Thursday, March 29, 2012

Weekend Getaway!

To give you a slight idea of the "TAXIs"

Hello to our dear readers,

It is always our wish that our posts find our friends and family in good health and happiness. It has been a bit chilly and rainy lately but we are doing our best to keep warm – and again we are happy for how well equipped we are, as you saw in the last post! We are also looking ahead to the upcoming National Election here in Lesotho, it will be happening toward the end of May. The government of Lesotho is set up in a similar fashion to that of England; the English system has had a strong influence on Lesotho in many ways because the country was a British Protectorate until the late 1960's. The Lesotho government has a King, I think we've mentioned him before, King Letsi III and a Queen her name is Mamohato. There is also a Prime Minister who heads the parliament and there are also several political parties (a hard to imagine concept being American!). So, the Prime Minister, as we have learned, has actually overstayed his term in office. He is very popular with some people and we get the impression he is not so popular with others, he has recently broken away from the current ruling party and created his own. This event has created somewhat of a ruckus among the people of Lesotho. I've been hearing from people that the ruling party will always win because it uses government money and infrastructure for its campaigning while the other parties have to fend for themselves. So, we'll see. Fortunately, we are volunteering for a government that has a reputation for taking a lot of measures to ensure the safety of its citizens abroad.

We went on a short vacation last weekend to a gem of a destination here in Lesotho. Despite the over 20 hours (to go a little over 100 miles) and obscene amount of money we spent on public transportation, we had a fun time. We congregated there with 27 other volunteers to celebrate a joint 30th birthday party for two of our fellow CHED 11's. They did a great job choosing the place – Malealea Lodge in the Mafeteng district. They also arranged a “Braii” which is what we Americans call a BBQ and we even made it legitimate for our Peace Corps enhancement by discussing TB on Saturday, which was in fact, international TB day. We can't speak highly enough of the Lodge. The owners have done a model job of eco/cultural tourism. Almost all of the staff were Basotho, they seemed empowered, professional and possessed the cultural knack for hospitality. The ambiance was lovely, the lodge is set in the mountains (surprise!) with beautiful vistas. The landscaping was lovely and the grounds had something a lot of Lesotho doesn't have – Trees! The accommodations ranged in luxury and price but most followed the traditional rondavel design nd contruction. The first night we stayed in one and they had mimicked traditional rock paintings on the walls and the window curtains were made in the same way as the skirts for girls' traditional dancing – with layers of strips of plastic bags. Shane also really liked some of the handicrafts that had been locally made, including some that reused materials in clever ways such as stacking soda cans together to make the base for a table. They incorporated traditional items into the décor in other interesting ways such as using the traditional hat turned upside down as a flower planter. The lodge offered several opportunities to experience local culture, one of them was a beautiful concert of accapella singing, followed by a band featuring instruments made from “found” items as well as impressive dance moves. Many opportunities for tours were offered, and they included everything from multi-day pony treks replete with village stays and towering waterfalls to a tour of the local school.  Some of the other volunteers went on a pony trek to see some of the rock paintings but we went with another group to see a beautiful waterfall -Shane even jumped into the pool at the bottom despite the cool temperatures! It was really fun and all of our daily walking paid off when we weren't even tired after our 5 hour hike. We did  catch lunch in the coffee shop at the lodge – with REAL coffee and even a splash of Amarula. We followed that up with a couple games of Bananagrams (yes, we know – we really know how to have a good time!) And of course after that is when we got to have real showers, talk about TB and welcome a new decade for our fellow volunteers.  So, that is the latest highlight. We really enjoyed Malealea Lodge, it seems if there was one place to get a good taste of Lesotho and feel good about where you are spending your money (they even have a “development trust” that part of their profits go directly to projects in the surrounding communities) Malealea would be a great place to spend a few days. As for us, we have had exposure to many cultural things here and seen schools and villages and ponies – but we still had a great time (except for the taxis! - really, at one point I shared a bench seat with about 4 feet of space with 7 human beings and my backpack for several hours and paid over $10 for it). Looking forward to our adventures next week and possibly another Lesotho getaway for the long Easter weekend.

All our best thoughts to our loved ones,
Carol and Shane

PS - please check out more photos on vacation page

Thursday, March 22, 2012

There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living - Nelson Mandela

So, was just checking out Pinterest - (it is great right now!) and found this quote to share with you. Also, I've been posting photos on "The Real Thing" page so check 'em out and have a lovely day!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What did we bring to Lesotho?

