Wednesday, June 22, 2016

...just books.

"Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are." - Mason Cooley

We’re done! 1 Teacher’s desk, 3 murals, 3 student-designed tables, 12 textbook benches, 15 categories, 1,866 books plus a few. A few hundred that it is. That's the short version of what has been put into St. Paul's Primary School’s library in the last several months. The project of revitalizing an old library at the school started last year in the blistering heat of November with an application to Books For Africa, and ended on a cold June day today. The Library Club at the school has been working tirelessly each available Wednesday since February, eager to see and aid in the library's evolvement. Admittedly though, rather than help us clean or organize the last couple of meetings, most students prefer to flip through some of the children's books we received from Darien’s Book Aid or stand and gawk at the Tom and Jerry mural on the wall (it turns out Curious George only recently made it to Swaziland, in our shipment of books), but that's the real reason we brought the books and painted the mural in the first place. In this case, less help and a little chaos has actually been welcome in the process! 

For the last month, it seems we’ve been racing against the clock to get the murals touched up, tables and benches built, old books reorganized, and new books catalogued before leaving for vacation. Yesterday was a milestone as we labeled the 1,866th book we received from Books For Africa, but I'm not sure I can truly describe the amount of effort and cooperation that went in to making the library what it is today. I know there are several people to thank including the organizations that sent us books but I’d like to take a little time to thank the three people who have been an unimaginable help in finishing this project. 

First, our head teacher, Ms. Mayisa, has been a tremendous leader and collaborator in the project. Early on, she saw the potential of a revitalized library space and helped us find a counterpart, put forth and fulfill the obligations of our application, and she has given us tremendous not only leeway but also encouragement to adapt the space as we have seen fit. 

Second, our volunteer librarian, Phindile Nhlengetwa has been a phenomenal counterpart. She immediately volunteered to be the librarian after Ms. Mayisa explained what we were trying to do. She hasn't faltered in her support or role in the project since then, even when a librarian training was initially scheduled for Easter weekend, she was committed. She engaged students to join the library club and then became an active member of the club, something that doesn't always happen here. When the books arrived at the school, she helped Grace unbox them and sort them for three hours on a Friday afternoon in her free time. Even when we wound up receiving a couple of boxes of textbooks she wasn't upset or angry she simply stated, “Don't they know how to recycle?” She encourages students to pick up and read the books that interest them but she also doesn't turn a blind eye to a teaching moment when a student mishandles a book. She will be an incredible librarian.

Third, my co-worker and wife, Grace. We’ve joked with many people throughout this project that Grace is the creative one and I am the creator, but she has been infinitely more helpful than being the inspired designer of our benches, tables, and murals. First let me say that in the eyes of Peace Corps this is my project not ours. It more closely associated with my youth development framework than Grace’s community health, and so I am the “lead” volunteer on the project. Such a thing couldn't be further from the truth. In the past week alone Grace has put more hours into the library than many people put into their own work making 10 times what PCV’s make. She has catalogued and organized over 2,500 books all the while assisting me in the construction of benches and tables and the painting of murals. She's endured headaches, monumental amounts of dust, 7 day work weeks, near 12 hour days, and a grumpy co-worker on many occasions to make our project the inviting and open library it is today. There were moments I'd look up from painting and wonder how a single person could transform a wall of chaos (remember the “plus a few”, I was referring to a wall of textbooks teetering on the thousands) into one of order. Not to mention an order easily and clearly understand by non-native English speakers. Everyone of the jobs I did, Grace was there to make it easier. From stacking and organizing textbooks to be drilled to organizing books to be labeled alphabetically ahead of time. She even packed my lunch a few days. 

So in the end, thank you. Thank you to Books For Africa, thank you to  all of you who donated to Peace Corps BFA, thank you to BFA Swaziland, thank you to Darien’s Book Aid,  thank you to the staff of St. Paul's, and thank you to the Dlamini family.

Sure I played my part painting, building, applying labels, but as I stepped back today and looked at months of hard work from so many people believing in a common good, I couldn't help but be humbled in a way I haven't been in a long time. St. Paul's library is filled with books for kids of all ages now but more importantly, it's filled with the pride and joy that comes from seeing a project like this finish and radiates to all those who enter. 

Siyabonga kakhulu.

Monday, June 13, 2016

...shares a story.

Every traveler has a home of his own and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering. –Charles Dickens

Last November Sean took an application to the high school to find a student eligible to apply for an opportunity to visit the United States. In April, Phenduliwe Ndlangamandla, a 19 year old Form 4 student at Ka-Langa High School, attended the 3 week Pan African Leadership Program in the United States. She spent time in Washington D.C., Chicago, and Indiana with students from all across Africa. It was Phenduliwe's first experience out of Swaziland. The following is a summary of her experience.

