The Botswana Scouts Association came to New Xade this weekend. The BSA is just like our BSA (Boy Scouts of America) except they include girls in their membership. 3 trucks pulled in Friday night carrying 10 or so Scout leaders from the National HQ in Gabs and a Scout troop from the Ghanzi Senior Secondary School. All week our local scouts practiced pounding on the drums in preparation for their arrival. The weekend event is to commemorate the Scouts’ 104th Anniversary in Botswana.
Saturday Morning, I woke up bright and early to prepare drinks for our OVC support group. The weather was cool for once and I found myself singing U2’s “It’s a beautiful day” as I carried two coolers full of juice drinks, ice bottles, cookies, and footballs to the little wards waiting for me at the local church. A total of 19 tiny kids arrived at the church at 9:05 AM and peppered me with one question: “give me my ball, give me my ball.” (First off, that’s not a question. Second, it’s not your ball. And Third, no.)
My friend Ketelelo, 19 years old, is the one responsible for this operation. Ketelelo is the only volunteer for the group who I have ever seen working with kids. Unfortunately, most of the year, Ketelelo is at school in Ghanzi. This is only the 2nd time the group has met since my service started in June. The first time was during another school holiday, when Ketelelo was home. It seems, without Ketelelo, no one, not the volunteers nor the kids, wants to meet. With Ketelelo around, all I have to do is ask and suddenly I’ll have 20-30 little orphans at my disposal. Whenever Ketelelo comes to visit me, he always has 2-3 little ones in tow. This is so and so, he introduces them to me as though he were introducing a peer. They are normally too shy to respond, but I take their hand anyway and shake them in Botswana style and invite them to come into my house; when they do, they sit quietly and gaze at the pictures on my wall as though they were First-Years at Hogwarts expecting the photos to come to life. Whenever Ketelelo’s around, I’m not afraid of these kids, they become as shy and meek as baby sheep and I love ‘em.
Last week, Ketelelo came to visit me while I was soaking in the bathtub. This isn’t a rare occurrence in daily Batswana life, I’ve personally walked in on people bathing twice. Unfortunately, I ain’t a Motswana and instead of yelling out “YO!” like they do when they hear someone at the door, I sunk deeper in the water and pretended not to be home… which didn’t work since my front door was open and the screen door was locked from the inside. Quite stupidly, I also left the bathroom door open. I couldn’t get up or out without being seen or heard. I lay in the tub for what felt like 10 minutes while Ketelelo and his little friends knocked, called my English and Setswana names, went to my windows, and knocked some more. I realized I couldn’t get away with hiding, so I finally came out of the tub, maneuvered my way into a towel without being seen, and emerged rubbing my eyes and pretending that I’d fallen asleep and oh, I’m so sorry I didn’t come out earlier. At the sight of the strange lekhoa in a towel, the 2 tiny kids Ketelelo was with giggled uncontrollably. Later, as Ketelelo left my house, I yelled after him, “You are always surrounded by kids!” He turned and smiled and said, “They’re my friends,” and then walked home into the sunset, really.
Well, Ketelelo, his brother Kebabonye, and I are about to embark on another strange journey, the Youth Club. Last week, while Ketelelo was over, we got to talking about the Youth Center again and he made a strange comment. “The youth center’s not far,” he said, “the problem is, the Youth don’t know how to use the equipment. And they only want to watch TV, they say the other activities make them tired.”
In case you don’t know, the “youth center” here is a small room converted from the Community Hall. Since I arrived in June 2010, I’ve wanted to relocate the youth center to an all-accessible dedicated building in the center of town. The youth officer at the time, now long transferred, told me that it would be an excellent idea. The current center, she said, was too far, inaccessible to electricity, and difficult to supervise. I thought that was the reason it wasn’t used. The Youth Center, aka this tiny little room, is full of toys and things that any youth in America would dream of having: an electric keyboard, electric bass, electric and acoustic guitars, a drum set, a snooker (or pool) table, a ping pong table, a dart set, a punching bag with boxing gloves, badminton rackets, birdies, nets, monopoly, scrabble, chess, tv, stereo set, everything short of an x-box (without electricity, about ½ of this equipment is useless, which I find funny…). The youth don’t know how to use the equipment, how simple an explanation; so this proposed youth club would provide coaches for different activities every other week (or so). I’m trying to make this as simple as it possibly can be. The ultimate goal being: decrease in alcohol abuse.