Sister Magdalena's kitten and rabbit - how cute is this?

This is Sister Magdelena with her new litter of piglets that were very cute and we really enjoy visiting and feeding them/their mom.

Hello again to our lovely readers,
I hope you enjoyed the last post, I hope to continue writing about some of the culture here in the near future. We have actually been thinking quite a bit about culture lately as of course it affects us every day. I mentioned last week that I'm reading a book that talks about Texas history, and I've even been listening to an audio book about the Great Depression (yes, of course I'm a bookworm - don't act like you didn't know). This has gotten me started thinking about culture not only horizontally as in the difference between the culture of Lesotho and the culture of Montana at this point in time; but also about the culture of America more- vertically if you will, and the changes in culture over time. More on that to come...

In the meantime fall is continuing here. Before we came I heard at one point about the wildflowers of Lesotho, especially Cosmos. I'd heard that Cosmos blanket the countryside, but I have been getting skeptical as we come closer to completing the full round of seasons here. But, they have finally come, and it is true! The fields and roadsides are covered with pink and white cosmos, but there are other suprises too, like the wild zinnias and even wild dahlias that are growing wild everywhere - this is of course very fun for me to see. We continue to eat the bounty of the harvest season, and I am going to try another round of canning this evening!

Shane has spent the begining of this week in another district where he was invited to teach his Fight Like a Girl program. Him and his counterpart are actually submitting a big grant proposal to Lesotho National Development Project as well - so both exciting things! As for me, I've really gotten a chance to get out of the office during the last week and work with some of the primary schools doing composting, making rain gauges from plastic bottles and HIV/AIDS education, that has been fun. Especially because I've been learning that the best way to get kids interested (especially with communication barriers) is to somehow integrate games or other activities. Even reading books has been really fun, the students end up tripping over each other trying to see the pictures!
Today I've been spending some time in the office and found the blog from another PCV couple from CHED 2010, I think the yhave some really interesting posts that are worth checking out. On their blog they commented on this article about PC that is very much worth reading.

On a related note, we have a small project that we are begining to incubate. Our friends the Sisters including our dear friend Sister Magdaleana had their water pump go out because of our crazy electricity thing the past weeks and after some further shananigans they had someone try another pump that blew the power box for the pump. This is a group of about 7 retired sisters, many of them are disabled. They have a thriving vegetable and fruit garden where they sell produce for some small income, as well as laying hens and even pigs. Otherwise, they don't get financial support. Because of the disabilities of these older sisters you may imagine some of the inconviniences of not having water become serious obstacles and also the small projects that they are currently doing will suffer from this lack. A new pump/electrical box is extremely expensive and will be very difficult for this group. We found an organization that may be able to help out with about US$500, not enough to do everything but it is a good start in the right direction. One of the requests by the organization is that we ask our friends and family if they are interested in contributing, like all charitable organizations (and everyone) they are experiencing the challenge of the economic times. So, we would like to extend the opportunity, without obligation, to donate to this organization called Water Charity if you are so inclined, please know that it is greatly appreciated.

Realizing that this post is already becoming a bit long, I hope I don't bore some of you too much by doing a short-ish review of some of the "gear" we were very happy to have brought to Lesotho. If you remember the photos of us packing, maybe you were wondering what all was there. As I mentioned before, I do hope maybe one or two of the newly invited CHED volunteers might also find this useful; but maybe some of our friends and family can appreciate being told about some of the items that have been going strong through 10 months of Peace Corps. So, many of our friends and family saw us in "gear craze" mode before we left, trying to get all of the stuff we found on the Peace Corps packing list. We really appreciated that some outdoor/travelwear companies are very supportive to PCVs and even offer some really good Peace Corps discounts on their products. Among these we found the North Face, Keen, Exofficio, Cascade Designs (MSR and Thermarest) and to be extremely helpful - we were only able to get most of our things because of this help. We didn't think about the significant financial commitment it would take to outfit both of us for PC, but we did it pretty intelligently if I do say so myself and we came out of it pretty good.

