Monday, July 27, 2009

Why care? / Wrap Up

So we did it! We walked the 150km (in reality only 120 km) across the Makgadikgadi Pans! The trip started off a little annoying, with some transportation mix ups, delays and dealing with freezing temperatures. We arrived the first night to our campsite in the dark and couldn’t see our hand in front of our face, let alone the scenery. I woke up the first morning extremely tired and grumpy from only getting a few hours of sleep – I was up most of the night shivering in my Zehrs sleeping bag thinking about my bed in Mochudi (which is comparably warmer than the sleeping bag) wondering why I was doing this... BUT, once the sun was rising and we opened the door to the tent, the view of the pans made it all too obvious why we were there! It was b-e-a-utiful.

Still, the morning started a little rough... There was nothing but a shovel to dig yourself a hole with to do your business, so after I attempted to dig through the rock hard sand, I gave up and decided I might be able to hold it for three days. After a quick breakfast, we all bundled up into our layers of pants, socks, shirts, sweaters, toques and winter gloves and began our walk, excited for what lay ahead. After 15 minutes, we exhausted the change in scenery for the next 72 hours and became focused on reaching the finish line. The first 2 days were fairly easy-going for me. I had friends to keep me company, and thanks to my hiking shoes and socks, I remained blister-free! But on the last day, I had some glands popping out of my groin, my right hip was popping out of place, Maryam had the flu, Spojmai was bleeding with blisters and Ruby and Amy were walking slowly behind. Everyone was too tired/annoyed to do any talking, and so, it gave me a lot of time to reflect, thinking about Botswana, dreaming of home, thinking about the travel plans, and trying to answer “Why care?”... after all, the walk was being run by an organization called YCARE.

Maybe I was tired (and still am) from the walk, but I couldn’t come up with any sort of good reason. Even after spending 3 months in Botswana, I still don’t know what I would say to someone if they challenged me and said “Why care?”. It reminds me of the pharmacist I went to fill my Malaria pill prescription. After being told I was going to Botswana, he replied by twisting his face and asking “WHY BOTSWANA?”. I didn’t have a good answer for him then, and after 3 months, I still don’t. I could talk about the youth in Botswana who need to be given the skills, the support, the friendship, the CHANCE to make it... I could talk about the AIDS patients who are left abandoned by friends and family who need a companion to talk to in their dying days... I could talk about the environmental destruction that is happening every day to one of the most beautiful countries on the planet because of a lack of awareness and education... but would that change your mind? I mean, aren’t these already things we all know? Aren’t these issues being thrown at us daily by the media? Isn’t caring something we all should know from the way we were raised, and not something that makes us scrunch our face in confusion?

So I’ve come to the conclusion, with the help of my good friend Jason Mraz, that “Justifying reasons why is an absolutely insane resolution to live by”. When I get home, I’m not going to exhaust myself by trying to get people to care. I am excited, however, to talk about my experience and perhaps bridge a more personal relationship between my friends in Botswana and my friends in Canada. I hope to be an example that anyone can be a source of hope and change and that “caring” isn’t always as hard as it sounds. I also hope that those who have been following my blog realize that “caring” doesn’t mean travelling across the globe and living in a village to start projects. Instead in simply means acting with your heart to help out others around you. I was telling my friend Maryam that in Mochudi, I was able to do some pretty cool things... I got a recycling and composting program developed, I helped build a house, I developed some life skills and study skills curriculums, etc... but at the end of the day, the people that I’ve come across aren’t going to remember me as “Mateo, who organized that cleaning campaign” or “Kagiso, who helped us learn how to use flash cards” or “Matt, who taught us how to make smores at camp” (I have a few different names here...) Instead, they are going to remember me for the relationship that I formed with them, the tie that they now have in Canada, the trust that was built and the friend that they made. I had been away from SSI for almost a week with the YCARE walk and meetings. When I was “reunited” with the kids on Thursday, they were at a camp at Mokolodi. When I came into their view, one of the boys, Knox, came running at me with a huge smiles, his arms wide open and jumped at me with a big hug. The rest followed, giving me props and doing the “snapping handshake”. Knowing that I have been there for them as a friend is more satisfying that anything else I could have done.

And I think this wraps up my time in Moch. I’m posting this on Monday and my last night in Mochudi is tomorrow (making Wednesday my last day at SSI). My stomach is in a knot as I am ready to leave the country, but not yet ready to leave the kids. I’ve planned to spend my last day with them just taking it easy – I’ve prepared a slideshow with pictures of them from the last 3 months, I made red and white bracelets for all the kids (something they love to wear) and have prepared a few short activities to do that will help me say goodbye. Tinny and Lisa, my co-worker and boss, have said they want to take me to the airport on the 14th of August, after travelling, as one last chance to say goodbye, so that will be nice. And then, I’ll be home-sweet-home on the 15th. My sister’s birthday is on the 16th... I can’t help but feel like I’m the best brother in the world – what could be a better birthday present? Haha. And in case I am not able to get internet on the 6th, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!! I’ll be sure to have a beer in your name.

Thanks everyone for watching and see you all on the other side!

Cheers and Go Siame,


Sunday, July 12, 2009

On a more serious note...

I haven’t written too many meaningful blogs since I’ve been away – I have mostly been focused on attempting to describe my experiences in Botswana and the various projects I’ve been working on. However, as my time in Bots is nearing its end, I’m left with thinking about my experiences here; what have I learned? How have I changed? What have I left behind for Mochudi? What have the students at SSI learned from me? What will I be leaving behind? How have my future goals and plans changed?... and literally a million other things. As silly or strange as it might be, one of my fears in doing this whole thing was that I wasn’t going to feel like I had learned anything – I wanted it to be more than just a summer doing something kind of cool... and now that I only have 2½ weeks left, it feels overwhelming with how much I have grown and learned, I’m actually having a hard time trying to sort everything out. In organizing my thoughts, it doesn’t help that the last 2 weeks and the next 2 weeks have been/will be the busiest weeks since I’ve been here... so much left to do in such little time!

Recently I read a novel called The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz. It took a while for me to get into it, and it wasn’t necessarily my favourite book I’ve ever read, however I did learn a lot from it and it has most definitely allowed me to see the possibilities of adding an international development component to my future career.

After reading about Jacqueline’s experiences and thinking about my own (both in Canada and Bots) I have come to realize that my Beyond Borders professor, Joanne, has perhaps given me the best advice I have ever received, and something that I will keep with me for the rest of my life: “If you’re not frustrated, then you’re not learning anything new”. Maybe it doesn’t sound so profound at first glance, but believe me; when you find yourself overcoming a situation where you felt massive amounts of frustration, you will no doubt understand the truth behind it. Moreover, reminding myself that frustration = learning has been something that has definitely helped me get through more than a few days here in Bots!

There was an interesting quote used The Blue Sweater, by Lao Tzu: “Go to the people: live with them, learn from them, love them. Start with what they know; build with what they have. But for the best leaders, When the job is done, the task is accomplished, the people will say: ‘We have done it ourselves’ “. I think this idea is exactly what the theme is behind the Beyond Borders program. It ties in closely with Paulo Freire’s ideas from Pedagogy of the Oppressed. A simple as it sounds, though, it is definitely harder to implement that I had expected. Unfortunately I don’t know if I was able to carry out my projects so that the people will feel as if they have done it themselves. To be honest, I think 3 months might even be too short to effectively invoke change in this way. BUT, I do feel proud of what I have been able to accomplish while here and the way in which I have been able to go about it – Friere and Tzu’s ideas will indefinitely be something I practice in future projects that I participate in.

I just wanted to write out the last paragraph of The Blue Sweater. I feel like it has so much hope in it and is important for everyone to hear. It’s also a good representation of why I am here and why it is important for everyone around the globe to do their part in being a global citizen:
“Today we are redefining the geography of community and accepting shared accountability for common human values. We have the chance to extend to every human being on the planet the notion that all men are created equal, and this will require global structures and products we are only beginning to imagine. Though the average citizen cannot, of course, match the enormous gifts made by successful entrepreneurs such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, each of us in his or her own way can contribute something by thinking-and acting-like a true global citizen. We have only one world for all of us on earth, and the future really is ours to create, in a world we dare to imagine together.”

