HAVE YOU MET ELLEN?

Being here in Swaziland for the whole election process and aftermath has been… an absolutely delight! However I could not avoid it forever; I did still hear of our politics all the way over in Swaziland. Everything I hear is based off of what Swazi’s hear from news, which is usually negative and about Trump. I have seen this cast a negative light on behalf of all Americans in general. This aggravates me because I feel most Americans stand for more than what Trump represents. To spread more of what I think the US embodies, I think to some of my role models. One of them being Ellen DeGeneres, she is an amazing light of positivity in the US and someone I hope more people to know about in the world.

It’s not just me who feels that of course, President Obama gave Ellen DeGeneres the highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, in November 2016. President Obama stated that Ellen is, “… so full of kindness and light – somebody we like so much, somebody who could be our neighbor or our colleague or our sister – challenge our own assumptions, remind us that we have more in common than we realize, push our country in the direction of justice.” (www. fortune.com/201611/23/obama-ellen-degeneres-medal/) I want more people in the world to know about her and the joy she brings to millions.

To accomplish this my fellow RPCV & I will be carrying two a laminated cut out of Ellen’s face around with me in Southeast Asia for the next 4 months. We will be “introducing” travellers and locals alike to Ellen, and if they desire, to do the one thing Ellen and I love the most…DANCE. These videos will then be posted on our Instagram page: haveyoumetellen. Not only do I want to shed a positive light on America throughout Southeast Asia, but I also want to continue to teach Americans about the world around us. I will do this by sharing a bit of the local culture in each one of my posts; either by a local song or by sharing the word for dance in the local language. So, please follow us on Instagram to see our journey with Ellen across Southeast Asia or SEA. I know this is corny, BUT the acronym SEA just happens to have the acronyms of who I will be traveling with Sam, Ellen, and me, Ally! Cheers 🙂

Instagram: haveyoumetellen

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Peace Corp Service: Check!

Today is my last day in my community. Tomorrow, early morning, I say goodbye to my sisters, grandmother and the rest of the family and neighbors. My host grandmother has told me 10+ times that she will cry on this day, but let’s see where the day takes us. I have everything packed into 1 pack, maybe weighing 30lbs and in a couple days I’ll be off on my next adventure. This so far includes the apartheid museum in Johannesburg, a stopover in Dubai, city life in Kuala Lampur and retreating to an island for some yoga in Langkawi! But enough into the future, let’s look at what I just accomplished!

So, 26 months later and I’m still here. About to leave but, Y’ALL, I made it!! I should be overjoyed, jumping up and down, yet I’m over here feeling quite numb. Numb to saying goodbye and trying to conceptualize the reality of never seeing my Swazi Grandmother again. She has cared for me like her own, now I just leave forever? It doesn’t seem right! My heart feels sad, but not in the way I was expecting to feel after two years. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because I convinced myself that I was never going to leave, so I wouldn’t think of that as an option. OR maybe just that I’m so ready to leave that my emotions have gone numb and simply all I need to think about is getting myself from point A to point B. Who’s to say? I do know that I am so proud of myself. Peace Corps has been my hardest hurtle thus far in my life, physically, emotionally, and has challenged me in ways that no other place in the world could. I am grateful I pushed myself to stay, because in this second year I have really noticed change and growth within myself and within the community.

I’m happy to leave (some of) my projects standing tall. My library has everything ready for books to come (they arrive September 13th!!), my HIV support group garden has had three successful harvests to sell at market and to improve nutrition for them and their families, and lastly a brother of mine has been going to get tested every 6 months, after first getting tested at my testing events. I feel admiration for all my Swazi counterparts that have put countless hours in to help me along the way when they really could’ve had a billion excuses to not give their time. I came here as a volunteer and knew what I was getting myself into, yet the people I work with are not getting paid either and freely have given up their time to make successful projects for their community. I have paid them in pancakes, chocolate cake, photos & cards as I said goodbye this past week. There is some good news though! A new volunteer will be replacing my spot for the next two years! She will be moving into my house in about two weeks’ time. She seems excited and ready to work over the next two years and I couldn’t be happier for my family & community. I hope the best for her in her journey ahead!

For my younger Swazi friends & family, it’s not a goodbye; it’s a see you later!

