A Long Strand of Red

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by Richard Kassissieh

When we conceived the Catlin Gabel trip to Botswana, we wanted to build the trip around a service focus. What better topic existed than Botswana’s biggest challenge, HIV/AIDS? We organized a number of activities specifically focused on HIV in Botswana.
We designed and played math games with youth before their Botswana-Baylor Centre appointments. Our students stayed in the Maru-a-Pula dormitories, where many of the school’s AIDS orphans reside. We held a discussion with two experts, Dr. Ava Avalos of the Botswana Ministry of Health and Thobo Mogojwe of PING (Positive Innovation for the Next Generation). We helped paint a mural at the proposed site of the Botswana-Baylor Teen Centre, to help welcome Michelle Obama to the site. We supported the monthly meeting of the teen support group at the Botswana-Baylor Centre. We distributed NikeRED laces to teens in the village of Gumare
We thought that our work and learning on HIV in Botswana would end with these activities. How wrong we were! The theme of HIV, woven throughout life in Botswana, kept turning up unexpectedly during the rest of our visit. Over an evening fire at the cattlepost, we learned about the new University of Botswana Medical School, intended to provide more doctors, the key obstacle to extending efforts to fight HIV in Botswana. During our tour of village life in Thabala, one of our hosts had to leave our group to attend an important meeting at the kgotla. The topic: how HIV+ people can take care of themselves.
Our Peace Corps host in Gumare works at the regional AIDS mobilization office. He explained how the government has funded different AIDS initiatives over time, changing their focus from behavior awareness to male circumcision in an attempt to achieve measurable results.
We saw awareness posters and billboards everywhere we went, inviting people to get tested, circumcised, and consider who is in their “sexual network.” Students and adults with whom we spoke demonstrated a strong command of HIV/AIDS basics.
The theme we conceived ended up being a persistent part of the trip experience.