Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Beata's Scholarship

One time in college, after a low turn out at one of my Amnesty International events and a continuous stream of news updates about the worsening genocide in Darfur (despite all of the demonstrations and letters we’d written), I was feeling down and frustrated. A friend of mine bought me ice cream and served it with some insight. He said, “Lindsay, you can’t change the world, but sometimes you can change the whole world for one person.” I had always wanted to do the Peace Corps, but that conversation solidified it for me. I wanted the experience to learn from and affect people on an individual basis, because, well, that’s the only way it’s really done.

When I got here, it became pretty clear that Beata was the person in need of a boost. If I haven’t told you about Beata yet, she’s no ordinary Namibian. She may seem like it but she has a deep compassion and desire to help others that I have rarely seen and it’s even more extraordinary considering what she’s been through.

Beata grew up in a small village in Northern Namibia, a country under apartheid formerly known as “South West Africa” and occupied by South African soldiers until she was 12. She remembers running from school to hide in the bushes as military planes flew overhead. Sometimes they would drop leaflets describing the next restriction, such as no walking after dark. Sometimes they would drive their tanks on to their homesteads, burn their crops and beat her family members. When she was in 2nd grade she was questioned by white S.A. soldiers, at gunpoint to determine if any opposition soldiers were hiding on their homestead. It blows my mind to think that while she was going through all of this, I was about 5 years old, probably sitting in my p.j.’s eating cereal and watching cartoons. But as life would have it, 20 years later our paths would cross.

I met Beata because she works for my host organization, the Ministry of Youth, as a Rural Youth Development officer. She recently graduated with a bachelor degree in agricultural management from the university in Namibia. Though government work is a pretty standard job, it’s also allows no opportunity for advancement, especially in the MoY that’s having some issues with corruption. She wanted to study further and get ahead so that she could do the work she’s really interested in which is addressing the issues of food security and sustainable agricultural development. I encouraged her to apply abroad, including in the USA.

For the sake of brevity, I will gloss over all of 2010 and the battle that these applications have been. It’s tough to apply to grad school as it is, but doing it from a rural town in Namibia is 10 times harder (and more expensive), but Beata persevered and it all paid off when she was admitted to and Agriculture masters program at Colorado State University! She is still hoping to be admitted to UC Davis and will hear in early spring, but to have and admit to any school is such a blessing!

This is where you come into the story…

Beata and I are practically working full-time searching and applying for grants, scholarship, and student loan options. She has been short-listed for the Fulbright Fellowship and has also applied for the AAUW Fellowship and a few more. We’re hoping for the best, but we can’t exclusively rely on these things. Unlike ¾ of international students who have their education funded by their wealthy families, Beata’s family members are subsistence farmers and are unable contribute to any of her expenses.

I hate to ask people for money, I really do (and Beata hates it even more which is why she doesn’t know about this), but nothing has ever meant more to me. Please help change the life of this incredible woman by making a donation to her scholarship fund.

When I was home, I met another wonderful woman, Lisa Wade, who has offered to let me fund-raise for Beata’s scholarship through her non-profit organization, Impact A Village. It is a 501(c)(3) non profit, which means all donations are tax-deductible.

When you donate through the website, be sure to make a note that this is for Beata’s scholarship in the comment field of the Paypal form.

Please forward this to anyone else you think might be willing to support.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your help.

******IMPORTANT CORRECTION*****There is no comment field on the Paypal form. If you donate online through the website, please email to indicate that you made a donation on Beata's behalf. Sorry for the confusion/hassle.

