cheers from the crowd; I don’t think they had any idea I was going to speak their native language) How are you? (crowd responds, “fine”) My name is Mokgadi Majadibodu (more cheers). I am from America. I came with my husband, Tiro (wave to Ben in the back, followed by more cheers). We are going to live in Abbotspoort for two years. We are going to help Abbotspoort Home Based Care, Jacob Langa Primary and Abbotspoort Primary schools, and the whole Abbotspoort community. We are happy to be here and to work with you. Thank you! (roar of applause and more cheers–a very kind audience)

A few more speeches were given, followed by an extensive time of questions and answers. By about 2:30, the event had wrapped-up, and Tiro and I were greeted by a number of new, friendly faces. They were ecstatic that I had spoken in Sepede, but there was just one problem: I failed to mention in my speech that Ben and I were trying to learn to speak Sepede and that we really only knew a little, as yet, so we received numerous questions and comments in the local language that we had absolutely no hope of responding to! Oh, well; it didn’t take long to explain this to those who approached us, and some of them quickly changed to English for our benefit. It was actually fine, in the end, because even the people who could not speak English, just smiled, excitedly, and said, “Yes! You must learn to speak Sepede!” It turned out to be a great way for us to introduce ourselves to the larger community of Abbotspoort and its surrounding areas.

Anyone still wondering about our display table? Well, as you might have guessed, Abbotspoort Home Based Care ended up being the only organization to not only have brochures to hand out, pictures to share, and a sign, but we were also the only group that set up a table, at all! Ha! At least the 10+ staff members that dutifully sat at our table throughout the day (in uniforms) seemed to be pretty good sports about the whole thing. They didn’t quite get the idea that it would be good to invite people over to their table, but a few people came, none the less, and we were able to distribute about half (15) of the brochures–Tiro had the brilliant idea to give the other half to the Department of Social Development so they could hand them out from their office.

Ta-dah! Presenting the official Abbotspoort Home Based Care display table and staff, equipped with local rocks to hold down the brochures and photo album, due to the nice breeze, that day.

One last snippet about the Road Show, as Tiro referenced, earlier: As people started to leave the ground, many of the younger attendees (high school/college age) moved back underneath the tents for an impromptu dance party! The Office of the Premier had hired a DJ for the event who played music between the speeches, but was now playing the latest South African pop music for the crowd to enjoy; it was a riot. On the opposite side of the field, a different dance party was starting to take place, but this one simply involved clapping, stomping, and slapping rubber boots, a.k.a. the “Gumboot Dance!” As aforementioned, however, we did not get to see much of this dance, because we were called over to help an older boy who had apparently passed out from heat exhaustion and was just starting to come to. He was conscious, but extremely disoriented when I reached him and unable to respond to his name. I allowed one of the people who had found him, first, to use my phone to call for an ambulance, then proceeded to try to help him drink water and keep him comfortable. After a few more minutes, he became much more aware of the present situation, could hold eye-contact with people talking to him, and verbally respond to his name. I was relieved to see that his condition was quickly improving, and after Tiro and I had a chance to ask further questions, we learned that this apparently happens to this particular boy “when it’s really cold or really hot” and that he’ll “just wake up after a while.” (Hmm, sounds like something more than heat exhaustion; possibly a form of epilepsy?) Since he was coming around and two other boys offered to take him home to his parents, the ambulance was called off. Phew! A rather distressing end to the day, but, thankfully, he would be alright.Gotta’ love Geckos! This update has gone on long enough, so just for fun, here are a couple photos of some of our lizard friends, around here…Are they cute, or what?
This one’s my favorite…I think I’ll call him, “Thabo!” (It’s a popular name around here that means, “Happy”).
This little guy hung out on our kitchen/dining/washing room, one night. Nearly blended right in with our wall!

Re a go rata le re go gopotse kudu kudu! (We love and miss you, very much!