Footwear: Shane- Osolo hiking boots (he loves them and everytime he wears them he tells me so!) also Merrel sport sandals. Carol - Keen hiking boots sport sandals and even wool socks - love them all, walking shoes by Merrel, also brought a pair of conservative dress shoes - the rough terrain here is no joke and hiking boots don't really look that lovely with skirts - unless you're a Peace Corps Volunteer. Also, flip flops are a good idea, especially for questionable showers. The Merrels have been OK but not great, and Keen gave us a discount! Also, my mom found some great midweight wool socks at Costco, for much less than Smartwool, and they have been good too.
I do hate wearing tights but brought some, including Smartwool brand and those have been nice and warm- but mostly i wear leggings, regular long johns and silk bases layers which are a favorite for both of us.

Basic Clothes: We were both happy to have had experience with cold, layering here is critical! Also, especially me being a girl and of course striving to look amazing at every opportunity wanted a good selection of versatile pieces these include my two different style Patagonia dresses, check out the photos - you'll see me wearing my Paprika colored one for everything from mountain climbing to wine tasting - they are both amazing! (Thanks to Kara for having them as her bridesmaids dresses so I coveted them!) Another great piece is a North Face convertible dress that does both a cute dress and a nice longer skirt - it even has a pocket, which is great! Of course my Eddie Bauer basic black skirt is a classic, I almost always wear and it goes anywhere with anything. Also, Peace Corps will tell you that you can only wear skirts and dresses if you are a woman, this is a little bit true but not completely. One Lesotho RPCV told me before I left that you will get more strange looks in Lesotho for wearing shorts than walking around without a top -this is true. However, the propriety of wearing skirts versus pants depends a lot on your job and as a CHED volunteer we do many different kinds of jobs I did find two amazing pairs of pants - one by North Face that can be pants, capris or zip off into shorts - these have been great both for going to the field with WFP or to the beach at Cape Town. My favorite and Shane's favorite is my pair of Khul brand pants that snap up to Capri's in grey again I can wear them semi-formally or casually with anything and they look good. The Basotho professional women are very stylish, often wearing fancy stillettos to work, I often do feel a bit underdressed but the things I brought are versatile and practical. It has been really important to feel comfortable, and even pretty, in what I'm wearing. I also brought as much lightweight wool as a possibly could manage and have been really happy with it, Smartwool baselayer, even a couple T-shirts, basic cardigan from patagonia(we both love us some "Pata-Gucchi). I always layer, especially in the Highlands the weather really does always change. I was skepitcal at first of Eddie Bauer's First Ascent line, but caught some of their things on sale before we left and decided to try them out and I've been really happy with their base layers. The sun is also quite strong with the elevation; so we both got some of those fancy, lightweight button-up longsleeved shirts with the back vent - those have been great too and Shane loves his! One bad thing is that washing things by hand they pill up really quickly, I'm not completely sure which materials are most resistant to that but some of our clothes and even bedding are really suffering from that. Fast dry things have also been great because dryers are litterally non-existant here.

Otherwise, hats have been important, I made a mistake when I brought a hat that looked "good for Africa" sort of practical and safari-ish, refer again to what I mentioned the women here like to wear. Shane's rugged and manly fishing hat that he has had for years has been serving him well here. Also, my new favorite kind of hat is Turtle Fur - when I put it on it just feels right, when it has been very cold here, I even sleep with it on! We both got REI shells and he got an Exofficio polyfill liner to go inside and that has been good. I got a waterresistant inner layer from Eddie Bauer First Ascent that I've been very happy with, not too flashy, nice fit and very warm but lightweight - perfect! We also got a good umbrella that has been serving us well. One of the things we use the most, is our mid-sized backpack/daypacks. As PCV we are almost always going somewhere, to work with our filtered water, books and lunchbox or for a week-long Peace Corps workshop and these midsized packs that have been with us at MSU, camping, other travels have continued to serve us extremely well - please refer to the Valentines Day poem...