Monday, August 9, 2010

What's Coming Up

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It’s T minus 17 days until Southern Girls Conference! I have been looking forward to this for over a year. I’ve maintained unwavering faith that, against the odds, SGC would happen this year. I was shocked to find out that we wouldn’t get all the money we needed from our usual donor, but I knew we’d get it somewhere. Fortunately just in the nick of time (about a month ago), some noble women from the Loomis church I grew up in, offered to take up the cause and help me raise the money. It definitely would not be happening if it were not for them. Their initiative to raise the money stateside has taken a huge burden off of me. Aside from the financial support they are providing, they have renewed my confidence in the project at a time when I was feeling very alone in organizing the whole thing. I had been feeling like many people were telling me that it was a great initiative, and they were willing to provide ideas for what I ought to do, but they weren’t willing to contribute money, time or effort. It’s a lot of work to bring 50 selected girls from 8 different villages to one place, feed them, look after them for four days and send them back. Organizing this has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I know I’m going to be grinning ear to ear when it’s actually happening.

After the conference, I’ve got some much needed vacation time to look forward to! I’ll be heading North to a village in Owamboland to attend a former colleague’s wedding. It’s a two-day extravaganza and the bride’s mother has even sewn traditional dresses for Debbie (the other PCV who will be attending) and I to wear at the event. “Know one will even be able to tell we’re not Oshiwambo!” I joked to the bride. I can’t wait to see a traditional wedding and try the food and try to keep up with the dancing!

A few weeks after that, my father will be coming for a visit. I cannot even begin to say how excited I am for that. Not only do I just adore my dad and spending time with him, I can’t wait to show him Namibia and be able to show him all of the things I am trying (and feel like I am failing) to explain to my friends and family at home. Namibia is a complex, fascinating, and beautiful country that I can’t wait to share with my Dad. We’re going to rent a car and I’ll finally get to go up to some of the places in Namibia, Zambia and Botswana I’ve never been able to access before.

This year is going to finish out much better than it started. I have so much to look forward to and it great to wake up every morning and think, “the best is yet to come!”

Thursday, July 8, 2010

African Time

It's seems like forever ago that I was reading that Edward Abbey book about the desert and sitting with my host family during site visit (about 17 months ago) and it seems like forever until I'll go home again. Everything has slowed down, and I'm alright with that. I'm on African time now, baby!

Reflections on my visit home:

Going home was...brief. It was great, but also overwhelming. Reverse culture shock was the least of my worries (honesty, it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. It did not at all feel unnatural to be ordering a caramel latte from Peet's. You can take the girl out of Peet's, but...). I saw A LOT of people, more than I thought I would get to be able to see, but still not enough. Before I could even adjust to be getting a full night sleep (not that my schedule would've allowed it anyway), I was back on the plane and back to Namibia. *It was such a strange trip in reverse! I got dropped off at the airport in a nice new BMW in the middle of summer and I was returned to my town in the back of a pick-up truck, crammed in their with two men, a pregnant lady, a woman and a child (plus my 3 bags, 6 pumpkins -resting on top of me, and 4 bags of grain) on a freezing winter (seriously, about 30 degrees) morning!*

Was it worth it? Absolutely! If you know me, you know I'm all about face-time when it comes to my relationships and I would do it all again for a 1 day peak into the lives of my American-based loved-ones.

For your entertainment, here is a list of my top-10, reverse culture-shock moments:

10. Taxes. That candy bar is NOT really $0.99, and I just wasted my time counting out my change.
9. The children are so clean! They are wearing nice clean clothes and they can demand (quite rudely) anything from their parents and not expect so much as a slap on the butt.
8. American English is too fast and invading my thought bubble! I am used to walking around in public and tuning out everyone's conversations because I can't understand them. In the US, I can't turn the page of my book because I'm busy eves-dropping on some chick's telephone converstation about planning her wedding and wasting my thoughts thinking about a stranger's life!
7. Wasting food. I never noticed it until now, but in our house, Beata and I don't waste a single crumb of food. If it doesn't go to us, it goes to the street kids, if it has gone bad, it goes to the dogs and if it's not edible, it goes to the compost pile (and into the mouthes of our pet earthworms).
6. Food variety, I mean it's like we've got the whole world in our city! I have the option to buy or make just about anything my heart desires.
5. Money. It's just more abundant here and underappreciated.
4. The Galleria Mall. It's huge now.
3. Driving. I miss the freedom and independence of having my own vehicle. Wow, it is such a blessing not to have to wait for another person to pick you up and drop you off.
2. Short shorts and dresses. When did those come back in style? It is so inappropriate to show your leg above the knee in Namibia that I forgot how it looked. I haven't seen anyone wearing short shorts like that since I got here and I could help but feel shocked that it was acceptable to go out in public like that. (In Nam, it's opposite of the USA, show all the breast that you want, but legs? Now that's just skanky!)
1. My GOD American are friendly! It seemed like everyone was smiling at me (in Namibia if you smile at a stranger it kind of means you're romantically interested -learned that. hard. way). Customer service was incredible and people were doing a very believable job of at least pretending to being happy all the time. No wonder Namibians believe that American have no problems -from the exterior it certainly looks that way.

Oh, and since this is my first post of the year, Happy New Year! Resolution #1: Blog more :)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

4 Questions

Hi friends! I hope you all had a nice Christmas. Mine was unique and enjoyable (but that’s a subject for another blog).

I received a prompt from Leah to write a blog answering a few basic questions:

1. What’s been the funniest thing that’s happened to me in Africa?
2. What has been my biggest challenge?
3. What has been my biggest achievement?
4. What do I miss most from the states/what would I like to have sent to me?

So here we go:

1. The funniest thing…
Funny/odd things happen to me everyday so not one single incident comes to mind. This morning the neighborhood kids came over to sell me a turtle. I don’t know where they got it or what kind of turtle it is. It must be some kind of desert turtle because there’s absolutely no water around here. We’re having a major drought, and 115+ degree heat. I considered keeping it for a pet, but I’m leaving for Cape Town tonight. Most of the things that make me laugh are things I just witness and may not be so funny to describe. The children in my neighborhood are always saying and doing silly things. I’ll get back to you on this one!

2. The biggest challenge…
The biggest challenge has been living in a post-apartheid society. Racism and tribalism is one of the major issues hindering the growth of this country. I can’t begin to describe how frustrating it is to try and convince people to make things better for themselves when all they can do is blame everything on another tribe or another race. Not to mention, it’s very difficult to work in groups that are divided into 6 different language groups.

3. The biggest achievement…
I’ve worked on a lot of project in this community, but probably the employment/entrepreneurship workshops have been the most successful. The unemployed, out-of-school youth, who are normally very elusive, showed up in droves for this workshop. They were noticeably more hopeful and motivated to improve their situation after the two-day workshop. I’ve run into a few of them around town and of the 15 that attended, I have hear of two that got jobs, one that has gone for an interview and five that have begun volunteering.

4. What I miss most….
Other than you guys (which is obviously my number 1), I miss the mountains and forests. I’m not really a desert person and Mariental is flat and dusty! As far as care packages go, I’ve got a few requests:
• Emergen-C
• Venus razor heads
• Lysol disinfectant spray
• Coffee beans (Peet’s if you live near one!)
• Iced Tea/Sun Tea (Peet’s Mango Iced Tea is my favorite)
• Reeses Pieces/plain M&M’s
• Luna Bars
• Small things to give as gifts (lip gloss, earrings,
• Clothing (cotton t-shirts, skirts, underwear)
• Things that smell like the forest

Thanks! I know I say this every time, but now that I have internet access at my office, I WILL be updating my blog more often.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Train Wreck

