Friday, May 17, 2013

GLOWing brightly at Camp GLOW

April 29th – May 4th, 2013

GLOW camp finally came and went with huge success!!!

The week started when, Nosipho (my counterpart and sisi) and I drug our bags and bedding to the bus stop where we met with the two girls we had selected to attend the camp.  From there we got on a bus and picked up Addy, her counterpart Zandie, and four other campers from our community in Mpaka then we were all off to Siteki where Camp GLOW was being held at the primary school for the deaf.

Once in Siteki we met up with many other PCVs, counselors and campers at the bus rank.  Soon after a bus with balloons and posters advertising itself as the GLOW bus pulled up and loaded us all up to take us to the campus.  A whirlwind of checking in, saying hellos to old and new friends, getting beds assigned and Camp GLOW finally began.

We had a weekend filled with knowledge, fun, empowerment, and food.  The girls were taught mostly by our trained counterparts who were serving as counselors and by us PCVs.  Day one was all welcomes and ground rules, and getting to know each other activities.  Day two was all about health.  Girls attended sessions on HIV and STI knowledge, contraceptives, personal hygiene, male and female bodies, emotional health, having a child by choice not chance, alternatives to sex, and abstinence.  Day three was art day.  A local art gallery called Yebo Art came as part of their art outreach program.  The campers each were taught how to screen print and designed something personal to be printed on their GLOW t-shirt.  They also got a chance to paint portraits and learned about expressing themselves through poetry, lead by a local poet named Black Note.

One of my GLOW girls Landiwe making her
screenprint on her t-shirt.
 Day Four was all about getting out and about.  We took a walk to a beautiful private farm nearby and held sessions on volunteerism, leadership, and team building.  I taught about leadership in an orange grove, and then we ate lunch by a lily-pad pond.  Beautiful day!  Day Five was all about learning more about the resources around Swaziland that can help empower women.  We had a career fair, a male and female panel made up of successful men and women from Swaziland, and national organizations supporting women’s right were there to talk with girls about how they are there to help empower young women.

The week ended with an epic talent show.  We had 20 acts that covered all topics of women’s empowerment.  Songs, dances, poems, dramas (skits) and even a thrown together dance number performed by us PCVs to Beyonce’s “Girls run the World.”  I lost my voice cheering on the girl power that was happening in that room.  We expended all the energy we had left in a dance party where my campers taught me how to move like a true Swazi.  Get ready America; I have some awesome new dance moves to show you.

A week after we arrived we sadly had to say goodbye.  The shy greetings that started the camp was replaced with cheering goodbyes and promises to stay in touch on facebook and whats app.

Hurray for GLOW!!

The Malindza/Mpaka crew!
 Us PCVs needed to do a debrief after camp so we stayed an extra night after sending the girls and counselors on their way.  We stayed at the private farm we walked to earlier that week.  After reviewing the week and making suggestions for next year, we celebrated our huge success with Mexican food, cocktails, and another dance party.  Sadly it was all over by 8:30pm and we were in bed by 9pm all super exhausted from the week.  It was nice to sleep in a normal bed again.  We PCV took the brunt of the sleeping accommodations at the school and stayed in the preschool dorms, with preschool sized beds, preschool sized toilets, and low level sinks. 

The PCV GLOW executive council!

Can’t wait to see how GLOW will continue to grow in my community and excited to hear how camp will be even bigger and better next year!

A huge THANK YOU to everyone at home who contributed to GLOW, with donations, monetary or in-kind.  This would not have been at all possible if we didn’t have your support and donations.  We were able to give each girl a goody bag with personal toiletries and fun stuff that are novelties to them.  They also got a week away from the confines of the role of girls in a traditional Swazi homestead.  They got a taste of what life could hold for them and received some tools and knowledge to get to wherever they dream of going!  Giver yourself a pat on the back for making all of that a possibility, your donation may have been just the thing to change a girls life forever!  

Lusuku Lwenkutalwa lwenkhosi: The King’s Birthday

April 19th, 2013

I have officially been to a royal birthday party.  Cross that one off the bucket list, although I have to admit it was not the glamorous event my imagination dreamed up.  My participation resembled more of a 16th century royal outing from the perspective of a peasant.

