Into the Final Strech

Sorry its been the longest since you’ve seen a new post on here. Trust me I have excuses! My best one is that lightning hit my hut and fried all my cords. So, I had no way of charging my computer for 2+ months until one arrived in the mail from my sweet mother. Thanks mom!

I’ll start with all the cliche messages of my past blogs posts about how I’m feeling… “time is flying, I love it here & I’m just so sick of peeing in a bucket” because all apply to my life still. Just so I don’t go over board with this post I’m limiting myself to three, no four topics of choice. Enjoy!

1. Projects & Future Sustainability.

  • (Girl’s empowerment club at my local High School)
    Last year I started creating a girls empowerment club with a high school teacher & student. We met once a week at the high school and talked about all things girls empowerment! We learned about setting goals, healthy relationships and “our changing bodies”. It was successful and was being well sustained by the teacher when I was unable to be there. At the beginning of this year I went back to the High School to start the club back up, but when I got there another organisation was at the school using the time slot that we used for the girls empowerment club. The organisation that was taking our place is called compassionate Swaziland, its an NGO that teaches girls life skill classes all over Swaziland. After looking over Compassionate Swaziland’s syllabus for the year we realised we went over most of the same topics. Since this was a Swazi lead NGO, I was more than happy to let them take over our teaching time & continue the good work. The girls are enjoying the new club. They give them cookies every week to keep them coming to the club. Now, the only project I have with the high school is a small pen pal operation with Hannah Vanderhorst’s class back in Denver, CO!
  • (The HIV support group garden)
    I think last time I posted I was in the process of applying for the garden grant. So- update! We got the grant approved and the project has been a success.
    RECAP— I met an HIV support group that had a successful garden three years ago, but within recent years the fencing to the garden had large gapping holes that was letting chickens, goats and even cows into their crops. I started meeting with them every week and developing a plan to try and get them new fencing. The HIV support group and I applied for a grant and it was successfully approved! We received fencing, water harvesting equipment, water storage in the form of a jojo tank, gardening tools, cement, and seedlings! Part of the grant was to have a garden workshop to learn about new gardening techniques that these women could use in the new garden. On the second weekend of December, thirty women attended the workshop. The workshop was taught by a retired agriculture university professor that stays in my community! Rain fall has been good this year & they will be reaping their first harvest in a couple of weeks!! Successful and sustainable!

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  • (Playground Completion)
    I may not know how to change a tire on a car, but I do know how to build (from scratch) a sturdy *safe* playground! It took about three months to complete my playground at my primary school, when it really should only take a couple of days. — Again a few excuses; the drill broke, then after we got that back a month later the only drill bit to make the pilot holes also broke. BUT now it is finished with children gallivanting on it everyday with the force of a hurricane. Which makes me smile a lot!

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  • (Kids can raise money for a Library!)
  • 95% of our donations for our library have come from the children who are going to be directly impacted by this library. How?! We charge very little money for a long period of time for things like movies, talent shows, concerts, and the option to not wear your uniform for the day. With this type of fundraising it takes a longggggg time, BUT shows my community that its possible to still fundraise when there is still an overwhelming amount of poverty. We have had two fundraising events a week for the past year and have about 50% of the funding for the shelves we need in the library. I’m so proud to be on the library committee with teachers who didn’t mind adding one more thing on their plate to make this library happen. To these three teachers I am extremely grateful. We are still fundraising and if your interested in helping please read forward.

2. If you want to donate to directly impact children in my community please click the link below 🙂 We are making the FIRST ever library in Velezizweni Primary School.
Click here!

 

3. Expectations of joining the Peace Corps– my thoughts

When you are deciding if you want to commit 2.5 years of your life to something, a smart person would research the hell out of it before making that choice. Common questions to come up would be “What would a normal day in the life look like?” “Where will I live?, What will I eat? Will I have electricity or running water?” Obviously moving your life to a foreign country deploys a lot of questions. PUN INTENDED. For peace corps, a lot of those questions cannot be answered as specifically as you would want them to be. This is because in Peace Corps service each continent, country, and site is VERY different from on another.

If I were to give advice to anybody wanting to join the peace corps I would say that you need to be okay with the reality of your life being one of these two different scenarios— or anywhere in-between.