My trip to America was great, with funny and shocking experiences. The first experience was cold. America is very cold, whether the sun is in the sky or not. One of the good days in Muncie, Indiana I was on my way to Ballstate University where we usually had our classes. The sun was in the sky but the wind was cold and freezing. I am glad I was able to survive in the cold, all the way from Washington, D.C. to Muncie, Indiana and Chicago it was very cold.

Well, Americans keep their pets indoors. I knew about that but what surprised me is the way they treat the pets, they are treated like children. In Muncie I spent most of my time studying the relationship between my family and their pets. They were close friends, especially the dog called Lilly. At first I thought it is because they are an old couple but Mr. and Mrs. Robbey told me that they always have a wonderful dog in their house and they like dogs a lot. They knew the characteristics of each pet in the house from Lilly the dog and Jack and Peter the cats.

Shocking experiences as well, I could not believe that some Americans thought that Africa is one country with different languages. They thought we were not living a civilized life. Some asked us if we have fancy malls for shopping, television, schools, hospitals, cars, etc. They asked how do we manage to walk from home to school with the wild and dangerous animals. This gave me a clear picture that they do not know anything about Africa. After we have explained to them how Africa is they longed to come and see the beautiful places we have. They said they were afraid of the animals they thought were all over the place.

I went to church with my family in Muncie one of the Sunday's and I could not believe what I saw and heard. They do not have a specific religion and during the service they do not read any scripture. I was amazed when they sang the song "We Are Walking In The Light Of God" in Zulu. This church is a union of all religions anybody can think of, that includes, Christianity, Islamic, Jewish, Buddhism, and if you are not a believer you are free to join them.

Likes about the U.S.:
American people are friendly, they were always smiling at us even in the streets. My host family treated me like their own child and they showed me love. I like the idea of bringing children together like the Boys and Girls Club in Muncie, Indiana. The children come together after school, get food, do their homework and play, then their parents fetch them from there and go home. Moreover, the Second Food Harvest is nice, people donate food to be given to the less privileged.

What can improve:
I think the American people should improve their knowledge about Africa. It really feels good when we know that they know something about our continent. Reduce the rate of smoking. A lot of people in Chicago smoke in public which is dangerous to everyone. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

...concentrates on the joy.

We have to choose joy and keep choosing it. –Henri JM Nouwen

I sometimes forget to find joy in my everyday. I must honestly admit that I do not do a very good job seeking it, I sometimes selfishly feel like it should just appear. It's easy for me to get caught up in the hum drum of my life- the dirty clothes, the excessive carrying of bags and backpacks, the hot sun, the long walks, showerless days, laundry, nighttime bugs, or public transport. See? Where is the joy in that? 

In the month of May we have planted 21 gardens out of 29 finished gardens. When we began our garden projects in March I told Sean I would be ecstatic about 5, thinking I was "pushing it". Additionally, we have been told repeatedly that the gardens are doing wonderfully and July can't come fast enough for them to show them off once again to us.

The library project at the primary school is underway, with a fresh coat of paint and 3 murals almost completed. We have library club on Wednesday afternoons. Students run to library club now. Last Wednesday 53 children spent the afternoon painting their designs on the tables. No paint was spilled on uniforms. This week students will be building library benches. Next week 1,000+ age appropriate books will arrive. 

Tuesday morning we visited the Neighborhood Care Point in Mapatsenvuku to give out handmade teddy bears from the Mother Bears Project to 25+ children under the age of 5. Yvonne, the teacher, has finally been able to break ground on a building after 4 years of working and waiting for a sponsor. 

Tuesday afternoon, after a long delayed grant process, 20 hardworking, intelligent women received 100 crates and 35 bags of feed to grow their chicken co-operative business. Early in the week they were granted rights to land in order to establish a permanent place to farm. A process that usually takes years and usually much longer for women.

Our sisi was accepted into a university. It rained 2 days last week. Babe learned how to write a business plan and design a cash flow. We added two new recipes to our rotation of dinners. 

I can't speak much to the bugs, public transport or laundry but there is so much joy to be found in my dirty clothes because they are covered in dirt and paint. Backpacks full of bears are worth the long walks for such sweet smiles. They say your hair is healthier if you don't wash it everyday and the hot sun is becoming less invasive as it becomes winter. I find joy in these moments, these places, these people, this life. It isn't hard to find it, I just need to remember to choose it. 

I hope the pictures below bring you joy today and you find joy even in the hum drum days this week.