So as I wrap up my time here in Botswana, I am left feeling as awkward and vulnerable as I did when I first got here. There are a stir of emotions I have, ranging from excitement of travelling and getting home to see family and friends, to scepticism that the programs I have helped implement at the centre will continue, to disappointment that I can’t stay longer, to sadness that it will be time for me to say goodbye to many friends that I have developed real relationships with over the last 3 months. I am also worried about talking about my experiences when I get home... I am so excited to go through pictures and videos and talk about my time here, but I only hope I will be able to find the right words to give justice to this place I’ve called home for the summer of 2009. I also hope I can effectively explain my experiences such that you might have an understanding of what this trip has meant for me.

Anyways, the next 2½ weeks will fly by, as my entire time here has. After that, I will be off on my 2 week travelling adventure with Maryam and Ruby, and then I will be heading home!!!!!!!!!! If I don’t get another chance to blog before all this, I will make sure I wrap up this blog space with an update to how life is back home by the end of August. In the meantime, I’ll take all your prayers and thoughts in helping me conclude this crazy summer I have had!


Travelling and Enviro update

First off, Tuesday is my Grandpa's birthday, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY GRANDPA! Sorry I can't be home to say it in person!

Also, I missed the 3-Amigo Birthdays in Southampton this weekend – hope everyone had a blast, as per usual. Happy birthday Kyle!

Ahhh there is so much that has happened in these last 2 very busy weeks! To save you a long post and to save me from all the typing, I’m just going to briefly tell you what’s been going on – for any more detail, you’ll have to wait until I get home!

From July 30 – August 5, some of the WUSC volunteers and I travelled up to Maun and Shakawe on a Cultural Hike Trail. We drove all the way, which took over 13 hours, but the travels were definitely worth it. I started the trip off being pretty sick and running a fever of 103 F, but I went to the doctor who prescribed me some meds and I was better within 2 days.

Our first big stop was the Tsodilo Hills. These are 4 famous hills found in the north west part of the country. We began by visiting a small community who sold jewellery to make a living. Without getting into much detail, this was by far the most obvious poverty I have seen since living in Botswana. There were naked babies covered with flies, women with no teeth, huts with no doors and just an overall sense of scarcity. Given all that, the mood of the community was positive, the people were full of smiles and you couldn’t see any desperation in their eyes. I still felt uncomfortable there though. After buying some jewellery, we headed for the hills. We climbed the female hill (the second largest of the 4) because it is full of ancient rock art. That night we camped out in Shakawe and slept to the sounds of hippos outside our tent all night.

The next day we crossed the Okavango River and began our cultural hike. We took many modes of transportation: car, ferry, walking, donkey cart ride and mokoro boats! We were able to have traditional San food while watching San dancing and camping in the middle of the bush. On the mokoro trip, we were instructed to keep a watchful eye for crocodiles and hippos, which was quite nerve-racking! We even had the chance to play with some local children and taught them some games. It was hilarious playing with them because anytime one of us would say anything, the group would roar with giggles and laughter!

On the way home from Shakawe, we got into an accident with someone who was swerving to avoid a pothole in the road. Then we arrived in Maun and decided to go on a safari in Moremi National Park. The safari was more than successful – we had close encounters with elephants, hippos and giraffes, were able to see a huge variety of antelope, saw zebra and jackals and watched lions feeding on an antelope. We even got a little too close to an elephant which was not happy to be surprised by us and we thought he was going to charge us! Then on the way home from the park, the safari truck’s brakes failed and we went smashing into a cow that was crossing the road at the wrong time.

Needless to say, the trip was an amazing experience and I have been told by locals that I have truly seen the country. Since we arrived late from the trip, I spent the night at my boss’s house and my Monday using the Internet. I was tired from the trip and had a long day at the house. After seeing some pictures that my sister had posted of her summer, I was actually feeling a little homesick, missing my family and friends. On my way back to Mochudi, I was in a pretty bad mood – I was feeling like I might be getting sick again, I was stressing over all the work I have left to do and details regarding the community cleanup. I was tired and grumpy and just wanted to head to bed when I opened the front door to my home and found my host mom greeting me with a huge smile! She was excited to see me, told me to sit down and that she was all ears to hear about my trip. It made me feel so much better right away and reminded me about how much I owe this experience to the amazing people I live and work with.

Just this past week we had the environmental seminar for the kids on Wednesday and the community cleanup yesterday. Both were a huge success and the collaboration with Stepping Stones and Someralang Tikologo was very appreciated by both organizations, WUSC and the community. There were over 70 people who came out to participate in the cleanup and all were provided BBQ meet, garden salad, pap and chakalaka. I feel very proud of Ruby and my efforts to put together the workshop and cleanup. I think it was more than well received from the community and everyone had fun participating.

And now I sit here panicking, thinking about next weekend: the 150km YCARE walk! I definitely feel like I am not prepared to do 8 hours of hiking through the desert in Botswana for 3 days straight. Thanks to everyone who was able to donate to me. I was able to find a sponsor in Gaborone, Bokomo, who was willing to make up for the funds I wasn’t able to raise. They have given me some T-Shirts and hats to wear during the walk so I advertise their products, which is awesome! They are even providing me with energy bars for the walk.

This week I am working with the students on their art design that they will paint on the walls. I will let you know how that, and how the walk, goes next week! Wish me luck!

Go Siame,


Thursday, June 25, 2009

It just gets better and better!

Ahh – I CANNOT believe June is almost over! Life at Stepping Stones International is amazing and I probably couldn’t be happier.

I met with Ruby, my friend at Someralang Tikologo, earlier this week to finalize the details for the environmental seminar I’ve arranged to come to SSI for the youth. We also worked out for the details for the Community Cleanup Event we’ve organized for July 11th. I’ve still got a ton of other work to do on writing and delivering letters for funding and invitations for the event, beginning the compost program, beginning my work term report and more! Needless to say, I am never bored here!

Last week, two of my good friends, Nicole and Sharon, called me. It was really nice to hear from them and know that they’re thinking about me! Also, thanks to everyone for the e-mails and messages along the way; I know it might not seem that significant to you back home, but they really do mean a lot! Anyways, after talking to them, I was left craving to be back home with everyone, sit on the patio at the Blue Moon, have a BBQ around the pool or head to Southampton for the birthday weekend. But after thinking about everything, I realized as much as I miss Canada, it’s not the luxuries that I miss. I don’t miss the pool or my jeep or my blackberry or even hot water and a laundry machine (although they all would be nice additions). But all those things that I have back home that I couldn’t imagine my life without turn out not to matter so much... the only thing that I genuinely miss is the people I left. I miss summer cottage trips with my family. I miss handing out in basements and camping in trailer parks with my friends. Not that I’m necessarily going to give up those luxuries, but this trip has just made it really obvious to me that all the things I thought I needed in my life back home don’t seem as important now that the people that matter to me have been removed from my daily life. Believe me, I will never take these people for granted again!

I think part of the reason I love it here is that for the first time in my life, I LOVE my job. I have yet to wake up in the morning, wishing I wasn’t going to work. That’s not to say life at SSI is perfect, but the frustrations that come with it is partly what I love (well... at least what I’m learning from these frustrations). I feel like I get so much accomplished at work-and it’s not mindless pouring coffee or statistical reporting, but instead it’s meaningful, important, interesting and fun work that I like to do! I have gained so much experience in areas that I never would have had exposure to back in Canada. The team I work with has been so supportive of every idea I have had. I need to especially thank my boss, Lisa, and my co-worker Tinny, who have helped me every step along the way.

