Wednesday, 13 July 2011

What Can We Change?

The idea of change is something that I have been thinking about a lot since starting my work here in Francistown at True Men. A lot of the goals of the organisation, as well as the projects that they run, deal with change. Changing people’s opinions about HIV/AIDS. Changing people’s perceptions of those with the disease. Changing essentially the way that people have thought and lived for hundreds of years. MCPs (multiple concurrent partnerships), transactional sex, intergenerational sex, misuse or no use of condoms; these are all accepted actions that need to change.
                Naturally all this talk got me thinking about what we as QPID cooperants have the power to change. In the fight against HIV in the country rated number two in the world for the percentage of adults living with the disease (23% between the ages of 15-49), how can three university students really make a difference? The cynical answer to this is, of course, that we can’t. We can’t in the span of three months, working as lowly interns at a little know NGO, change the course of HIV/AIDS in Botswana. But I refuse to accept this way of thinking. We might not be able to effect the statistics, or help the more than 300,000 people living with HIV, but by even making a tiny contribution to the running of this organisation and their projects I believe that QPID has achieved success.
                Talking with several of the senior staff here I have learned that many of them have impressive academic records; with degrees from universities spanning from here in Botswana to the USA. With these degrees, they tell me, they could easily have important, well paying jobs in the big city. Instead, they have chosen to work at a small NGO, fighting for a cause that a lot of Batswana still choose to ignore. “This is a way of giving back to the community,” Kabo said to me, “My country has given so much to me and I feel like this is my time to give back.”
                And that is really what True Men is: a community based organisation. Even doing small scale work in this smaller organisation can ultimately have a big impact. It’s all about ripples. By effecting even one person with the work or message, the change can begin. That one person can affect another, and that one another, and so on until suddenly the message has reached far beyond the initial point of contact.
                I believe that this ripple effect is what makes the Projects portfolio of QPID so important. This is an opportunity for two organisations and groups of people who would never interact under normal circumstances to create partnerships and collaborations. To create international dialogue and cultural exchange, which we as cooperants can then bring back to share at Queen’s. Our goal is to start ripples within each other’s communities; and with even the tiniest bit of impact we can achieve this.  

Sala sentle

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Snowball Effect

Picture: Conducting land transfer focus group (from left to right: Youth, Kazungula Ke Kosi (Cheif), Lyndsay, Myself, VDC member)

You might think it strange that I haven’t written much about day to day life and what I am actually doing work wise here. The reason for this is while work is super interesting and quite the learning experience it is also emotionally draining. I have had the opportunity to sit in on paralegal advice and mediation meetings with our boss and some of the different people passing through the office looking for help. And while these meetings are confidential I can insure you that listening to stories of abuse, emotion, trickery, and drama leave me feeling as if I have just stepped into a novel. As the words pour out of the people mouths, can see them as if written on the pages of the No 1. Ladies Detective Agency.

Lyndsay and my personal project has been to write an action study report on land transfers in the Chobe district. Conducting three separate studies in the communities of Kazungula, Losoma, and Pandamatanga. This has entailed meetings with Land Board, The Ke Kossi (Village Chief), Village Development Council, data collection from the register, running a focus group with key respondents and youth and also conducting interviews throughout the community.

We have first hand experienced what Ntema calls the snowball effect. A compiling of issues ultimately building off of each other. Landlessness further amplifying poverty, leading to alcohol and substance abuse, prostitution, increased HIV/AIDS, OVCs (orphans and venerable children). In alignment with Ditshwanellos mandate the programs goal is poverty eradication rather then poverty elevation. This problem is tackled with a multi dimensional approach of awareness, advice and advocacy. Through informing people of their rights and the value of their land we are able to target the problem of landlessness created by the increased number of land transfers by vulnerable people.

