Friday, December 16, 2011

Youth Forum and Lock Down

So since I wrote last a few things have happened. First of all, I went to Youth Forum which was described to us as a camp for out of school youth that we were going to help facilitate, like camp counselors.  A bunch of us Life Skills volunteers signed up since it seemed like a fun opportunity and was also a chance to get off of lockdown for a bit (lockdown or ‘community assessment phase’ is the first 2 and a half months or so of service when we are not allowed to leave site). Anyway, we were bussed up to Kagoadi which is a village about 6 hours or so from Gabs. The camp was held at a junior secondary boarding school and so when we got there we split boys and girls and were given rooms (after some confusion over availability etc.) us girls were all packed into one very small room which didn’t have enough beds and was packed with more girls as the week went on. At one point there were 16 women in a room meant for 12. Anyway, we then waited and waited and waited for dinner to be ready, ate around 9:30 and were finally heading to bed when they called us back for an emergency meeting to warn us that there were scorpions and black mambas around and there had been a few cases of children being stung already, just what we wanted to hear! And that was only day one. We spend the next ten days on a rollercoaster ride of cultural clashes, long meetings in Setswana with no one to translate, bonding with kids, communal bucket bathing (due to disgusting bathrooms and a lack of buckets), and trying to figure out exactly why they had asked Peace Corps to come to this camp in the first place. On the first official day of the camp they did this activity where they had all of the kids lie down in the auditorium type room where the events were being held and just told them to relax, close their eyes, and think about any issues they were facing at home. Within the first 5 minutes at least 5 kids “broke” as they called it and started crying. As soon as a kid “broke” they were led outside where there were social workers and counselors waiting for them to talk to. Quickly all the counselors and social workers were occupied as more and more kids broke down in tears so kids were asked to write down what was bothering them. The whole ordeal lasted maybe an hour or an hour and a half, but was really heart-wrenching.  I had to try hard not to start crying myself, and felt pretty helpless. I’m still not sure whether it was a useful or healthy exercise for the kids or not, but I guess at least they had a chance to tell someone what was going on with them. Aside from that event, the rest of the camp was upbeat and focused on educating the kids on various life skills such as HIV prevention and hygiene. It was very frustrating at times because of the language barrier and also because Peace Corps didn’t have a defined role at the camp. We hadn’t been part of the planning process so we didn’t have sessions to lead aside from one which was the World AIDS day events. Anyway, I struggled with feeling useless and had a hard time getting my head in the game so to speak. We also had issues with the management and the way things were run. Overall, it was a crash course in cultural difference, and it probably wasn’t the best idea for Peace Corps to send in 11 brand new volunteers into such an intense experience, but we made it! The week ended with a disaster of a field trip in which all the Peace Corps volunteers were stuck into the back of a truck and all feared for our lives while we barreled down a dirt road for hours on end. It’s hard to really explain all of this because everything that happened is so distant from things that happen in the states that I’m having a hard time giving a clear picture, but in a nut shell, it was a crazy week. On the plus side since our bus back to Gabs broke down 3 times and it took us 10 hours to make the trip, we got to stay in Gabs at a hotel! Which was amazing, I was particularly excited about the sinks, and of course a hot shower! And a pool! Quite luxurious. Back at site, I’ve been pretty bored. School is closed and since my main job is at the school I don’t have much to do. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, my village is super small so there isn’t really anything to do and not many people around. I’ve been doing some wandering around, which has been nice, but mostly I’m just trying to get through the month and looking forward to school being open again.

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