Last weekend I attended the Toyota Desert Race in Botswana. I went with one of my co-worker’s daughter and a bunch of her friends. It was an absolute blast! We spent the first night camping, partying and braii-ing in the middle of a bush in the desert (just past Molepelole). We woke up early the next morning, cooked eggs and sausage over the fire, and chased the race, catching glimpses of the trucks and sand-blasters at various check-points. And when I say camping in the bush, I mean it! – no running water, no electricity, no BBQs – just coolers full of drinks and meat, fire and tents! I saw some very interesting things this weekend in Botswana, as well. Not only is drinking and driving commonplace on weekends and for big events, but the police are so relaxed and easily bought off that it is no wonder there are so many accidents. Afterwards, I spent my trip home from the race in the back of a pick up truck – almost the entire way the truck was speeding in the passing lane; since I could not see forward, I spent my time praying that there was no on-coming traffic! Eventually, I was so exhausted and was able to pass out in the blankets so I didn’t have to think of the realities and dangers of the situation.

We have booked our flights and arranged our travel plans for after our placements! Our schedule is quite ambitious, but I think we have planned well that we will get to see everything we wanted to. In 14 days, we will: go on game drives at Chobe National Park, bunji-jump off of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, white-water raft down the Zambezi River, bus over 18 hours from Zambia to Malawi, volunteer with a friend in Zomba (Malawi), snorkel and camp on Lake Malawi, fly to Dar es Salem in Tanzania where we are spending a day volunteering with another friend in an orphanage and lastly, spend our last 2 days in Africa relaxing on the beautiful beaches on the island of Zanzibar. I know it’s really ambitious, but I AM STOKED!

This weekend is going to be pretty relaxed – I’m going to cook dinner for my family. Then, on Tuesday, the WUSC office here is taking all the volunteers on a 5-day trip through Maun, the Okavango Delta and up to Shikawe. Every person here that I have told about the trip is jaw-dropped at the experience I will get; apparently these are some of the most beautiful places in Botswana that even most Motswana have never been!

Well sorry for the long note, hope everyone’s summer is going nice. I heard the weather in KW is up in the 30’s!!!


Monday, June 22, 2009

Just a small note

Firstly, HAPPY FATHER’S DAY DAD!!! I’m really sorry I couldn't be at home to have a beer with you on this important day! Either way, hope the weather was good and you found time to enjoy it.

I’ve been REALLY busy lately and haven’t found time to blog about what I’m doing, so here’s a brief list of some interesting things I’ve noticed in Botswana:

Ø Stop signs don’t necessarily mean STOP... most people think they mean “if you have time to slow down, give it try... otherwise shut your eyes and hope for the best”

Ø People show a lot of physical affection! When you greet someone, you shake the person hand (which is a combination of three different types of handshake) and then hold the persons hand for upwards of 2 minutes while you talk, regardless the age or sex of the other person

Ø Have you ever looked at those huge termite mounds and thought “mmm that looks tasty”?... well apparently they are rich in nutrients and are a nice snack in the afternoon. I think I’ll pass.

Ø In Mochudi, you say hello to everyone you pass and ask them how they are:
1. “Dumela mma/rra” (Hello ma’am/sir)
2. “Dumela mma/rra. Le chi?” (Hello ma’am/sir. How is it?)
1. “Ke teng, mma/rra. Otsu helay jang?” (I’m fine ma’am/sir. And how are you today?)
2. “Ke teng, mma/rra.” (I’m fine ma’am/sir)

Ø When you’re washing your laundry by hand, changing your underwear/socks everyday doesn’t seem as crucial... gross right?

Ø Would you like a meal with you salt and MSG? These are two huge ingredients in almost all food here! Unfortunately the MSG has been giving me some serious migraines so I have to start watching what I eat.

Ø Here, the term ‘dusty’ takes on a whole new meaning. My house lies on a dirt road and while I am walking to/from home, I am often forced off the road, crouched down with my coat over my body to hide from the dust stirred up from cars or the wind.

Ø With all the chickens, roosters, turkeys, donkeys, goats, dogs and cats wondering around, there is most definitely no need to buy an alarm clock. These guys will never let you down.

Ø When eating meat, there is no need for using forks or knives. EVERYTHING around the bone is edible, so you might as well just grab it with your hands and suck every last inch off of the bone. Either that or you quickly eat the meat you can find and throw the fat in the garbage before anyone notices.

Ø Tea breaks at work are equally, if not more, important than the actual work or meeting itself

Ø Expect the unexpected! (As a true BigBrother fan would say) EVERY day brings a new surprise and with almost every decision or questions comes an uncertainty that the person you are with actually understands what you’ve said.

Ø The ability to roll down your window in your car is a MUST. Otherwise, the fumes that somehow leak into the cars will quickly put you to sleep!

Ø A bus is NEVER full enough and there is no use trying to protect your personal space.

Ø Women have the ability to carry ANYTHING on their heads. I’ve seen heavy bags of rice and maize, bunches of bananas and even suitcases. The most impressive so far, though, was a large bundle of fire wood.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A post, this time from a not-so sunny Botswana

Hello everyone! I just thought it might be time for another update!

Today was the first time I've seen the sun since Monday! We have had full days of clouds and rain since I’ve been here… it was the first time that the temperature didn’t reach 25 degrees! Needless to say, the weather has been really amazing since I’ve been here and I’m having a hard time appreciating the rain and cold.

Last Saturday, I worked with the Teen Club Mochudi. This is a club run out of Stepping Stones International where youth who are HIV-positive can come to the centre and learn about their disease, how to take the medication properly, play sports, cook, goof around and be a kid! It was really inspiring to hang out with this group… we took them up to the museum in Mochudi, which gives a beautiful view of the village. Most kids had never been up there before and were very impressed with it. All the kids were so full of life and energy, you would never know they are dealing with such life-altering issues. It was a little overwhelming, however, as there were a few kids from Stepping Stones who are enrolled in Teen Club that I previously did not know were HIV-positive. One in particular has been a little hard for me to deal with; someone that I have become close with and very proud of their attitude at the centre. It really pulls at my emotions everyday when I see them at the centre now. BUT, through our seminars on HIV/AIDS, it is reassuring to know that so long as these kids stay on track with their meds, there is a good chance that most will never develop AIDS in the “full blown” way we often imagine in Canada. i.e. there is still much potential for these kids to grow big and old and live healthy and happy lives.

Also on the weekend, I was left feeling overwhelmed and helpless walking home from the bus rank. I walked past a house where a mother was beating her children with a tree branch… the children couldn’t have been older than 10 or 12 and it was sickening to watch the young girl in a dress and no shoes jump in the air in hopes to avoid the stick from hitting her bare legs and feet. I had to do everything I could to stop myself from shouting at the woman and making a scene, but I don’t think that would have done anything anyways. In some homes, that’s just what happens here, and some young white boy yelling from the road isn’t going to change anything. It just leaves me feeling a little helpless.

I don't know the whole story yet, but Maryam was mugged earlier this week. She managed to scream so they only ran away with her cell phone. I'm heading into Gabs tomorrow so hopefully I can cheer her up a bit!

Those are the things that you never get used to; poverty, crime, illness, death, the extreme mistreatment of animals (I can’t wait to see dogs being cared for again!).

On to more happy news now, my projects at Stepping Stones International are really getting underway! I used the first couple of weeks to just observe how the organization runs and see where my skills might be of use. Since then, I have developed a Study Skills program and pitched it to the rest of the staff. Everyone seems very excited about the project and sees it as a real necessity. So far I have re-arranged the hall into a more study-friendly environment with a private tutoring area and a computer lab corner. I just need to get the 4 computers we have up and running so that students can begin to practice their typing skills on them.
I’ve also worked with the kids to develop new study rules that they put together that will help keep the study time productive. Starting this week I will begin giving some of the study skill lessons I have developed and have the students start applying them to their own studies. I think I will begin with the flash card lesson, where I am going to have the students make flash cards of Setswana words that they would like to teach me. Then I’m going to study really well and have them quiz me to show them how well flash cards work! They love trying to teach me Setswana, so I think they will like this activity. Then, in the weeks to come, the students will be expected to make flash cards for themselves using their own studies. I’m still looking for study ideas and help with the planners though!

Also at SSI, as a side project, I am working to begin a composting program and a recycling program to compliment the other environmental projects we have at the centre. In addition, I am working with my friend Ruby, who is volunteering with an environmental organization in Gabs, to have them donate recycling bins to SSI, come out and give a workshop to the youth on protecting our environment and teach the kids about how to recycle. Lastly, I am planning a community clean-up in Mochudi to launch these two new projects!