Other miscellenous things - we were the only PCVs to not have brought laptops to Lesotho, some people even brought unlocked I-phones. We brought a Kindle, it has been amazing to have it, we have both been enjoying it a lot. MP-3 player with speakers, has been also amazing to have. Two cameras, including our amazing Samsung that can be charged by USB including from our small Solio solar charger. We brought a solar/crank shortwave radio, we are able to pick up BBC which is pretty great. We brought some games, Scrabble, Munchkin, Bananagrams - but we wish we would have brought a few more that weren't so dependent on lanuage. We've since found UNO in country and adopted it. We brought Platypus brand water bottles, when they are empty they fold up. We lost two in the move between training and site but they have been really great, even on the airplane! Also, from the same company we got some MSR XL Packlight camptowels which have also been really great because it is amazing how many times we've had to pack towels to go somewhere. We brought basic cotton travel sheets, they have been good. Any time we've stayed with another volunteer we use our self-inflating matresses and sleeping bags, I do wish I would have managed to bring a travel pillow but may be able to get one from another volunteer - I've see one by MSR that is kind of like memory foam and is amazing.

We also brought some things that were little and stupid sounding but have been really nice. I like homeopathic remedies, so we brought some for bites and stings, bruises and sprains, nausea/diarrhea, cold and flu, even one that is a sleep aid and we have used them all to great effect. PC issues us a pretty solid med kit of conventional over the counter stuff but I'm a bit fan of my Airborne, Cranberry pills and Calmes Forte! Also, I like essential oils - they have been priceless, many things smell really bad here and on days that aren't so good I add a few drops to my bath or I've even made sugar scrubs and it is just a little thing that can go a long way! Also, I love me some Tea Tree Oil, because it is like a first aid kit in one bottle, always used it in the states and that hasn't changed here! I also brought a brick of my favorite gum from Costco, herbal teas and coffee, my favorite Chef's knife and my Wok, a few inspirational things to decorate our house with - including the glow in the dark stars, Shane brought his Saulo Ribiero book and excercise bands. Of course we brought duct tape, and we brought a few basic practical things that we like from the states, like S hooks, and a bungee cord - and you know what... we've used them.

They also told us to bring some vegetable peelers especially as gifts to your host family - I felt kinda stupid when I gave my host mom a vegetable peeler, it was a good one, but a little bit lame. We brought one good can opener for ourselves and I wish we would have brought more of those or probably most - my Chef's knife, every woman that sees my knife wants it. Especially because it is sharp, since Shane brought his sharpener for both it and our two multi-tools which we also love! I read somewhere that you should pack mostly clothes that you are used to, and feel good in, and other things that will make you feel good - Shane has really loved having his travel guitar a Washburn Rover, and any Basotho visitors love it when he plays! A lot of things have been pretty available in Maseru or even SA but we have really loved having things on hand that we are particularly attatched to, like spices, gum, nice face cream, guitar tabs and a good collection of playable music, podcasts, books, whatever- even favorite recipes I've been happy to have. We've been really lucky, we thought through our list pretty thoroughly and haven't regretted it. Except for hand sanitzer, we are so happy that we had great support in the sending of hand sanitizer. We weren't big on it in the US but I brought a little bottle and used it up very quickly - that has been an invaluable staple item, right up there with duct tape! The only thing we've been really missing are consumables like you can see on our wish list. We didn't go over weight on our luggage, having to pay extra, like some volunteers and we kept within a decent budget for these items. Also, what we have brought has held up pretty well. Maybe we can revisit this in another year and see which items are still with us though!

Whew! Give yourself a pat on the back if you made it through all of that! Please take a moment to vote on the next topic poll, and I'll look forward to posting again soon to talk about our adventure to a local Eco-lodge. All the best to our readers- please keep the letters, emails and photos coming! We love them:-)

Carol and Shane

Friday, March 16, 2012

Basotho Culture: an introduction

Hello loved-ones and other interested parties,
As always we hope that you are doing well, happy and healthy wherever you are reading.
We hope you enjoyed Shane's post last week. He is really doing some great and interesting things as well as finding creative ways to pursue his personal interests! Things have been going pretty well here. We got two letters since the last post! Both included photos and they immediately went up on our wall - we really enjoy the "hard stuff" even if we are able to easily communicate digitally.

It has been in the mid-high 50's during the nights but still getting pretty warm on most days, also still having occassional intense storms. We have been enjoying some of the produce from our garden, even though the success with it has been marginal since we refuse to get chemical fertilizer. Our pole beans have been going crazy - still. We've been enjoying some tomatoes and an occasional zucchini. We've also been enjoying some of the fruits that are growing near our garden. We are realizing how amazing fresh grapes are, but also figs, even apples and peaches are being sold in town for an average of about 5 US cents for one! Shane mentioned that I canned - I spent several hours working with 4 small jars. Reusing peanut butter jars from the store - I know you aren't supposed to do that, but that is what they do here - I didn't have a rack, a proper pot or, most dear to my heart, jar grabbers; but it seems like the 3 jars of peach sauce and one of salsa turned out OK, we'll see when we open them.

