Leaving this Place Better than Before, Part 2

Though I’m not yet leaving South Africa, I am moving from one site to another as I switch from my original assignment to my third year assignment.  In one way, I am finishing up my service and starting anew.  This past week, I attended the COS conference for my cohort, SA24.  Of the 57 of us who came to country, 47 made it to the end of service.  For SA, this is amazing….most cohorts lose far more than we did due to ETs.  45 of us were at our COS conference…two having already COS’d.  And while most of the information given at our COS conference won’t be relevant to me for another year, it was a time for reflection on what I’ve done so far.

Have I really left this place (my old village) better than it was before?

The Village.

The Village.

One of the things that is unique to SA is that just by being in my village for two years, I make a small impact.  Children and adults in my village were able to interact regularly with a white person-one who was learning their language, making efforts to honor their culture, and who tried to help them.  This certainly hadn’t happened to them before.  Children began to change their attitudes: instead of being terrified that a white lady was speaking to them, they began to laugh, then they stopped laughing and greeted me normally.  At the end, children would run up to me, gleefully shouting my name and greetings in English and Setswana.  Adults stopped averting their eyes and speaking Afrikaans to me, and instead happily jabbered at me in Setswana, or tested their shy English skills.  I scarcely heard “lekgoa!” being shouted at me as I walked through the village.  Women would stop and offer to help me carry my things, and men would help me find transport.

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Even if PCVs in SA do nothing else, we change the stereotypes.  We leave our villages a little bit better than they were before, no matter our race.

My host family.

My host family.

Yet there were a multitude of projects I wanted to start, and things I wanted to teach the children.  There were things I allowed to slip through my village, whether through exhaustion, frustration, or simply not knowing how to solve the unceasing problems.  I wanted to do many things: start a girls’ club, host a Camp GLOW, get funding for the garden club, reach out to more home gardeners, significantly improve English and NS scores, start a LoveLife, set up a library, focus more on HIV/AIDS nutrition, engage the community….and many more than I can’t even remember now.  It’s easy to set your goals too high and dwell on the things we failed to do.

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But I believe that every PCV leaves their home a little better than before.  It could well be that all of my projects have completely failed six months from now, and that the people in my village forget my name.  Maybe they’ll start to forget that I was ever there.  But small things will remain: the adorable Grade R who ran to greet me each day might vaguely remember how to plant seeds, my 13 year old host sister might have strong enough English skills to attend university someday, my counterpart may glance at the garden year plan we made from time to time, and the teachers might remember to take the learners outside every now and then and teach in the garden.  Or they might not.

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It was really hard to leave my old village behind.  I had invested a lot of time, blood, sweat, and tears over the past few years.  Even though I saw my counterpart and the Garden Club learners take ownership of our garden, I didn’t want to let go.  I wanted to stay and see what they do next.  But I can’t.  And while I’m hoping to visit in 2014, who knows what the future holds.

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I hope and pray that I’ve left my old village a little better than before.  I doubt I’ll even know if and how, but as long as one little things changed, or one opinion shifted, then it was two years well spent.

Adios, my village.

Adios, my village.

-Jen

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When You Know It’s Worth It

What a beautiful garden!

What a beautiful garden!

Sometimes (aka often) as a PCV, I wonder if what I’m doing makes any difference. I wonder if my village will show any sign of progress in 1, 5, or 10 years. Change can be so slow to happen that I often think I’ve done practically nothing with the last year and a half of my life.

And then days like today happen, and I know I’ve done something. I know my hard work hasn’t been for nothing.

Today we went to visit the home gardeners. We visited them in September, before the rains came, and most of them do not have taps at home. Therefore, without rain, they are unable to plant. Unfortunately, it hasn’t rained much this year, so the gardens have suffered. But what I saw put a HUGE smile on my face!!

In every garden we visited (5 total), there were new permaculture techniques being used. I saw intercropping, the 3 sisters, drip irrigation, mulch, compost, manure, trench beds, companion planting….in short, the main things we’ve been doing in our garden at school and at our trainings. It was amazing to see how the people have implemented these new techniques, and embraced the things I was so desperate to teach. Some of the beds were empty, and the people would tell us they had just eaten the carrots, beans, spinach, beetroot, etc.

Food in hungry bellies, what I’ve wanted all along.

Sometimes I wonder if what I’m doing has any impact, and I’m one of the lucky PCVs who actually can see that impact-tangibly, visibly. In the education sector, most PCVs have to hope their impact will come about years down the road, and they may never see real change in their school, even though it happens beneath the surface. I’ve been able to see a metamorphosis at my school, among the learners, and in the village, and I’m so thankful to see some of the changes.

Last week, I glanced at my host family’s garden (which I don’t use) and saw drip irrigation, which I had taught my host sister about during Garden Club. On my way to school, I’ve seen a garden or two that planted the 3 sisters. Learners are respectful of the garden areas at school and rush to help me out.

