Thursday, March 1, 2012

"What exactly is it that you do...?"

Dear Lovely-folks-who-read-our-blog,

We again hope this post finds you all in good health and happiness. The weather here is starting to cool off a bit during the nights and some of the few wheat fields I've seen are ripening, and for me that is a telling sign of late summer. It sounds like winter "up there" has been pretty mild and I suppose spring will soon be on its way. I can't believe it has been a year since we got to share with you all that we were going to be coming to Lesotho! During that time one of the main questions that we got was "what will you be doing?"

At that time all we knew was a very ambiguous "Community Health and Economic Development (CHED)" because that is the name of the program we are in. Also, we knew that a big focus would be on HIV/AIDS, and we were encouraged that our respective skills in health and agriculture would be utilized. Since then, we've had the 10 weeks of training where we learned a lot about the expectations of CHED volunteers and we were given education and support that we needed to support them. We also were assigned our "sites" at various organizations that had applied for volunteers and we were matched with our best fit. For us, the "best fit" actually had to accomodate that we were two people needing two sites... there were about 3-ish possibilities for us at that time. Before I get to much farther into our specifics I just want to list the three goals for the CHED program, so regardless of our site, we need to meet most if not all of these goals and send regular reports to Peace Corps (this helps justify spending taxpayer dollars to support our work here).

Goal 1: Community members will adopt positive behaviors to ensure their own health
Goal 2: Parter organizations will have enhanced capacity to achieve their missions
Goal 3: Community members will develop knowledge of skills in creating and managing sustainable income generating activities.

So, to describe our projects, I'll use two posts. Today, I'll talk about what I'm doing and then Shane will write up something about his activities. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to upload photos recently and Shane actually had his camera with his photos stolen...

As you know my primary assignment is with a World Food Programme field office in the remote highlands. As volunteers we are also encouraged to have secondary projects and one of the ten "planks" of PC service is also that you are always on duty. My main assigned responsibilities with WFP currently include Livelihoods, as part of the food aid program, there is a sub-program that attempts to facilitate transition from reliance on food aid. Most of this work is done by the partners the Ministry of Agriculture and FAO, so my role is to provide support. What this looks like can vary. When I first started though, I gave a demonstration to our beneficiaries on how to make manure tea and I did it in Sesotho - that was a good PC moment. I've also been trying to work more closely with a few village groups to offer extra support. If you saw the photo a few posts back of the group of women (Bo Mme) and the fried zucchini demonstration, it was part of that project. Another component of my position with WFP is activities to promote better health and food security among the students at the schools we feed. This includes gardening activities, I have also posted a photo of the composting demonstrations, as well as HIV/AIDS and other health and nutrition awareness building activities. The schools we work with are often primary schools (1st through 7th grade) in extremely remote areas.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer we are also encouraged to build relationships with organizations in the community that we live and work in, so I go to meetings, workshops and meet with professionals from other organizations like Baylor Clinic and EGPAF that are both American funded. Also, I work with people from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Forestry, the Lesotho Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS and even the District Council Secretary (head of the local government). I also teach a computer class to the managers at the governmental organization which is actually responsible for delivering WFP food donations to the distribution sites.

In my 'free time' I am casually trying to help develop some skills with the owner of the bakery business that you also saw a photo of in a previous post. In February, I have also been working with the district librarian to do a kids progam focused on reading and play. The photo above shows the kids acting out the scene from Cinderella where Cinderella is taken to the ball in the carriage - Cinderella is in the black hoodie. We also recently participated in a poster contest for PEPFAR (another US funded program dealing in particular with HIV/AIDS - set up by G.W. Bush) so, we took advantage of that day to read kids books dealing with HIV/AIDS and we got some great posters for submission.

WFP is not the site I expected, and it is definitely different than a lot of the other volunteers that came into Lesotho in the CHED program. It has been really interesting getting to know how an NGO works, especially on the ground. This has been very informative and has led me to a whole new realm of thought regarding aidwork and development. Also, there are so many aid organizations in Lesotho, it has been interesting trying to really understand what the others do, what the government does and how those things are affected by local, regional and global contexts. I can see how there is a whole college major that you can get - development studies! Anyone involved with PC will always say that each volunteer's experience is very different, and that is really proving to be true. I think it can also evolve throughout the term of service, picking up one project here and dropping another one there as can be expected because of the general nature of projects. So, that is what I do in a nutshell. Stay tuned next week for what Shane is up to, and I'll try to post some of the photos I have.

I would like to briefly share three highlights from this past week - Monday morning I was assigned to go to a neighboring district for a workshop, after a bit of an adventure getting there - I had the pleasure of attending the Biosafety Framework meeting. It was a preliminary, implementation meeting discussing the development of Lesotho's policy toward GMOs, biodiversity and bio-terrorism... it was very interesting to me to be party to that discussion. As we returned from the meeting, we learned that since the electricity to our district is supplied by S.A. a village over which the power lines ran coming into Lesotho, decided to burn the poles - because they, themselves do not have electricity. So, our power has been very much on and off the last couple days, in the entire district, the shops, the banks, the offices... Also, the water is off all over town. Please, I do encourage everyone that reads this to think about what would you do if that happened in your town - I know most of you are in America but just humor me and think about it. I think that pretty much wraps up this post, but if I don't update for a bit... at anytime during our service - that is probably why.

So, I would like to say that I have had one of my ultimately hardest days in Peace Corps, we always miss our families - we missed you at Christmas, we miss you when you celebrate and we just generally miss being able to call and talk or whatever. However, someone very, very close to me went to the hospital last week, and needed me there, and I couldn't be there because, of course, I'm here. That was difficult beyond words. One amazing thing, besides of course Shane, is our friends the nuns, prayed fervently for my loved one, they saw how much it affected me and they prayed (and we all know that sisters have extra-strong prayers) and they asked me for updates and were generally amazing and supportive. I think that is a wonderful part of Peace Corps, that these lovely sisters who I don't even think I've shown a picture of my family to, were so supportive. Fortunately, all is pretty clear from the sounds of it, and we're still in Lesotho, and the sisters showed us their 3 day old piglets and that made us smile. I wanted to share that bit with you all too.

On another note, if you are interested in sending art or craft supplies or (I'm going to plug the African Library Project again-find the link on the side of the blog) participating in ALP by collecting books and raising $500 to get them here for the enjoyment of the adults and children in this community, please get in touch with me.

As always, we wish you all the health and happiness that is possible wherever you are -

Carol and Shane

PS- please check out "the real thing" page for some new photos

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