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Month 11: oh, so THAT’S what the Peace Corps is all about

I swear, if I had known how much I’d hear the term “sustainability” after joining the Peace Corps I would have kept tally from day one. PCVs are only supposed to be doing projects that will keep going when we leave. Our job is to initially start projects, but train community counterparts to foster an encouraging environment to keep the projects moving along. It all makes complete sense and I will not argue against this philosophy one bit. But I will throw a curveball. What if we have started a project, but our counterparts are becoming disengaged? Do we quit the project or keep going, expect to possibly fail, but know in the back of our minds that SOMEBODY in the community is getting something out of it?

Myself and my community counterpart, who works at the secondary school in my village, started a girls club there at the start of term one. Girls on the Rise, that is. We’re had a total of three meetings – all that went well. The girls are engaged, respectful and eager to learn about the ins-and-outs of being a teenager. I have a lesson plan guidebook from the Peace Corps and other PCVs from the past. We haven’t had to do much planning. We set a schedule to meet every other Friday. The past two meeting times we have had to postpone the meetings for two weeks at a time. As an American with a set schedule, this is a little embarrassing on my end. However, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal from a South African viewpoint.

I cannot do the meetings without my counterpart because the topics can get dense (like rape… yeah, that session was awkwardly dead silent until my counterpart arrived). I did think about doing the girl’s club alone for a while, because at least I’d be following through. But then I realized how crazy that would be – I need someone who speaks their language and relates to the girls. Also, I should be investing my time in something that’s actually sustainable.

While I was bummin’ about Girls on the Rise, a bittersweet sustainable project fell on my lap. I’ve been wanting to do Grassroot Soccer in my village, but haven’t had the time. I decided to host a Grassroot Soccer Camp during the first week of the learner’s winter break (21 June – 15 July) directly after the completion of Paige’s Grassroot Soccer training project, which included two members from my community. So, I set up a four day schedule to do all 11 practices and added a few fun games and arts and crafts like piñatas. Simple. Paige and I in-kinded some food for the camp (and ended up buying half of it…) and paint to paint a HIV-awareness mural at my school. We went along with the plan — camp started on Monday and ended yesterday.

As with anything in Africa, I expected absolutely everything possible to go wrong at camp. I made an alternative schedule and plan in case everything was chaos. Of course everything was chaotic – but not exactly how I pictured it. My community’s two GRS coaches from Paige’s training – Andile and Zandile – were there at 9 a.m. sharp on Monday and from then on were AMAZING.

One thing I will never be able to give these learners is thought-provoking and interactive discussions in Zulu. They desperately need to be taught in Zulu about sex education and issues such as HIV and AIDS considering South Africa has one of the highest HIV rates in the world. Yet, as a PCV, I can facilitate the start of a movement of change.

This week, I sat back and watched Andile and Zandile teach the Grassroots Soccer program all in Zulu. They would not have been doing this (and being paid to do it!) if it weren’t for Paige’s GRS training program. These kids would not have understood this program if it weren’t for Andile and Zandile, but it still all comes back to a PCV scheduling and training for the dialogue to happen.

Andile and Zandile teaching all the Grassroot Soccer lessons at my camp is absolute proof that PCV-based programs can be sustainable and reach many. You just have to find a creative way to go about it — like Paige did by applying for a grant from the South African government to pay the GRS coaches. It might take some money to make that happen – but I don’t blame ‘em. With the unemployment rate so high in my area it just makes perfect sense to make turn a Peace Corps youth development project into job creation. It’s terrific trifecta of change: job creation for community members –> youth development in the community –> youth teaching others in the community.

Our Grassroot Soccer Camp showed me what the Peace Corps is all about – giving community members a nudge and watching them flourish. Who better to relate to the kids than someone from their own community, anyways?

Other than the grade 6 and 7 learners mostly being terrors at camp (stealing lunch food and candy, painting the grade 6 classroom door, bullying my precious grade 5s, and the list goes on…), I’d say it was a decent mid-service refresher. Working with Andile and Zandile  was just what I needed with my one-year service mark emerging on the horizon. Huge thanks to my PCV buddy Paige as well, who helped put this camp together, was there every day and saw her Grassroot Soccer training project come to life in the village!

Thanks for everything Paige!

Thanks for everything Paige!

Now I have three weeks off from school – two weeks to do absolutely nothing but binge watch new TV series I gathered from Paige and study for the GRE (NO interruptions from kids!), then a week in Johannesburg for a City Year South Africa visit! Two more MUCH NEEDED mid-service refreshers.

Check out more pictures from camp here!

Small heartYours in service,

Liz

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