Friday, September 23, 2011

The Never Ending Task of Integration

I have started full-time at Mpaka Railway school. Right now my role is a bit undefined, but everyday I am starting to get a clearer idea of what I am doing in this school and where I can be of most assistance. I have started doing HIV Knowledge and Attitudes surveys in grades 5, 6, and 7. The strange thing about a place like Swaziland is that the knowledge saturation about HIV is around 100%. These kids can recite what HIV stands for, the four ways of contraction, they even know some jargon like “multiple concurrent partners”, but practical application is more than fuzzy. Less than half know where to get condoms and even less say they are comfortable talking about HIV with members of their immediate family or teachers. One thing I am planning on doing is converting a rarely used Counseling Room as an office/resource center of sorts where I will have pamphlets, posters, information and more than anything a safe place where kids can talk about anything they may be scared to talk about to their parents or teachers.

While their HIV knowledge may be 100% their basic knowledge of basic reproductive health is like…what? After the survey I opened it up to questions about HIV or America. The America questions are hilarious. I am used to all of the normal ones. “Do you know Beyonce? (said just like it is spelled, no inflection on the e) , “Do you know John Cena?”. But some of these kids threw me for a loop, my favorites are, “Are there really vampires in America?” and “Is it true Jay-Z is in the illuminati”. The globalization-gone-amuck cultural drift behind those questions is amazing. Some of the questions were a little more telling, however, when it came to basic reproductive health. I found that very basic information was lacking about things like ejaculation, sperm, eggs…that whole “where do babies come from talk” I had with my Dad is apparently not happening here. I hope I can fill in some gaps, or start with a clean slate.

We are really feeling comfortable in our community. A week ago I was struggling a bit - integration is rough. Normal things that come with the turf of being a white person in an African country started bugging me way more than they should. Things like incessant requests for money, (I just need 12,000 to go to law school” is my favorite) and being the center of attention everywhere you go really started irritating me. A weekend away from site with other volunteers really got me back into the swing of things and suddenly, everything is coming up roses. I just needed some readjustment to see the beauty of everything around me. I am definitely in a high in my cycle of adjustment right now.

Addy is doing great. She is working one day a week at Malindza High School working with a health club. She also works Mondays and Saturdays at the KaGogo center, which is an HIV resource center. The rest of her time is a bit more free-form which she will master in a short time. Right now it is a bit slow going on her end. The Refugee Camp is a nightmare-mess of red-tape to work with. Once she jumps through the hoops she will be golden, but right now we are waiting on some people to help us with an in. No rush. She is also planning on opening up a chapter of GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), which is a female empowerment club for adolescents in our community. She has her irons in the fire all over the place.

That is all for now.  We will be busy in the month of October trying to figure out a Halloween costume on a budget of 0.00. We will keep you posted with pictures!

- Ryan