“Nobuhle (my Swazi name), will the new volunteer love me in the way you do?” Temkulako my 13 year old sister & is my best friend here. She will be the hardest person to leave. 2 years of baking together, singing off pitch songs and hanging from our front yard avocado tree. She is so bright and I want to continue to help her in all things life, but it’s time to say a “see you later”. 10 years I tell her, and I’ll be back to visit her. I ask her what she will be doing when she is 23 years old. She says she will be studying at university to become a doctor or business women. Over these past two years I have tried my best to prepare her for life ahead, not that I’m even close to a life expert. I continually tell her to follow your dreams, to read and don’t stop, that a women can do anything a man can do, and to keep the childlike laughter in your everyday life even when you’re a teenager it doesn’t seem “cool”. I have taught her about more serious things too like how to properly use a condom, even though she still claims, “I don’t want a boyfriend yet”. Many teenaged girls here have sex very early, and I just want her to be prepared for whatever life throws at her.

My life will never be the same because of these last 26 months, and because of what it was like to live here. The struggle for life’s basic wants and needs, such as education, a successful career, a home to call their own, is so much harder to obtain than I ever imagined. In the US people use the phrase, “pick yourself up by the bootstraps and get to work”, maybe a few times in the states that kick in the pants can work, but in a developing/ third world country there are SO many more hoops to jump through to get to where you want to be. In Swaziland I have met hundreds of well educated, down to earth people that give their absolute all in their studies (yes Swaziland has their own university), or in their jobs (if they can find one) and still end up with next to nothing. This seems to be because of the lack of opportunities, finances, educational opportunities, and the probability that if you do have a career you might be supporting 10+ other people in your family that don’t have a job.

This experience has broadened my mind about the destiny of geography. Meaning, wherever your soul is placed within this world has such an impact upon how many huddles a person has to go through to become self-sufficient. The ease of obtaining self-sufficiently in your life highly depends on where and to which family you are born to.

Don’t get me wrong, although Africa has many developing countries it is the most amazing, spectacular, intimate continent that I have ever been to. Just because people in some African countries lack some opportunities that we as Americans or first world countries are so accustomed to, doesn’t mean that some Africans are lacking in anyway as humans.

Something that I’ve learned; Whenever someone refers to “Africa”, know that this continent cannot be lumped together when speaking of the people and cultures. They are 54 DIFFERENT countries in Africa with thousands of different cultures and people. Personally I see what Swaziland lacks in opportunity they make up for in richness of their people. People truly care about one another here and take time to know how you are. They have time available to them, yes maybe from the lack of opportunities, but it’s beautiful all the same.

I’m not scared of traveling, because I will not let fear stop me. I believe humans all across the world are inherently good, and we should always strive to be the best versions of ourselves. Thanks for following my journey! It has been positive, negative and all in the middle, but I am thankful for everything that came my way!

“Peace is much more than the mere absence of war. Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.” -Sargent Shriver

P.S

Look for my blog post at the end of this week to learn more about following my adventure to come!

Small things

This week I had the joy of seeing children from my primary school READING, for the very first time, in their brand new library. For what it took to get there I should’ve been brought to tears by the sight. After dealing with many hurdles culturally and personally, in the end I’m able to say that these kids have a space that is just for them. 

Althought the 1,000 books for the library won’t arrive until October we have everything else set for these kids to excel in English literacy and to find a love for reading. Thanks to everyone who donated because my counterparts and I really couldn’t have done it without your dollar dollar bill y’all! 


So, that’s one small thing that happend this week. 

The second one starts off with a neighbor of mine, Nkhosibenele. He is a 12 year old boy who suffers from epilepsy. Something that doesn’t have a specific cure, but many things can help. With diet and medication the risk factors lower, yet he doesn’t have access to any of these. He suffers seizures 1-3 times a day and this has been happening since he was a baby. Back in October 2016 he was cooking on his homestead for his family. In my community, most cooking is done over an open fire. So that’s where he was, over the open fire. He started to have a seizure and fell into the fire with his left hand first. Once his family heard they rushed to get him out, but he still suffered great damage. He was in the hospital nearly a month when his family could no longer afford to keep him there. They then decided to keep him at home and hope the arm heals. During this time he was not going to school and wouldn’t be going until his arm “healed”. 3 months later is when he came over to my homestead when my parents were visiting. His arm was still noticeably not okay. I urged his grandmother to get him back to the hospital and finally she agreed. The Luke Commision, a US organization has a medical center based in Swaziland that took him in for free. From there he spend 3 more months in the hospital as he received a skin graft from his leg. THIS TUESDAY HE WAS BACK IN SCHOOL. Finally, and he was happy as ever. 


Time is winding down here and I just have a few more projects to finish up before I leave in a short 7 weeks from now. Travel plans currently are to go to Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam & Philippines for four months. So excited for this adventure & then to see everybody at Christmas. 

PS, if your looking for a good organization to donate to, The Luke Commision in Swaziland is doing life changing work. Click  Here to learn more about them. 

Cheers to you guys!

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.