1. You wake up every morning to a lot to do. You live near a town and have access to services for people in your community. You are working with NGO’s and have a strict schedule to adhere to. This “you have a lot of free time in the peace corps” does not apply to you. You work very hard for two years, just like you did in the states but the only difference maybe you may not have a shower at the end of the day. By the end of your service you can look back and see the changes and impact that you have made.

2. You wake up to no alarm, look at your iPhone calendar app and there is nothing planned for the next two weeks. The two community meetings you set up fell through because it was raining and people were feeling “too lazy” to come. You have thoughts like “I have no idea what I’m doing here & what good impact I will make”. You feel guilty when people back home say you’re “saving the world” when in reality all you did today was watch a season of the office and hung out with your host family. What you will take away from your 27 MONTHS of service is the fact that your 12 year old sister comes in your house every night to complete her homework. Her english has gotten dramatically better since you arrived. Her grades have gone up & you reward her with sweets every time she comes back home with a grade higher than 70%. You changed one Childs life for the better and thats an okay way to spend two years of your life.

A harsh reality of Peace Corps service is that you very well could make more of an “impact” with your knowledge and skill set back in the US than in your Peace Corps service.

4. The close of my Peace Corps Service & the future ahead.

It has been confirmed that my site will be replaced. This means a new volunteer will move in with my family in September and work as I did in the community of Velezizweni. Weird thought, but excited for the next person that gets to experience the love of my Gogo & the beautiful landscapes every morning.

On to the next; I close my peace corps service on August 11th, 2017! Party! This is a serious accomplishment for me these coming months will defiantly be a bitter sweet time closing up projects and saying goodbye to my Swazi home. I hope, aspire, want to come back in about 10 years. After service I will be traveling throughout south east Asia for four months until mid-December. THEN hey y’all, I’ll be home for christmas with a tan of course 🙂 From there I will be attending grad school starting in June 2018. Super excited for what the future holds and to be eating good food from August forward.

P.S. I have been enjoying writing letters as of recently, so please send me some mail! (its super cheep and a fun way to old school communicate)

Ally Young, PCV
P.O. Box 2729
Mbabane H100, Swaziland, Africa

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Books for Africa! 

Hello family, friends, and followers alike! 

One of the projects I’m working hard on here in Swaziland is creating a library at the primary school I work with. Velezizweni primary school has never had a library before and has never attempted to start the process. So, it has taken a lot to get the acceptance of teachers, school commitee & the head teacher to get this project going! We have now acquired a room where the library will go & have raised over E3,000 for shelves for books. I’m super proud of the library commitee for continuing to raise money, even when I’m not around. 

We will be getting our books from “Books for Africa”. Books for Africa (BFA) is an organization in the United States that collects, sorts, ships, and distributes books to students of all ages in Africa. Their goal is to end the book famine in Africa. Peace Corps Swaziland partners with BFA once a year to bring in 30,000 books to 30 different schools/organizations across rural Swaziland. These schools/organizations have never had books or libraries before and once this project is completed the children in that area will have libraries and access to all of these books! Each individual library has a Swazi counterpart that works with a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), and each Swazi counterpart will attend a workshop on library setup and maintenance put on by Peace Corps Swaziland. This aspect of the project is what makes BFA Swaziland so successful and sustainable!

These books and libraries are so important for Swazi youth. In Swaziland English is a requirement to pass any grade in Swaziland, and as I stated before most schools don’t have libraries. This means that if you help donate to this project you will be helping hundreds of students continue their education. Any donation amount is helpful!

NOW, that we will be ready for books come April 2017. We are asking for YOUR help back home to help raise the money to get the books over here. Please consider donating to Books for Africa, so we are able to get books in my library here! 
https://donate.peacecorps.gov/donate/project/books-for-swaziland-2017/

*please comment with any questions you might have!

Ngiyabonga (Thank you) for your support!

10 Common SiSwati Phrases I Hear Almost Everyday ;that would be unusual to Americans

After living in Swaziland for over a year now, here are some phrases or words I hear in my everyday life as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

“Hawu” pronounced (Howuuuu) **My personal favourite
A sign of disbelief, reacting to a what another person said or did. Example in response to a Swazi saying “they wish to go to america one day” Me: “You have to be in a plane for at least 20 hours to fly to the United States.” Swazi: “HAWU?!?! … okay I don’t want to go anymore.”

