It seems like as soon as I made a New Years’ resolution to update my blog more fate told me I had to give up my computer for a month. The first week of February, as I finished watching Star Wars IV, I noticed my laptop cord wasn’t actually charging anymore. So I scoured all of Mbabane (the capital) in search of an adapter or a universal adapter set I could use. Lucky me, my netbook has an incredibly small charging pin and the charger runs on a higher voltage than the typical laptop charger. Thus began a month without a computer and I can honestly say it wasn’t as bad as I imagined.
The months of February and March have been “busy” in a way. I’ve settled into a solid routine and I’ve met more and more people to work with. Here’s a glimpse into my average week for Term 1 of school here in Swaziland (which closes April 17th).
Monday – I work with the preschool nearest to my homestead. I don’t actually do much to change their routine but I try and bring one new song or game to teach them each week. There are only seven students so I like that I can learn all their names and that each student gets the attention s/he needs. However, if it rains the preschool tends not to meet. The mud gets pretty intense along the roads.
Tuesdays – This is Health Club day for the primary school closest to my homestead. This is a group of students from grades 1-7 who come and participate in activities relating to their health. Before I came, I think this largely meant learning about oral hygiene, washing your school uniforms, early pregnancy, and alcohol abuse. These are all important topics but I’m trying to introduce the cause of most teenage issues: peer pressure and self-esteem. Slowly but surely, we are including different lessons that show students how to respond to those problems.
Wednesdays – This is Health Club day for a new school I’ve discovered. In early February, I was introduced to a primary school and a preschool that are about 5km from my homestead. When I first started going there I walked both ways, but now that I have the transport schedule down I’m less inclined to walk 10km for obvious reasons. This school was a little late in starting up their health club and is significantly less organized about it. This makes it difficult for me to plan and it has caused some serious frustration, but the teachers are all young and very nice so it’ll get better over time.
Thursdays – This is a day that I generally keep open for meetings although that doesn’t always work out. There is an HIV support group I’ve been trying to meet with but they meet on Tuesdays when I have health club.
Fridays – These past two months it feels like I’ve been in Mbabane nearly every weekend. On one hand, this is fantastic because I get showers and all the pizza and ice cream a girl could ask for but, on the other hand, I also spend all my living allowance on food and lodging. Now Fridays have become my GRE study days. Yikes….
In other news:
I’ve planned a trip to Cape Town, South Africa for June during the week of my birthday. I’m so excited for the trip despite the fact that I take the GRE the day before my birthday. Mozambique was a good vacation, but Cape Town is a whole new type of vacation. There are tons of museums, beaches, markets, sports games, botanical gardens, and hikes up table mountain.
I’m working with a young man in my area to put together a business planning workshop. When I came to Swaziland, I expected people to ask me for money and food. I still face that question, but even more difficult is when people ask “What can you help me with?” That is hard to answer because Swazi people do have good ideas and some are willing to work hard to start a business or seek out education to reach their goals. I joined Peace Corps because they don’t just hand money out and leave, so I’m hoping over time I can work with all the people that have asked for help starting their chicken farming business or their car wash by doing this workshop.
Libraries galore! Another project most of you are aware of (and some of you helped fund) is the library projects at both my primary schools. Unfortunately, I didn’t apply for Books for Africa with the primary school furthest from my homestead because I didn’t know they existed. The good news is they have already started a building a library building. They’re about halfway finished. Which is interesting because they have no books and no sources for books. Meanwhile, my closest school will be receiving ~1000 books in the first week of May and still has no proper shelving for the project. It isn’t that the headteacher doesn’t care about the library. In fact, the four teachers on my library planning team and the headteacher are all very serious about making this library functional. They want to do a full day of training with all the teachers and come up with a solid system for using the books effectively.
Something I didn’t know in January when I wrote to update you all is how long it would take for schools to simply get paid. Free education is a new concept here in Swaziland. Over the past decade they have been cutting school fees for grades 1 through 6. This year grade six became free, last year it was up to grade five. So instead of families paying fees on day one, the school has to wait for a check from the government. This has taken until the final week of March for my schools. That’s a whole term in which teachers’ contracts weren’t finalized so they couldn’t teach, the school couldn’t afford their electricity, and feeding programs were cut so the poorest of students came to school without breakfast and didn’t get the one meal that got them through their school day. That being said, the government somehow finagled a way to provide new desks for our school. How does this related to the library you ask? Well the old desks will now become our new, temporary shelving. This is all the headteacher’s idea and I think she does really well working with what she has. Am I mildly disappointed we don’t have a more permanent structure? Of course, but at least the books won’t sit in a box until the end of time.
There’s a lot of people I’ve met and meetings I’ve held and frustrations I’ve faced that I didn’t write about here because y’all don’t want to read a novel every time you visit my blog, but hopefully you enjoy a little glimpse into what I’ve been doing for the past two months when my blog went silent.
Books: A gazillion books….because I had no computer to watch tv on for a month.
Currently it is: The Shackled Continent: Africa’s Past, Present and Future by Robert Guest (I highly recommend this book for anyone who considers Africa a lost cause)
Show: Homeland Season 2, Suits Season 3 (finally!)