It’s officially been 6 months since I left for the Peace Corps, so here is six random things that are going on in my life here in Swaziland!
#1. The Inner Council is in jail
One problem I have been having in my community is that the elected inner council members were unavailable for the past 2 weeks. The inner council are the people who I need to report before I start my projects. So you can see this has been a problem. For these past two weeks the eight inner council members were in jail for tearing down a building that was not approved by them. This has proved to be a challenge for me, as I wanted to start some projects before the holiday season was among us. Now, Christmas is two days away and still no progress.
#2. Three (NCP) Neighborhood Care Point visits
About a week ago, I got to visit three care points located in my community. It took me and my site support agent 3 hours to walk each way, so even though they are in my community they are not a close walk! These care points serve over 150 orphaned and vulnerable children. These children receive a free hot meal at 10am every day except for Sundays. Usually there are 5 adult present at the NCP who are the volunteer caregivers. Four of the adults cook the food, while the one teaches the children an educational lesson in SiSwati. Two out of the three care points I visited have no shelter and cook literally in an open field with a cast-iron pot under a small fire. The one with “shelter” has just a large overarching tree that can at least provide shade for the children and caregivers. I want to improve the conditions of these existing care points as well as create a care point in proximity to where I stay with a garden. I will complete this by writing a grants through Peace Corps to try and obtain funding. Visiting these care points was an eye opening experience for me that made me more determined than ever. The leaders in my community talk to me about how much people in Velezizweni especially the children are suffering and don’t have food or proper clothing. Going to these NCP’s was the just another one of the times I saw it firsthand. These kids that have no power over their unfortunate circumstances, yet always have so much joy inside of them. The happiness from the kids is contagious and I took so much joy home with me that day. I want to try and give some back by improving quality of shelter and food resources the care points.
#3. Velezizweni Walking Group
Over the past years I found a love for running and I didn’t plan on stoppping when I arrived in Swaziland. So, when my Make on my homestead asked if I could go running with her one day I was devastated. I wanted to so badly, but on account of my ACL being torn I knew I had to say no. About a week after she asked me it occurred to me that I just told someone that wanted to exercise that “no I can’t”. As a health volunteer I was frustrated with myself, so I asked if she wanted to do the second best thing instead of running and that was to go on walk! At first it was just my Make and I. About four days into walking every day in the evening, people in my community started to notice us and ask what we were up to. As the days went on this walking group has grown to as high as 20 people! (15 of them being childrenJ) So, now every day at about 5:30pm when the air has cooled down we take an hour walk down the dirt road towards the river. Some days it dwindles down t only 3 of us walking, but if I can increase the physical activity of an adult of child for one day a week I am a happy volunteer! What has been even more exciting is when I leave for a night away my make says she still goes walking without me. It’s a small accomplishment, but I’m super proud of my small walking group!
#4. The Odd Opportunity of 45 days in Michigan!
I never knew my service in Peace Corps would include a 45-day all-expenses paid trip home complete with an ACL surgery, but I’m rolling with it. I arrive home on the 12th of January and within 27 hours of being home I will have had 2 pre-surgical appointments and my actual ACL surgery complete! So, the remaining 43 days of my medical evacuation can be used for physical therapy to guarantee my complete recovery. I am using this opportunity in the states to also share my experience thus far by doing presentations with Lowell High School, Grand Valley State University, and a soon to be peace corps volunteer coming to Swaziland in June! I will post dates and times as they are confirmed. I also hope to collect resources for my existing projects, like my walking group by getting pedometers so my group can track how much exercise they are getting on a daily basis. If you would like to donate pedometers any other health related item please message me below. Also I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends A LOT! Bring on the white snow and people I’m coming to Michigan!
#5. The Swaziland Drought Crisis
**WARNING graphic image below
About three weeks ago I went to visit my fellow PCV, Allyn who is in the low-veld of the country in a village called Nkameni. Living in the low-veld she experiences less rain and hotter temperatures than I do in the middle-veld. While visiting her we took a walk through her community; not only did I notice how hot it was (because I couldn’t stop sweating), but I also noticed how there was plainly no green grass. She said she didn’t remember the last time it has rained in her village and explained how the people and animals are suffering. Continuing on our walk around the village we made a discovery that showed both of us just how truly bad the drought was. We walked into a large hole in the ground where it looked like a lake would have been. It was full of crusty drying mud and two cows fighting for their lives. Their ribs protruded from their bodies. I was shocked when I saw these cow and thought for sure they were dead, but upon getting closer there were signs of life was from the slight movement of the cow breathing. We ran over to the closest bobhuti who were playing soccer and they explained to us that the cows were simply starving to death and there was nothing we could do.I was so shocked and thought how have I not heard of how bad this drought really was until I had to see it for myself? After researching I learned, over 50,000 cattle have died in Swaziland this year because of the drought. The heavy rain that is expected around this time of year has still not started. Main cities here are down to less than 3 weeks water supply and Peace Corps have described to us volunteers a plan of consolidation if this drought continues to get worse. The rainy season in Swaziland usually lasts from mid-October until January, and the country didn’t get start heavy rain until about a week ago and it is mid-December. This drought is heavily hurting the 70% of families here who rely on their own crops for food to survive. Without rain families cannot plant their maize. My family was able to plow their fields this week, but unable to plant because more rain is needed to do so. I’m just hoping the rain will come and be able to feed all the families in Swaziland, that’s what I’m praying for.
#6. Thoughts Six-Months into Service
“No matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the hurt you want to heal” – “If I Should Have a Daughter” (Poem by Sarah Kay)
I see projects I want to start every day, I have grand ideas of HIV testing concerts that will get people to know their status, and maybe that will happen, but one thing I have learned in my six months here is to start small. I have started by building strong relationships that are going to help people in my community. In learning who people are you also learn what strengths they have to give. Someone who you think is sluggish and unmotivated at first greeting could later be asking for your assistance in starting a girl’s empowerment club. People seem to show interest when you also want to listen to them. Volunteers can bring a new idea, or a work-ethic that a Swaziland might not have seen before. I know I have a purpose here when I see a person who is unmotivated become motivated towards a cause or project that they may not have had curiosity towards before. When I can truly show someone in Velezizweni that my sole purpose here is to better their community, they usually also want to help me in that process. In all as a volunteer it is frustrating, embarrassing and transportation always tests your patience, but what you get from this experience is so much more than what you give.