Friday, June 7, 2013

Sharing PC Language Material

A message from an RPCV about sharing language learning material:
Good afternoon Kelly,
My name is Ray Blakney and I am a RPCV from Mexico (06-08). I am working on a 3rd goal project with the PC regional offices and the main office in DC to try to create an online archive to keep the language training material made all over the world from getting lost. I have created a sub-section on my website with all the information I have been able to get to date (from over the web and sent to me directly by PC staff and PCV's). I currently have close to 100 languages with ebooks, audios and even some videos.
The next step for this project is that I am trying to get the world out about this resource so that it can not only be used by PCV's or those accepted into the Peace Corps, but also so that when people run across material that is not on the site they can send it to me and I can get it up for everybody to use. I was hoping that you could help getting the word out by putting a link on this on your site at:

so that people know it is there. There should be something there for almost everybody. It is all 100% free to use and share. Here is the page:

Thanks for any help you can provide in making this 3rd goal project a success. And if anybody in your group has some old material they can scan or already have in digital form, and want to add to the archive, please don't hesitate to pass them my email. Thanks and have a great day.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


I am on such a high after a successful week at GLOW.  For over a year a group of 14 female PCVs in my group have been working together to create the 2nd Annual Camp Glow.  With GLOW (Girls Leading Our World we are working to encourage female empowerment in our rural communities here in Swaziland.  In order to make GLOW possible we fundraised using a PCPP (Peace Corps Partnership Program) Grant where we asked family and friends in America to support our project to improve the lives of people in Swaziland.  With that grant money we organized a workshop called TOT (Training of Trainers) which took place in January and was hugely successful.  The other portion of the money was allocated for Camp GLOW.  Camp GLOW was a week-long Camp which brought together 49 girls ages 13-19, 21 Swazi counselors from the January workshop, and 17 PCVs.  Each PCV brought 1 counselor from their community and 3 girls to participate in Camp which means that that this camp was able to bring  girls from every corner of the country, including the most rural and disconnected corners of the country.

Kelly R, co-director of GLOW and I at Mabuda Farms 
I am so thankful for the support of everyone back home who made GLOW possible.  GLOW is the hot fudge and the cherry on top of my Peace Corps Service.  It is the culmination of all the work I have done throughout the last 2 years.  The most special thing about working with GLOW in Swaziland is that overcoming gender roles, encouraging female empowerment and health education is so needed here and through girls clubs and Camp GLOW I am really able to see an immediate impact of the work with the girls I invited to Camp.

Clerisse Lemke, GLOW Director with one of her campers
Camp was awesome! On the first full day of Camp was all about sexual and reproductive health, an important topic since many young girls in Swaziland don’t have an option to make decisions about their own bodies or the knowledge about how to make decisions if they are given the opportunity.  We talked about anatomy, hygiene, STIs, contraceptives, abstinence and alternatives to sex, having a child by choice, and healthy relationships.  It was a day heavy with information, and throughout the week we worked on giving the girls the confidence to be able to use this information to benefit their own lives.

The second day was a lot of fun as we explored the girls’ creativity.  A Swazi art gallery, Yebo! Art has an Art Outreach Program that we were able to benefit from for the second year running.  With Yebo! The girls were able to express their creativity through painting, poetry, and decorating their t-shirts with their own unique screen prints.  It was great to see the girls really get into the sessions on art day since they don’t have art classes in school and creativity and ingenuity isn’t celebrated in this culture.

Some of the artwork created by campers on Art Day.
The last two days were all about leadership, teamwork, goal setting, and looking to the future.  On the last night, the girls participated in a talent show where they were able to display the courage and confidence they have been working on all week.  The girls really had talent!  We watched cultural dancing, hip hop and gum-boot dancing, singing, skits, and poetry.  One of the best moments of the week happened during the talent show one of the deaf girls concluded her group dance with a solo and the crowd erupted with sign language applause!
Sizakele participating in the leadership activity while Bandzile looks on.

There were many other great moments from camp that I will always remember.  I was so proud of the counselors we trained in January who came to camp and really stepped up into the leadership roles.  They were expected to lead the health sessions we taught them three months ago, and with only little preparation they did a fantastic job.  We really relied on the counselors for leading sessions and translating because some of the campers were young and all of them came from really rural areas where the standard of English is below average.  Also, during the poetry session I enjoyed watching one of my campers perform a poem about how HIV affects her life.  I enjoyed washable sanitary pad making, as a sustainable and less expensive option for a girl’s time-of-the-month.  I enjoyed the open and honest conversations and questions the girls asked of us about health, sex, and relationships.  It showed success in creating a safe and welcome environment.  I enjoyed watching campers try to learn sign language and engage the two deaf campers.  I enjoyed watching my shy campers gain confidence throughout the week and come out of their shells.  I enjoyed the camaraderie and enthusiasm that was built throughout the week. And lastly, I enjoyed working with otherPCVs on the GLOW Organizing Committee.  We did such a great and comprehensive job planning the camp that there were no major setbacks or incidents. Everything went according to plan, more or less.  Together, we have set a high bar for next year’s Committee.
My girls and I - From the left:  Counselor: Fisiwe Dlamin, Campers: Siphiwe Shongwe, Bandzile Ngenethwa, me, and Sizakele Dlamini