The last bit of exciting news is that Maryam, Ruby and I are planning to participate in a 150km walk through the Makgadikgadi Pans in July. It is a 3-day walk through an organization called Y CARE. It is an extremely difficult walk, however all proceeds go to charities in Botswana. Last year, Y CARE donated over $4000 cnd to Stepping Stones International! I would urge you all to check out their website at: and see exactly what I will be doing! With this walk, each participant is required to raise 6000 Pula (roughly $1000 cnd) to be a part of it. I don’t want to do personal fundraising from friends and family again – you all were far too generous in helping me get to Botswana to begin with! However, many companies and corporations have a mandate for sponsorships and donations. If anyone knows of any organizations that would be interested in sponsoring 1-4 people from Stepping Stones International (myself, another staff member and 2 students are interested in taking part in the walk this year) to participate in the walk, PLEASE PLEASE pass along the contact information and I can draft a formal letter asking for their donation. It would really mean a lot to myself and stepping stones. I am also going to try to find donors in Botswana, or else pay the sponsorship fee myself.

Well thanks for reading! Oh- and happy anniversary Craig and Lindsay… I know that is coming up on the 14th!

Take care everyone,

Kagiso (my Setswana name which means PEACE)

Friday, May 29, 2009

How YOU can help me at Stepping Stones International

My work at Stepping Stones International is getting more serious and challenging – which is a very nice surprise! There are some key problems that need to be seriously addressed to improve the quality of the SSI program. I have been assigned to tackle one of the problems regarding education – since I have some teachers following this blog, as well as friends who are teachers in training, I thought I would take some time to describe the problem and if anyone has any ideas or suggestions, please Please PLEASE email me them! Any and all advice is welcome – we will take all the help we can get!

Without getting into too much detail, many of the students who attend SSI are seriously struggling academically. With all the stress that they deal with at home, many of these students are both unmotivated to study, but also lack the necessary study skills to be an effective learner. Moreover, students are not improving in school and some teachers see SSI as a distraction to students, rather than something helping their studies. In fact, however, studying is an important part of the Stepping Stones curriculum. Right now, the students study for 1.5 hrs each day and ALL day on Tuesday. It’s simple studying, where I and some other volunteers, are there to help out when the students have questions. Since this current strategy is not lending many results, I have been tasked to develop an actual Study Skills Program where: students will learn helpful study skills and apply them in their own studying, as well as tutors for the centre will go through a mini-lesson on how to be a more effective resource in the centre during study periods. (Remember the main goal here is HOW TO IMPROVE STUDENT GRADES).

There are some obvious changes that need to be made in the centre with respect to the attitude of staff members during study period; i.e. we need to be stricter in ensuring the students are actually studying. We also need to take a more proactive approach in encouraging students to seek our help and ask questions. But what I’m more interested in hearing is if any of you have activities or strategies on how to motivate students to WANT to learn and do well? Does anyone have specific activities that teach study skills? To give you some examples of what I am talking of, one thing that I am working to find is a company to donate planners for the students to use; this would allow us to teach the students time management and organization, as well as provide us a means to track what assignments, tests etc the student has. (So if anyone has connections with a company that might be willing to donate 70 planners for 2009 and 2010 to SSI, let me know!) I’m also implementing a journal writing activity to take place every week to reflect on the SSI weekly themes which will help students work on their writing and reflection skills. Now, once a week we will have a ‘study skills lesson’ where some sort of skill (note taking, memorization tricks, using flash cards, etc) will be passed along to the students and they will be expected to demonstrate this new skill by using their own school work. We’ve also tossed of the idea of provide rewards/punishments to the students who do well/very poorly in the study skills program. Anyways, I know that’s a lot of info, but I would love to hear if you have any suggestions, lessons, skills, activities or anything else that we could use in our study skills lessons... you know my email address!

Thanks, as always, for taking some time to read about my trip! Hope everyone is safe and happy back home.



GOOOD afternoon from a beautiful, sunny Pakalani!

So 5 weeks in and it’s time for the third update!

Last I wrote, I said I would be climbing Khale Hill in Gabs. Well those plans changed (as most do here) and I ended up doing a charity walk with some Stepping Stones members as well as other members from the community. There were about 60 of us in total and we were to walk from Mogonia to Manyana, two villages on the outside of Gaborone. The walk was supposed to be 20km and we would be walking through the hills and fields through the rural areas. It was a really good time and I got to see some very rural areas of the country. As we were walking, though, I was starting to panic that I was in worse shape than I even thought... I mean, 20km isn’t that long to walk and I was getting tired! It turned out that in fact, we had taken a wrong turn and it turned into a 35km hike. Once we got to the finish line, we then decided to hike up a beautiful gorge high in one of the hills. This sounded like an exciting idea, as it is one of the few places near the capital city with natural running water, as well as the hills are full of leopards, baboons, monkeys and poisonous snakes and trees. The walk up the gorge was a lot tougher than expected – it was full of rock climbing and awkward wall climbing with ropes. Needless to say, the gorge added another tough 15km and before we knew it, the anticipated 20km stroll in the countryside turned into a hard 50km hike! At the end of it all, though, it was a really nice way to spend my day off and a chance for me to get to know some of my co-workers even better!

I was talking to my parents and Grandpa last weekend and was explaining to them how I’m missing home less, yet every now and then have these pictures in my head of driving down University Ave or having pints and appetizers at Boston Pizza with my friends; I think my Dad described it really well as ‘little cravings’. I’m loving it here and am happy at work, but no matter how content I am, I think I will inevitably have these cravings for home every now and then... just something I thought was kind of interesting! Although I already knew it, it’s really opening my eyes to how much I need you guys!

The food is still really good here, but I’m starting to get tired of all the oil, salt and MSG used in EVERYTHING. Oh – and the other night I had chicken gizzards. As I was asking them what it was, Mmane brought them out and I thought I probably shouldn’t know... and I’m glad I never found out – they tasted just as disgusting as they sound.

The harassment still continues, but earlier this week it was of a different kind; two young women stopped me and I thought they were just being friendly so I stopped at chatted with them for a while. Then one told me “she wanted to date me tonight” to which I laughed and said “no I think it will be alright”. She didn’t want to take ‘no’ for an answer though, and started getting pretty close to me, throwing money my way and making a scene. It was pretty bizarre and looking back, it seems funny, sad and even a little flattering all at the same time!

Anyways, I'm attaching another post this afternoon, so I should keep this one short!



Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Another update

First and foremost: Happy Birthday to Craig and Julia! I’m sorry I can’t be home with you guys to celebrate!

So my time here is already FLYING by! I can’t believe I’ve been here for 3 ½ weeks already and it’s already leaving me feel a little sceptical that 3 months is enough time... (don’t worry mom, I’ll still be coming home in August!) Things just move at a different speed here and with so many ideas and projects and things to see and do, I’m not sure it can all be accomplished in such a short amount of time-but try, I will!

I feel like I am quickly adjusting to my new home in Mochudi. I know the last time I wrote, I was panicking about just about everything, but now that I have had time to settle, it’s beginning to feel more like home. The family I live with is absolutely amazing – they are friendly, easy to talk to, welcoming and definitely go out of their way to make me feel comfortable, which is probably the reason I’m adjusting so well. There are still some things I’m getting used to though... since Mochudi is smaller, I stand out A LOT MORE than in Gabs. While walking around town, any child who sees me will most likely race to a safe distance from me and point at me shouting “White man! White man!” in Setswana. It caught me off guard at first, especially since I didn’t know if they were making fun of me or what, but I found out they are just excited to see me, so I simply shout back “Dumela!” and give them a thumbs up (thumbs up is REALLY big here!) Most seem to be getting used to be already. Another funny story, just on Saturday, Maryam and Spojmai came to Mochudi to visit me for the day and as we were waiting at the ATM, some people came up and starting video-taping/taking pictures of me. Again, it’s kind of awkward, but they are just excited to see me and it’s not doing me any harm.
The lack of hot water in the morning can be a little tough sometimes... trying to bath (not shower... I mean an awkward, small bath tub) is REALLY cold when you aren’t getting ANY hot water-not to mention the mornings here get pretty cold in themselves.
One thing that I am learning not to take for granted is electricity! In the past week, power has gone out 3 times. During the day, it isn’t so bad, but most often it goes out around 730pm, leaving it PITCH black. I am now a part of the protocol when this happens, and we all move carefully to find the lanterns and light them so we can make our way around the house. Just to prove I’m a sucker for technology, this is usually the time where I whip out my iPod and lay on my bed.

