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.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

No rest for the weary.

I left Syracuse with a heavy heart last Saturday, so full of love from all the time (although too short) with all my family and friends.  I am trying desperately not to forget a single detail of every moment I was able to be at home, even those things that I would have never thought was significant before.  For instance, on my shopping trip to Wegmans the automatic doors slide open like how I imagine St. Peter’s Gates must because beyond those doors I swear I heard an angel’s chorus sing “Aaaawwweee” when I saw so many beautiful fruits and vegetables lying there so perfectly within. 

Sunday we ate breakfast at the diner where I ordered a ton off the menu and then also ate off everyone else’s plate to make sure I got my fill of American food.  We then went to the Verizon store so Patty could join the 21st century with her new iPhone.  While we were there I learned that you can buy a GPS locater for your dog!  Clever, but excessive much?!

I flew out Sunday night, spent an awesome day in London on Monday (actually happy to have had such a long layover), arrived in South Africa Tuesday morning, and finally in Swaziland on Tuesday night.  I worked at my office in the capital city on Wednesday, so I stayed in town Tuesday and Wednesday nights.  So finally on Thursday, after 2 ½ weeks I finally returned back to my hut exhausted from so much traveling.  However, rest was nowhere in sight.

During November and December I decided that I wanted to raise money for the orphans and vulnerable children in my community, so they could have a Christmas party.  I borrowed a movie projector from my office, popped a TON of popcorn, and took off around my community showing movies at several of the Neighborhood Care Points which serve as community kitchens to feed the orphans during the days.  In the last year or so, the NGOs who support the food programs pulled their funding leaving the orphans to rely already stretched thin extended family for food.  That is besides the point of my movie viewings which were relatively successful, but not without the many unforeseen obstacles that we had to deal with along the way.  The biggest obstacle being electricity!  The Care Points don’t have electricity so I had to rely on nearby homesteads and huge extension cord that has been taped together in so many places that I am sure it is a massive fire hazard.

One day there was a big thunderstorm that knocked the power out in the whole community for 2 ½ days, postponing two movie days at different Care Points and me without any way to communicate the new times.  When the power was finally back, we started unrolling the extension cord to set everything up, but it was way too short.  Unsure whether the show would go on, I went inside to prepare the room while others went to look homestead by homestead for more extension cords (really safe, I’m sure).  They succeeded in finding enough cords, but attendance was poor that day and the next because of the postponement caused by the power outage.

I raised money basically 50cents at a time by selling popcorn and sweets and also by charging 1 Rand for admission (which equals 12cents US).  Overall, I raised almost 200 Rand.  I also wrote a solicitation letter to community members to help support the cause and made donation jars for two of the shops, so customers could leave their extra change.  After all of this work there wasn’t enough time to host a party for the Orphans before heading to America for Christmas vacation.  My counterparts decided that they wanted to wait for my return to have the party and that would also give donors time to organize something to donate.

Fast forward through the awesomeness that was Christmas in America with family and friends and then press play on the Thursday that I returned back to my community.  I met with my two counterparts and we need to plan the party that I learn is scheduled for Saturday, in just two days!  We need to plan the menu, get to town, buy the food, prepare said food, and get the whole party organized.  Thankfully my counterparts had been doing some work in my absence.  They secured transportation for the children who lived a 2-hour-walk away, they found someone to donate a bunch of bread, and got a matching donation from the Caregiver’s Garden Project that I wrote the grant for earlier in the year.

Friday, I went to town with my counterpart Angel, who is the chairperson of the Youth Committee, the pre-school teacher, and one of my best friends here.  While in town we bought everything we need for the party, and then I spent the rest of the night popping a ton of popcorn and preparing for the next day.

Saturday morning arrived with its own set of complications, but nothing we couldn’t overcome.  Someone set to making jam sandwiches, others made the juice, some others set up stereo equipment to play music, while I entertained the children as they were arriving.  While I waited for everyone to arrive, I busied myself by painting the nails of at least 1000 tiny fingers (not sure if I’m exaggerating here.  Also thanks to Joy, Ashley, and Sarah for hooking me up with nail polish!).  When everyone was there, there were around 150 orphans/vulnerable children (mostly ages 3-6).  I lead them in some games, then we fed them sandwiches, chips, popcorn, candy, and juice.  We played more games and had a dance party. 

