Sunday, August 31, 2014

Seeing Happy Endings (Phrasing)

As my Close of Service (COS) approaches, I can’t help but be more introspective and reflective. The Peace Corps is a two-year program and while many people may think that is too long, it honestly isn’t long enough. Most of us are now seeing the fruits of our labor in largely unexpected ways, and even seeing our projects showing strong signs of sustainability and progress.

One success is that now about once every two weeks the teachers and I eat meat together!


Along with my main goal of improving math and science education, I am entrusted to impact my community on the HIV/AIDS front. Although my school does not have a life skills time slot during our schedule, I find about five minutes every class to inform my students on various topics usually related to sex. Just the other day we had the head nurse from our Millennium Clinic visit our school and give “The Talk” and during the entire course of our awkward question and answer period, the students kept mentioning how I love to talk Life Skills. 

This kid

Additionally, our library shelves have been finished and it is more or less organized and running. One day on my way back home from school I overheard a few students speaking in English and talking about Sex. I snooped a bit further and looked over their shoulders while acting like I was just on my phone. They were holding a book titled “Sex” found in our Life Skills section of our library. At that moment, I realized how three initiatives my teachers and I started actually proved in someway successful.


1) Our Library is self-sustaining. Students know that if they want science, life skills, or any books the library is available to that at all times.

2) These students were practicing English without being forced to. Last year I tried so hard to make my students speak English and met so much resistance. This year I essentially gave up, but you can still hear whispers between students encouraging each other to continue speaking English.

3) My students were no longer scared to talk about Sex freely. They weren’t inhibited or embarrassed if other teachers saw them with the book, and they were taking the books home. This means the shyness and ignorance about sex and sexually transmitted diseases is being chipped away, literally (Archer figuratively)at the grassroots level.


Before these two years started, I knew what our jobs entailed, but I had no forethought that these projects could synergistically mingle in such positive ways, and I was simply lucky enough to witness just the beginning of what seems to be pure development and progress.


Also in these two years I would have no idea that my roof would finally get fixed!

Life Skills Play

Because I am a native English speaker, I have almost automatically and willingly been adopted into our English Department. I am often asked for advice, or for help with our school debates and compositions from students or teachers. 


I often feel like a walking dictionary (Beyond ironic if you know who I am). One day our English Club approached me for assistance on their Drama that would occur on our English Day Festival. I am no Shakespeare either, and therefore I simply posed the question, “What do you want it to be?” Instantaneously they said they wanted to create a Life Skills Play and I stood their quivering with excitement (Archer Phrasing). More often than not students don’t care for life skills, and definitely don’t want to advertise any sex-talk to the entire school (especially to the audience of teachers). So I posed the next question, “What if you had HIV/AIDS, what would be the first thing you do?” I proposed the topic of the drama, and then I let them come up with each step after. It was a short play, but it was an interesting way to understand their thoughts on the idea of HIV/AIDS on a more personal level. The play went as the following:


A female student has two boyfriends. One is good and one is bad. She tests at the clinic and finds out she is positive. The ausi (girl) becomes insanely depressed and confused while the nurse is telling her all will be well with medicine and counseling. The ausi ignores and seeks after her two boyfriends. She meets the bad boyfriend first who gets angry, and tells her that he can’t have HIV/AIDS because he is circumcised from the mountains, uses more than one condom, has ten sex partners who are also negative, etc. She tells him to get tested and meets the good boyfriend who is shocked, supportive, but hesitant to get close to her. She then tells her best friend who reacts the same way. The boyfriends end up drinking at the local bar and gossip to the whole school that this ausi is HIV positive, and the next day at school she is embarrassed because people are too scared to share food with her, or even sit near her. She runs home and abandons school. She then paces outside depressed and angry, and ultimately exclaims verbally her intention of suicide. The mother overhears her and calms her child. They go back to the clinic seeking counsel and medicine. The Ausi is a bit chipper and less ashamed. She then boldly goes in front of the whole school and preaches to them about her HIV positive status and encourages others to test. Everyone is then impressed and thrilled for her positive attitude and her confidence. The good boyfriend comes back and says he still loves her.


 My drama folk

A pretty complex, and insightful drama essentially thought of and acted out by students who have had a lifetime of impedances to their life skills education. I felt extremely proud that they had the courage and tenacity to formulate and execute such a mature play.


Soon I will be updating on our Solar for Breakfast project and perhaps some intriguing weird fun times. Updating certain news: I did not win the blog competition, but I was fortunate and happy enough to become selected as a finalist. It did boost my blog’s readership and that was what I needed most to ensure my inceptive thoughts to roam free in the minds of a multitude of Americans. I will be leaving Lesotho Oct 10th, and will see many of you shortly. The political unrest that is currently ongoing is nothing to be startled by, and it may calm you to know I am not by any means close to the capital.

