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Helpful Hand or Imposition?

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By Jahncie Cook and Fiona Noonan
 
Catlin Gabel and Maru-a-Pula School are mirror images of each other. Though they are on different continents, they are inexplicably linked by the fact that they are each in their own bubble.
At Catlin we go to the same events, see the same people, and generally isolate ourselves from the greater Portland area while we’re in school. At Maru-a-Pula the case remains the same, with everyone in a cushy bubble that is completely unrepresentative of the rest of Botswana, or even of Gaborone.
The similarities don’t stop there, though. Maru-a-Pula is largely a school for privileged children, often whose biggest complaints are that YouTube won’t load fast enough on their iPhones. Part of the privileged population is children of ex-patriots, but 50% of the students at MAP are Batswana, and even they roll into the parking lot in their parents’ Mercedes and Maseratis. We may be in Africa, but we’re definitely still at Catlin.
The microcosm of MAP reflects the macrocosm of the greater ex-patriot community of Botswana. Some tension exists between natives and these ex-pats, largely because the ex-pats are exponentially richer and generally more privileged. The greatest reason for this disparity in privilege is the disparity in wealth caused by the fact that the ex-pats are just that—ex-pats. They are lured here by better jobs than the average citizen of Botswana has, along with a myriad of other incentives provided in the form of money, cars, and homes. All of this combines to cause a huge division between citizens and these foreigners, and this division causes undeniable tension.
            This tension would definitely make a citizen wonder, Why are these people here? Why are they taking jobs that could be ours? Why do they think they can help us better than we can help ourselves?
            Obviously we don’t know all of the answers, but some potential responses have become available to us in our short time here. To address the first question, many foreigners come to provide aid in the health or education sectors, and others come for the aforementioned incentives provided to them. That is to say, most come with the best of intentions, but the fact that they’re ex-pats may suggest possible ulterior motives to many Batswana. The answer to the second question is that the ex-pats are largely more qualified or better skilled due to better educational opportunities they’ve received elsewhere (also probably why they send their children to a school that is widely regarded as one of the best academic institutions in the country).
            We don’t know the answer to the last question, but it’s definitely where much of the tension lies. Ex-pats are trying to help people help themselves, but perhaps the intrusion (even with the best of intentions) actually diminishes the empowerment of the people.
            Maybe our good intentions are adding to this tension. Today we visited the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone, which is badly understaffed and obviously in need of resources and aid. As foreigners ourselves, we came in believing we were going to really help the people at the hospital. In fact, we did help, but our presence may have come across more as an imposition than as a relief. Consider this: How would you feel if your child was lying sick in your arms and you had to weave your way through people who knew nothing about you, your life, or your country?
            A balance between giving a helpful hand and imposing upon lives is what our group and the whole of Botswana are trying to achieve.
 

Tutoring

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By Kate

Today was the best day so far, at least for me. Three things really touched my heart today. First, was when a group of students worked at the Baylor Teen Center and helped a play groupn with Math. Fiona planned Math like activities with the center and today they were put into action. I worked with two boys today who were 11 years old. They were really sweet boys with huge happy smiles on their faces. I reveiwed counting numbers, addition and subtraction with huge numbers and had them write out specific problems. The boys knew a lot and I was so impressed how immersed they were in the Math. I felt that they were really interested in what I was trying to teach them and wanted to learn. High fives were thrown in there too when they got so many problems right! The girl I woked with as well was so fast with her multipilication tables. I quizzed and was like “3 x 7” and she would respond “21!” The reason this part of today really touched me was because one of the reasons that I came on this trip was because I wanted to impact a child’s life, and to be a friend to someone who needs them.
Before lunch today, a group of teens from the center started braiding my hair. This was a really special moment because I felt so immersed in the culture with these girls surrounding me and just braiding my hair. I felt like I was taken in their hands and just under their wing. It was fun to have the girls braiding my hair in different sized braids all over my head!
 
I had another experience today that really impacted me. Today I had the opportunity to tutor 2 boys. One in Science and the other in reading. Natalie and I started with the boy who needed help in Science. At first it was difficult because we were confused in what he needed help on and what exactly he knew, however as time passed we became really friendly with him. Natalie and I began reviewing his notes and he showed us specific chapters in his text book that he was confused about. We read over the chapters and had him write down and draw pictures on the dry erase board. By the end of his session the three of us were cracking up about certain topics and I really saw him open up. It was like he was a different person in a way because he became so so friendly with us. I loved seeing that. He just had to become familiar with us and understand that we were there to help him in any way we can Next, I had the opportunity to tutor a boy in reading. I had him read small paragrpahs in a book and I followed each word with my finger. When he struggled saying a word, I had him write down the word in his journal and I pronounced the word and he then repeated the word. We did this a few times for each word. At the end of his session, we read the list and pronounced each word just to make sure he understood how to say the word. It was really nice knowing that I helped this little boy read. The woman at the center said he was behind for his age, and now I know I helped him in some way.
 
Lastly, I finally met Todd Wright! I have been coordinating with him about pen pal letters from Catlin to Gumare and now I have matched a face to him! We talked about what we are doing in Gumare in the coming days and that we will be actually meeting our pen pals! It is so cool to see my project come together and I am so impressed that just by email this entire pen pal project has worked! Hopefully it continues in the future!