There is some extra attention which is more difficult to deal with, however. People associate being white with having power, connections, resources and most of all, money. On a typical day, walking through the core of Mochudi, I will indefinitely be stopped by at least 2 people who tell me their dreams, goals and current projects and assume that I will be able to solve all of their problems using the colour of skin. They ask for my phone number, my friend’s and family in Canada’s phone numbers, they want my Canadian address, my email address, and any other way they might possibly be able to contact me. They often try to tell/show me where they live and ask “So when will you come visit me?” They want me to take them to Canada where they are sure the job opportunities are endless and the pay is good. This can be not only frustrating since their perception of the western world is much out of line from reality, but it can also be extremely difficult to explain to them that I can’t help them.

One of my first nights walking home from work, a boy about my age followed me home. He explained to me that he was a good student and was looking for work but could not find any. He told me about how his mother and father beat him every night when he gets home and he showed me the scars as if he needed to prove it. He begged me to call his family and tell his parents that it is not right to beat him and that he is a decent boy. He pleaded for over 10 minutes with me, sure that my influence would make a difference, but for obvious reasons, I could not make the call. Finally, he resorted to asking me for money. I was unsure how to handle the situation, so finally I gave him a few pula, told him I was sorry, and went into my home as he stood there staring back.

I’m also beginning to accept that I will be harassed on the way home from work almost everyday. I have about a 5 minute walk from the bus stop to my home, and unfortunately, I have to pass a bar that is located right at the stop. Usually I am passing it somewhere between 5:30 and 6, just as the sun is going down. There will definitely be a few men around who have spent their day drinking and at least one of them ambitious enough to follow me home. Literally-I’ve been chased home! The other day, a man was quite determined to make me go to his house – he had a firm grip on my wrist and was trying to drag me down the side road... I managed to break free, though! Honestly, I don’t feel threatened by them, but they do try hard to get me to go to their house where they will beg me for money. They are never threatening, and usually they stumble enough that I don’t need to resist too much... but it definitely is awkward and unfortunate that it is becoming a part of my daily routine.

Stepping Stones is continuing to be great! I’ve included some pictures of the staff and some of the kids, with whom I am already building serious friendships with. Already, I’m finding myself in a catch – these students have been through so much and have so much baggage I almost feel it is unfair of me to let them open up and tell me their problems, their ambitions, their identity struggles and relationship problems etc, when I know I will be leaving them in such a short time. They have enough people coming into and out of their lives that I feel I need to protect them from me doing the same. On the same note, I have selfish reasons of my own for not getting too attached, as I know that will just make it harder to leave. But at the same time, I am here to be a support for the students... someone they can trust and confide in, look up to for guidance and be a mentor for them... it’s just a fine line that I need to avoid crossing so that I don’t end up making matters worse in the long run. Hmmm....

One exciting project I’ve already been able to be a part of is a house building project! I’ve included two pictures from this project, and in the group one, you can see Mma-Cilio in the middle sitting down. We built the house for her – a grandmother left raising her 4 grandchildren. It was an amazing feeling to be able to help her family. Myself and 16 other volunteers from Guelph built the 2-room home from scratch-we were involved in everything from mixing concrete to making mortar to laying bricks and filling in cracks. While looking at the family’s original home, a small, round mud hut with holes in the roof, no electricity, no in-house running water, no bathroom, etc - nothing but a single mattress and some pots - you truly realize not only how well some may have it, but also what a strong heart can do. Mma-Cilio and her family are happy regardless of their situation, and it was inspirational to see the determination in their eyes to make the best of their situation.

Anyways, I suppose that’s it for now... I just wanted to give you all an update and let you know I’m feeling much better about being here. Although I still think about home a lot, it is definitely much easier to deal with as now I understand WHY I’m here. I did miss the traditional May 24 long weekend in Southampton though—hope you guys had fun! Tomorrow is a holiday here, so I think I might be doing a 4 hour cultural walk through some villages with some co-workers and then head into Gabs to meet up with Maryam and Ruby!


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Who said this was going to be easy?!


Hello everyone! Thanks for tuning into my blogspace while I am away. You will notice that blogs will most likely come in spurts – since I don’t have regular internet access, I am going to pre-type all of my blog entries before hand and upload them online all at once (mostly just to save me money!). Also, as you’ll see as you read on, there isn’t much to do in Botswana and I have found journaling/blogging to be very therapeutic already, so these might get a little lengthy sometimes... my apologies in advance!

Anyways, to start things off:
Week one was great! WUSC put together a very complete orientation for us which allowed us to become familiar with the University of Botswana (UB) campus, as well as get a taste for some of the NGO’s that work inside Bots. It also gave us the chance to get to know the other 16 students here from Guelph that are staying for just 6 weeks. The first week I stayed in a German NGO house, which was alright – there were 3 other people living with me whom I didn’t see very much, however when I did, I was able to have decent conversations with them (you will understand this significance soon). We also went to Mokolodi Nature Reserve and got to go on game drives and get up close to giraffes and rhinos and elephants, etc. It was pretty sweet! Surprisingly, however, already in the first couple of days I missed home...

So a little bit about Bots... it is definitely not what I expected! The capital city, Gaborone, is well developed. In fact, UB has a BEAUTIFUL campus and library, at least at par with Canadian schools! I will surely not get tired of the weather over the next 3 months... it is PERFECT. Being so well developed means that having white skin is pretty normal and I didn’t find much extra attention. One of the biggest shockers, though, is public transportation! You take a combi, which is a minivan that follows a specific route and is very cheap. However, the combi drivers are not very patient and drive crazy! You pack into these things so tightly that anyone who was claustrophobic would definitely have a hard time. Also hitchhiking is quite common... I got my first taste of that yesterday and I hiked from Pakalani to Mochudi... basically you just have to quickly asses the reliability of the driver and then take your chances. Luckily, my first experience was a success and I reached home safe and sound!

Now I am living in Mochudi. Although it is called a village, it’s not exactly rural. They, too, have combis and taxis and grocery stores. My host family is awesome. Mma-Seitei (my Bots mom, who is a retired nurse) speaks extremely good English... her son also lives here, who is very nice, and she has 3 other sons who have already offered to take me to Francistown, the cattle farms, some big weekend race and more. In addition, Mma-Seitei has a helper in the house who cooks all the meals and dishes and laundry etc. Crazy enough, I get all the perks of this as well as Mmane (the nanny’s name) always has a HUGE meal waiting for me when I get home. My mom was worried about me losing weight when I left, but believe you me, I am definitely going to gain a ton of weight while here. And my Dad would be proud of me... I’ve been eating a lot of traditional meat which has A LOT of fat on it... I had goat meat yesterday and today I had “meat from cow” which the exact location could not be specified. My house is very big and my room is bigger than the one I have in Kitchener! My backyard is essentially a barn full of goats, donkeys, roosters, chickens, and dogs. And I might mention that these animals never shut up. The first night I was amused by waking up at 3am to a donkey making his noise outside my window... but that got old pretty fast. As do the roosters who start their cockadoddledoing at about 4am. They are quite funny birds, actually, who seem to operate on a schedule... every half hour starting by 4am they will let about 10 good calls go, every time waking me up.

So far SSI seems very promising. Lisa, my supervisor who is born and raised in the US, is AWESOME. I got to spend a lot of time with her yesterday and got to hear her whole story. I think she will, indefinitely, become a huge part in helping me adjust here and my success at SSI. The staff is made up of only 6 other people who are all very nice and welcoming. In the mornings I will be working on my various projects in the centre... I am essentially heading up the Study Skills Program, as well as working to put together modules and programs on computer use basics for the staff to work through to familiarize them on how to use programs like Word, PowerPoint and Excel. In the afternoon, my time is entirely dedicated to spending time with the OVCs, helping them with homework and playing various sports. There are 60 in total. The students are very shy, especially since I am white, however there are already 4 or 5 who have been outgoing enough to approach me to ask for help. Already I can tell I am going to love working with these kids and I see such potential for my time here.

