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!!!!)