Close of Service Conference
The day after GLOW Camp finished the GLOW Organizing Committee along with the other remaining members of my group came together in the capitol city for our Close of Service Conference.  We all met two years ago as strangers in a hotel in Philadelphia, and now we are preparing to finish our service in two short months.  This was our last conference together.  It was designed as an opportunity to debrief our service, to talk about all the good things we did and skills we gained and to start planning our next steps as we prepare to re-enter America.  The conference was held at a beautiful hotel south of the capitol city called Forester’s Arms.  It was such a treat, decorated in country-chic with such comfortable beds, delicious food, and beautiful views the week was beyond any expectation.

The last day we were honored by a visit from the Deputy Director of the Peace Corps.  She traveled all the way from Washington DC.  As we sat in the conference room, she was so genuine and told stories from her Peace Corps Service.  She asked us all to introduce ourselves and our favorite part of our service.  When it was my time to speak, I motioned to all of us on the GLOW organizing committee.  We were all wearing the GLOW t-shirts my dad had made for us which made a huge impression on the Director.  She could really see how proud we were of the work we have done. I also mentioned my work I have done with hand crafts in my community.  Afterward she bought 3 baskets from me that I was selling for the women in my community.  It is so cool to know that the work from the women in my community will be displayed in the office of such a powerful woman in Washington!

What a great two weeks!  What a way to end these two years of service and so proud to have had the experience.  Only 9 weeks left in Swaziland.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Meet my GLOW Girls

I want to introduce you to my GLOW girls, to the girls whose lives you helped.
Siphiwe Shongwe is a Form 4 (11th Grade) student, 18 years old.  She has 5 sisters, no brothers, and is the second youngest.  She really looks up to her sisters as role models.  Siphiwe lives with her mother and father.  Her mother is a seasonal agriculture worker in the sugarcane fields and the fruit season.  Her father abandoned them as a young child, but has since come back and supports his family by wood working, carving wooden spoons and other kitchen utensils.  Siphiwe wants to go into nursing or social work for a career.  If she pursues these career paths she will be the first to attend university in her family. 

Siphiwe is a quiet girl, but very thoughtful.  She soaks up all the information we give her and she comes ready and willing to participate in every activity.  Her favorite session at camp was the abstinence session.  During that session, they role-played ways to say ‘No’ and postpose sex.  They also had an open conversation where they asked any question about sex, relationships, and boys; a topic too taboo to talk about in their home life.

Siphiwe Shongwe after dinner on night 3
Siphiwe was always willing to participate and usually the first to participate.  She knows what she wants and goes for it.  During camp, Siphiwe was one of the first campers and most enthusiastic to learn how to make washable sanitary pads, she was one of the first to share her poem during the poetry session where she chose to write about HIV and how it affects her life, and she did a wonderful job in the talent show as she portrayed the grandmother of a girl who was to be married during a short drama/play.

Sizakele Dlamini, my second camper is 17 years old and in Form 2 (9th Grade).  She is the 3rd eldest of nine children.   Most of her siblings are only half siblings as her mother was traditionally married to another man after her father passes away.  Sizakele only knows her father from pictures that people have shown to her.  When her mother was married, that woman must move to the parental homestead of the husband.  Sizakele now lives with her aunt and uncle while her mom lives far away near the north-east border of the country.  Sizakele sees her mother over school breaks.

Sizakele Dlamini at Mabuda Farms Day Trip
Sizakele told me about life at her home with her aunt and uncle.  She says she wakes up at 6am, then she makes her bed, washes dishes, sweeps the house and yard, and polishes her school shoes.  She makes breakfast which usually consists of sour porridge, a dish that I could never get used to.  At 7:00 she starts her 30 minute walk to school.  School starts at 7:45 and goes until 3:15.  At school, 
Sizakele is responsible for looking after the toilets.  She has to make sure they are clean at the end of the day and supplied with newspaper (toilet paper… ouch!).  After school, she goes home.  Wednesday is laundry day.  She must wash her school uniforms.  Dinner is usually porridge mixed with emasi (sour milk.. yuck!), but she ensures me that she actually likes it and the other girls agree that they also like it even though its curdled milk.  After dinner is over, Sizakele makes a point to tell me that is when she studies.  Her favorite subjects in school are science and English.  She wants to be a doctor when she grows up.