In the interview process we have come across three obstacles so far. First off the always impeding language barrier. Even though English and Setswana are the two national languages in Botswana, many people speak their traditional tribal language still and only have broken Setswana or English. In many cases Susan has had to help translate. We have slowly been picking up bits of Setswana and along with basic introductions have mastered the phrase “No I am not trying to buy your land.” The second thing working against us has been the issue of substance abuse. Finding ourselves limited to the mornings as after lunch an alarming number of people hanging around are drunk and along with extended conversation its just generally more difficult. The most personal and challenging hurdle I have encountered is that often when people hear we are from the human rights office they ask for help and so with no expertise other then an open ear and empathetic nod we listen to their stories…

No papers. Signed papers. Wrong papers. A young girl sick. Growing tumor.Shrinking heath. A toddler going hungry. No uniforms no school. A mother overworked. Searching for work. A dead father. Drunk father. No father.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


Dumelang, my name is Lyndsay Chapman and I just finished my second year of Global Development Studies at Queen's University. After months of preparation and a couple days of traveling all across the world I'm finally here at Ditshwanelo in Kasane, Botswana. Ditshwanelo is a NGO, and the Botswana centre for Human rights. I'm going to be working with my partner Chloe here for the next three months on their land rights project .

While we were waiting for our work permits to be completed by our boss
we had the opportunity to have a conversation with one of our
colleagues, Susan, a fellow volunteer from a law institute in Gaborone
who has been volunteering with Ditshwanelo since January. We got to
talking about the differences between our countries and she mentioned
to us that she had always wanted to visit Canada. From my studies in
Canada I have, of course, been subject to some of the ways in which
people are taught to conceive of Canada and its position in the world. You
know the notion that Canada is some benevolent peacekeeper, a bastion
of human rights, could never do any harm. One that with any research
becomes increasingly ridiculous and manufactured.

While we were talking I mentioned where the name Canada came from,
Kanata, meaning village in Iroquois which in turn led
to a discussion about our indigenous populations. We mentioned our
reserve system and some of the colonial and modern injustices the
aboriginal peoples of Canada are subject to. Having taken some courses
this year on these subjects I learned a lot of new and frankly
appalling, things that are not mentioned usually about how the
government treats aboriginal peoples. Susan was rather surprised that
these sort of things happen in Canada. I always just assumed that the
insanely contrived notion of what it meant to be Canadian or what
Canada stood for only really affected us but it doesn't. How have we
managed to create this false notion that we are so good, so perfect
when we are not? How can we engage in meaningful collaboration if
there is this idea that we are above them, as false as it is? I feel
like we need people to work as opposite representatives, traveling
around and telling people all the bad things about Canada breaking
down those ideas, that privilege. Maybe once all that privilege has been broken down than we can start working on building real relationships with people around the world.

Until next time, Sala Sentle.

note:due to some technical difficulties I'm posting under Chloe's name but rest assured it is fact me who wrote this.

The team enjoying a bit of downtime after a hectic few days. We took a boat cruise along the Chobe River into Chobe National Park while we were in Kasane.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

And the adventure begins

It consistently amazes me the amount that you can learn from another person. On our first day of work Lyndsay and I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with one of our colleagues. We talked and talked and in a conversation about the pros and cons of tourism I wanted to share part of what she said that I have been thinking a lot about.

“The river is very sacred to my tribe for fishing and the waterlilly. If you pull the root its like a potato and you mix it with meat and it is very good. Now you cannot go and get it because the owners of the buildings and the developments will chase you out because those are there for the tourist. They are very beautiful to look at. There must be a balance so that not only the big guys benefit. It can’t be at the expense of the local people. Where we used to fish they build a fence and now you have to pay ten pula to go in that area. If someone can’t even pay ten pula in the market for meat and now they must pay ten for their fish. Something that used to be free. What are they supposed to do?

But the pros are now there are stores and so we don’t have to go to Namibia to buy our clothes. I can get them right here. But in general the tourism is good. It has brought lots of opportunities. Now I will see someone who failed prime three (the equivalent of middle school in Canada) and is now a guide for tourism and is making a good live. He is now making more then a schoolteacher. It is good to give the opportunity.”

I feel very lucky to have had this conversation and be able to write it down after so that I could remember the way she phrased things and to use her words. I am so happy that we will have the opportunity to work with her and as she said, “to exchange learning from each other.” Already in this one morning I feel like I have gained so much perspective. The culture in so rich that you can almost taste it in the way that she spoke.