So those are all of my positive perceptions so far, but rest assured that isn’t without saying I haven’t already had some lows... luckily I was well prepared for the emotions of culture shock, and while I felt like giving up or calling home in shambles, I kept it/am keeping it together and pushing on.

Missing home this much was honestly something I was not expecting. I have an extremely tight relationship with my family and friends, however before I left, I remember thinking “Oh, it’s only 3 months, no big deal” etc. In fact, my mom wanted me to call even twice a week and I remember rolling my eyes and saying “YA RIGHT!”... But to be honest, I CAN’T WAIT until my parents or sister call me. Just to hear them and be able to tell them how things are going is an amazing feeling I can’t quite describe (or understand for that matter). Part of the problem is that it is very dangerous at night and I MUST be inside by the time sun sets (which is by 6pm). There isn’t much to do in the evenings except read and write, so there is a lot of time spent over-thinking things. My worst night so far was the first night I spent in Mochudi. My mother wasn’t home and it was only me and Mmane, who doesn’t speak much English. I didn’t know she didn’t speak English and I tried to ask her some questions and was getting nowhere... nobody was home and I couldn’t communicate with anyone and I felt so alone. All of the frustrations with this new place were piling up all at once; the combis, the language barriers, the lack of communication with home, the giant spiders and cockroaches in the bathtub, the dogs in the backyard growling at who knows what (but they are supposed to be guard dogs so I could only imagine people, etc; and I really didn’t think I was built for this... as I said, I am keeping a journal, so maybe I’ll just type out some of the things I wrote to give you a better feel:
“Today is the fist real breakdown I’ve had on this trip. Over the last hour, I’ve been on the brink of tears the entire time. The raw and torturing emotions I’m feeling right now are much more intense then I would ever have imagined I’d be feeling... while Mma-Seitei was away, it was very quiet and I realized there was nobody in Mochudi but me. It is an awful feeling to feel so isolated and alone—and I was quite panicked in my room as I tried to settle in... I know most of my worries are nonsense, but I have a lack of communication that is killing me. It’s all stuck in my head where the ONLY outlet I have right now is to write it down...” I went into some more detail in the journal, but for my own sake, I’ll save the embarrassment on my breakdown and keep it confidential. Since then, I am already feeling some better... I continue getting to know my Bots family and I have already had the chance to go to 3 funerals. Although it is very sad, it allowed me not only to better understand the culture here, but also meet many people in the community. The more people in Mochudi who know and recognize me, the better. Moreover, I’m alright that I had that breakdown because it’s all about this whole experience and just another thing I will learn how to deal with. Though it was intense, things are getting better and I’m meeting up with Maryam tomorrow who will surely help council me back to good mental health!

Anyways, that’s all from me for now... this weekend was great... i took the bus to Gabs all alone and it was very easy, and we had a big brie (botswana BBQ yesterday). Today when i get home I need to bring in my wash that is hanging to dry (I had to hand wash it this morning, which is much tougher than I though!) and I think I might watch a movie on my laptop. OH, and my mom should be calling me, so I'll be waiting for her call! Either way, thanks for reading! Facebook is really slow here so even if I get to see your messages, I might now be able to respond. A better way may be to write me an email and I better be able to respond easier to that!


By the way, I've tried adding pictures but because the internet is so slow, it won't work... I'll try to figure something out soon though!

Monday, May 4, 2009


Dumelang = Hello (to a group of people)

I just wanted to write a VERY quick note to let everyone know I am in Gabs (Gaborone, which is pronounced as Habaroneee) and i love it! I've spent the last week in orientation, listening to presentations from various NGOs. This past weekend was spent at Mokolodi Nature Reserve where we went on game drives and saw elephants, girraffes, koodoo and everything else. We also went rhino tracking, which was actually a lot more nerve racking than even you would expect... especially when you're 20 feet away and then begin pacing.

Either way, I'm still alive and the snakes haven't gotten me yet! I;m actually even more excited for tomorrow - I will be leaving the capital city and heading about an hour away to a village called Mochudi. Finally I will get a chance to meet my family and coworkers and see what is really instore for me this summer!

I promise the next time I post, it will have more information and pictures attached-for now I just wanted to let everyone know we're doing well in Botswana.

OH and I have free incoming texts, so if anyone feels ambitious, you can find me at: botswana area code + 75438458

Go Siam (BYE!!!!)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


So I promise this one will be short!

I feel so blessed to be surrounded by friends and family that have supported me from day one in this adventure. I can not say thank you enough to those who have been by my side from the get-go; those who have donated both financially and given me advice for this project. I also feel like the St Jerome’s University and community do so much to help make this project a feasible option for us. It is so obvious that Scott, Joanne, Elyse and Lisa are constantly striving to ensure that each of us have the best experience we can by preparing us 8 months in advance of the big move. They have been such a wonderful support to all of us. I see such sincerity in their involvement in the program, which is something not often found on a university campus.

So THANKYOU to everyone who has helped me prepare for my experience in Botswana. This includes all my fellow BB’ers, Joanne, Scott, Elyse, Lisa, Mary-Bee, Marie-Eve, Wagma, everyone who donated to SJU on my behalf (this couldn’t have been possible without you guys!), my friends, professors and anyone else who I’m forgetting. Also, thanks to my parents who have been more than supportive. This experience has been an emotional ride for them and I am very lucky to know they have my back in this whole thing. Even though my Mom is more than worried about my trip, she continues to stand by my side and encourage my involvement with Beyond Borders. I truly feel fortunate for being accepted into this program and being able to share my experiences thus far with you all.

Good luck to everyone on their move and I look forward to hearing your stories at reintegration!


Matt Fox

Criticisms/Recommendations (or lack there of)

I really don’t have much to criticize about the Beyond Borders program or any recommendations I could make, but I feel like this blog will be beneficial for anyone who is considering the Beyond Borders program.

There’s no doubt that there were frustrations over the 8 months. Things come up, as they do in any program, where we might have received conflicting information, or where instructions and timelines weren’t given in the best way. Also, many people found the cost of Beyond Borders to be a burden... and rightly so; having to pay to be involved in a program that is going to involve loosing 4 months of full-time paid work, paying for vaccines and physicals and insurance, etc, is a big issue for students. Trying to fundraise the additional $2000 can feel very overwhelming!

However, with the above being mentioned, I sincerely recommend that none of those things be changed. Each of these struggles and frustrations that we felt in the program, I think, served a much greater purpose than to simply be annoying at the time.

Some of the logistics in the Beyond Borders program could be tidied up a bit, but the fact is that when we make our move to our developing country, things are likely going to be 10 times more disorganized and chaotic. If we were to have these 8 months perfectly planned out and structured, we would all go into shock after our first week volunteering. Moreover, in life, we can’t expect every instruction to be neatly typed, folded and handed over to us; sometimes we need to learn how to take initiative for doing our own research and problem solving.

Not to be rude, but I feel like we all need to refrain from complaining about the cost of the program and fundraising. At the end of the day, it is important for us to recognize that St. Jerome’s University has subsidized an enormous amount of money to make the Beyond Borders program much more affordable. To do this sort of adventure independently, you would be spending upwards of $7000, so I think spending $1200 + fundraising is something we should be celebrating...not criticizing. I also feel that in our society, spending money on something adds value to it. It’s natural to appreciate and take care of something better if you have put your own money, blood, sweat and tears into it than if it was handed out to you. The fundraising aspect gives you a reason to get out and broadcast what you’re doing to family and friends. Honestly, if it weren’t for this aspect, there are at least 50 people that wouldn’t have known I was even doing this, and hence, I wouldn’t have affected them in any positive way. (going back to my blog about being the change you want to see and the ripple effect)

My only advice and recommendation really goes out to anyone who is interested in doing the Beyond Borders Program. The importance of going into the program with an open mind is something I can not stress enough. You need to be able to love the program for both its strengths and weaknesses, and be able to learn from each. You need to be aware that you don’t know everything and if you just let yourself, there is so much to be learned. This comes largely from the ability to take advantage of every opportunity you see that might help you try/learn something new, no matter how small or insignificant. You also need to let yourself be a little vulnerable and open up to others in the program; they will be your best support as you work your way through the 8 months. And lastly, be prepared that the program comes with a financial responsibility on your part. I included this point because I feel it is important, but I would like to stress that this should not be the make-or-break point of joining. Opportunities like this don’t come around very often. 10 years down the road you are not going to remember spending $2000 to be in the BB program, but you most certainly will remember all of the amazing times and lessons you learned!