This morning around 4 am, as I was fast asleep under my mosquito net, a single train engine careened backwards into its detached passenger cars, derailing two of the cars and stopping halfway into the third car. The wreck happened in my town less than a kilometer from my house. I didn’t hear anything and had no idea about the accident until I saw a text from another PCV asking me if I had heard about it (he’s a teacher and gets up much earlier than I do for work). Since the train tracks are less than 300 meters behind my house, I immediately walked out to take a look. Up ahead I could see the usual people that cross the tracks on their way to work looking left. When I finally got up to the tracks I could see the train up ahead about 500 meters. It was stopped in the middle of town blocking the street that divides the two parts of town. When I followed the tracks to scene, I could see many people gathered around, but there was no sense of urgency and I didn’t see any ambulances, police or medical officers. I didn’t see any passengers either. There was some yellow tape around the scene, but no one paid any mind to it (this is Africa –there are no hard boundaries) and we all stood right up next to the train. I found my friend there and he informed me that the passengers had already been taken to the hospital. He wasn’t sure if anyone had been killed, but judging by the crumpled cars that were hanging over half into the ditch, it seemed likely.

Apparently the passenger cars detached from the engine somewhere in town and the conductor continued down the track without noticing for about 500 meters. Finally realizing his mistake, he puts the engine in reverse and, at a high speed, crashed into the waiting passenger cars. Four boys were in the first car as the engine hit. Only three of them survived after being pulled from the wreckage. Thirty other passengers were taken to Mariental hospital for injuries.

My heart sank when I heard this information. I imagined the scene and wondered if it could’ve possibly gone differently had I been there. The all too familiar feeling of guilt was starting to creep up inside me. What if I had been there to help? What if I had woken up and been able to put my EMT training into action and assist at the scene? We even did a train wreck scenario in my EMT class but I never thought I’d be so close in proximity to an actual accident like this. But I might as well have been back in California because I slept through the whole thing and by the time I arrived 4 hours later, the boy and the other passengers were no longer there. But this “what if” game could go on forever if I let it so I just have to trust that if I were meant to be there, then I would have been.

Shocking and disturbing things happen here on a regular basis and it’s hard not to be affected by what we see. I am finding new ways to deal with these emotions in a way that is not ignoring them nor letting them overrun me and I know that skill will serve me well throughout my life.

This tragedy has brought back to my mind the desire to teach basic first aid to some of the youth I'm working with as well as the staff at our centre. It will certainly be a challenge with the language barriers, but it's something I'd really like to do and I think will give everyone a little more peace of mind.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks for the phone calls last night. I didn't not get organized intime to put on my best version of NamThanksgiving, but I was thinking of you all and spent some quiet time reflecting on the many blessings I have in my life.

I have been workin'! A lot of what I do is on the computer (typing grant applications, sending emails, planning lessons for my life skills club) but lately, I've been "out in the field." A few weeks ago I was in Luderitz, a coastal town that was the first German settlment in Namibia. It still has it's funky old German style with bright colored buildings and big churches. I was asked to come by another PCV to do the same employment/entrepeneurship workshop I did for my youth in Mariental. The workshop went very smoothly (the first day we invited and entrepeneur to come and teach them about how to start a small business and the second day we taught the youth how to make resume, look for jobs and ace their interviews). The youth walked away seeming much more motivated to go make something of themselves. It's hard not to get discourage when unemployment is a staggering 60%. After the workshop was over, we got to hang out with the PCV's and explore the town a bit. I even talked Beata into going out on her first sailboat where we sailed around the harbor and saw dolphins, penguins, seals and orcha whales. It was a great trip and worth all 7 hours it took to get out there.

I am still working away on our garden project. I can't remember if I mentioned it in a previous blog, but Beata and I are trying to start a community demonstration garden at our centre. We will train youth volunteers to be leaders in the community and help initiate home gardens around our community. We will have a demonstration plot on the grounds of the centre to hold trainings. It all part of an initiative to increase food security in the community. Proper nutrition is especially important for people living with HIV because it can prolong their life and without it, their medicine can make them very sick (which in turn discourages them from taking their meds altogether). We have hooved it all over town talking to local business, regional council and all the regional branches of government in our town. Only recently did we secure a donation of seeds and fruit trees. We've written a few grants but are waiting to hear from the ones we haven't yet been rejected by. As things slow down towards the holidays and the end of the year, our patience really comes into play. In reality, we might not see anything popping up out of that ground until early next year.

