Overseas

Editor’s note: Longtime Montrose resident Amy McBride has spent recent time in the Peace Corps training in Botswana, and was sworn in as a volunteer on Oct. 4. She will spend two years building capacity of nongovernmental organizations in order to help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. She is writing a monthly column for the Montrose Daily Press. You can follow her blog at www.amyinbotswana.com.

Go mogote thata! It’s really hot! I elicit laughter from the people on the khombi (public minibus) by proclaiming, “Ke a fufula!” (I am sweating!) January’s average high was 92. Air conditioning exists, and both of my workplaces have several rooms with small window units (where I try to find excuses to linger), but in my house, my only relief comes from a big fan that I drag around to whichever room I’m in.

I rely on an umbrella to make walking around more tolerable. In Colorado, I didn’t even own one, but here it makes a huge difference in blocking the sun, and everyone carries them. The Setswana word for umbrella is sekhukhu, but I say mokgele, the Sekgatla word, which is the dialect spoken by many residents of my district. I try to sprinkle my Setswana with as much Sekgatla as I can, which prompts folks to proclaim me a “Mokgatla” (member of the Bakgatla tribe).

I spent January digging into work at my two non-governmental organizations, and I’m buoyed by my coworkers’ enthusiasm for creating a “resource mobilization” plan that relies less on international aid and more on domestic donors. A 2015 study by Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa supports this idea, finding that 94 percent of 1,200 survey respondents had given goods, money, or time in the past three months, motivated primarily by the belief that, “I can make a difference.” It’s exciting to be part of building something new and promising that can bring sustainability to my two NGOs. And next month, I’m leading a training for representatives from seven other NGOs, which I hope will be the first of many such trainings.

Mobilizing domestic resources is part of the Republic of Botswana’s draft Third National HIV and AIDS Response Strategic Framework (NSF III), which was released in November and guides efforts to end AIDS by 2030. It recognizes that “as development partners decrease their support, it is critical to identify other funding streams from domestic sources that will sustain and accelerate the national response to HIV and AIDS.”

The draft NSF III also seeks to improve services to Botswana’s most at-risk populations, including men who have sex with men, transgender persons, people who inject drugs, commercial sex workers and their clients, and prisoners. The Framework acknowledges that “legal barriers make HIV prevention and support efforts a challenge, and hence only 44.9 percent of these populations are reached with services.” Therefore, it calls for “laws and policies that protect their rights and address vulnerabilities and specific challenges in accessing health services.”

In mid-January, my village was rocked by the death of our member of Parliament, who allegedly was stabbed by two herd boys after an argument at his cattle post. Hundreds of people, including Botswana’s president and vice president, attended the leso (the mourning period) and the phitlho (funeral). Most families in Botswana have a cattle post (moraka) where they raise cattle and sometimes goats and sheep. Herd boys are hired to manage the daily operations, with the family visiting at the end of the month to bring provisions and pay the herd boys, and to escape the hubbub of village life. I haven’t been to a cattle post yet, but from the way that people describe it, it sounds a lot like getting away on a weekend camping trip in Colorado.

Also in January, I spent a week in Gaborone at a “Journey of Life” training. I was joined by 19 of my fellow volunteers and Batswana counterparts from their workplaces. The Journey of Life is a tool to mobilize communities to address the psychological and social needs of children affected by HIV/AIDS, war, violence, and displacement. It consists of community conversations and workshops to increase awareness of the needs and problems of children, and to develop action plans to address them.

As with previous trainings that I have attended, I was very impressed with my counterparts’ participation, especially on our final day when we tried out the skills we’d learned. My group led a conversation with caregivers at a daycare center operated by the Botswana Retired Nurses Society. We discussed parenting challenges nowadays, compared to when they were young, and how to overcome them. As you might guess, the use (and abuse) of cellphones was part of the conversation.

While I was in Gaborone, I got mail from the Peace Corps office, including two wonderful letters from Helen Beck. I met Helen through the Montrose Library, and she wrote to tell me that she is now 101 years old and is following my journey through these columns. I am humbled and inspired by her correspondence and zeal for life, and I’m glad I can be a part of it. And many thanks to the other folks who have sent letters and packages. BotswanaPost remains stubbornly slow in getting packages to me, so I apologize if I haven’t acknowledged receipt of yours. And, my six-month customs exemption expired on Jan. 21, so I now pay a 57-percent customs fee and value-added tax on the declared value of what you send, so please don’t overvalue your packages!

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