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.