Though I’m still not holding my breath… because of my personality, I’m presenting a list I’ve formatted of all realistic things that can go wrong:
- Ketelelo goes back to school in March & youth stop coming, club fails (like the OVC support group)
- No funding granted for food & youth stop coming, club fails
- No funding granted for generator for electricity & youth stop coming, club fails
- No support from community coaches, youth stop coming, club fails
- Youth don’t come in the first place, club fails
- I become the only volunteer/leader of the club & decide that the responsibility isn’t worth the reward, club fails
- Confusion regarding scheduling/time, club fails (yes, likely)
- Youth come for food, games, and fun, but continue to drink or become alcoholics anyway… club fails (hehehe, but I won’t be around to realize that…)
On the other hand, if things go well, here are the potential benefits:
- Decreased alcohol and drug abuse among youth in NX
- Decrease in teenage pregnancy rates due to the awesome mentoring relationships I’ll build with the girls
- Because I’m in PC Botswana I have to say this as well: decrease in HIV/AIDS prevalence rate among youth in NX (cause you know... decrease in alcohol means decrease in irresponsible sexual behavior, though increase in social activities may result in increase in sexual partnerships… leading to an increase in multiple concurrent partnerships (MCP) resulting in higher HIV prevalence. Reminder to self: if this takes off, dedicate a session every now and then to life skills lessons, i.e. how to use a condom, decrease MCP, promote safe male circumcision)
- Increased school performance
- Increased self-esteem and local leadership among youth
- Increase in community participation in community service/youth events- That’s a biggie.
- Increased funding due to increased activity leading to improved equipment/ renovation of youth center/ possible funding to build the dream-center closer to town (I have to comment on the wonderfulness of Nikki, an architect in Ghanzi who is helping me to get excited for and plan this center. She is a creative worldly type who wants to recruit the kids here to help build walls and other components of the project using local materials and resources. She is also helping to keep me sane.)
- Increase in personal friendships with local volunteers and youth
On a third hand, or you may use a foot if you so choose, if nothing happens at all, at least I can say I tried.
All this to say, the Scouts came to New Xade, had a presentation which I missed cause I was with the OVC’s, then planted a whole bunch of little tree-lings in the village. I retired for the day because I can’t be caught outside in the heat or I’ll melt, and then returned in the evening for a bonfire which happened past my bedtime, so I went home before the fire started. But I managed to meet a lot of cool people and see the kids dressed up in little uniforms and learning to march, led by our scout leader, a reaaally little kid around 3 feet tall wearing a baby blue baret and leading teenagers twice his age and height. I got a lot of encouragement and tips for the youth club, and most unexpectantly, I got contact information for the officer at the department of public health who’s in charge of alcohol abuse initiatives. Apparently, there is a lot (too much someone said) money set aside for these initiatives, and if things go well, I may get the funding I need not only to run the club, but set up a permanent, flexible alcohol-free structure for the youth to access every day. (Oh, and I got a scout shirt myself!!)
I found out a few days ago that a PCV Couple who are friends of mine will be returning to the states this upcoming week due to a medical condition. I am seriously bummed about it. :(
I just wanted to make a public announcement, Ketelelo found out his exam results this week, he got first class! (the best you can do) Congratulations Ketelelo! This kid is going places.
Another update, yesterday I went to my English club but the students weren’t there. No problem. I sat down in the middle of the school yard on an old tire under a tree and read out loud children’s books including “the giving tree.” A real rocking moment. The kids liked it so much we read all 3 books I had 2-3 times each.
Also this morning we had our first youth club meeting to discuss logistics and the plan for the new year. 3 Girls and 10 Boys showed up, along with the Youth Officer, Police Officer, and Agricultural Officer-- the best turnout for any meeting I've had so far. Though they all wanted me to run the meeting, I ended up, as usual, sitting on the sidelines listening to the setswana conversations that ensue. Well, we never got to the programming part of the agenda, and I was barely able to communicate what I wanted to communicate- but none of that really mattered to me. What we did end up doing (during this unexpectantly long 2 hour meeting) was convince the youth officer to keep the recreation room open from 8am to 4pm Monday-Friday and 8am to 7pm on Saturday. Congratulations Youth! I can honestly say that aside from assembling this meeting, I had nothing to do with this victory as it was all done in Setswana.