Some of the Orphans/Vulnerable Children playing games at the Christmas party.

HUGE Game of Duck, Duck, Goose (in Swaziland it is called 'Play, Ha!')

Libu showing her moves in the dance-off!  She's adorable!

Breaking it down!

At the end, I gave all of the children cookies, soap (thanks Mom and Bill for soap), and pencils (thanks Dad).  The children had a great time and looking back even though it was a lot of work, caused many headaches, and countless hours of popping popcorn and putting it into individual bags… it was all worth it to create such a special day for so many children. 

And then Sunday I slept all day long!   Rest finally!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Christmas in America and culture shock

After countless hours in transit, I am officially back in Swaziland after an amazing trip back to America.  November was a rough month here in Swaziland for me.  My Gogo died after a couple weeks in the hospital which I wrote about in a previous blog post, Toto, the puppy died probably from a parasite, and my father was diagnosed with cancer (he went through surgery great and is cancer-free now).  So when I decided to go to America for Christmas, it was just the kind of vacation I was needing.

I have been in Swaziland for 19 months now and was really looking forward to good food and good people.  My mom asked what I would want to eat while in America, and I said 'meat that I can cut with a knife.'  I know that sounds like a weird request, but here in Swaziland they only eat stew meat that's pre-cut up.  So as soon as I arrived to London Airport I got a steak, which was fantastic!  Although an airport is not the best place to get a steak since they don't have steak knives there, so my hands were really tired from trying to cut my steak with a dull butter knife.  Being at the airport was my first experience back in the first world.  I had a long lay-over so I spent time smelling every perfume, shopping in fancy shops, people watching and of course eating that steak.  I noticed every child had an ipad in there hands and every adult had an iphone, meanwhile I had no phone and was knitting a scarf.

I was expecting a big culture shock when I arrived in America, but in realty I haven't been gone all that long.  I still remember what its like to be American. I haven't forgotten how to flush a toilet or use a shower.  Ipads existed before I left America, they are just everywhere now.  However, I did notice how smooth the roads were to drive on.  Over Christmas, I was able to spend time with all my cousins and their babies and I must admit that it was really strange for me to see how the men interacted with their children.  They played with their children, changed their poopy diapers, held their children, fed their children, and I guess just acted like normal fathers.  However, that is not the case in Swaziland.  I rarely see men interacting with children and most mothers I know are raising their children as single, unwed, uneducated 20-somethings.

It was so great to be in America where everyone speaks English.  I could listen to and understand two conversations at once instead of never hearing what anyone was saying when they speak in siSwati.  It was great to catch up with all my family, cousins, and friends over the week, but at the same time I didn't understand the context of all their conversations.  It felt like when you read the sequel to a book without reading the first one, its hard to know what information you are missing and what is new to the plot.  I felt half-lost in many conversations unsure of what I was missing but knowing that I didn't have the whole story.

America was great, hectic though trying to see everyone and do everything, but totally worth it.  And in true Central New York fashion it snowed almost the entire time I was there, and particularly hard snow whenever I needed to travel anywhere.  Thankfully I missed a heatwave that passed through Swaziland at the same time which would have made my Christmas in Swaziland really miserable had I been here.  Instead I spent Christmas surrounded by family, great food, and awesome Christmas cookies inside a warm comfortable house.  It was great to hear every ones interest and excitement about the work I am doing in Swaziland and I am so thankful for every ones support.

Unfortunately,  time went too fast as it always does on vacation.  My flight back to Swaziland had an even longer lay-over in London, so I planned to meet up with a good friend form college and spend the day being a tourist through the city.  I braved the Tube and got to see Buckingham Palace, a changing of the Guard and Westminster.  We at lunch with a perfect view of  Big Ben, Parliament, and the London Eye.We got a drink in an English Pub and as we left a man opened the door for us and said "Cheerio" which was so English and made me laugh.

I spent my New Years on the plane back to Swaziland which was pretty uneventful.  Happy New Year to everyone, may it be prosperous. Now I am back in Swaziland, spending two nights in town before diving back in to community life.  Camp GLOW Training of Trainers is next up on the list of things to do, so I will ake sure to update and tell you all about it when it happens