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!

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Month Six in Peace Corps

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.

NCP #1 with tree “shelter”

NCP #2
 
NCP #3
   

#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!

     

The young kids take off running because we are too slow
  

#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. 

Cow in Swaziland starving to dealth because of the drought
  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.

  

So happy 🙂

Soon to be Peace Corps Volunteer

Growing up I didn’t want anything in particular special for myself. My expectations were low as to what was going to happen in my life. I always saw signs and posters, using the motivational quote “follow your dreams”, well what if you didn’t know what your dreams were? Then what do you follow? I didn’t seem to have overlying dreams, so I passively followed what is expected of me. Now as a senior in college, and graduating in April I’m pretty sure I have carried out what was expected of a well off 21- year old. Now going into the “real world”, I carve my own path with making my own decisions. Its not like I haven’t made my own choices up to this point, but the ramification of those choices have always been massivley less of what I have decided for myself now.

So with that said, I would like to state that I am proudly joining to serve in the Peace Corps. Throughout college I have found my love for helping people (social work), traveling (studying abroad), independence (living on my own), and an intense hunger for my life ahead of me which has led me to this decision. Here are some classic (WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, HOW) details about my Peace Corps Service:

What: I am joining the Peace Corps, a US government run program that basically deploys educated and well trained Americans to volunteer in countries that ask for assistance all around the world. I will be serving as a community health worker. Mostly working with HIV/ AIDS prevention and education, but could be doing a range of other things to do with health & communities.

Where will I be serving: I will be serving in the country of Swaziland. This country is in Africa about 3/4 surround by the country of South Africa & the other 1/4 is covered by the country of Mozambique.

Swaziland location

Swaziland is about the size of New Jersey (very small landlocked country). If you look at the country of South Africa it’s one of the two little blobs that are “floating” within the larger country. Swaziland has a population of about 1 million people. Here are some other facts about Swaziland:

-It has the highest HIV prevalence in the world

-It’s the last absolute monarchy in Africa (yes this means they have a king)

-63% of people live in poverty

-1/3 of the population is under the age of 14, with the median age being 20 for the whole country

When: I will be leaving June 23rd, 2015 and arriving back August 27th 2017! Yup, that’s 2 years & 3 months. I will be 24 years old when I come back!

Who: I will be traveling alone & do not know anybody else who has been accepted… although there are other volunteers just like me preparing to leave in June to go to Swaziland to do their service! (There are about 72 Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in Swaziland in the departments of Youth Development and Health)

How: The Peace Corps has been around since 1961, sending volunteers to countries to create global understanding. The Peace Corps’ Mission is to promote world peace and friendship by helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

& last but not least WHY would I do this?!?!

My heart pounds uncontrollably & I cannot help tears of joy streaming from my face. I made it “here”. I, MYSELF made it here. I have brought myself to a place I’ve never been before, alone, and have learned so many new things. I have had this exuberent experience of traveling twice now. Once on 5/27/2013, the day before my 20th birthday in Sydney, Australia when I went on a day hike by myself on the cliffs over looking the beaches.

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Bondi to Coogee cliff hike in Sydney, Australia 2013;

Secondly this summer hiking alone on Angel island in the San Francisco Harbor.

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Angel Island, looking over San Francisco harbor 2014;

The feeling of traveling alone has been nothing like I have experienced before. I learn more about myself, meet more people, and have the best times of my life. As I graduate college I want to go towards things that make me the happiest & traveling has done that for me. I don’t particularly want to go to grad school or get a full time job when I graduate with my Bachelors of Social Work in May, so Peace Corps just seems like the next logical option for me.

More Details…

My service will start by a three month intensive training & living with a Swazi host family. This training is to help me become fully immersed in the country’s language and culture. I will hopefully be fluent in the language of SiSwati by the time I return. After acquiring the language and cultural skills necessary to assist effectively in Swaziland, I will then be placed in a community. I don’t know where that will be until the three month training is over. After being sworn into service after the completion of training I will be assigned to a community within Swaziland, where I will live and work for two years with the local people on health related issues.

I have told my family and close friends about getting accepted and here are some typical questions that are asked right away, so I will also answer “FAQ’s” for all who are reading this.

1. Will you be safe?

Peace Corps number one priority is to keep me safe abroad. For the first 3 months that I am in the country of Swaziland I will go through intensive cultural, safety, and language training before going to my village for the two years.

2. What language do they speak?

In Swaziland they speak siSwaiti. This language is only spoken in Swaziland and I will be fluent in it before I come home… although not sure if I will ever use it again other than for a party trick 🙂

3. What if you get there and really hate it?

I am able to terminate my service early, if absolutely necessary. (In no way am I considering this), but Swaziland actually has the highest rate for ET’s (early terminations) because of the emotional stress the country has on a person. 1 in 4 people in Swaziland are HIV +, this means most likely I am going to know somebody that will die from the disease. This is awful and sad to think about. The way I think about the emotional heartache that this is going to put on me is that it’s happening either way if I’m there or not. I want to know about how people live their lives around the world and death and disease is going to be apart of the learning process. I hope I have acquired skills through my Social Work degree in mindfulness that will help me though the emotional strain.

4. Will any other Peace Corps volunteer be with me?

I will be with other peace corps volunteers for the first 3 months in training (we all do training together). Then I will be sent to a community in which I will be the only Peace Corps volunteer in that specific community. Another volunteer could be anywhere between 1 hour away or 5 hours away.

5. Are you getting paid? 

I will receive a “transitioning back home” payment of about $7,500 when I complete my service. EVERYTHING from the time I leave (airfare) to when I arrive housing, food, and allowance to when I leave is paid for by Peace Corps. So I will basically be living for free for 2+ year in exchange for my service.

6. Whats the weather like? What do they wear?

The weather will be WARM! So this is my last cold Michigan winter for 2 years! YAY! I am required to wear a below the knee length skirt throughout my time of service… which I have not one skirt right now so I guess some long skirt shopping is in order!

7. Can we visit?!

Okay… this was my parents’ first question, but I thought I would put it out there anyway. I AM allowed to have people stay with me in my “hut” and I do have vacation time (I acquire 2 days per month). So if any of you find yourself wanting to come, I would love visitors!

8. Do you get to come home at all?

Peace Corps does not provide airfare home after you arrive. The only way they do is if a close member of your family dies. I can use my own funds and my own vacation time to come home. I get two vacation days per month of service, so about 24 days of vacation each year.

9. How can we keep in contact with you?/ Will there be internet or phones?

Peace Corps requires access to internet within an hour of my site, so I will have internet access but it will be limited. I will keep up this blog as my adventure starts. Peace Corps also provides you with a phone, yet not to make international calls. The best way to keep in contact is email, Skype, & this blog.

10. Did you choose this country?

In the peace corps application you are allowed to pick three places that interest you. I did not do this, but rather chose the option of “place me where my skills are needed”, so I really was open to where ever I was placed. With my skills from volunteering in the hospital & working in health promotions right now I am glad I placed within the health sector.

Feel free to ask me any other questions! I am so excited about this opportunity and I am not nervous at all (right now), because I know this is what I want for my life! Feel free to follow my adventures going through the next three years of my life!