This was originally posted in 2015 while I was serving in Peace Corps Botswana as a Life Skills Volunteer. Unforuntately, before I returned home my website crashed and I lost all the blogs about my service. It’s been a goal to put them back up, and I’m finally in place to do it. Upon rereading it, I realized this blog about the Sojwe GLOW Camp is not understandable from an outsider’s position and several edits were made. If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a Peace Corps volunteer, please visit peacecorps.gov. All opinions are mine and do not reflect the governments of Botswana or the United States of America.
The Night Before the GLOW Camp at Sojwe, Botswana
I was supposed to meet me friend in Lepephe, just across the road from Sowje. It was dark and wet. My Setwsana was not so good. Asking where we were would only give me an answer I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t see the road through the fat rain drop and foggy breath on the windows. Instead, I trusted the driver knew where I was going. That he knew where he was going.
Eventually, the bus stopped, and the driver yells, “Legkoa! Tsayama!” White person, leave!
I step out of the bus into a village I’ve never seen, and still cannot see under the rain and the darkness. Villages in Botswana don’t have street lights. I grab my bags, and maneuver my umbrella as I start swinging my head this way and that, looking for someone who is looking for me.
When Selemo calls out my name, I sigh in relief. She’s just there, where the light is breaking through a window. I rush inside out of the rain, settle down my bags, and inquire about the facilities.
“Um, I would let you use my bucket but…” she says and I cringe. No indoor plumbing. Not unexpected, but not particularly welcome. It’s night time, and that’s when the cockroaches choose to escape their dungeon.
When I come back in, there is chicken on the stove and a dog curled up under the dining table. I hardly remember the conversation as I drift off into sleep, listening to the rain bounce like rocks off the tin roof.
The Next Morning
The Glow Camp in Sowje, Botswana was the second I’ve attended thus far, and it was about as different from the first as anyone could expect. GLOW Camps were originally started in Romania and stand for GIRLS LEADING OUR WORLD. It’s a fast paced 2-6 day experience (depending on time and resources) where campers learn important life skills like how to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS, how to say no to drugs, alcohol, and negotiating sex and condoms. The sessions cover important topics that aren’t covered at home, and aren’t allowed to be covered at school.
As with all GLOW Camps I’ve ever heard or participated in, the regular issues with transportation and timeliness still remained a problem at Sojwe. Somehow, I don’t know that will ever change in the history of GLOW camps. The youth were instructed to meet at the school by 10, and a bus would be by to pick them up by 11. Around, 2pm the bus finally arrived. We sat under the shade, desperately deciding if we had enough time to run back for more silty water, more food, more naps, or if we should just wait. If we missed the bus…
I played dozens of hand clap rounds, and even learned a few new patterns and songs. Those hand clap games I think must be one of those universal languages.
Eventually the bus came and took us 7km down the road to Sowje. The road was hot and dusty, showing no signs of the previous night’s downpour. To speak of the rain, it is always a blessing. If there is rain, there is usually water from the tap.
This GLOW Camp was very different from the previous one I attended. There something new was the way the sessions were taught; instead of several PCV’s splitting the sessions and the counterparts facilitating, student teachers from a local college led the sessions. I think this may have a profound effect on how GLOW camps are run in the future because it furthers the agenda of sustainability. The teachers can see how the students respond differently than they would in class. They have an opportunity to take these skills into their careers and pass it on to their coworkers.
It’s possible that the reason the test scores are so low in Botswana is not because poor students, or poor teachers, but poor teaching methods. Having student teachers have a hands on chance to lead engaging workshops that students will actually learn from to apply these lessons later on in life is career changing for them, and life affirming for the students.
That of course being said, I believe it was the first time something like this was attempted and some glaring issues did arise. As the role of the volunteer was previously to lead session and do all of the work, we suddenly found ourselves with a lot of downtime. The student teachers were very organized with their sessions.
There was little interaction with the youth during sessions because we didn’t feel welcome to join. All of the lessons were being taught in Setswana which is so important. But as the language barrier for volunteers became an issue, we chose to sit out instead.
And since the PCV’s didn’t lead any sessions, there wasn’t a strong sense of community between the youth and the volunteers. Outside of sessions the youth took to immediately playing in the fields and kept themselves entertained. It seemed like any attempts to start activities failed due to failures in communication between the session leaders and PCV’s, and the students. There were several missed opportunities to create important relationships; PCV’s with the students, and the student teachers, and the students with the student teachers.
For the whole first day of the Sojwe GLOW Camp, we weren’t even sure if would make it to the second, let alone the third. Despite the previous night’s rainfall, all of the taps were dried out. With over 30 children, and 10 adults, we had enough water for cooking, but not bathing.
Re Batla Metsi Thata – We Need Water Now
At night, the children and student teachers slept in the dorm rooms. The volunteers slept on tables and floors in the teacher lounge. It was a stress filled night that had my back sore from the cold concrete, and my mind buzzed from the termites that had awoken from their homes, attracted by the lights from the opened windows. Too hot to keep them closed, but too buggy to keep them open, we struggled to find relief that night.
Ultimately, though, I rate (at least the first one as it was the only one of three happening in a row, I attended) as successful. While there were communication issues (let’s be honest, there always are) and a couple of meltdowns where water is concerned (let’s be honest, there always are), the kids had a great time. Much of the rope was jumped. A movie of indiscriminate taste was watched. Football was played in the halls. Important things about health, life, drugs and alcohol, assertiveness and HIV/AIDs were learned. Tags of names were colored and colored and colored again, and the last day ended with a lovely poster asking to bring an end to HIV/AIDs, and piñatas to boot.
Never mind the stress and the fear and the frustration of schedules not being followed, constant miscommunication, and being pushed to the brink by friends and strangers alike to reach a goal that has no name.
I sat in the office, mentally packing my bags. Why was I even there, I wondered. I wasn’t being used. I felt superfluous. The longing to get on a plane and just. go. home wormed into my mind fully for the first time in my service. I didn’t have to stay. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t remember why I joined the Peace Corps in the first place.
And then I looked up.
Posted right there above the office I slept in the night before, the reason I chose to serve in the Peace Corps. To fulfill my need to serve my country and be apart of the global conversation on international development. But mostly, I wanted to help.
With renewed vigor from the gentle chastising, I made myself useful at our GLOW camp instead of waiting to be used.
Around midnight, we were informed the water was back on. It was a sweet relief to know the camp wouldn’t end early. The next day, the cooks heated up a huge vat of water in a cast iron cauldron reminiscent of Hocus Pocus. For us volunteers, it was just one of many issues that managed to solve themselves. For the youth, it was just another day.
The girls painted their hands in a glorious array of designs. Yellow fingers, polka dots, flowers in palms. Hearts everywhere to show their love. You as a volunteer have to encourage these things because I think no one here ever does.
And when we went left the GLOW Camp to the home village, I had a lovely conversation with a young girl whose life has been forever changed. We talked about this and that. What she wanted to be when she grew up. She told me she felt stronger and smarter after the GLOW Camp. Her eyes were so wide with possibility the sight of it made me weep.
As we parted ways, I tried to instill some last desperate seeds of support and love. “Be the change you wish to see in the world. Never stop learning. Always ask questions.” Only time will tell if they take root.