Sizakele’s favorite sessions at camp were the abstinence and the STI lessons.  She is looking forward to teaching girls in our community about the things she learned while at Camp this year.  She even mentioned wanting to be a counselor one day.
Sizakele is always smiling and laughing.  She is a very talented dancer.  She won ‘Best Solo Dance’ at the talent show with her crazy moves.  At school she is the leader of the Girls Dance Group.  Sizakele choreographs the dances with one of the other girls in the class and then teaches the dance to the rest of the girls.  It is pretty impressive.

My last camper is Bandzile Ngenethwa  .  She is 14 years old and in Form 1 (8th Grade).  She is the 3rd eldest among seven children.  She lives with her mom who is a math teacher about 45 minute bus ride from Bandzile’s school.  Bandzile must leave home at 6am to get to school on time.   Her father passed away in 2009.

Bandzile is such a thoughtful and responsible girl.  Her teachers really respect her and recommended her without a doubt.  At school, Bandzile is a prefect.  She is tasked with writing up any student who speaks siSwati in class and responsible to set a good example for the other students in class.  She favorite subjects are math and science and she wants to be a doctor when she grows up.
Bandzile reading the poem she composed on Art Day
Banzile really enjoyed Art Day at camp.  She particularly liked painting and the poetry and performance session.  Bandzile also shined during the talent show during a group dance.  The dance was memorably capped off by one of the deaf girls who took center stage for a hip-hop dance solo.  The crowd went wild with sign language applause.

There were two girls from the School for the Deaf this year.  It was great to watch their interactions with the rest of the girls throughout the week, from how nervous they were at the beginning to how well they integrated into the rest of the group by the end.  My girls were part of their group throughout the week, going from session to session and together with them in the dorms.  I was proud at how well they included the deaf girls in their activities and even tried to learn some sign language.
With the two deaf girls who did an awesome job at camp!

Last but not least, my counselor, a young woman we trained during the January Training of Trainers.  Her name is FisiweDlamini, 20 years old, she finished high school last year.  She came to camp this year as one of the youngest counselors.  I was so proud of her in the way she stepped up to be a leader among the counselors and always with the biggest smile on her face.  She taught a lesson on STIs, and participated in a variety of other lessons, she oversaw the camper in their chore responsibilities throughout the week, and she could always be counted on to be doing her job.
At home, Fisiwe lives with her mother, father, little sister, and her grandmother.  She has other sister who have married and moved out.  Her father is a police officer in town.  He comes home on weekends.  Her mother works as a cleaner at the high school she graduated from, the school where Siphiwe attends.  Her mother also sells flavored ice blocks to the students during lunch break.
Fisiwe is very active at her church teaching Sunday School. She wants to continue her education so she can become a nurse.

Fisiwe in a session during Careers Day

Sunday, April 28, 2013

HIV Workshop complete.. Up next: Camp GLOW!

Whew… It feels so good to be finished with the HIV Workshop I planned
for one of the HIV Support groups in my community. This project
started many months ago when my community counterpart and I started
the grant writing process. I know now that I really dislike writing
grants because of the wordiness and formulating proper goals,
objectives, and monitoring and evaluation techniques… ugh, it hurts my
head just remembering.

Since then, when the grant was accepted, I sought the help of the
nurses at my local clinic to facilitate the sessions during the
workshop. They were the perfect people to help me since they know the
question people are wanting answered, the myths that need dispelling,
and most importantly, they can speak siSwati.

The Workshop took place on Friday, so my week was full of buying food,
coordinating final details for the event, and overcoming any of the
setbacks that presented themselves. When Friday came, the big day, I
was up early in order to prepare everything. Of course, nothing ever
happens without its complications. I was so happy to see the women,
who had arrived early to cook our lunch, were already busy cooking
when I arrived and the nurses showed up right on time. The problem
was that the Support Group we had been preparing to present to were
nowhere to be found!! Even my counterpart hadn't arrived on time! I
was so embarrassed and stressed because my guest speakers who took
time out of their regular jobs were just sitting there, what a waste
of their time. This stress I was feeling is an American character
trait that I have not seemed to lose in my two years of being here…
timeliness and respect for other's time.