“NKhosi”, Of the King or other praise names
After a person has given something to you (can be anything from borrowing you a blanket to giving you a present) you would say Ngiyabong Nkhosi, which means thank you “of the king”. My last name here in Swaziland is Dlamini, which is a very common and royal last name. Dlamini is also the last name of the king here in Swaziland. So, the praise name for my last name is Nkhosi but other last names have different praise names to say in respect to your family name.

“Ngicela ungiphe shukela”, Please may you barrow me sugar
Almost every day I get a knock on my door with an adorable small child at the other end of the knock. This child is usually requesting to “barrow” something from me because their parent(s) need it. It could range anywhere from asking for a pencil, to watching a cartoon or a cup of rice. The difference is the word “borrowing” doesn’t mean the same as it does in American culture. If someone in the U.S. asked to barrow something I would expect it in return, but no such rule is true here in Swaziland. When someone asks to barrow rice, they will most likely eat it all 🙂

“Nigyaphila”, The response of “I’m fine”
In the native SiSwati language when you ask how someone is there are two options to answer with; Ngikona (I am here) or Ngiyaphela (I am fine). No one ever states a response other than these two. NEVER. There is no, I’m okay or I’m wonderful!.. always just “I’m fine”. This is true whether a swazi is speaking SiSwati or English.

“Uyakudla yini kudla kwe SiSwati?”, Do you cook/eat Swazi food?
When I’m meeting someone new, I tell them about myself and why I’m here. I could continue to tell them something that is obscure from the Swazi culture that I find interesting. Then the inevitable question of “Do you cook Swazi food at your house?!” always comes into the conversation. Swazi’s seem to be so interested in the fact that I have cooked porridge or rice with my family. I tell them I cook it with Gogo every week and they always burst out in a deep belly laugh. Never knew my cooking could bring such joy to people!

“Usati kakhulu SiSwati”, You are fluent in SiSwati
I get this whenever I greet someone in their mother tongue. I have the greetings down pat now and apparently that’s enough to be fluent in a language! I feel quite silly because I only said two phrases to them and I’m not a fluent speaker in SiSwati. They always continue to reassure me that I am in fact fluent speaker with no doubt in their minds, even when we have switched to english after finishing the greeting in SiSwati.

“Usidudla”, You have gotten big
I haven’t gain an enormous amount of weight here, but I am more.. plump or happy? —I like to call it, than I was in the states. Even though I eat a lot more vegetables here than I did at home, I still eat a lot more starches as well. If I wear a certain type of skirt that shows off my beautiful “happy” mid-section; I’m bound to get comments about my weight. It could start off with “Oh what happened to you Nobuhle? You are so big now!”, or they would simply say “Too much food for you Nobuhle”. Comparing this to american etiquette it is drastically different. A stranger would never comment on your figure even if you were drastically larger than the average american.

“Yini lokusebusweni?”, What is biting your face?
As of recently I had a bit of a fiasco with my acne. I got a meriena IUD placed in February of this year. Everything was fine until a few months ago when I started to get really bad pimples on my face from the change in hormones. During this time, Swazi strangers and friends alike would come up to me very concerned about the bug bites that were on my face. “What is biting you in the night?”, “The sun must be doing this to you”, or “What has happened to your face?” hahahah all I can do now is laugh, but every time I tried to explain acne to Swazi’s they didn’t understand and went back to their original conclusions of what was happening to my face. I guess Swazi’s have acne as well but the mere fact that they are black makes the zits less noticeable.

“Utowuba nemukhuhlane”, You will catch a cold!
On my homestead all the floors consist of a cement-like material. I’m always fine with sitting on the floor when we have visitors; or at the schools when I’m waiting on a teacher. I sit outside on the cement with no second thought. I’m always scolded by teachers, my Gogo or make that I will catch a cold when I sit on a surface like that. I must be wearing my shoes or be guarded by a grass mat to sit on or I will indefinitely catch a cold!