Every year the King hosts a birthday party in a different region of the country.  This year, for his 45th birthday, he held it in Siteki, the closest town to my community, so I decided to put on my party clothes and go.  It was a rainy day so I didn’t go full out in Swazi attire, which leaves a women fairly exposed to the elements, rather I donned modern clothes plus a lihiya as a skirt and a traditional necklace to show I had some Swazi spirit. 

Catching a very crowed, standing room only bus to Siteki I practiced how to say “King’s Birthday” in siSwati, which provided a lot of entertainment to those around me.  A stadium had been erected in a muddy field, much like a jousting tournament, and we (the public) were admitted and squished into stadium benches to view the events of the day. 

So we were there, we were excited to see what a King’s Birthday Party looked like.  We arrived just in time for the scheduled events to start and in true Swazi style they didn’t start for 2 more hours.  Siteki sits on a plateau and its significantly colder then down in the area where I live.  It was cold and rainy, sitting and waiting was miserable.  I was sitting in the student section with my PCV friend Ryan’s primary school.  I recruited the students to sit around my in a circle, we created a huddle of warmth to pass the time.  We waited and waited and then we saw just about nothing. 

Before the King arrived a very heavy fog descended on the Siteki plateau making it impossible to see past 25 feet in front of you, let alone across a stadium field.  Despite being very late for his own party, the King made an exciting entrance.  The army provided guard and he inspected them to kick-start the events, which got him within 30 feet of me!  A few singings of the national anthem later it seems things were getting started.  The army guard did some really cool silent marching that got the crowd cheering, despite the fact we could all barely see through the fog.  Then someone talked for an hour announcing new titles people were getting and then the King left and it was over. 

There was supposed to be hours of entertainment that was prepared by various school groups and performance arts groups from the area, including Ryan’s students.  It all got canceled because time was up.  One good thing to come out of the day was that the students, after sitting in the cold all day, got their free gift for “participating,” which ironically was a jacket that they received upon leaving the event.

Frozen, we made our way back to the bus rank to try and get home.  This proved to be the most exciting part of the day.  Since everyone was trying to head west, as were we, the demand for getting on transport was insane.  Finally a bus willing to stop at all our little places along the main road came and it was a mad dash to get on.  All etiquette was thrown out the window, pushing and shoving were the tools needed to get on the bus and I did and I got a seat.  I’d say that means I’m fully integrated.

All in all, an interesting way to spend the day and its one more cultural event under my belt.

The End of an Era

April 16th, 2013

My Peace Corps service is rapidly coming closer and closer to the end, and today marked the end of a project that has truly defined my service. 

We held out very last ESL (English as a Second Language) class at the Refugee Camp.  Technically it wasn’t even class, it was a certificate ceremony that we have after every completed 12-week term.  This was our fourth and final term.  We wont be able to start and complete another before our service is over.

It didn’t feel like the end, but I am sure it will soon enough.  No more trips to Mpaka every week.  No more meeting to plan our lessons with our co-teachers.  No more assessing new students and re-assessing current students to mark their progress.  As much as I will get sentimental about this project ending it feels like the right time for it to end. 

It was a great project, but all of our students are moving on in life.  Working with refugees we got used to our class roster changing every term.  Students would leave for new places or home countries and as of last term students were getting jobs in Manzini.  I like to think we helped with that, giving them more confidence with speaking English.  My co-teacher Amnesty even got his official refugee status and got a job.  Everyone is starting to move on to better things so it feels right that classes are over and I’m moving on to.

All in all I think this is the project I am most proud of here in Swaziland.  We listened to what a community needed.  We found ambitious, hard-working, motivated counterparts, we reached out to get them trained and together created, developed, and implemented a English language class that taught people of various proficiency levels.  We had no idea what we were getting into that first day we gathered everyone, but we figured it out, and it was a success.  Students that would not even say hello to us on the first day are now having a conversation with us every time we see them.  Down caste eyes and embarrassed mumbles have turned into proud handshakes and greetings with a smile.
It makes being here that much easier when you can see the difference you have made.  And to top it all off, we know that this learning can continue after we leave.  There are trained people who can write a lesson plan and implement it.  The Refugee Camp will be getting a library full of books within the next few months to help with continued language learning, and we have shown the refugees that they can use each other as teachers.  Yay for sustainability!  Yay for English language learning!  Yay for successfully completed projects!