Finetastic Adventures

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Marti's Objective One and Beyond

By reading Dave's last blog entry you should know what I mean by working towards Peace Corps' first objective: helping the people of our host country in meeting their needs for trained manpower. Three goals were established by the Peace Corps Act of 1961; numbers two and three have to do with our being 'ambassadors', #2 – promoting a better understanding of the American people on the part of the peoples served, and then #3-upon completion of service, helping Americans understand the culture of the country in which we served.

So, my attempt at Goal #1: doing the job I have been assigned to do and leaving something sustainable behind. In this vein I continue to help our NGO that serves intellectually-impaired adults, primarily by supporting the office work that keeps the organization 'flowing', though sluggish at best. The accounts receivable and other forms that Dave and I have created over the last 18 months are being utilized as much as we've come to expect-which of course isn't anywhere nearly as much as they should be. With the welcome addition of a financial assistant who really seems to want to learn and do things properly, Dave and I have both been busier in the last month or so. Until just this past week there was no electricity at our primary site for months, so at least once a week I go to the site of our children's shelter where I can use the computer and printer to update our work. The lack of concern for proper management of the organization initially led to utter frustration on our part, which was eventually replaced by apathy. So lately I have just had to be content with doing what I feel should be done, hoping that one day long down the road someone in the organization will see the benefits of our work. Sustainable? Who knows, but doubtful.

Frustration leads one to find alternative ways to not only fulfill the desire to 'make a difference', but to fill the time. I have done this in a couple of ways within our organization First, since last September, I've been the coordinator of our 'drop in center' for OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children). About 10-12 children are fetched twice a week after school and brought to our location for a hot meal, help with schoolwork (which they never have), and some games. I use the term 'drop in center' loosely; since we are not located near the school, the children can't just drop in. They must be collected and returned and with our unreliable transport; this often proves to be a disaster. When we do have a car or bakkie available, the driver will most often pile all of the children, even if there are 10, into it and not think anything of safety. I have learned to 'deal with it'. The second program connected with my NGO on which I am working is very exciting. In December's blog entry I noted that a friend who is lecturing at the nearby University of Limpopo approached me about starting a library at our children's shelter. Beth is here on a U.S. State Dept fellowship grant; she often receives funding for projects. One of these was to be used to set up a reading room in an orphanage; she knew of my affiliation with the shelter so asked me last year if we could do it there. When we met with the kids at the shelter they were ecstatic! They have nothing to do there except to watch television; not much attention is paid to them and there is no comfortable, quiet room in which to retreat. Beth and I painted the room a few months ago and I was successful in getting books donated by two organizations, one South African and the other American. We used some of her grant money to purchase more books; at this moment they are in Pretoria awaiting delivery to us. We have posters to put on the walls; bright colored bean bag chairs, and a rug. Bookshelves were built and the ceiling and lighting are finished. We plan to finish putting it all together next week so the kids can use the room over their 3 week Easter break. Once Beth and I return from break we plan to go there after school to read to the kids and help them with homework. And just four days ago four women from one of the large banks here dropped in to visit. They have funding to make some repairs and improvements, as well as wanting to volunteer. I was happy to show them the library (which I had just finished cleaning) and they loved it; they want to come some days after school to help the kids and it's the perfect space. Beth and I are both very excited!

But I must say the project that has been surprisingly rewarding, though time-consuming, is my work with KLM/Longtom. You may recall that last year Dave and I spent the last weekend in March in Sabie with about 60 other PCVs, having fun, but there to run/walk a half marathon and raise funds for KLM. We didn't really spend much time fund raising, but had a great weekend. When I was initially approached that weekend about co-chairing the event this year, I declined. A month or so later I received a call from one of last year's co-chairs, again asking me to consider helping out. There was already one other PCV who had volunteered; they needed one more. Reluctantly I agreed, though I did know that signing on meant my full-fledged commitment. In August I met one of the co-founders of KLM when he was visiting South Africa; I was very impressed. He and another PCV had started KLM when they served here a few years ago. The foundation provides funds for a needy, carefully-selected child in one of the area rural or farm schools to attend a high-quality, private secondary school near their home. From the beginning KLM has affiliated itself with the Longtom marathon as a vehicle for fund raising by PCVs. This is its fourth year and I am now so excited about raising money for them that I have spent countless hours working on this project. My co-chair has been involved more with the logistics of the weekend (accommodation, transportation, etc) and my primary responsibility has been communication. This means I have written many emails and sent countless text messages, not only to register the runners/walkers, but to encourage the PCVs to raise funds. I composed sample letters for all the volunteers to send home to solicit funds, as well as wrote articles for our monthly PC newsletters. I don't want to scare my replacement in this position with the amount of time I've spent on making this a successful year, but for me it's been so fulfilling. I figure what better way to leave something behind than to help educate a future leader of this country?  Plus, I have a short story that has motivated me from the start:

A friend of ours, who is now head of a department at the University of Limpopo, grew up extremely poor in a rural village just outside Kruger Park.  In about 1990, when he was struggling to finance his recently-begun university education, a German couple was finishing their holiday in Kruger. On passing through our friend's village they were taken aback by the depravity after having just left the opulence of Kruger. They stopped and asked to speak to the Chief to see what they could do to help this poor village. In his wisdom the Chief suggested they fund our friend's education. They continued to support him through his master's program at Wits University; he completed his PhD at Michigan State University on a Fulbright scholarship. Without his benefactors' help, he never would have been able to become the leader and educator he is today. Whenever I think of the children benefiting from KLM, I think of our friend and the difference made in his life by being able to attend a good school.

Katy (my co-chair) and I are very proud that so far we have raised more money than at this same point in previous years. We have over 70 PCVs registered for the run (more than ever before) and most of them have had donations made on their behalf, and the run is not until March 29! Not only am I excited about working with KLM on this project, it's actually been a lifesaver. Without this work, not only would I not have had enough to keep me busy, but I would never have felt so good about my time here. I won't go on about this anymore; you can read more about KLM yourself:

So, my PC objective number one is now primarily being met by the construction of the library and my KLM work. Life is good; time here is running out. Though I am in no hurry to leave, I do think more about coming back to the US and what will happen once there. Many of you have asked if we'll be back in time to vote - ga gona matata - no worries. Thoughts now though are concentrated on Larry and Alyssa's arrival here in just a few days!!! We are so excited to see them; I haven't seen Larry in 18 months!

Check out our latest travel photos on our gallery site:

Update on Dave's work: Since he last wrote, Dave had a great meeting with the mayor of Polokwane. He says it took writing his blog to make the mayor finally return his call! The mayor is ready to move on having Dave become the volunteer bicycle coordinator; now it's just waiting (again) for the follow-up with one of his lieutenants. Stay tuned.....


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