13 February 2009
Today was a good day. We had Peace Corps visitors in Jericho. Shawna(Sorry if I spelled it wrong), who works at the Southern Africa Desk in Washington DC came to visit and see how PC South Africa is using PEPFAR money. IN Jericho, there are three PEPFAR funded projects by Peace Corps Volunteers: Will’s Voice of the Youth newsletter, Robi’s Atlegang Girls Club, and Erin’s Young Mothers’ program. Due to time constraints, Shawna was only able to visit with Will and Robi. It was great.
Shawna arrived with Margaret Shebe, PC Small Grants Cordinator, and Jeff, a PC Driver. They arrived about 45 minutes later than expected due to a slightly late departure and a wrong turn in our closest major town, Brits. Shawna was quickly welcomed by everyone, and she and I got to sit down and talk about the funding proposal process, the progress on the newsletter, give and get feedback, and simply talk about life as a Peace Corps volunteer. It was like talking with a good friend, even though I had just met her. Then we had a meeting with 6 of the youth volunteers that are working on the Voice of the Youth, along with Margaret and the manager of the Youth Centre. It was incredible. Fenji, our host sister, was a superstar. She talked about the article that she was working on, which was the Young Mothers’ program and her involvement with the Municipality Arts & Culture committee, of which she is the chairperson. The other volunteers talked about their articles and how they want to use the Newsletter as a step up in the world, as a place to gain skills, and as a way to get answers to questions. The group was spectacular and Shawna was blown away. She told me how great the meeting was and how excited she was about getting an advanced copy of the newsletter.
After talking with me and the Voice staff for an hour and a half, they moved on to Mmatope Primary School and the Atlegang Girls Club. I walked over with them, and did the first introductions, then left to talk with some of the news staff about a problem with an article. I was able to meet with them for about 20 minutes, trying to find a resolution to a logistical problem of getting an interview with someone in the Department of Health. Figured it out and then talked more with them about where the newsletter was going in the next few weeks. It was great.
When they left, I hustled over to Mafale Primary School to pick up some forms that they needed to fill out and send in for books and for Oprah School applications. Unfortunately, the school was closed today because of an athletics meet in Brits. (If this confuses you, don’t worry. It confuses me as well). Since the school was closed, I went to Mmatope to check in on Robi’s meeting. Instead of imposing myself into the conversation, I stayed outside talking with the driver Jeff. He is from Soshanguve, a township between Jericho and Pretoria. His father is from Lesotho, “so I have a Sesotho name, but I know Setswana from Soshanguve,” says Jeff. We talked about the drive from Pretoria to Jericho, the drive from Jericho to Hartebeespoort Dam after the meeting, about his 9-year-old twins, and about the need for speed humps in the village between the primary schools. It was nice to sit and talk about nothing and everything.
Robi’s meeting ended and I got to say goodbye to Shawna, wishing her a safe trip home. Robi and I reminisced about the day over a Sepatlo (French Fry sandwich) at a corner shop. Robi told me how well the meeting had gone and how she connected well with Shawna as well. Her 7 leaders had done really well after a timid start. All in all, it was a great day.
When I was sitting with Jeff, the school day ended and the students we excused. About 5 minutes later, the athlete for Mmatope returned to school in a rowdy Koombi. Sitting there, laughing and smiling at the extreme joy that all the kids were expressing (it’s Friday, after all), I realized that my Peace Corps experience is about extremes in my emotions. I have never felt so much frustration in a job before, but I have never smiled as big or as widely as I have with the children of South Africa. It reminds me that the kids have it all figured out, and we, the adults, just mess it up by thinking too much.