A week before the political unrest, I was on vacation eating in the capital with my cousin. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Theory of 2nd Goal and Thermodynamics

Have you seen the documentary “Dirty Wars?” It discusses how our military presence abroad, and our perhaps immoral or unjust actions rotted the reputation of Americans in several countries. Warring and conflict have left the world scarred with a seemingly reasonable contraction that Americans are a short term, and violent people. We as a nation have evoked an era of distrust and as you travel you will witness the discontent that is generated. Even in places where we are not currently in conflict, people detail their opinions of Americans as power hungry and unnecessarily involved as evidenced by the many discussions I have with my fellow teachers.

While our Nations’ Leaders are focused on National Security, it must be imperative that the mission of the Peace Corps is to divert and alleviate the attention from the militaristic view of the United States, into that of a friendly and helpful neighbor. But my question, and perhaps posed by several people, is that do we as Peace Corps make a difference? Do we change foreign opinion? Do we aid our host countries in ways that they cannot themselves?

Cultural day

As an education volunteer, it is often quite difficult to assess whether I have impact on the developing world. I have come across Bo-’Me on multiple occasions who thank me for my service, and commend me on the wonderful job we have done here, but I am afraid that they will associate me with any progress that occurs in Fobane even if I was not part of the link. For instance, my school produced a top ten student, the highest award possible for a student based on her standardized exams. Additionally, my schools both received over ten boxes of new books to further engage our students’ education. These two improvements in my community are in no way related to me. The student was never taught in my class, and a Minister donated the books. Although I enjoy the praise I reiterate that it isn’t because of me. My village may even have its road paved, which some people have been asking me where I am getting the money.

Local community discussion

I am not saying that I have not had some form of an impact, but I think I have come to the conclusion that even if we are not active volunteers, our presence itself is a contributing factor to development, and it can be accounted for through the lovely science of thermodynamics. Thermodynamics is a branch of physics created to understand the relation between energy and work. I believe it can be extrapolated to the Peace Corps to describe the interactions between energy, work, and the economy of developing nations.

Thermodynamics are about random particle movements, and this post is about random pictures

Take the following system:

An elderly woman needs to carry groceries to her house for 30 minutes uphill. 

I help her with the groceries and consume 200 calories. 

The woman did not use 200 calories and had an easier time to walk uphill. 

I saved the woman 200 calories and accosted myself with this energy debt. 

She no longer requires sustenance to fill the void. 

Energy is neither created nor destroyed, and therefore I do need to fill this void. 

Therefore she saves money on buying food. 

I am forced to buy 200 calories worth of food through my salary. 

The American Government provides my salary.

Therefore, the United States Government infuses money into the community that I am working in through me. My presence implies my local community will save energy, and therefore money.

My shopkeeper where I spend my money

In Lesotho, the Peace Corps sends teachers to rural schools not to replace teachers, but to supplement schools with extra labor force. Therefore teachers attend fewer lectures, saving energy, and therefore saving money. In Summary, villages are able to improve their local economy because of our sacrifice, while the Federal Government sustains us to continually make these sacrifices. As long as we Peace Corps Volunteers do our primary job, the hidden benefits of having a Peace Corps Volunteer may be present. This is different from just throwing money at a problem. By placing a volunteer in a rural area, economic growth (however small) is directed to a specific needy area, and not just given to large organizations or governments that lack the capacity to distribute the wealth appropriately.

The United States Government provides my monthly salary of $200. I spend nearly all of it in Lesotho. Between the nearly 2300 volunteers that have served Lesotho since 1967, the United States investment in Lesotho under the Peace Corps can approximately (and underestimated) be $11 million. This figure does not include staff salary, nor grants allocated to Lesotho. However, many countries the Peace Corps are involved with have a declining economy. In Lesotho, I know it is related to resources being imported by South Africa with little exportation. It also is related to a similar style brain drain, where many of our gifted university graduates find better opportunities in South Africa, therefore providing the government of Lesotho with less through income tax, and a decrease in business investments. I think that the infusion of funds by the hands of volunteers through Peace Corps alleviates some of this economic decline, and without it the situation could be exacerbated.

The brain drain can take her from us

Thinking completely objectively, I view myself not necessarily as an entity capable of change, but more an economic tool sent by the government to slowly trickle in capital into a country whose economy is being leeched out to competing sources.

The economic impact that the Peace Corps may provide to its several host countries is in fact hidden to local citizens. But the military actions of the United States are often front page to countries abroad and their perspective remains negatively affected. I am not saying that the military deserves this, but violence (regardless of its necessity) warrants hostility and can devalue the reputation of the United States.

The perceptions on Americans by locals are exactly what the Peace Corps’ 2nd goal was intended for - to promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

Just as our presence implied directed economic improvement, I am inclined to believe that our presence within rural communities enlightens a perhaps less evident side of Americans, that we promote peace in ways unrelated to violence.

Just by befriending my teachers, having open discussions on religion, world affairs, and cultural ambiguities and differences, we are promoting a friendlier side to the American face. Our impact may be hard to measure, but we know we are doing our job and our nation a service when we are able to walk away from a conversation with a smile and a new friend.