Last 8 Months: Reflection

If you look on the Beyond Borders website, you will find on the Program Requirements page the term Intellectual Training. This portion of the program is where “Participants receive academic and practical training to prepare them for their immersion experience, to facilitate mutual relations locally, and to help participants reflect on their term abroad”. Probably due to lack of space and time, this description doesn’t come CLOSE to describing what this component is all about. I will try to sum up the strengths and benefits that come with our intellectual training in a list of things I have learned from/I am thankful for/I loved about – my “intellectual training”:

1. Diversity is sweet! Through BB, I had the chance to meet people from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests. Since the courses were designed in an “open-mic” manner where everyone was encouraged to speak their mind, share their doubts, mention concerns and discuss world issues, class was just as much about learning the ‘material’ as it was about bonding with each other. UW is a huge school with hundreds of different programs and it is so easy to stick to the faculty and friends you already have. Without BB, my path would have never crossed with many of the others in the class. With our differences, I feel like our discussions were that much more relevant. We all have a goal of putting our education to a responsible use, however our reasons, opinions, challenges, fears, etc are shaped by our individual interests, experiences and more, making the opportunity to learn something that much more available.

2. Authentic approach to Education. Being introduced to Paulo Freire, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed and his philosophies on education has been life changing. Reading this novel has had an impact on many of the other participants in the Beyond Borders program as well; we often joke about our new-found ability to connect everything back to Freire. The more significant part, though, is that I feel both Scott and Joanne worked hard to implement Freire’s “authentic approach” to education in how the BB courses were structured. In the Fall 2008 course, I recall talking about Freire and not grasping its significance. Once I began to compare my BB class to some of my other courses, however, the consequence of Friere’s teachings continued to shine week after week. From this, I have learned the value of a professor who is dedicated to three things: their field of expertise, sharing their knowledge, and most importantly, helping students (through dialogue and demonstrating an appreciation for the student) get excited and motivated to actively understand the material. Out of ANY course I have taken, including a “Math in Education” course, the lessons I have learned from Scott and Joanne have taught me more about the teacher I want to be in the future and the way I want to run my classes. They have taught me the importance of dialogue and communication between the teacher and student. I have applied Friere’s methodologies while tutoring this term and the results have been amazing for both my students and me. I have learned that Freire is relevant to all subjects including math, and it has re-ignited my desire for a future in education!

3. Service Learning at its Best. The second course in the BB program is structured very differently from any other university class that I know of. Its main premise was for us to take the theory and material that we had learned in the previous course and be able to see it in the works in our community. It not only taught me the importance of taking responsibility for my community and how I can play a part in the development of social programs, but I also learned about reflection, which is an important skill I lacked previously.To be honest, at the beginning of this course, I was more than sceptical of the design. While I was excited to volunteer at TWC, I didn’t expect to see our ‘ethics teachings’ in practice. Also, I was definitely dreading this whole blogging thing. Now, three months later, I have found a new appreciation for reflection and critical analysis of the world around me. Besides the fact that I hate my writing abilities and even find my self dosing off while trying to edit my posts, blogging has really encouraged me to think about things and draw connections between theory, reality, my opinions, things I read and see and hear. At the beginning of the term, I was looking for things to blog about, but soon I found things coming to me to be analyzed... things I might otherwise have just looked over and quickly dismissed. In my opinion, this is exactly what service-learning is all about and what makes it such an effective tool in education. It forces you to actively learn as well as question/challenge theory and “the way it really is”. I am grateful for being a part of this program as it has challenged me to think outside the mathematical mindset where everything has a solution, relationships can be formulated and the future can be predicted. While I haven’t perfected it yet, I am now realizing that not everything is cause --> effect --> solution --> solved.

And so it ends! ... well sort of

As this term moves into its final stage with the last day of lectures and final exams, I find myself dealing with emotions of severe bitter-sweetness. While I couldn’t be more excited to finish exams, get myself to Pearson International, catch all my connecting flights and finally arrive in Botswana, this last week also marks the end of the Beyond Border campus courses/hangouts. I could go on and on about all of my excitements and anticipations for the next 4 months, but I’d like to leave this blog to discuss the significance that the last 8 months have had on my life.

It seems rather surprising to me that 8 months of school could really have such an impact on many aspects of my life including personal philosophies, goals, friendships, motivations and more. I feel that the combination of the Ethics course I took last term with the Justice, Peace and Development course this term has been the most meaningful pair of courses I have taken in university thus far (and probably will ever take).

In an attempt to keep this blog from getting too long and boring, I have split it into 3 sections: one outlining the most influential parts of the past 8 months, one part on criticisms/recommendations, and I’ll finish with a “Thank-you” blog, recognizing those who have supported my journey and development.

So thanks to everyone for reading and commenting along the way – especially to those who might have challenged what I wrote or encouraged me to look at the given topic in a new light. Also, the next time I blog, it will be from Botswana – so please keep reading and watching for photos!

Peace all,


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

OVC Presentation

Hi everyone, I recently put together a presentation for my Beyond Borders class on Orphaned and Vulnerable Youth in Botswana. I've uploaded it for you guys to view. Also, on the pages with quotations, please see below for the full quotation. They were all taken from Stephen Lewis's Race Against Time. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask or email me, I'd love to talk more about this issue with you!

Ps: 26 more days!!! AHHH!

Slide 4: “I can’t emphasize strongly enough the extreme emotional turmoil of children orphaned by AIDS. What the world fails to recognize is that these children don’t become orphans when their parents die, they become orphans while their parents are dying, and this is especially true in the case of the death of the mother. ... I enter a hut, where the bleakness and gloom are palpable. On the floor of the hut lies a young woman in her twenties or thirties, so wan and emaciated as to be unable to life either hand or head. I bend down, painfully inadequate to the circumstance, and touch her brow, uttering some pointless banality which is intended to sooth, and then as I step back, looking around me, I see her children, all her children, standing in the darkened shadows, watching their mother die. How do they recover? The death is long, agonizing and filled with indignity. The children wash their mother, they clean her when she’s incontinent (an experience of excruciating embarrassment for both mother and children), they search everywhere for an aspirin to relieve the pain of some opportunistic infection, and then, horrified, gaping, they stand in the darkened shadows and watch their mother die.”

Slide 7: “ Graca and I were taken to see one of those sibling families with five children: three girls; 14, 12 and 10, and two boys; 11 and 8. ... Graca turned to the two older girls, and in a most gentle, reassuring voice asked, ‘Have you started to menstruate yet?’. The two girls, clearly startled, replied in those shy, barely audible whispered voices so characteristic of African children, ‘Yes’. Graca continued to ask a number of other personal questions regarding the meaning of this and if there are people in the community that are available to talk to. The atmosphere was intense, the little girls, now fully embraced in Graca’s arms, seemed to have suspended breathing and I suddenly understood that I was witness to the first act of ‘mothering’ that these girls had ever received about on the most transfiguring experiences of a young girl’s life. ... and that is what’s happening right across the continent: the transfer of love and knowledge and values and experience from one generation to the next is gone, and with it goes the confidence and security and sense of place which children normally take for granted. Children, already traumatized by the death of their parents, are left reeling as they confront the void in the aftermath.”