Two hours late, the participants arrived, and we finally began. The
nurses spoke about HIV transmission, tuberculosis co-infection, the
importance of taking ARVs properly, diabetes, hypertension, and
nutrition. The workshop was done completely in siSwati therefore I am
not exactly sure what was being said but the participants were really
involved and asking a lot of questions. I suggested that the nurses
each talk for 30 minutes, but Swazis know how to talk and each nurse
spoke for at least 45 minutes or more (which really surprised me
because of our late start). At the end of the day, the participants
were really happy and glad to have heard new information. I think
they were really pleased to hear new topics about diseases that aren't
just HIV because although HIV is a huge killer here in Swaziland,
people are tired of hearing about it time and time again.

Thankful that the workshop is over and generally successful, I am now
looking forward to a week full of GLOW! My next blog post will be
about Camp GLOW which is finally here! I leave my community tomorrow
with one of the counselors we trained in January and 3 girls. The
camp is a week long and I look forward to letting you all know how it
went at the end of the week. Once again, thanks to everyone who
supported GLOW and helped make it possible! GLOW is sure to be a
highlight of my Peace Corps Service.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Malolotja Easter Camping Trip

It was only one year ago that my mom and sister were here in Swaziland visiting me.  Whoever said time goes fast lied.  Last year seems like a distant memory with everything else going on.  Last year I spent my Easter weekend on a game reserve searching for elephants, rhinos, and giraffes, then a night in my hut, and another night in the beautiful Mountain Inn resort.
This year was a bit different.  I spent my weekend with 11 other Peace Corps Volunteers hiking and camping in the mountains of the Malolotja Nature Reserve, a nature reserve northwest of the capitol city.  In preparation for the trip, I knew that this was going to be the toughest camping trip I have ever done, the type of camping where you have to carry everything for the weekend in your backpack: tent, sleeping bag, food, pots, pans, water purifiers, toilet paper.  Where we were going there was no kitchen, we would cook on an open fire; no shelter, we must bring our own tents; and no toilet, we must dig our own hole.

The group hiking in to Malolotja

Upon arriving to Malolotja, the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, rolling mountain covered in grass dotted with small trees and bushes and small rock outcroppings.  We were excited, but nervously anticipating the hike to the bottom.  Our packs were heavy with food and supplies. 
The hike took 4 ½ hours.  I was sore in places I haven’t felt since soccer tryouts back in high school.  Our campsite was a small clearing next to a river with a sheer rock face on the opposite river bank.  We popped our tents, started a fire, and took time to relax after such a long hike.  At this point I was very thankful for my Girl Scout training.  Popping tents and cooking on open fires seems like no big deal to me anymore.
My Girl Scout training at work: starting the fire to make coffee for everyone.
The next day we spent at the waterfall that was a 10-minute walk down river.  I wish I knew more adjectives for breathtaking, but everything was just so beautiful.  A few of us climbed down the rock face to go swimming.  I swam under the waterfall.  There was space between the rock and the water.  We could look up and see the sun shining through.  The water falling down sparkled like diamonds.

At the top of the waterfall.

There was a scary part when another group of hikers came long.  They were on their way down to come swimming.  One girl was overconfident, walking too fast, and too close to the edge.  She slipped and fell off the edge into the waterfall.  She was a bit shaken but completely uninjured when she emerged.
Huge bonfire!
We left the next morning, a day early, scared of the changing weather conditions.  It was another 4 ½ hour hike up to get out.  It was as tiring mentally as it was physically.  I kept doubting myself whether I could finish.  My lungs were burning, my muscles were sore, and my pack although lighter than before still felt heavy.
Exhausted on the hike out
The trip, although very difficult, was a very good experience.  I really enjoyed spending time with my fellow Volunteers.  With just over 100 days left in Swaziland I am trying to take in every experience and memory I can, making every moment count.  And now as the pain in my muscles fades away, so does the memory of the how difficult the hike was making me believe that I could do it again if I wanted.  Now what is left is the memory of the good times I shared down in that valley with my friends.
Update:  Last month, I wrote that I wanted to extend my service for another year, but the opportunity I was looking for has not presented itself.  So I have made the decision to not extend.  I will finish my service with the rest of my group and I will be home by August.  At that point I will work on what my next step will be.
Also, Camp GLOW preparations are in full effect.  Camp will begin April 29.  I am also preparing for an HIV workshop in my community to benefit HIV positive members of my community to help them live a healthier Positive lifestyle.  So here I am wrapping up my projects and not taking any day for granted.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Poster Competition Winners

 I am so proud of my students.  During the last term I had the students at my local high school participate in a nation-wide art competition.  The competition was hosted by the US Embassy and PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).  The students were asked to draw posters with a theme "Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation."  The long awaited results finally came in and to my surprise, two my students were selected as the top two posters in the entire country!  There were thrree age groups, and the top three from each age group were invited to the award ceremony.   My students competed in the oldest age group (16-20).  Both boys are currently in Form 2, which is equivalent to 9th grade.