“Umshaya”, I will hit/ beat you
Now, this phrase isn’t ever directed at me because I assume they don’t know how I would take it. However, it is something I hear in everyday conversations in a variety of contexts. I can hear it in the primary school yard from a teacher to a student in the most serious manner, on public transport with two friends just messing around, or girlfriends referring to one another in casual conversation. Pretend fighting is something seen in the U.S., but beating each other is a topic of conversation that can always be heard here. Either way play beating and actual beating of children, animals, and colleges is apart of everyday life here.

Where has the time gone?

Less than a year to go!
I’m busy these days with three distinct projects;

HIV support group grant

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The committee members for the HIV support group, working on our grant!

:I’m working with a motivated HIV support group of women to build a garden. We have written a grant together to Peace Corps Washington for E28,568, which is about $2,050 US dollars. We are asking for fencing, water collection container and pipes to harvest water off a roof from a church that is next to the garden. We would have a two-day training where a retired professor from University of Swaziland that taught agriculture will teach this group of women how to garden efficiently. We are currently waiting for the grant to get approved, if it does then we will be implementing the garden in December!
Playgrounds

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One of the towers we build for the playgrounds!

:25 playgrounds are being build by our group of volunteers in our separate communities. I have learned how to build a swing set & have built four playgrounds so far! We are building the playground in my community mid November! We are building it at the Primary school that is closest to me with over 300 kiddos! My community leadership has really taking a liking to this project and they hope to continue it over to the other 6 primary schools in my community.
Primary School Library

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Children gathered at the Primary School to watch “The Lion King”to fundraise for their Library

: Fundraising is currently underway to build shelving for the library my primary school aspires to have. We have been fundraising for almost two months now by holding talent shows, movies, no uniform days & sending out forms to the parents of the kids to donate. So far we have raised over E1,000 (about $75) for shelves. The shelves alone cost E6,800 for just the materials to build them. We have a room for the library, but it is barren with no desks, shelves or anything to make the room into a library. Step-by-step we are hoping to get there!
Others; HIV testing events committee (we are developing an easy guide on how to host one in a volunteers community), girls empowerment group is on hold currently as the high schoolers are taking exams the next two months, implementing a wellness program for Peace Corps staff members, finishing up my responsibilities as a the volunteer news paper editor as I hand it off to the new group!
—It really feels like the meat of my service right now. With the half way point behind my group and I, time has never gone faster! People said two years is too long, but for me its seeming like the perfect amount of time. I’m not ready to leave yet, my projects aren’t complete and I still love my life here. My 12-year-old sister and I have never been closer and I honestly cannot imagine leaving her in less than a year from now. It hurts to think about my life after Peace Corps, since I will be leaving these people I love here one day without a return date in mind. At the same time its exciting to think about what the next step in my life holds! I have decided to travel from close of service until christmas of next year. Just over four months of solid traveling! I made this decision because I can’t foresee another time in my life where I’ll have no debt, no distinct responsibilities (job, house, husband, baby et.), not that any of those things are in my future, but they might be. I want to take advantage of this free time in my life to explore and do what my heart obviously adores. To WANDER WANDER WANDER, meet new people, see new places, drink good coffee and live out of my backpack with my camera on my hip!

Loss

Timing is everything sometimes.
On a Monday my (Swazi) grandmother tells me her granddaughter passed away.

That Friday my Grandfather from America passed away. On Saturday, just a day later, my Swazi family and I attended the funeral for the granddaughter. We were all, together, grieving a loss of a loved one. Losing a family member from the states while abroad is a very isolating feeling. Hearing my mom on the phone, hearing her pain, made me want to get on a plane back home. Fortunately, I was surrounded by my Swazi family, where there was love, laughter and a place to feel safe. 

The story- I arrived home after a night away from my community, when my gogo came up to me and told me “Nobuhle, Tuliele has died” in SiSwati. I was caught off guard and didn’t know the appropriate response other than, I’m sorry gogo. Tuliele is my gogo’s grand daughter and a semi-frequent visitor on our homestead. The few moments after gogo told me the news, I remember that she just visited us all last week. Neighbors, family members from all around came to our homestead that week to sit and sing SiSwati mourning songs with my gogo. It was a somber time, and later that week I learned that the lady who passed had taken her own life. She left behind four children and a husband. My make told me the funeral was on Saturday and that I could join if I wanted. This was my first traditional Swazi funeral. The funeral was at another family member’s homestead, still in the community where I stay. We arrived, by car, at about 8am Saturday morning to start cooking. Over all, the aunties and I cooked four meals for over 60 people that were attending the funeral. Cooking was my main job for the entirety of the funeral that lasted for the whole day on Saturday, all night and until twelve noon on Sunday.