Slide 10: The state of the health of the women in the villages was ghastly. Household income was ransacked, and time once spent on walking to distant fields and growing a variety of foods had been given over to caring for the sick. AIDS leads to hunger; hunger exacerbates AIDS. It’s a merciless interaction. The numbers of orphan children are beyond belief, in fact, so beyond belief that when we drafted our reports, we actually said “The situation of orphans represents a humanitarian catastrophe and a violation of the rights of children. The inability of the United Nations system and the international community to adequately support national governments in their response to the needs of the huge numbers of orphans in the region is unacceptable”. That’s UN-speak for saying, “You’ve failed lamentably: for God’s sake get your act together”.

Slide 14: “As I’ve moved from country to country over the last four years, it’s been clear, inescapably clear, that as the pandemic evolves, children orphaned by AIDS are becoming the single most intractable and painful legacy. There are no equivalent precedents. Nothing in historical experience has prepared us for two generations of children rendered desperate, lonely, sad and bewildered by sheer circumstance.”

Friday, March 20, 2009

You Can't Give Up

I don't know if any of you have ever seen the website: If not, it's worth giving a browse... there are some pretty interesting and funny pictures (and some weird and random ones too!)

Anyways, my sister sent me this one this morning and it made me think of Beyond Borders... I guess just the fact that we have all become such a team in this project and how, personally, I really appreciate all your support and efforts - and more than anything, no matter how frustrated you might get, don't give up, because someone (most likely me) needs your help!

Be the Change You Want to See

After looking back on some of my blogs, I feel that I have been a little negative this term - my entries have often concentrated on all of the problems that I see, yet I left little room for what we can do about it. I think this is mainly because until a few weeks ago, I really had no answers! Moreover, everyone in the class has at one point or other asked "but how do I get other's to act responsibly?!" Well here's my two cents:

After much time and thought, I think what it comes down to is leading by example. Personally, I find this "solution" to feel only satisfactory... I was hoping that I would find a BIG IDEA, some real grand, large scale program that we could implement and have it touch people, motivating them to do great things... but I don't think that's realistic. The fact of the matter is that as humans, we have the ability to chose selfishness and laziness and turn a blind eye. Some people will choose this path, and point blank, we aren't going to change this in everyone. BUT, what we can do is show people that selfishness and laziness aren't there only options - in fact there is a multitude of options just waiting to be chosen!

I feel like this solution is beautiful in it's simplicity, but that's often why it is overlooked. How can something so obvious have any impact? I mean "lead by example" isn't something new... We've all been taught this since we were young, so how can it make a difference now?

I've picked up on a few similar comments Joanne has made since the beginning of term regarding this issue. I think where it hit me was while we were meeting at The Working Centre. Kate was talking about how many of her friends truly admire her for being a part of the Beyond Borders program, but (and sorry Kate, if I mess up your words, let me know!) "they would NEVER think about doing something like this!". Joanne's response was "well now they have thought about doing something like this", simply because they are friends with Kate. That is, Kate's choice to be a part of the Beyond Borders program is a having a ripple effect - each person she knows is now being touched by her choice. The same goes for the rest of us - while some may look around the world and throw their hands up in frustration and ask "what's the point", they can now look at us and see that ordinary students can make a difference. Instead of asking "what's the point", maybe they will begin to ask "Well why can't I make a difference too!"

When you look at it this way, I feel it sheds an optimistic light on the situation. For me, it's no longer a matter of questioning why people aren't getting involved... it's more about how can I demonstrate to others that it's not hard to be a global citizen, how can I engage in this dialogue that moves people to action. And again, the simple answer is be the change you want to see.

This has already happened in my own life this term. As most of you know, the problem with orphaned and vulnerable children/youth has become my main project of the term... I have done an abundance of research and can't wait to get to Mochudi and be a part of their lives. I would like to think that I have also began a ripple in the circle of family and friends that I belong. Hopefully, people have looked at me and thought "if this young math student who is always on the go between his many jobs and volunteer work can do this, why can't I?"

So be the change you want to see; Others will learn from you, many will follow you, and some undeniably won't do anything... but what matters is that others will learn from you and many will follow.

Monday, March 16, 2009

News from Stepping Stones International!

Over the past week or two, I have been emailing my supervisor, Lisa Jamu, in Mochudi, Botswana. This morning I recieved another, and I probably couldn't be more excited to go! Obviously one of my main duties while there will be tutoring in math, however, Lisa has also mentioned the need for fresh and new ways of teaching math. As it operates currently, math is something that is almost strictly memorized by students in Mochudi, with little room for analysis. An idea that Lisa suggested to me is to begin brainstorming about some tips for teachers to use in teaching math and science... then I could hold a mini workshop aimed for the teachers on how kids can best learn math; example, teach the kids to rap math formulas in order to understand them better. I will be meeting with a professor of mine later this week who is active in holding workshops for Ontario math teachers in better teaching practices to see if I can take some ideas with me.

In addition, math resources are extremily limited. Anybody who has had to take a math class knows the only way to learn it is to practice it, but the youth in Mochudi don't have the tools or books to practice with. I am going to work hard to exhaust my contacts within the Faculty of Math at the Universtiy of Waterloo to see what I can do about getting calculators, old text books, flashcards and any other resources donated to SSI.

This placement is turning out to be a more perfect fit for me every day! This is exactly what I was hoping I was going to be able to do - help kids get excited about math, science, learning and their future! The added bonus of volunteering weekly in the local highschool, helping form a tighter relationship between the highschool and SSI, and the possibility of holding a workshop with teachers to pass on some cool ways to teach is AMAZING.

Ahh only 41 more days until the craziness begins!!!!!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Cookie Jar

To anyone who knows even a little about me will probably know that music plays a HUGE part in my life. While I can't sing or dance (and sorry to those people who have had to listen or watch me do either of those two things), I can't help but become lost in music. I have a pretty wide selection too... everything from Keith Urban to Eminem (who has a new CD coming out soon... WHAT!) to Jason Mraz to Pink Floyd and more. My favourite artist, however, is probably Jack Johnson - his music is relaxing, interesting AND his lyrics have a point!

The other day I was listening to the song Cookie Jar, by Jack (we're on a first name basis). I encourage you to check out the song:

On the front, the song is about a boy who shoots someone. They question from the boy to the father to the media, who all have an excuse about why the boy's actions cannot be blamed on them.

I truly believe that this is a trend that everyone continues. As I suggested in an earlier post, there are so many negative and destructive things that happen every day, and how easy it is for all of us say "well it's not my fault" and continue with our lives.
What is it that is keeping us from taking action? By taking action we are admitting to ourselves that there is a serious problem, and some people find that hard to admit? Or do we feel that if we stand up to fight, we are taking all the blame and will become the target of criticism? Are we driven by forces that make it personally better if the destruction occurs? Or are we all just lazy?

I think it is a combination of these 4 things. Going back to the song, take any one of the people that have been put up for blame, and consider their position. If the media man was to take the blame, he would be admitting to himself that there is a severe problem, he would be giving "media" a shameful connotation, he would be losing a great story to headline the news with, and lastly, taking the blame would require a lot of work on his part - you can't just take the blame and not do anything about it.

We see this attitude everyday in society... we are constantly placing the blame elsewhere because it is convenient. "I got a bad test mark because the teacher couldn't set a fair test", "I got a speeding ticket because the cop was in a bad mood", "the bum on the street is homeless because he is lazy", "the boy shot the gun because Eminem raps about guns". We reason with ourselves that all of these horrible things around us are not our own fault, but someone else's fault. This takes away our guilt, our personal connection, and lastly (and most importantly) our reason to do anything about it.

It's easy to do this, so I'm not writing this blog to condemn or insult people, more just to make them aware of this phenomenon that occurs... the matter of the fact is that I have done this many times as well. However, through my volunteer time with The Working Centre, I have begun to understand the necessity of accepting responsibility for the way our community operates. Through this acceptance, it has made each visit back to WASL feel more important and meaningful.

At the end of the day, someone (it doesn't matter who it is) has to stop the finger pointing and not just accept that there is a problem, but accept that they are a part of the problem - hence preparing them for a road to solving the problem. I hope I am able to delicately bring this idea to the youth at Stepping Stones International to help them take charge of their future!

Thanks for listening,