We also JUST recieved a Christmas gift card to Amazon(Thank you!), and since we have both been spending more time reading and planning what to read - just thinking about how best to use this on our Kindle wish list has been entertaining us (life without TV...). Shane is currently reading Born to Run and I'm still reading James Michner's Texas - I hit page 500 last night and I'm not even halfway through but it has been a great read. Shane is wanting us to both start working on Charlie Munger's reading list - it looks pretty good, but not as much soft, fun reading...

So, as the title promised - I will stop chit-chatting and talk a bit about Basotho culture. I first have to say, this will not be accomplished in one post! I also don't think I will do them completely sequentially as next week we were thinking about doing a post on what we packed to come here, in hopes that maybe the new CHED 12 volunteers that are getting ready to come might find it useful.

Basotho culture is like an onion. I should have written this post several months ago, because it would have been simpler! However, we had the opportunity to go to a celebration last Sunday in honor of Moshoeshoe day (Moshwayshway). This was very interesting because it was a dance competition between the primary schools in the district - so we got to see many different kinds of traditional dancing, singing and outfits. I took photos, but they didn't capture the amazing-ness of everything. I also took videos but they are bigger than my infamously slow net connection will allow me to share with you at this time. I'll try to get up a few photos soon though. This event really captures something we really appreciate about Basotho culture - singing and dancing are both integral to the way of life here.

Truly, you can generally assemble a group of random Basotho and they will arrive upon a traditional song and immediately and easily break into 3 part harmony - amazing doesn't even begin to describe it. That would never happen in America, we tried to give a "concert" before we left our training villages and we had a hard time getting row row row your boat together with 6 of us! Meetings in most settings open and close with a prayer - whether you are in a professional workshop or a traditional village gathering at the chief's place. In more traditional meetings they also close with a song. Songs are used to welcome people, like when we first arrived in our training villages and the whole village was singing and uulating to welcome us. They are also used to say farwell, I've been to two going away parties now and they both included a lot of singing and dancing as well as wearing of the traditional outfits. School is opened and closed with prayers and songs and of course, singing is a big part of the church services. Maybe you can also see that even in the face of globalization (most people here love Coke and Fanta) they have built in a system for mantaining important parts of culture, especially by teaching these things in schools - and I was in rapture watching those kids dance and sing on Sunday! I was a little bit like a pow-wow but of course African and different.

You've also seen by this description how much religion is present within the culture. Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Anglican are the three major religions of Lesotho and almost everyone goes to church and if they don't everyone is still assumed to be Christian. Us, not attending church here is constantly questioned and we are often invited/asked if we are finally going to come this Sunday. Many of the primary schools are actually associated with one of the major religions. Some of the orphanages and even some of the hospitals and clinics. There are also religious NGOs that work here such as Catholic Relief Services and World Vision is very active here too.

On the other hand, almost everyone here believes in witchcraft. There isn't bad luck, someone has bewitched you. They believe that some people can control lightening and make it strike people they don't like. Traditionally women hide their pregnancies so that no one can "witch" their babies. Ghosts, black cats, and even a funny little man called a Tokoltsi (somewhat like a leprechaun but like a witches mignon) are all very real here. One Tokoltsi siting was said to force the relocation of an entire village to the extent that livestock don't even graze there any more! To help protect yourself from witchcraft, you can go to the traditional doctor called the sangoma, who can give you herbs/roots/ general potions or charms for anything.

I think that is a good start to Basotho culture and I'm about to take off for the weekend. Hopefully it is a good one for you all and Happy St. Patty's day!

Lots of love from Lesotho,
Carol and Shane

Friday, March 9, 2012

What have I been Doing?

Hello everyone! Moshoeshoe Day to honor the king is approaching! Carol canned peach sauce with the bare necessities, the leaves are dropping off the trees, and it's been in the high 60s at night.

Now what has Shane been doing in the Mountain Kingdom?