From the left- Siboniso (1st Place), Mrs. Msibi (English Teacher), Mfundo (2nd Place), Me

The awards ceremony was an exciting event for all included.  I traveled with my two students to Manzini where we met with their English teacher.  The boys were excited because not only were they allowed to miss a day of school, they were also about to visit the capitol city for their first time, visit the new mall complete with escalators, meet the US Ambassador, and have a nice lunch.  It was also a day of firsts for me too, as it was the first time I was able to visit the US Embassy in Swaziland.

All the winners, PCVs, US Ambassador (in the back with an orange shirt), PC Director (far left)
 The students were all presented with a prize of school bags with school supplies.  The following day after the award ceremony, I brought the prizes with me to the school and presented them to the boys in front of the whole school and their head teacher.  They had their picture and an article in the newspaper and their names were announced in the evening radio broadcast.

This was a fantastic accomplishment for this school.  They have come so far considering that last year they were learning under a tree, sitting in the grass with a broken chalkboard leaning against the tree, and fig fruits falling on their heads during lessons.  The students and teachers alike were proud of the two winners for overcoming obstacles and having put their new school on the map!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February Hodge Podge

I have been so busy lately, I haven't been keeping up with the blogs,
and now so many things have happened I don't know what I have written
about and what I haven't so forgive me if this blog seems like a hodge
Let's talk about GLOW first. GLOW is a continuous project. Now that
TOT (Training of Trainers) has finished and was a great success we are
now moving our focus to planning for the big Camp that is in April and
at the same time also starting GLOW Clubs in our local communities. I
have been particularly busy with GLOW since I am also one of the
people responsible for writing and editing the manuals which are huge
documents that we have basically constructed from scratch. The manual
tells people the mission and objectives of GLOW, the GLOW committee
responsibilities and the TOT/ Camp planning processes, about what
happens at Camp, how to apply for camp, how to start a Club in
communities, and so on. It is basically a compilation of all the work
our committee has done over the last year and it will be what is left
here when we all return to the States. I am working on forming a Club
in my community too. The first meeting is on Friday, so I am crossing
my fingers that girls will actually show up and be interested.

Changing topics… One of my favorite things about being in Swaziland is
that it makes celebrating American events/holidays so much better and
more meaningful. 4th of July, elections, Thanksgiving, and Suberbowl
have come to be a highlight of my Swazi-American life. Superbowl was
great fun last year, and even more fun this year. We played touch
football, hung out by the pool, ate great food, and waited for the 2am
kickoff time. But right before kick-off time we had a huge
thunderstorm which cut our power for the first quarter, so we
improvised. We sat by candlelight getting updates on the game via
text messages from the States. The power came back in the second
quarter, only for New Orleans' power to go out in the third quarter, a
coincidence I thought was just too funny and ironic not to mention.
After the delay of game, it finally ended at 6am. I had a day full of
meetings planned at the office that morning and only about 10 minutes
of sleep. Totally worth it though.

Now let's skip to last weekend. I helped a fellow Volunteer with her
big project. She works primarily in the pre-schools, so she had a
4-day workshop for six of her local pre-school teachers. I helped on
two of the days. The workshop covered topics such as why pre-school
teaching was important, child development (ages and stages), lesson
planning, and behavior management. It was a great workshop. The
teachers seemed to learn a lot. My role in the workshop was just
supplementary, to help make sure everything was running smoothly:
checking with the cook to make sure lunch was set, making tea, sitting
in on sessions, helping with suggestions, questions, and
mistranslations. It was great to see all the hard work my fellow PCVs
are doing in their communities and the cumulative impact all of us
PCVs are having throughout the country.

As soon as I finished pre-school training, my next commitment was for
one of my Peace Corps duties. Last year I was selected to be a leader
for the Emergency Action Plan. Basically if there is a security risk
in the country, I am the contact person in my area of the country to
communicate messages from the office and be the point person if a
quick evacuation was deemed necessary. So we, the Wardens, come
together with our security director to talk about the Action Plan,
possible scenarios, and our roles and responsibilities throughout the
whole procedure. We also talk about what might go wrong and what to
do if that happens.

Next on the line, it's time to go back to my community. I am working
with an Adult Ed Literacy class. A while ago they pointed out that
one of the reasons they want to learn English is so that they can use
an ATM without asking for help from the attendant. So I while I was
in town I stopped in at the bank for a couple hours to ask every
question I could about banking in this country. I decided that if my
women want to learn to use an ATM then they also need to learn how to
fill out the form to open a bank account. Filling out forms is a
skill needed in many other areas of life and the forms are all written
in English, so I thought it was an important and practical issue to
talk about in class. Next, I will teach about ATMs and then how to
use their cell phones to send text messages since both of these pieces
of technology are also only in English. My form-filling lesson seemed
to go over pretty well, but the English was too advanced on those
forms for them to actually be able to fill it on their own.