Lerato,

Mokgadi and Tiro Majadibodu

Spanish Arm-Wrestling

Spanish Arm-Wrestling

If you would have asked, two weeks ago, what I might see myself doing at Abbot’s Poort Home-Based Care, two things I would not have mentioned are teaching Spanish and arm-wrestling. Well, it just goes to show that you really can’t have any expectations when it comes to Peace Corps! I haven’t made either oddity my primary project, or anything, but last week I did find myself teaching the NGO women a few Spanish words, since they were curious about other languages spoken in America, and on the same day I helped settle a light-hearted argument by teaching three of them how to arm-wrestle! It was a riot; we laughed hard together, giving each other high “5’s” after each match–truly a bonding experience.

In terms of actual work-related topics, I spent two days, last week, guiding the women in organizing their “files” (binders), filing “cabinets”(metal closets), and labeling shelves. I’ve also been teaching three of the four women how to type, using a free typing program Ben found online. They really seem to be enjoying it! Filing and typing might not be the most exciting areas to assist with, but they are needs of the organization and it is encouraging to know that their goals are being met.


Mokgadi with the women from Abbot’s Poort Home Based Care.

(Left to right: Tseneke, Matlodi, Sari, Tebello, and Reisebe)

Naturally, my most fulfilling part of working with the NGO is getting to interact with children. About 43 orphans, ages 5-20, stop by the drop-in center throughout the day for free meals, games, and songs. I love getting to talk with them in the afternoons, often times teaching them fun camp songs and learning their favorite songs, as well. I helped Maggie, one of the youngest girls who has a beautiful smile, re-lace and tie her shoes, one day, and although she hardly spoke any English, we had a wonderful time smiling and giggling, together, and counting in Sepedi; such a simple moment, but definitely one of my favorites, thus far.

Mokgadi, smothered in love, by the orphans at the drop-in center.

My most heart-wrenching experience, so far in South Africa, was getting to visit several of the orphans’ homes, last Tuesday, along with a couple crèches (nurseries) and schools. I saw some of the poorest of the poor: families stricken by disease and unemployment, wives deserted by their husbands, grandmothers raising the children of their own deceased children, and a 19 year-old girl caring for her own two children, plus her three younger brothers. I came close to tears, numerous times, but found myself simply trying to interpret the complexity of my own emotions. The love shared by these families was so beautiful and their devotion to one another in the midst of such strife was so powerful, I couldn’t help but stand in humble admiration, overwhelmed with the incongruity of my own immense sadness and the authentic joy these people had for simply being alive and having each other.



This picture was actually taken at a crèche in Gopane, during our training. I did not take photos of the orphans we visited, last Tuesday, but the crèches were very similar and the children just as precious.

ALL THE PARTY PEOPLE SAY… HA LA LA… HA LA LA

ALL THE PARTY PEOPLE SAY… HA LA LA… HA LA LA Back at the NGO… The home-based care-givers, known as “carers,” had recently completed a year-long training, so their “transport man” (a local taxi driver) suggested that the NGO throw them a party. So, that’s exactly what they did! The day before the party, Mokgadi and I loaded up their refrigerator with cold drink (soda pop), beer, and hard cider that the admin staff had purchased. Mokgadi and the women borrowed the brie-stand (BBQ Grill) from our Majadibodu family and the party was ready to go. It was scheduled to start at 1pm, but in true SA style, it didn’t get going until around 3:30pm. I had a staff meeting to attend at Abbot’s Poort Primary at 2pm, so Mokgadi and I headed down to the school. By the time we returned at 4 o’clock, the party was in full swing. A table had been set under a nearby tree and the carers, a few board members, and admin staff were gathered ’round, singing and dancing. Many speeches were given, to which the croud replied, “Ha La La, Ha La La.” Mokgadi and I made a speech, sang one song with guitar accompaniment and many without. After the speeches came the meal. The sky turned dark and lightning began to give us quite a show. After helping to clean up, we headed home, but the rest of the group partied until 9pm. We had stalked the fridge with an enormous amount of drinks, but by the next day, it was gone. I’m thinking a good time was had by all.

Ha La La Abbot’s Poort Home Based Care, Ha La La


On request, one more picture of the inside of our place. On the left is a neighbor who asked for a little help with her school project over break, and on the right is our host sister’s daughter, Happy.


Sending much love out to all of our family and friends (lapa le bagwera),

Tiro le Modgadi