Catching Up

The past two months have been quite hectic with several work events.  Apologies in advance for a long post!

In late November, I continued with LCCS’s organizational capacity building with two participatory workshops to rewrite our mission and vision statements.  I am so grateful to my coworkers for being such avid participants in both workshops; we did some tough but necessary work!

 

Two weeks later, I went to the SA36s in-service training (IST) to announce the newest members of the Resource Committee.  I also facilitated the committee’s first training on utilizing resources on the flash drives that we distribute.  There’s a lot to work on, but the training went well overall.  I enjoyed meeting the 36s, who are a very cool and talented bunch.  I’m especially excited to work with our newest committee members!

December was the month of HIV/AIDS awareness activities.  December 1 is World AIDS Day (fondly known as WAD, at least among the PCV community), although there are many activities leading up to and following WAD yearly.  WAD is dedicated to raising awareness about the fight against HIV, supporting people living with HIV, and commemorating those who have lost their lives to AIDS-related illnesses (worldaidsday.org/about).  It’s also an important time to extend support and acknowledge the many people who have been affected by HIV and AIDS in our communities.  As of 2016, over 7 million people were living with HIV in South Africa, with the largest affected group being adolescent girls and young women.  19% of people living with HIV worldwide live in South Africa.  In addition, the epidemic has led to over 2 million orphans and vulnerable children.  However, South Africa has worked hard to counter this and has achieved a 49% decrease in new infections and a 29% reduction in AIDS-related deaths since 2010 (UNAIDS South Africa Fact Sheet, 2016).

In late November, I went to a nearby village to help a fellow PCV and her org host a WAD, which was incredible.  We played HIV trivia, raised awareness about the sugar content in different cool drinks (soda), and passed out WAD bucket hats to people who tested for HIV.  I spoke to countless people about the benefits of using lube with condoms, which isn’t widely utilized in rural areas.  I was able to get some ideas, pamphlets, and lube from Kasey that helped me with my org’s WAD.  On December 5, LCCS hosted their very own WAD.  We had several speakers, some local entertainment, poems read by learners who attend LCCS, and really delicious cakes that celebrated children’s rights.  Despite terrible thunderstorms, we had a decent turnout, and we plan to throw an even better WAD in 2018.

 

For the rest of the week, I went to our local secondary school to help YASPO with their Grassroot Soccer camp.  On Thursday, we held a mock debate to prep the learners for YASPO’s WAD (called Conquers Cup) on Saturday.  At first, we gave them some easy questions about HIV and teenage pregnancy prevention, and they gave good answers but weren’t very engaged.  However, when one of the YASPO coaches asked the kids about their opinion on whether the child support grant from the government should be reduced, the learners really became active.  Although I only understood bits and pieces of the debate, I was so impressed by the engagement and intelligence demonstrated by the learners.

On Saturday, YASPO held their annual Conquers Cup.  Big thanks to fellow PCV Jonas, who came by to help with setup!  Prior to the competition, there were several speakers, one of whom talked about an exciting new technology in development to help reduce the spread of HIV among young women—a ring inserted vaginally which would release PrEP (an antiretroviral drug that can prevent HIV) for 28 days called DREAM.  I’m excited to keep tabs on DREAM’s development (learn more at ipmglobal.org)!  This was followed by the debate, at which our learners performed smashingly.  I was so proud of them, and I hope we have the opportunity to do more debates in the future.  Three local teams competed in the event, and I was one of the three judges.  Teams performed a parade/team spirit that included HIV awareness, did a presentation on a partner country (Saudi Arabia or Senegal this year), and also did a traditional dance.  The teams were incredibly talented.  (Photo cred YASPO)

 

I slept for most of Sunday to recuperate, and thankfully we had a slow week at work.  I taught my colleagues how to make paper snowflakes while we watched a few Christmas classics.  On Friday, I got two care packages from Aunt Patti and Aunt Karen & Uncle Tom, which were bursting with Christmas joy.  It was a delight to share candy canes with my coworkers and host family and to decorate my room.  I’ve been battling a lot of homesickness; this will be my first Christmas away from my family.  But I’m also grateful to have such an incredibly loving host family to share the holidays with this year!

 

On a side note, I did a deep clean of my room today in the hopes of finally eradicating the fleas/bed bugs/whatever awful critters have been biting me for the past month.  I would appreciate any prayers and good thoughts that I have FINALLY eradicated them and will be itch-free!

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Committee Camaraderie

Peace Corps South Africa has four different committees that volunteers can apply to serve on: Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC), Peer Support Alliance (PSA), Diversity, and Resource (RC).  Generally, two to three volunteers are selected from each cohort based on either an application or election process.  PSA works to provide mental and emotional support to other PCVs, reaching out regularly and providing sessions on self-care.  The Diversity Committee aims to foster inclusion and support of all cultures and identities in PCSA through training sessions, creation of safe spaces, and celebrations of diversity.  VAC serves as the PCV-staff liaison, representing cohorts with senior PC staff in discussions on important policies and procedures.  Finally, the RC is responsible for collecting and disseminating critical resources to PCVs, curating the monthly newsletter, and maintaining the shared space for PCVs at headquarters.  Committees are an important part of Peace Corps; each country has its own committees, although they usually cover similar topics.

The moment I heard about RC, I was practically jumping out of my seat to join.  I love resources, and I’m passionate about connecting people with the human and technical resources to achieve their dreams.  I applied within two days of the application being sent, and I finally heard the good news at IST: I was accepted!  I had already begun to collect a variety of toolkits related to HIV, working with orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), and math tutoring that had been very useful.

This past Sunday, I attended my first RC meeting and got to meet my committee mates.  We worked at breakneck speed for two days to seriously revamp the flash drive—eliminating outdated documents, adding a tremendous amount of new resources, reorganizing folders, increasing our exercise and podcast offerings (very critical to supporting PCVs’ mental health, trust me), and copying these in an intense assembly line onto 40 flash drives.  Today, we were able to present these ridiculously amazing flash drives to the newest cohort, SA36, who will swear in as volunteers on Friday.  It is our hope that these resources will support them as they begin their journey as English teachers in Limpopo.  As a bonus, I also had a chance to meet the new SA36 volunteer who went to Hiram College, my tiny undergrad!

Is it incredibly nerdy that I’m so passionate about resources?  Absolutely.  But I’m so glad that I’ve found a group of people who are equally committed to ensuring that we do all we can to provide tools for other PCVs.  The knowledge of individual PCVs is astounding, and being able to pool that to aid future PCVs will aid us all in helping our schools and communities.  I’m also very grateful for the other committees, and a big congratulations to my cohort mates who were selected to serve on them!

Are you a PCV who is currently serving or previously served on a committee?  What was your experience?

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I also wanted to thank everyone who responded positively to my last post.  It was very validating to hear how much Romanticizing Peace Corps resonated with others!  Finally, I want to put a quick shout-out to two of my very dear friends, Rachel and Ron, who were married this past weekend 🙂