Continuing... I am writing this blog write now because I am
procrastinating writing a grant proposal. I am writing a grant to
fund a workshop for the HIV support group in my community. I want the
HIV+ people in my community to better understand their disease,
understand the importance of taking their medicine, and how to help
take care of each other. I think that this workshop will be really
helpful to the people in my community. I am seeking advice from the
local clinic to help lead sessions, local HIV and development
organizations, and support group members themselves to talk about HIV.
What I have learned through this whole process (and through the
process of the last grant I wrote) is that I really dislike writing
grants. I am better at/enjoy more hands on work and not making
(bullshitting) the words to justify my communities need for an HIV
workshop, especially in the country with the highest HIV rate in the
world. I know you want to tell me that I am a simply fantastic
writer and you can't peel your eyes away from my blog, but writing is
really hard for me and it takes a long time to produce. It can take
me a whole day to write a simple two page blog. (Good thing I am a
PCV with a ton of time to kill!)

Speaking of killing, another fellow PCV killed her first chicken last
week. I have yet to be honored with the privilege of that experience.
Her friend came to visit from America and they killed a chicken
together to celebrate. (I am only telling you that because I am
jealous of her chicken killing experience.) The next day, their
chicken was completely digested and I then accompanied them and a few
other Volunteers to Hlane Game Reserve. It is the largest game
reserve in Swaziland and it is home to the only lions in Swaziland.
It was Valentine's Day and since I have no boyfriend here, we spent
the day on a game drive with the King of the Jungle and some
elephants, rhinos, hippos, and giraffes! It was a great day!

It is good to be busy and I am also finding time to enjoy myself as
well. While I am working on all of my new and on-going projects, I am
also working on figuring out what I will be doing next year when this
Peace Corps commitment is finished. I have decided that I want to
stay a third year in Swaziland with the Peace Corps. A third year
will be a lot different than the work I am currently doing. I want to
work with some handicraft organizations in Swaziland to help with
small business development, expanding their markets, and maybe even
some product development. With the help of my Peace Corps boss we
have identified some organizations that I could work with, so now I
need to get into contact with the organizations and iron out the
details. This is an exciting opportunity for me since it will be
practical work experience. I was a business major in college, after
all, and not really into health unless it had to do with sports. I
joined Peace Corps to get real world working experience and although I
feel like I have done a lot here, I don't think I have done what I
came here to do yet. I feel it would be a shame to have come this
close and not finished the whole experience and fulfilled all of my
expectations. Although I miss my American life I really think a third
year here is what is right for me right now.

Well, I am sure I am forgetting to tell you tons of awesome stories in
this mess of a blog. Maybe next time I will try not to wait so long
to fill you in. Here's to wishful thinking!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

TOT: What a GLOWing success!

I am still on a high from last week’s GLOW Counselor Training.  The atmosphere of Swazi women playing an active role in their own empowerment was truly inspiring! For those of you just jumping on the bandwagon now, GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) exists to encourage, support, and inspire gender equality and female empowerment in the Kingdom of Swaziland.  Our goal is to provide a safe and supportive environment where girls can obtain accurate information on sexual and reproductive health, obtain psychosocial support, investigate careers, and develop leadership skills.

A huge thank you to everyone who helped support GLOW.  Our first training of the Second Annual GLOW Camp was glowingly successful!!  We, the GLOW team just finished hosting TOT (Training of Trainers) where we selected counselors from our communities all around Swaziland.  These women will serve as the leaders at the GLOW Camp that will take place in April.  GLOW Camp is a camp that targets, teenagers and school-aged girls in order to empower them to become the future leaders of Swaziland.  TOT is important because most of the sessions we cover at TOT will also be taught at Camp, so TOT is basically a dry-run to work out all the kinks in order to make sure Camp is successful, that the counselors are prepared, and the girls will gain all-important information and leadership skills.

TOT was four days long.  The first day was a half-day which consisted of an introduction to GLOW, getting to know you games, and a PJ party!  One of the activities dealt with all the things we think we can’t do and overcoming those can’ts.  Our venue had a beautiful pool, but our counselors were scared of it because most of them can’t swim.  We had no time in the schedule for swim lessons, but we volunteer took note of this fear to see if we could find a time in the week to teach them to swim.