 When I wasn’t cooking, I spent most of the free time I had talking to this enthusiastic girl. She really wanted to understand what it was like for me to live in the United States. Her big 12 year old eyes stared at me and asked, “No really tell me what a “normal” day was like for you there?”. I was shock because that is the first time I was asked a concrete question like that; instead of the normal, “do you know Obama?” or “One day I wish to go to America, so that I will be rich”. This 12- year old girl was asking me (I think) more eye-opening questions about my life from the USA than I have been asked in my whole service here. She asked other things like, “What were classes in college like?”, “How much does a person get paid?”. I talked to her for about an hour and was so impressed by her English and her poise as a young women. My make told me a few minutes after I began my cooking job again, that this 12 year old girl was one of the children who just lost her mother to suicide. Her mom didn’t die from cancer, or a car accident, she made the decision to end her own life. I thought, How is a girl, just starting to develop into a women going to handle that? All the aunties at the funeral kept saying “she will bounce back, she’s still young”. I hope the light and curiosity stays within her, and never stops asking those good questions.

 How this traditional Swazi funeral started: The close family members most effected from the loss come to the homestead a week or so before the funeral, sometimes right after the death occurs. They all sleep in one room together on sleeping pads, mourning together day and night, until the day of burial. The funeral is a weekend event, people arrive anywhere from Friday to late morning on Saturday. Early Saturday, the men set up the large tent for the all-night vigil to be held in and dig the hole for the casket. The women, cook, clean & are always tending to those who are mourning in the large room. The guests enter in the house to the large room to greet them, cry with them and sympathize their great loss. The body arrives in the afternoon on Saturday and is set in the middle of the room where everyone is staying. At traditional Swazi funeral’s people believe the deceased body must rest a full night at home, before it is buried. Thus, why the funeral service is all throughout the night. When the night comes, dinner is served to everybody. Late night, about 10pm, the casket is opened for viewing. I tried to stay back during this process and for most of the service, as I said my own thoughts and prayers to my Grandfather who just passed. 

 The night vigil consisted of singing, drinking tea, and staying warm. At about 5am the casket with the body is brought down to the burial site. Most burials happen on the homestead in which the person lived. More singing, praying, and mourning take place there. The casket is then lowered into the ground, as men pile dirt on it and stomp the dirt down. I think that was the weirdest part for me, watching people stomp on top of the grave to pack the dirt down. The men that were doing it actually seemed to be dancing as they stomped their boots to pack down the dirt. A final prayer was said, during this all the women sit down as the men stand up. I didn’t ask why, maybe too tired to do so. Another serving of food was distributed as the people left and went home the next morning. Exhausted after being up for over 27 hours I slept the rest of the day on Sunday. In a way I felt closer to my family back home, as they were mourning, I was doing the same thing half a world away.

My sisi & the girl I talked to at the funeral laying together, looking up at the stars at 3am

HIV Testing Soccer Tournament

A few months ago I was sitting outside on my homestead, next to me was my Swazi mother (make). She was cooking some pap and chicken on the fire for dinner that evening. We were discussing her immediate family and how more than a quarter of the people on the very homestead, where I stay now, have passed away. The majority have been men and had passed away from AIDS. 
My mother in Swaziland, “Make” pronounced (MA-GAY)

 This conversation about her family members led my make to express, in her experience, how males in Swaziland are very resistant to outside help. She explained to me that rarely, if ever, males will go to a hospital or a clinic. The males try to treat the illness or injury at home first. To treat an illness or disease in rural Swaziland some families will visit the local traditional healer. At the traditional healer they receive traditional medicine or sometimes even use black magic to cure an illness. Mostly women go to the clinic if these locally sourced medicines don’t work, while the males will not seek out further treatment. 

