An Unconquerable Spirit

Several staff from my org, LCCS, with a banner made at an HIV education camp

Three months ago, I arrived at my site with one primary assignment: integration via an intensive Community Needs Assessment (CNA). Since then, I’ve done interviews with all kinds of stakeholders: schools, non-profit organizations (NPO), the clinic, social workers, the headman (traditional leader), local businesses, and informal conversations with residents. This also comprised a pretty exhaustive document review. Needless to say, I was flexing my grad school muscles for the first time in a while!

I submitted the draft of my CNA to Peace Corps this past Friday and felt very rewarded. They’ll provide feedback so that we can revise with our orgs and use it as a guide for potential projects. In the next draft, I hope to have finalized the organizational capacity assessment that I started with LCCS this past month. We’ll be finishing the assessment portion on Monday, and the full results will be presented at an all-staff workshop on Thursday, July 13. I’m excited to work with everyone to celebrate what LCCS is already doing well, prioritize areas for improvement, and work together on a plan for the next year. At the end of this month, I’ll be heading to PC’s In-Service Training with my supervisor and counterpart from LCCS to get more training on HIV-specific programming. So what were some of the findings of my CNA?

My village has quite a few challenges. Most of the infrastructure is old and too small to accommodate the current population, especially in schools and NPOs. My ward (about 10,000 people) had the highest unemployment rate in the municipality (roughly similar to a county in the US) at a whopping 65%. Residents also cited food security as a top concern, and most of the NPOs in the area provide at least one meal during the week for their beneficiaries. There are few recreational outlets or programs in the village, and opportunities after students pass matric (similar to graduating from high school) can be hard to access when relying on data, which gets expensive. Getting exact estimates for HIV prevalence is difficult, but in 2011, about a quarter of the population in my municipality had HIV. Learning about the needs in my community felt incredibly overwhelming at times, especially the look in the eyes of my interviewees when I fumbled through an explanation of what little help I might be able to offer them.

Margaret works at the local NPO for the active aging population, which coordinates our local team for the provincial sports competitions, provides meals, and hosts adult education classes

However, my village is incredibly self-sufficient. I am awed by the level of coordination and adaptability here. I had just begun to think about the potential for a project such as a community garden to address food security needs when I met a nascent NPO that was already talking about such a garden. Several NPOs are currently working, or previously worked, for years without receiving any kind of payment. My village even has an ad hoc, volunteer safety committee that helps to respond to local needs. Most structures—schools, NPOs, traditional healers, daycares, pastors—have their own coordination platform. Beyond that, there are several purely volunteer organizations that help out with community events like weddings and funerals. There are strong links between the clinic, home-based care NPO, and social workers. Finding funding is a challenge, but seeing their drive to serve their communities regardless of the obstacles has been an invaluable source of inspiration to me. Yesterday, I re-watched Invictus, a movie about Mandela and the South African rugby team that is named for a poem that inspired Mandela during his prison stay, “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. The poem that is the movie’s namesake reminds me of the same unconquerable spirit that I find in my village:

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Want to learn more about the village where I’ll be spending the next two years of my life? Shoot me a message and I’d be happy to email you a full copy of my CNA! Also, please let me know if you have any thoughts on this post in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “An Unconquerable Spirit

  1. I’m in awe, as usual, of the way the community supports each other there in your village. I might be heartbroken adjusting to life there, but I’m glad you can inspire hope for the villagers.

    Liked by 1 person

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