In showing her pictures of Canada and explaining things that have always been so normal for me such as the four seasons. It was shocking to realize just how different things are and yet with these huge differences how at the same time how universal the human race is. The other day while walking around, we saw a group of kids playing and they followed after us giggling, while playing tag, testing us. I really value what Thomas noticed and think he put it really well saying “it doesn’t matter where in the world you are, kids will be kids.”

I think this is such a compelling statement and describes how I feel now when describing the differences to our colleague and seeing the marvel on her face, all that I could think of where the similarities. How extraordinary is it that all around the world people are people.

Going through the pictures from Canada I feel a great sense of national pride as well and appreciation to call such a beautiful place my home. In our conversation, she was saying that when she was a little girl she used to dream of going to Canada because even the name sounded beautiful. “Canada, you know when you can dream about such things.” How extremely lucky we are to be so well traveled, to see so much of the world. I feel far more appreciative for that then anything else. More so then having a house with hot water and a shower. It was incredible how blown away and in awe she was, saying “this is too much” again and again as I quickly flipped through outdoors club photos of fall colors, winter, mountain climbing, ice on the lake and describing snowshoes and cowboy hats. How it can be flat in Saskatchewan, snow in the mountains in Calgary and then green rainforest on Vancouver Island. I want more then anything to take her there.

Walking back to work after our lunch break still talking about culture and differences, she said, “ I now understand why it is so different here for you.” And when Lyndsay said “Yes, its been difficult adjusting.” Her response was “Yes, but everything can adapt. Even if you live by the railroad, you will eventually not hear the sound. And then if you leave you will find it difficult to sleep without the noise.”

And so it is for me already I was shocked lying in bed that night as the sound faded away.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

It's the Final Countdown!!!

Dumela blog followers! O tsogile jang? (How are you?)

I'm Isabelle and (like Faisal) this is my first blog post ever, but I hope to be writing a lot over the next few months as we work our way through a summer in Botswana! In September I'll be going into my 3rd year as a Global Development Studies major at Queen's University. I spent my first year at the Bader International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle in England, which was an absolutely amazing experience and taught me a lot about living as a student abroad. This summer I will be working at True Men Trust in Francistown with Faisal.

The theme of our first posts is "Countdown to Botswana", and I am here to tell you that the official countdown is only 34 DAYS until we fly out and start making our way to Botswana!!! Its pretty hard to describe exactly how excited I am to actually get going and start our real summer. Last week (on April 30th) we had our final all cooperant training day. It was definitely a surreal experience to say goodbye to the cooperants and site directors who will be working in Nunavut and Ghana, and almost felt like we were all headed to the airport right then and there. Finally it feels like this is really happening. I have been counting down since I received the phone call from Davina saying I would be going to Botswana way back in the fall, but it has just started to feel real.

I'll be spending the next month getting everything ready (most likely repacking a couple of times) and preparing for the experience of working in a country and culture which I have never lived in before. Although I know that we will face challenges when we are adjusting to the work and the lifestyle, I could not be more excited to meet our host family, explore Francistown, and start working! I am sure that this summer will be a life changing experience, and I can't wait to get started!

Sala sentle (stay well)!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Dumela World,
This will be my first blog post ever so please bear with me. Im Faisal and, as mentioned in the "Welcome" blog post, Im a second year (3rd now) chemical engineering student here at Queen's University. The theme of this blog post is supposed to be "countdown to Botswana", and let me just tell you, the countdown is UNBEARABLE. There is a little over a month left and I cannot stop thinking about what this summer holds in store. Im just waiting on my visa to arrive but apart from that, Im ready to go. The only thing I do need to work on is mentally preparing for the challenges that we may come up against in Botswana but all this really entails is reading about possible challenges faced while working at an NGO and sitting down and contemplating the complexities of the work. I've travelled extensively before but this will be the first time Ill be completely immersing myself in the Batswana culture and I'm incredibly excited. Im going to cut this blog short but hopefully Ill keep posting throughout the summer as to my whereabouts and the activities of the QPID Botswana cooperants. Stay tuned and have a greaattt summer.