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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Small world or coincidence? Happy Anniversary to me!

This is an anniversary of sorts for me. Exactly 36 years ago today, I left Guyana for Canada. I really had no idea what life would be like and I was a reluctant immigrant. It’s hard to believe that 36 years later I would be in Botswana celebrating or at least acknowledging that anniversary.
I got an email from Sharm today telling me that she was in Toronto and will likely be visiting my friend Prakash. I told her to call my other friend Paul who lives about 5 minutes away from Prak’s restaurant. Why is all this important anyway? Well, Paul was one of my childhood friends who was at my farewell party the day before I left Guyana and he was as reluctant for me to leave as I was to go. We have remained friends for over 40 years. In fact, in September, it will be 41 years since we have been friends. It’s a lovely thought to think that my daughter will be spending time with my childhood friends.
The really weird thing is – Paul’s niece Christina is doing an internship this year with WUSC. To make it more interesting, she was also in Botswana. And if you don’t believe in coincidences, she was placed at Sedibeng. This is the exact place that I am doing my internship!!! How is that for small world. I think Christina was vacationing just before I arrived and is expected to return to Gaborone today. Maybe I’ll get to meet her and I can tell her all about how Paul used to teach me to jump off a moving train when we were kids. Okay so he didn’t teach me I watched the boys doing it and it looked like fun so I tried and found that I was good at it. Girls were not allowed or supposed to do those things but I didn’t always follow the rules about the roles of girls and boys.
We had our little party today for all the graduating students from the catering department. I baked a big apple cake and 36 muffins and some of the other people brought chips and crackers and cookies. There were also two social work students from the University of Botswana who were finishing their field experience today as well. That’s something that the centre really needs – a fulltime social worker. It’s amazing that they can function with so little but they manage. We talked briefly about adding some of the things that I baked to the items for sale from the restaurant. Mitho thinks it may sell well.
I am working on the content for the employment preparation workshop. This morning we had a meeting with the staff about how the workshop is going to be delivered. The students were told today to prepare for it and they are excited. They all want to work at the Gaborone Sun (a big hotel in Gaborone) but the hotel can only take so many students and for some reason they only take the boys so the girls are left to figure things out themselves.
I was talking to one of the graduating students today and she was telling me that she’ll be coming to volunteer at the centre for the next few weeks because she has nothing else to do. She has no job and no prospects of one. She is such a dedicated student and I could see that she wants to learn from the way she takes the initiative to do things and she is so careful about what she does. She tries to earn money to comes to school everyday but sometimes has to walk an hour each way (she uses a shortcut route and that’s an hour). She buys a bag of candy for 6 pula which is about $CDN1 and sells the 100 candies for 1 thebe each (100 thebe = 1 pula). That gives her enough bus fare for one day (2 pula each way). If she doesn’t sell her bag of candy in one day, she walks to/from school. Her dad died when she was 6 and her mom died when she was 14. She lives with her aunt who cannot afford to pay for her transport to school. So the student manages in whatever way she can to attend school. Her big dream is to work for enough money to take care of her younger sister. Those are some of the stories you hear and many of the students who attend Sedibeng have the same kinds of stories.
I don’t know how this particular student’s parents died but Botswana has the highest cases of HIV/AIDS in the world. 38% of the adult population has HIV/AIDS. So the young adults (18-45) die leaving their children (who usually have the same) to be raised by grandmothers. Funerals are very frequent and often elaborate. The government is giving away free anti-retro-viral drugs for HIV patients but most people don’t want to go for it because it means that they will have to first get tested and second, seek out clinics where the drugs are being given. They don’t want people to know that they have HIV so they don’t get treated.
The centre is trying to do information sessions around HIV/AIDS because there are lots of young people who come here for information. I don’t know a lot about it (not my area of expertise) but my friend Joan back in Canada said she would help. If anyone of you is reading this blog, give Joan the URL for the blog and tell her to contact me. I’m not even sure what I would need. This is a learning curve for me – part of the Life Skills that needs to be imbedded into the curriculum.
I’m beginning to feel like I’m going to need more time here but I do have my school work to complete. Maybe it’s time to explore some long term volunteer opportunities with WUSC. So WUSC, what do you think? Can I do that? Okay my family, how is that for a retirement plan?

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