The other thing I've kind of fallen into is this life skills/kids club. I originally formed the club to serve out of school/unemployed youth between the ages of 15-30, but turns out they don't think I'm as cool as the 11 and 12 year olds. I struggled to get much attendance at my first life skills club meetings, but one day this group of kids just started showing up. Most of them had met me because I came to teach them about HIV in their drama club. At the meeting, I mentioned that I worked at the Youth Centre and that my door is always open if they have any questions (like I always do) and these kids actually took me up on it. For the past few weeks they come every Monday and Wednesday and we play games and talk about how to communicate, make good decisions and how to avoid risky behavior. They have their exams this week and will be going on holiday soon so I may not see them again until next year.

Otherwise, all is well. It's summer and very, very hot. It's probably been around 95 outside and 115 inside my house. Now, I just come home, wet a rag and pull a chair outside in the shade of our front porch. There's really no reason to go inside that oven! I taped up some pictures of snowmen and christmas trees that I got from a previous volunteer, but the Christmas spirit is somehow elusive in the heat of summer.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I'm Back!

After receiving the fifth hand-written letter ending with a very commanding "UPDATE YOUR BLOG!" I've decided I better deliver (you can all thank Amanda Corbyn for being the straw that broke this camel's back). I really am sorry I've been such a bum about writing. It's a daunting task to write about my life here because there is just so much background to explain before any of my stories will really make sense. But here's my best attempt at a general update.

Lately, I've been on the road traveling all over this country (one of the perks of working for the Ministry of Youth) mainly to attend or to facilitate at workshops. We also get to travel to other PCV's sites to collaborate on projects and I also had a vacation in there somewhere. It's nice to have a home to come back to where everyone noticed you were gone and really missed you. So though I feel like an old hobo and I've sworn to quit these rambeling ways one of these days (did you catch that, Cathie?) I quite enjoy packing up my backpack every other week to explore more of the unknown. Sometimes when I'm crammed in the back of a backie sharing the ride with some goats, I look out over the scenary and think, "this is the best job in the world!"

I've been working on a couple of projects lately. Beata and I just finished doing an employment and entrepeneurship workshop for the youth. With unemployment at a staggering 70% in this community, you could tell they were starving for it. It took a lot of work and planning to put on this two-day workshop but it was definitly worth it to see the participants motivated and with a brighter outlook on their future.

Next week, I am going to Windhoek to be trained on micro-gardening (otherwise known as table-top gardens). Our hope is to open a demonstration garden at our centre so that we can train youth how to make these easy, affortable gardens at their own homes. It's part of a world-wide Peace Corps initiative to increase food security. With so many malnurished people in our community, this seems to be a great solution --however, the reality is that it's not easy to get people stoked about gardening, especially if it requires them to put down their beer-bottle for a few minutes (I'm not trying to be harsh, but when I walk through the informal settlements and see people stumbeling drunk out of the shebeens at 6am, I've become a little jaded). We've got nothing to lose by trying here, but the odds are stacked against us. The Nama tribe (the majority in Mariental) was historically nomadic and though they have westernized over the past few decades, it is not in their culture to garden like it is for the Oshiwambo tribe in the North. Anyway, I remain hopeful and will keep you updated with the progress.

I've lost count of how long I've been here, I believe it's been over 6 months. I'm really starting to settle in nicely. I often find myself saying or doing things in a very Namibian way. I don't notice I'm doing it until I'm called out by another PCV. All in all, life is good. I definity miss home and think of all of you frequently. I can't tell you how many times I've had a really rough day and when I find a package, postcard, or letter in my mailbox, my mood is instantly turned around. Thanks to everyone who has made an effort to stay connected.