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A visit from the "higher-ups"

Yesterday I had a visit from some very important folks in the Peace Corps world. Dick Day, the Regional Director for Peace Corps Africa (yes, he’s in charge of this whole continent), Tim Hartman, Country Director for Botswana, and Mpho Dikole, my Program Manager for Life Skills all came out to visit volunteers in action in the Kweneng West District.  Caitlin and I were allowed to combine sites and co-host in Motokwe (because the Peace Corps must know by now that everyone in Motokwe knows Caitlin and everyone in Dutlwe knows me). After a filling lunch, we walked over to the Staff Room to screen a STEPS Film for the PACT club.

STEPS is a collection of films created all throughout southern Africa to address the most pressing issues of these countries; HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence, homosexuality, child abuse and sex laborers to name just a few. They are an amazing teaching tool because they combine native actors with very real scenarios and conversations surrounding topics that can sometimes be difficult to talk about. The content (language, cultural sensitivities, dialogue) is impressively relevant to the audience, which is why they are so effective. First we watched a film called Thinking About It, filmed in Zambia by a local young-adult organization who is trying to encourage discussions about sex. You follow a few members as they talk about their first time, condom use, forced prostitution and marriage through the lens of everyday activities like playing basketball and swimming. Because the film was dubbed in English, I think our PACT kids had a hard time understanding it; especially considering the sensitive topic. The attempted subsequent conversation produced crickets, so rather than trying to dissect the film we switched to one called Keitumetse’s House, filmed in Botswana where the actors spoke Setswana. Although I think the information sank in much deeper for the kids on the second try, they were still quite shy during the discussion afterwards. 

No matter how much I work with the kids here, I still find myself resisting the cultural differences that define the way they conduct themselves in large groups. Children are painfully shy and soft-spoken in Botswana, and yet I keep expecting them to behave in a certain manner when we’re in these settings. It’s especially challenging because they are often in charge of deciding our schedule; PACT kids have asked if we can hold debates, they’ve planned dramas to be performed at morning assembly, they love watching movies and playing games… but when it comes down to the one-on-one, personal questions that diagnose what they think or how they feel on an individual level, they seem to shut down. It has opened my eyes to the necessity of confidence-building exercises and outside-the-american-box thinking for next term’s PACT meetings.

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