 

Tuesday

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by Ellie

We’ve only truly been in Botswana for 2 full days, but it’s such a welcoming place that it already feels like home! When we arrived at Botswana, the first thing that shocked me was the weather, this shocker, however, came from the constant warning we received about it being their “winter.” And by winter, I mean our summer! And although it gets to 30 or so degrees at night, we were walking around today in t-shirts very happily! One of my favorite parts of Botswana so far has been the people. Everyone is always so welcoming and wonderful and they’re always open to a conversation with a stranger. We’ve done so many interesting things already, yesterday, for example, we went to the SOS Children’s Village, a kindergarten for orphaned children. The majority of them spoke very minimal English, but they adored when we would just hold up crayons and they would tell us what color they were! We also discovered their not so secret love of the classic high five. We’ve also been helping out at the Botswana Baylor Center. We’ve been doing two projects here, one of which is working with the kids, playing with them and tutoring them a little as well, and we’ve also been working on painting a fantastic mural for the new teen center that they’re working on building. Currently, the teen center consist of a rather broken down building that, before we got to it, was covered in dust and leaves and dead bugs everywhere. However, we got to work quickly and cleaned it out, but they’ve still got quite a ways to go. The mural, however, is fantastic! Even after leaving today after simply sketching it out and working on the background, the whole area already looks so much brighter and more welcoming! We’re currently staying in the dorms at the Maru-a-Pula School and the people here are wonderful! As you walk around people will just stop you and say, “Oh, you’re new!” And then you divulge into a fantastic conversation and meet new people all the time!
 
So far, adventures have been wonderful, along with the weather and the people, and I hope for many more wonderful times to come in the next couple weeks!
 
P.S. – If you’re reading this Stephen, which I doubt you will be, happy 3 day late birthday Brother Bear! Congratulations on the big 18, you no longer need to worry (or usually not worry) about getting in permission forms late!
Love, Ellie
 

 

June 21st, 2011

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Natalie Dunn 

            We arrived in Johannesburg on Saturday, exhausted from our eighteen-hour flight, but excited to finally explore Botswana and South Africa. That night, we stayed in a wonderful hotel called “Airport En Route,” and departed for Gaborone the next morning. Driving through South Africa was absolutely lovely. The driving itself shocked us, initially. I’m still adjusting to passenger seats on the left side, especially because young children often sit there. Anyway, we wore sunglasses, listened to interesting music, and enjoyed the beautiful view. Southern Africa is flat. Looking outside, you can see miles and miles of dirt, shrubs, and sunlight, all underneath the biggest, bluest sky imaginable. It’s a nice contrast to gloomy Oregon weather, and we’ve been in good spirits partially because of that. After crossing the border, we were introduced to the principal of Maru-a-Pula and settled into our dorm rooms. Maru-a-Pula has truly amazed me, in many ways. The students greet us with such enthusiasm, and I’ve already made new friends. People in Botswana always say ‘hello.’ If you don’t respond to them, it’s considered rude. I love that, and feel so comfortable approaching random strangers here.
 
            Since our arrival at Maru-a-Pula, we’ve done service work, spent time with students, and met with Dr. Ava Avalos, from the ministry of health. The service included math tutoring, science tutoring, English tutoring, playing with kids at a local educational center, raking, sweeping, and painting a mural. It feels great to be out here in the sun, just having a great time teaching and playing and cleaning up. Today, I tutored a thirteen-year-old boy from Gaborone. Back in the states, I worked with two Catlin middle schoolers, studying math, but I’d never experienced such difficulty explaining basic concepts and facts. I definitely felt challenged, even teaching simple material, because he had such trouble understanding it. However, when it finally clicked for him, he could explain the ideas and their importance. After studying science for a while, he asked Kate and I the dreaded question, “where do babies come from?” As a sixteen-year-old, I’ve never really thought about giving “the talk,” and I had no idea where to start. At first, Kate and I exchanged surprised glances—I mean, it really took us by surprise, especially because he was almost in the eighth grade. Eventually, I thought to myself, “Okay, Natalie. This needs to happen, just explain it, and everything will be fine.” Once I’d covered the details, which embarrassed us both, he said, “Oh! I get it now! Disgusting. That is disgusting.” Afterward, he pulled out a short quiz on HIV/AIDS, which he’d struggled with at school. We discussed the meaning of each question, and he answered them all correctly. Now that he knew how sex works, he could understand sexually transmitted disease, including HIV/AIDS to a fuller extent. One of my Botswana goals was to tutor children, but I never anticipated that conversation, and it definitely forced me out of my comfort zone. Afterward, nevertheless, I felt very accomplished. I look forward to more of these experiences throughout the rest of our trip! 

 

Okavango Delta Photos

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 We will be exploring the Okavango Delta for several days during our trip. We hope to see some big cats, rhinos, crocs, warthogs, etc. 

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Botswana Teen Club

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 We hope to work with this group. "To empower HIV-positive adolescents to build positive relationships, improve their self-esteem and acquire life skills through peer mentorship, adult role-modeling and structured activities, ultimately leading to improved clinical and mental health outcomes as well as a healthy transition into adulthood."

Link: Botswana Teen Club

Botswana Itinerary

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June 17th: Depart PDX. 

June 18th: Arrive in JNB. 

June 19th: Drive to Gaborone.

June 19th-25th: Gaborone. 

June 26th-29th: Village stays. 

June 30th- July 3rd: Okavango Delta (wildlife expedition). 

July 4th-5th: Johannesburg. 

July 6th: Depart JNB.