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 firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions or comments (or to get her address).
Theft! The potential loss of $30,000 for my Big Project! Malaria!
As I pondered this month’s column, I recalled a session that Peace Corps Botswana Country Director Elizabeth O’Malley (known as EB to us) facilitated at our mid-service training in November 2018.
It was on “Telling Your Story,” and she said we should start our story with a hook, then move to a challenge, introduce a big idea, describe how to solve it, talk about the impact, and then provide a call to action.
She pointed to me and said that I was doing these things well (she reviews all of my columns before I submit them), which made me laugh out loud, since my process for writing these columns is to take the list of stuff that I jot down during the month that I think might be of interest to you and then start banging away on my keyboard, usually (or, maybe always) the night before it’s due, and hope it makes sense and entertains you. I certainly do not consciously follow a story trajectory.
So, hopefully I hooked you from the start. And as you might guess, these things led to a challenge (or, alas, challenges). The first, which has me typing this on a borrowed laptop with a sticky space bar (and yes, it is the night before it’s due), is that I was robbed. Again. The fifth time. And the second laptop.
Sometime between 11 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. two weeks ago, thieves broke through the electric fence in my yard, removed a pane of glass in my living room, climbed through and made off with my laptop, purse, and several other things. I was sad and angry, but happy that they left me alone in my bedroom where I was sleeping and didn’t get my phone, which was plugged in by my bed. And I was grateful that they dumped the contents of my purse (minus the pula, of course) behind my house, so I don’t need a new passport or bank cards. Optimism is my life preserver.
Peace Corps moved me to Gaborone for a week while they took steps to prevent a recurrence, and they have done a great job. Theft is a big problem here and I hope the government of Botswana gets a handle on it.
The cleaning woman at one of my organizations, who makes $120 per month while supporting her two children, had thieves break into her house in the same week that I was robbed, and took what little she had. Everyone I talk to … co-workers, seatmates on the combi, fellow Rotarians … has been robbed. I have my theories about the causes of the problem, and I certainly don’t know the answers, but perhaps the government can assemble a task force to develop recommendations. (This is a how to ...)
My second challenge was that I heard from Dave, the reviewing officer at The Rotary Foundation in Evanston, Illinois, that the application I submitted for $30,000 to bring six fundraising experts from America for a month of training and one-on-one consultation with 18 HIV-focused nongovernmental organizations (the big idea and also a how to) likely would not be funded.
If you’ve been following these columns, you know that I’ve been working on this project for more than a year, and had secured 300,000 pula (nearly $30,000) from the government of Botswana to match the Rotary contribution. The night before I was robbed, I had a frustrating Skype call with Dave (from the dining room table of my boss, Ausi Stella, since she has Wi-Fi) in which he said that teaching people how to raise money to sustain their organizations (in light of steep declines in international funding for HIV/AIDS work in Botswana) did not fit under “Disease Prevention and Treatment.”
I protested that these organizations, on which the government is calling to provide an even greater share of the community response to HIV/AIDS, cannot treat and prevent disease if they have no money. Ausi Stella was pumping her fist and cheering me from the kitchen where she was making soup. Dave asked me to send our curriculum and said he would see what he could do.
Then I went home and spent a couple of hours stewing and trying to figure out how to raise $30,000 really fast and then went to bed and got robbed. Two days later, Dave sent an email entitled “Good News!” and said he had gotten some other officers to review the application and he had found a way to proceed. A week later, our application was approved.
And in three weeks, six amazing Coloradans will land in Botswana and spend the next 28 days teaching organizations how to tap into the spirit of giving that is alive and well in Botswana. Among them are April Montgomery, vice president at the Telluride Foundation and Team Leader Rich Male, this year’s winner of the Colorado Nonprofit Association’s Steve Graham Award for Building Nonprofit Capacity. I also am very excited to meet Scott DuPree who taught science in Botswana from 1985 to 1988 as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and now provides nonprofit consulting all over the world.
I have much to do before the Americans arrive, but I am supported by a stellar advisory committee in Botswana, consisting of Peace Corps, Botswana Business Coalition on AIDS, Project Concern International, my two organizations, the Rotary Club of Gaborone, and the Botswana Network of AIDS Service Organisations, whose executive director, Oscar Motsumi, has been my rock throughout. He also supplied my malaria hook, since he contracted it last week from a mosquito in Mozambique, but he’s soldiering on and working too hard from his bed.
According to EB’s trajectory, it’s time for me to talk about impact. Americans have much to teach the rest of the world about supporting nongovernmental organizations. As the private sector, we gave more than $410 billion to charities in 2017, with nearly four out of five of those dollars coming from people like you and me (I love showing folks charts that demonstrate how the poor give more of their income than the rich in America). Exemplifying that generosity is Rotary District 5470 (serving southern Colorado, including Montrose), which is providing $15,000 to bring the Americans here.
And that leads me to the call to action.
In my last column, I talked about the difficulties in setting up online giving for one of my organization’s websites, due to never-ending Botswana banking bureaucracy. I abandoned that route after finding another option, and I’m elated to report that this scrappy NGO now can securely receive your donations.
We are called Bakgatla Bolokang Matshelo, which means “Bakgatla Save Lives” (the Bakgatla are the tribe of my region) and we are among the oldest nongovernmental organizations in Botswana, founded in 1998 during the height of the AIDS epidemic in Botswana to provide home care to the dying. Thankfully, a positive HIV test no longer is a death sentence, and now BBM focuses its efforts on treatment and prevention.
BBM needs a used combi (minivan) to transport clients to treatment, orphans to play groups, young mothers to support groups, and staff to clients’ homes (they visit more than 700 families each month). They can get one for P50,000 (about $5,000) and if Montrose (and surrounding communities) can fund it, they’ve talked to a local sign company about painting the combi to proclaim that it is made possible by generous support from the people of Colorado, U.S.A. They also will send you a BBM tote bag for donations of $50 or more (picture on the website!).
If you want to help out, please visit www.bakgatla.org and click on the link to support. And, on a personal note, if you have a decent used laptop for me that you’d like to send with April Montgomery, please email me at email@example.com. I would be extremely grateful.
This month’s photo was taken by my co-worker, Tunda Omondi, during a visit by the CEO of Barclays Bank Botswana to my other NGO. The Motse Cookie Company baked cookies for tea, and the CEO was so impressed that she offered to take the cookies to the manager of the Hilton Garden Inn in Gaborone, where she was going after visiting us. She called me an hour later to say that the manager wants to sell them in the hotel’s gift shop! EB’s trajectory doesn’t call for a happy ending, but I’m pleased to provide one.
Thanks for reading, and Happy Easter! PULA!