Change is slow, and fragile. It could be that in 5 years, nobody remembers the name of the young lekgoa girl who played in the dirt for two years. But I hope they remember what I’ve tried to teach. I hope my school still takes pride in the garden, and has blossomed into a leader in the community. And I hope fewer kids show evidence of kwashiorkor, a protein-energy deficiency, because they are eating veggies from their gardens.

I realize that when I leave, everything I’ve done with the permaculture project could completely fall apart. But I don’t think that will happen, not entirely. And to prevent that, I’m looking for an organization that is willing to fund supplies, seeds/seedlings, and a few stipends for the next 2-3 years (so if you’re interested, or know someone who is….let me know!). By having funding through the next few years, my school can focus on growing and improving the school garden, regardless of whether I’m there or not. A few ladies from the community could have temporary employment through stipends, and would be motivated to care for the garden.

The amazing thing about these home gardeners is that, despite serious poverty, they were willing to give. One lady gave us the biggest squash in her garden, and another the ripest watermelon. A lady with a beautiful forest-like garden broke off reeds of sugar cane and passed it around, and we chewed on it as she chattered about her garden, then promised to give us some later to grow at the school. The generousity of people who have far less than I do never ceases to amaze me! Ubuntu at its best.
-Jen

Stunning garden! Compost, almost forest gardening, diversity, intercropping, trench beds!

Stunning garden! Compost, almost forest gardening, diversity, intercropping, trench beds!

July Garden Pics

Harvesting carrots.

Harvesting carrots.

Most of these pics are from July or very early August. The school garden is now in full WINTER bloom (temps hit freezing almost every night now). Growing through the harsh Kalahari winter has been an interesting process, but almost every bed is happily mulched and thriving. Last week we harvested cabbage, lettuce, spinach (swiss chard), and carrots. I’ve been enjoying stir fries, salads, and carrot cake since!
-Jen

Our raised bed section.

Our raised bed section.

Harvesting spinach.

Harvesting spinach.

Mulch!

Mulch!

Learners repairing some seed beds during garden club.

Learners repairing some seed beds during garden club.

Our new recycling bins/compost station.

Our new recycling bins/compost station.

Learners digging new beds during garden club.

Learners digging new beds during garden club.

Lasting Change

Two teachers discussing what to do with all these trees!

Two teachers discussing what to do with all these trees!

Wednesday marked 8 months in SA, and means I only (ONLY!??!?!) have one and a half years left here. Some days that seems scary, because I have so much I want to do. Other days, it gets me through the hard days. Yes, they exist. Occasionally more often than I would like. Regardless, I am glad to be here and doing what I am doing.

After months of hitting roadblocks and fighting to make miniscule changes, I’ve finally started to get my gardening project moving. I had almost given up working to improve the school’s garden, but PC is offering a PermaGarden training, and my asking my principal for a counterpart started the ball rolling.

The Grade R has a small garden within the fences (yeah, we keep the little ones penned up), and Mma Makobo told me that Mma Ntwayabokone would be a good counterpart for the training. She is the Grade R teacher, and really likes to garden. She’s been the only force working at the school to improve the garden and plant flower beds around.

Mma Makobo also arranged for me to attend a one day Permaculture training with Mma Ntwayabokone (see last post). So, after that success, I planted a beautiful little herb garden at the school….again, see my last post.

This week began with a delivery of 24 trees to our school. Now, considering out school grounds now have about 4 trees, this is a HUGE deal. I’ve spent all week trying to coordinate the planting of the trees. There are still 5 left to plant, hopefully tomorrow. Everything takes longer here…

Anyways, I’ve also been teaching Mma Ntwayabokone and some other teachers about sheet mulching and how to repurpose cardboard into mulch, and use the plentiful grasses as mulch. I’ve been able to prove that mulch keeps the soil moist, and have told them it will help keep away weeds and prevent the wind from blowing dirt away. I’ve also tried to teach them about using trees as a windbreak, but that hasn’t taken on so much. But it’s been really exciting to teach them some better practices, and then see Mma Ntwayabokone put them to practice while I was off doing other things. So cool! I love being a part of lasting change!

I am working to convince the people that matter at school that we need to clean up the garden and enter the EduPlant school garden competition this year. We don’t really have a chance to win, but entering is an important step in stating that the garden is important and is a priority. I’ve gotta get Mma Makobo on my side though.

So, after months of frustration about my projects at school, things are going really well! I’m excited to see what the garden looks like in another month or so. Hopefully more green and less weedy!

Some PCVs are content to type documents and fill in as a sub or whatnot during their two years of service. This is helpful to the community, but not sustainable. I am not content being an unsustainable method of development. I may frustrate my counterparts and run up against one brick wall after another, but I’ve already been a part of small changes that will be evident in my school years from now, and I hope to continue changing things, rather than being a convenient staff addition to the school for 2 years. Lasting change is more important to me than the quantity of things I do. I have 1.5 years left… let’s see what I can do!

-Jen

The Grade R mini-garden.

The Grade R mini-garden.

The big garden....or the place with weeds surround a few functioning beds.

The big garden….or the place with weeds surround a few functioning beds.