I have been working with Snake Park and Tourist Information Center, the Child and Gender Protection Unit, and Prison. So far I have been assisting with a lot of planning and proposal preparations.
My primary assignment is at the Snake Park and Tourist Information Center. The projects there include: finishing the parks buildings and reptile cages, support group development, and martial arts school. The park requested a volunteer to build the business capacity of the organization thereby making it more appealing to donors. My supervisor and I have written a strategic plan and activity plan to guide the activities of the project and increase donor confidence. Í do not know if I'll ever have the opportunity to do that type of work again but it was very interesting. There is also work being done to budget for activities and monitor cash flow. Now were are focusing monitoring and evaluating the project progress monthly for park records and report to donors.
My supervisor was awarded funds in the past. However, it has been a few years with no substantial support. He invests his own funds to keep things running and Snake Park also gains revenue from about 20 weekly visitors. When I arrived at this site in August he had a large proposal to be submitted to the Lesotho National Development Committee. We have since revised it many times and hope to travel to the capital city of Lesotho in a week to present, negotiate, and submit the document. Wish us luck!
The Snake Park has a few noteworthy branching organizations one of which is a support group called "Face Your Fear" serving 150 Orphans in the mountain villages surrounding our camp town. My supervisor and I are working with four newly recruited youth (high school graduates) to do the same project planning as was done for the Snake Park. The difference being we had a small team and a proposal has already been submitted. The donor did a followup visit while I was there and was very optomistic after seeing the support groups preparatory work and formal planning. They are awaiting a waiver from the US Congress to aprove the purchase of agrigultural related materials with the grant money. The representative said, "We cannot tell you that you will be funded; But, you will be funded." So we are excited for the positive statement and the chance to continue building a good reputation as a community based organization. A good reputation means more donor support.
The specific aims of the support group are admirable. The Director (my supervisor) and the Board of Directors (elders in the neighboring villages) will have planned to create a dairy, piggery, farm fields, school unifor sewing, and chickens. The kids will learn from their elders everything from seeds and babies to taking the products to market. The orphaned children will work with these teachers daily to care for the plants, animals, and sew uniforms. The kids will get food rations and uniforms as well as learn to sell products. This is a cool project and I am excited to help build the capacity of the organization.
The last noteworthy Snake Park project is the Face Your Fear Self Defense Academy. I have contributed more to the development of this project than the others but it was still very much a collaborative effort. My supervisor, like me, is a martial artist. He has been teaching a group of Basotho for many years and holds a Third Dan Black Belt in Shodokan Karate. So, we decided to make this programming a formal part of the Snake Park project.
The plan is to first get the necessary materials (mats, heater, affiliations, etc...) and use a temporary facility. We have written a proposal to get all of these things and will submit it next week. The funds are awared through Peace Corps and should be available in less than six weeks.
In the meantime we have improved the training environment. I would show you pictures but the camera is MIA. Classes were being held outside on the rocks and exposed to the elements. Now we have a roof with one wall (we are using the partially built restaurant), cardboard makes the concrete soft..., and we covered that with a "tarp"(heavy duity waterproofing paper for house construction). This winter we hope to move into the basement hall of the local mission. Next year the plan is to build an academy that will be convertible into the Snake Park Conference Hall. I have been researching straw bale construction in order to provide superinsulation and reduce heating costs. Any advice would be well received.
This is what I have been doing with my primary project. I have also been working at the Plice Station and Prison. Not much has materialized at the prison. So, I'll avoid writting anymore about that activity. However, the Child and Gender Protection Unit or CGPU has been a progressive project.
The CGPU visits about 24 schools per year and teaches kids about their rights, abuse, and women's rights. I proposed adding the Fight Like a Girl (FLAG) training, which I am certified to teach, to their current course. FLAG has been used at schools successfully for years in the states and it is something I can contribute that they would never have access to.
The CGPU/FLAG project has been a fun learning experience. So far we have compiled a formal proposal including a survey of 100 high schoolers and interviews with local stakeholders, cost benefit analysis, and feasability study. The previously mentioned martial arts academy at the Snake park will be the partner organization with weekly FLAG classes. The instructor, assistants, and students will have the option to travel with the CGPU to present to kids around the district. We just received approval from the district commissioner of police and are awaiting the arrival of funds in order to proceed with purchasing the neccessary materials for FLAG classes.
I have a lot of projects going right now and some smaller activites but those are the big ones.

We hope this post finds you all happy and well!

Shane and Carol

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