On to day two, we talked about sexual and reproductive health.  There was a lesson on anatomy of male and female bodies, menstruation, and how pregnancy happens.  Next, I taught a lesson about sexually transmitted infections and their symptoms and that many STIs are curable or treatable.  Then we went on to the emotional aspects of health and having a child by choice, not chance.   We talked about goal setting and leadership and then at night we had a movie night where we showed “The King and I.”  The movie was a hit.  The counselors loved watching a woman stand up for herself and also watching the King as he misused English phrases.

I was particularly proud of my session on STIs because of a survey we asked the counselors fill out a survey at the beginning and end of the training.  One of the questions asked whether some STIs were curable.  36% got the question right at the beginning and by the end 96% got it right!  Whoo! I taught them something and they were listening!

Day three was all about mental health and dealing with the grief and loss of loved ones.  They learned coping strategies to deal with losses and had time to reflect on their lost loved ones.   We were also visited by the US Ambassador.  As she arrived, our Swazi counselors were surprised and impressed that a person of such high distinction was a woman.  She really made an impact even before she sat down to give here talk which on its own was truly inspiring to both Swazis and Americans alike.  She spoke about her humble beginnings in Queens, NY in a family of seven sisters.  Her parents hadn’t graduated high school, but were advocates for hard work and education.  She bragged that because of these disciplines instilled by her parents, all her sisters graduated college and are successful lawyers, doctors, business women, and diplomats.  She told us that we can accomplish anything with resources, inspiration, and hard work.  She gained inspiration from mentors throughout her life, particularly a Spanish teacher who taught her that the world was bigger than her ten city block world she knew growing up.  She reminded us that we are all mentors to younger girls and we must be role models, and we all have the opportunity to shape a girl’s life just as her Spanish teacher has unknowingly had huge influence on her life.  WE may not always know or realize the lasting impact our life has on others.  We need to have the self-confidence to take the reins of our own life and our own empowerment.  It is important to not let others define us and that women have to step up and be the loudest voice in their own empowerment.

In the afternoon sessions, we continued with a renewed sense of inspiration and confidence thanks to the Ambassador.  It was now the counselors’ time to practice what they learned throughout the last two days.  They each presented one of the lessons that was presented the previous before.  This gave them the opportunity to gain confidence teaching the lessons and allowed us volunteers the opportunity to see if they had learned anything from our sessions (thankfully, they had).

At night we continued the confidence building with a talent show of singing, dancing, and dramas, capped off by PCVs synchronized swimming routine followed by a dance party and women stripping off their clothes to jump in the pool.  Pool party!  On the first day we talked about their fear of water and now with swim lessons we helped many women who were terrified of water in the beginning!  The swim lessons were unplanned but so powerful in that they showed so clearly the empowerment we were giving these women.  We, volunteers were physically holding the women up as we taught them to float and at the end, they may not have been able to do it completely on their own, but they gained the confidence that swimming wasn’t an impossibility and that the fear of water was something they could overcome.

Wow! What a great week.  I wish the words could do it justice.  I think the women learned a lot of information, but more importantly found power within themselves that they have the opportunity to help Swaziland grow into a better country where women have a voice and are not second class citizens anymore. 

Parting words from the Ambassador, “You cannot move forward if half your population is left behind.” “Think big, dream big, do big.”

Affirmation Wall
One nice feature of TOT was the Affirmation Wall where every woman, counselor and PCV, had an envelope where we could write each other notes throughout the training.  It really added to the atmosphere of positivity and togetherness throughout the week.  I will share some of mine:

-          You are so sweet, friendly, & accommodative.  Keep it up please.

-          I loved the swimming lessons.

-          It was nice to meet you.

-          I love your constant positive attitude and eagerness to help.

-          You are amazing.  Thanks for everything you shared.

-          I dearly love you.

-          Love your smile. Keep it up.

-          You are a good asset in Swaziland when it comes to women.

-          Hey beautiful lady.  It was so nice having you here and I loved the approach of your session.  You know that was smart.

-          If I had a brother, you would have been my sister-in-law. Lol
 Simply put, very successful TOT.  I feel very inspired and empowered myself.  Now we are already busy preparing for Camp GLOW which takes place April 29-May 4.
(Pictures to come hopefully on Saturday when I have more access to internet.)



Monday, January 14, 2013

SAW Sunday

So the following is probably completely inappropriate, but these things happen when I am at a function that is primarily in a foreign language for 2 hours. What do I do to pass the time.. Obviously I try to find the similarities between my church service and the horribly gruesome and gory SAW movies. You know the ones, where they are forced to cut off their own arms or legs or poke out their own eyes in order to survive.
I am not saying that I have considered cutting off my arm as an excuse to get out of another long service. (If I disliked it that much I am sure I could stay home and watch movies instead, but I have nightmares now so no way I would watch any of the SAW movies.)