 I’ve been told one of the main reasons men choose to not go to the clinics is because this is not seen as being a very masculine act. Traditionally, Men in Swaziland (& in many other countries) are seen as the “bread winners” or providers and take pride in being seen as emotionally & physically strong at all times. Part of these men wanting to be seen as strong, is that they will rarely ask for outside help especially when they have an illness. The males will hide themselves and sometimes progress in that illness without many people knowing. My Swazi make explains, that Swazi males going to the clinic for a check-up or treatment is seen as a weakness, an un-masculine act, by their families & society. This can also explain why there are very low HIV testing rates for males in Swaziland.

 My Swazi make has seen this barrier to health care for men in a very personal way; she lost her husband to AIDS in 2007. She stated that her husband refused to go to the clinic and that he tried to use traditional medicine to “cure” himself of what she thought to be HIV. My make knows now that there is no “cure” for HIV. 

 After being tested a positive for HIV a patient will receive anti-viral medication that works as a wonder drug to fight the virus. Taking anti-viral’s properly & consistently put’s HIV at undetectable levels in a patient. To be able to get this wonder drug one must go to the hospital or mobile clinic to first get tested, then they receive a prescription of anti-viral medication each month. Therein lies the problem, if men never go to the clinic, there is a good chance that they would never get tested & treated. Testing positive for HIV = anti-viral’s which is needed to live a long healthy life with HIV.

 Sometimes seen as a worse consequence of these men not getting tested, when positive, is the problem of spread HIV to their partners or whomever they are sleeping with. Men that don’t know their status and have HIV virus are at risk to pass it onto their partners without even knowing they are doing so. WhatsWhat’s the difference between HIV & AIDS? -Simply put a person who is HIV+ has the virus, and AIDS is when a person gets so sick that you could die from the virus . virus. From the time HIV is contracted to when it becomes AIDS is about a 10 year cycle, on average. This 10 year window is a large amount of time for males or females to pass on HIV to whom everwhomever they are having sex with. This is a sad reality in Swaziland and across the world that men’s ego gets in the way of them living a healthy life and in the long-term having a HIV free generation. —Okay, enough with the rant, but the this was the inspiration for my first project that has been completed from start to finish in Peace Corps. 

 Inspired by the discussion I had with my make, I talked with a leader in my community about bringing HIV testing to males in Velezizweni. We came up with the idea of trying to attract specifically the men to get tested with soccer! In many Aafrican countries, or world wide, football or soccer in aamerican terms is the most popular sport. In my large rural community alone we have over 12 local teams that play semi-regularly for fun. Community leadership and I came up with the idea of having a soccer tournament between four teams on Saturday’s with the focus of the event being on HIV testing. We would reciprocate this event three different Saturdays, three different locations and four new teams each weekend. The location would change, making the testing more assessableaccessible to my community at large. The men would be playing for the first prize of a goat (donated by the community leadership) & a second place prize of a brand new soccer ball. 

 I wanted this event to be easily reciprocated, so that my community was able to do this again when I am not present aka; a sustainable project! For this reason we decide to not do a grant and use all resources already found here in Swaziland. All three events were on three separate Saturdays in June. An organization called PSI (population services international) helped out immensely with this event. They provided free HIV testing, counselling, DJ & gave away over 10,000 condoms. I got the diabetes association of Swaziland abroad as well to do diabetes testing for adults and children. Many frustrations were involvked in the process of creating, maintaining, and follow-thru with the events. I tried to keep things in perspective and telling myself “all that matters is that people (especially males) get tested”. Keeping that in my mind, most of the problems I were took with a grain of salt and overall the project was a success!

  

*112 People tested for HIV in Velezizweni*

92 Males, 20 Females

8 People were Positive for HIV

82% of the people who were tested were Male

Males 10-17 = 12 Males (11% of the people who tested)

Males 17-25 = 50 Males (45% of the people who tested)

Males 25+ = 30 males (27% of the people who tested)

Females consisted of 17% of the people who tested
I couldn’t choose one, so here are my conclusions of the HIV testing events:

A Goat can encourages youth males to “Know their status”

“Bahhh know your status bro”

-Goat

My counterparts & I at the first event.
Diabetes testing!
Counterpart speaking to the crowd about the importance of HIV testing
Playing some musical chairs on the sidelines!
Group of people watching a condom demonstration
The famous prizes;
Coach of a winning team!
Final game ended in a kickoff!