Editor’s note: Amy McBride has been in Botswana for more than a year, where she is serving as an HIV and health-capacity building specialist with the U.S. Peace Corps. She lives in a village near Gaborone (which she can’t name for security reasons) and works with two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help them better serve a country where one of five people are HIV-positive. She writes a monthly column for the Montrose Daily Press and also maintains a blog, www.amyinbotswana.com. You can email her at email@example.com with your questions or comments (or to get her address).
I took getting around (or “transport” as it’s called here) for granted in America, but now it’s a preoccupation. Yesterday, for instance, I had to get to Molepolole (55 miles or 90 km away) by 9 a.m. to lead a fundraising workshop for HIV support groups. This involved asking my neighbor if she could drive me to the Shell station at 6 a.m., where I could stand with lots of other people to get a bus to Gaborone (the majority of Batswana — the people of Botswana — do not have cars).
After 20 minutes, a bus came, and by 7:30 I was at the Gaborone Bus Rank (where you can buy almost anything and catch buses to every corner of the country). I found the bus to Molepolole that thankfully was just departing, and I arrived in Molepolole by 8:45. I’d been told to get off at the Puma petrol station and call for someone to come get me. Alas, there are two Puma stations in Molepolole, and I was at the wrong one, but they eventually collected me and the workshop went well.
After standing by the road for another 20 minutes, I got a bus back to Gaborone for a meeting far from the Bus Rank, which involved finding a combi (minibus) that went there. I asked around and got several different answers, and luckily picked the right one, and then my seatmate helped me figure out where to depart. In Gaborone, unlike in my village, there are no “dicondae” or conductors on the combi to collect your fare (four pula or $0.40), so you have to remember to pay the driver when you depart. As I strolled away from the combi, proud to have made it to my destination with 10 minutes to spare, I heard everyone on the combi shouting at me, and then I realized that I had forgotten to pay the driver. I slunk back and gave him four pula, saying “Sori, rra, ke lebetse. Ko motse wa me, re na le dicondae,” or, “Sorry, sir, I forgot. In my village, we have conductors.” That got the whole combi laughing, and I was forgiven. One more combi ride back to the bus rank and a two-hour bus ride (to cover 30 kilometers … traffic, eish), and I was home at 7 p.m.
My transport issues are minor, compared to those that many Batswana face. Lack of transport keeps children from attending school, people from receiving medical care, and police from responding to crimes. In my district, there is only one machine that lets a person know their HIV viral load count, and it’s at the hospital in my village. If residents of outlying villages want to know their counts, they must spend more than 40 pula to come to the hospital.
Last week, PEPFAR Botswana held its annual Country Operating Plan (COP) consultative meeting for civil society organisations (PEPFAR is the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Response, administered by USAID, and has provided more than $700 million to Botswana since its inception), and the news wasn’t good. The Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator has reduced the PEPFAR Botswana budget by 40 percent for the next COP. We’re not sure what impact this will have on my NGOs’ work, but it reinforced the need for Botswana’s civil society organisations (CSOs) to reduce dependence on declining international donor funding and increase resource mobilisation and fundraising efforts within Botswana.
This has been the focus of my work for the past 19 months, which is culminating in a project I am coordinating to bring six US resource mobilisation experts to Botswana in May to provide workshops and one-on-one consultation to 18 HIV-based CSOs. I’ve been working through the Rotary Club of Gaborone, District 5470 in Colorado, and The Rotary Foundation to provide two-thirds of the project budget and we have a request before Botswana’s National AIDS Coordinating Agency (NACA) for the remainder (please say a prayer or think good thoughts that NACA will approve it…we hope to hear on Monday).
I have a wonderful project advisory committee composed of representatives from the Botswana Network of AIDS Service Organisations, Botswana Business Coalition on AIDS, Project Concern International, my two CSOs, and Peace Corps Botswana. The committee has worked hard to create a sustainable project, and it’s just the beginning of what we hope will be a long-term effort to increase homegrown charitable giving.
Speaking of the Rotary Club of Gaborone, some of its members appear in this month’s photo, which was taken at one of the CSOs with which I work. We were recipients of many kilograms of food from the club, which undertakes a “Donate-a-Can” effort each December. Club members stand outside of grocery stores and ask shoppers to purchase an extra non-perishable item and drop it off on their way out.
Both of my CSOs serve orphans and vulnerable children, and many of our clients are among Botswana’s poorest. The staff selected 16 families to receive the food, and the homes where some live are no more than a single room of corrugated tin walls and roof and dirt floors. To elevate their status, my CSO helps clients, who are mostly women, undertake income-generating activities. Some have started tuck shops (tiny stores that sell sweets, airtime, etc.), others are raising vegetables or chickens, some make and sell fatcakes (fried balls of dough). My organization also teaches the importance of saving, and helps clients set up metshelo (informal savings cooperatives).
It’s hard to believe there are only eight months left of my service. I have so much more that I want to do and learn. Over coffee this morning, I was thinking that every day here is a puzzle to solve — like getting from one place to another, or learning Setswana, or even something simple like making cream cheese frosting with no cream cheese or powdered sugar. Even writing this column is a puzzle…figuring out how to best share Botswana with you. If you have suggestions for future columns, please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading, and continued thanks to Sherry Nicolas and Helen Beck for filling my mailbox! If you want to send letters, please email me for my address. PULA!