So here is what happened at church yesterday. After some singing and praying it's the pastor's turn to give his sermon. He usually throws a little English in or refers to Bible verses so I can follow along a little, but most of the time I am pretty zoned out at church. But yesterday I was riveted. The topic of the sermon, he said in English was how the word 'simple' and the word 'easy' do not have the same meaning. What an interesting topic and I would love to hear what he is saying, but once he switches to siSwati I am left to figure it out for myself.

I really had no idea there is a difference between simple and easy, so then I began trying to think of examples to explain the difference and of course the first thing I think of are the Saw movies. I haven't even seen a Saw movie since I went to see Saw 5 on Halloween about 5 years ago. But my philosophical brain decides that Saw is a perfect example of the difference between 'simple' and 'easy.'

How? You ask. I decided that a person in a Saw situation must make the decison to cut off their own arm in order to save their life. So they have a choice: to cut their arm off and save their life or don't and die. Assuming the person wants to live, the right choice is 'simple.' They must cut off their arm. However doing that action is not so 'easy.' Problem solved!

Somehow I don't think the pastor was talking about the Saw movies, but he was shouting and pacing across the stage flailing his arms as he made his points just as he might is he was arguing with Saw co-stars to decide whether they would be alive or dead by the end of the movie.

The sermon was very exciting as I was putting words into the pastor's mouth, at least it was exciting until I figured out that the sermon was not actually about Saw at all (how disappointing!), but instead about Moses and the Exodus. Whoops!

Anyways, I've got a busy week this week. The time has finally come for some girls empowerment! Our first GLOW event is this week where we will be training the future leaders of GLOW Swaziland. The women we bring from around the country this week will serve as counselors at the big GLOW Camp that will take place in April. So stay tuned to hear how the training goes! Thanks to everyone for supporting GLOW and women's empowerment in Swaziland!
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone powered by MTN Swaziland

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Scandelous miniskirts

It is so good to be back in Swaziland.  After being in the 1st world for two whole weeks and not receiving a single marriage proposal I thought I had lost my touch at attracting men.  But no worries, I  arrived to the airport in South Africa and even before I could make it to the khumbi that would take me home to Swaziland I was proposed to.  Whew!  I was getting nervous there for a minute with the lack of male attention I had recieved in the last week.
Ok, I must admit that I got a lot of attention while in America, but it was a different kind of attention.  You all in America asked me questions and had genuine interest in the answers (unless we were talking about my bathroom situation!).  Unfortunately quality conversations between Swazi men and me are generally few and far between.
While I was in America, current events in Swaziland included a group of young women who protested the harassment they receive in the bus rank by marching through the bus rank in their miniskirts.  So now it is up in the air whether a woman can lawfully wear a miniskirt.  The law makes obvious sense, right?  Because when a man sees a women wearing a miniskirt he finds it impossible to control himself and as a result this impulse may force him to rape the young woman.  She deserved the unwarranted attention, harassment, or rape and essentially asked for it when she decided to wear that miniskirt.  The police commissioner, a woman, confirmed these facts too.  (No lie, check out the Sunday Newspaper.)
After a conversation about the miniskirt law, a male counterpart of mine also confirmed this train of thought that it is the woman’s fault for the unwarranted attention because her attire is asking for it.  Then a female counterpart told me that in fact, a man cannot control himself and he has no choice but to follow his impulses.
“I don’t wear miniskirts, why then, do they harass me too?” I asked.  “They like you because you are white,” my counterparts told me.  (What an epiphany!)  So I conclude that my white skin is a signal to men that I want them to harass me just like the girls who wear fashionable clothes that are shorter or more fitted than their mother’s clothes.  They basically told me that its not the mens' faults who harrass me, its my fault because I am white.
Another event that happened last month was Swaziland’s traditional ceremony called Incwala “First Fruits Festival.”  It is a month long traditional ceremony with many parts to it, most of which are shrouded in secrecy and performed out of the public eye.  (You have to check out this other blog.)  During the lead up to the big part of the festival the King’s regiments (soldiers) travel around the country policing the traditional values of the citizens, particularly targeting women who wear pants or paint their nails (scandalous!).  If a woman is caught wearing trousers or breaking any of the other multiple traditional rules she must pay a fine right then and there, and if she doesn’t have the money to pay they can basically hold her prisoner until she finds means to pay the fine.
So after these series of unfortunate current event stories and the conversations that ensued following them, the worst part is the ease at which both Swazi men and women I talk to blame the harassment on woman rather than on the culture that promotes female subservience.  It is a culture where a woman cannot say “No” to a man and at the same time it is a country that can’t seem to figure out how to curb the spread of HIV and has the highest HIV prevalence in the entire world.
I am sensing a correlation.