We split the groups into four jobs, or at least, we expected to.
One group of five students would be working with an organization called AGLOW (a project run by Beauty, who also hosted our cultural orientation and was the pastor at one of our church visits). These students would visit the homes of the elderly and help with their daily tasks. One of the greatest and most overlooked tragedies of the AIDS pandemic has been senior citizens. In most cultures, especially a family oriented one, like Botswana, children care for their aging parents. In a deeply patriarchal society, where wives have cared for the men their entire lives, it is necessary that these elderly men have someone available to look after them. But the AIDS crisis in Botswana has wiped out an entire generation of people, leaving only senior citizens and orphans. So AGLOW, and now our students, are visiting with these folks, primarily men, helping them clean their homes, cook, or just talk. It’s a wonderful experience for both sides to learn about each others’ culture and I am very proud of the volunteers who have stepped up to take on this task.
(There are very few public facilities to care for orphans or the elderly in Botswana. Prior to the AIDS crisis, family cared for family. If a mother or father died, an aunt took in the kids. If an aunt died, perhaps a sister or cousin took over. What we are finding is that the people who usually rely on others for their basic needs, no longer have that network of support and the country was not prepared to manage the massive number of victims left in the wake of this international disaster.)
Our second project involves building a home for a BBL family. This family has been with BBL almost since day 1. Their story is long and complicated, but ultimately, the 8 of them have spent the better part of the past decade sleeping in a four-person tent. The family has experienced every sort of tragedy imaginable, but most of the family continues to persevere and battle towards success and independence. The eldest sister in the family recently got into college, the first in her family, and has agreed to take on the responsibility of her younger sisters and brothers. Without getting into too much detail, they are constantly under the threat of their older brother and need to be away from the tent and in their own secure home. With the help of a contractor teaching our students the art of concrete mixing and brick laying, we hope to use the two trips this summer to complete the home before the rains come in November.
Our third project involves working with a primary school across the street from the center. We are acting as teacher’s aides, offering lessons in English to middle school aged children. Two of us are even working with the heads of the school, helping to teach them how to use a computer so they may be able to keep more accurate records…apparently their first lesson involved how to turn the computer on.
Our final project involves painting two murals at BBL. This work crew spent much of Sunday afternoon planning, designing, and preparing to present several options to the BBL staff and seemed very eager to brighten the classrooms with beautiful colors and designs. What none of us remembered, nor really grasped, was the container of books. The rooms we were to paint were filled to the ceiling with boxes and we needed to organize them. This poor group of painters suddenly became pack mules and hybrid librarians whose responsibility it is to sort books into piles while repeatedly lifting 100 lbs boxes of books from one newly organized section to the next. This crew was amazing, making shoulder high piles of textbooks according to skill level, age, and topic.
The day ended with some quick games with the BBL kids, but most of us had an eye on the piles of books that sat not too far away. Apparently schools from across the area had been called and we expect to see them early tomorrow.