Monday, July 26, 2010

toilet update

Since schools reopened, the remaining purchases were made to allow for project construction to continue. Once again, we encountered some small problems with attaining all materials, but the ordered toilet seat covers should arrive soon. All finance records on the side of the Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) have been submitted, in great thanks to project leader, Joyce, who has developed excellent book-keeping skills. In early July, Bawokuhle Primary School received their annual budget from the Department of Education, which allowed for project construction to continue since they are contributing to unexpected project costs.

Hand washing and proper toilet-use lessons have been introduced to educators and students. Children tend not to use toilet paper or hand soap, so daily classroom discussions will help to inform and train K-grade 3 students about these hygienic practices. It will be necessary that the lessons on toilet etiquette be taught to ensure appropriate toilet use. All learners at Bawokuhle will benefit from these lessons,whether for the first time or in review,community members will take home greater understanding about proper cleanliness. It will be promoted that students share their learnings with their families at home, especially on International Hand Washing Day, 15 October. This knowledge the children gain will improve skills in decision making since students will understand where germs come from and how they can best keep clean to improve their health. Project goals in acquiring skills in hygiene, decision making and creating a healthy environment will continue well after project completion.

An opening ceremony is planned for when the toilet project sewage system is complete. The 12 flush toilets are in place and ready for use, once the flush function is a go. We will be in touch and be mailing a photograph from the opening ceremony. Thank you again for your continued messages of support and interest in Bawokuhle’s Toilet Project. I will be finished with my Peace Corps service 13 August 2010. Leaving this life that has been my home for the past two years will be difficult, but I feel comforted by this finished project. I confidently believe the toilets will be well maintained by the school and Gemsbok community.

Monday, July 12, 2010

June/July Update

Time has flown….I am on my 24th month in South Africa. As of now, I am preparing to be back on U.S.A. soil come 13 August. Just after my 25th birthday. And at this moment, I am occupied by all sorts of things…dancing to World Cup anthems, leading morning yoga sessions, fitting a condom on my head to demonstrate durability, saying good bye to friends and family and passing out my few remaining possessions that have been at my side for the last 2 years.

At our Close of Service conference in early May, the Peace Corps Volunteers in my cohort met for one final reflection and fun time together in South Africa. Friends and I spent a week together discussing what we would miss most about our time in country..full figured women, choice phrases..’Iyoba’, host-country friends and our Peace Corps family. Playing charades and eating from large communal plates of traditional food, friends and I laughed and enjoyed good times we look forward to recreating stateside.
Following this joyous visit, I returned home for the funeral of my 34 year old host brother, MasKosana. MasKosana, working for the South African Police Service was in a car accident as he was traveling home for the day. Sinaye, my little sister is now an orphan and this is my Gogo’s third child that had passed away before the age of 35 years. My sKosana family is coping the best they can and I am trying my best to spend significant one-on-one time with the little one to help her through this tough time. I am noticing more and more how attached I am to this place and it’s people.
With my departure near, I am preparing counterparts for continued project success. Just before school closed Educators completed 8 workshops in Effective Educating that I facilitated. Workshops included Educator learning and participating in methods that support differentiated instruction and group work. Weekly assessments demonstrated that most educators had a stronger concept of why and how to assist the needs of all learners in their classroom.
My second host-school, Bawokuhle began constructing a series of flush toilets with funds provided by my U.S.A. friends and family. Flush toilets and a water station will immediately improve the living of more than 500 learners and community members, since areas will be sanitary and safe.
Completion of a World and South African map painted on the outside of the school is an initiative both being supported and worked on by staff and school students. Many of the young ladies I ask to assist me are holding a paint brush for their very first time and most of the community has never seen a map of the whole world before. I am happy to bring this learning tool to the community.
11 June-11 July, South Africa hosted FIFA World Cup 2010. I had the outstanding opportunity to take children from my village to a U.S.A. soccer practice, here is a feature about our time at this event. Grassroot Soccer, an international organization using the power of soccer in the fight against HIV/AIDS sponsored 8 children from Gemsbok to attend the Ghana Vs. Serbia match in Pretoria. This is a once in a lifetime experience they had never dreamed possible, the students were selected according to their Project support and attendance record.
During school break, I participated in several camps around South Africa supporting HIV/AIDS and life skills learning. Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) was an overnight week camp for 54 teenage ladies, selected to act as school role models. Ladies were instructed on techniques how to ‘Delay Sex’, as well as HIV/AIDS preventive method education such as proper condom use fulfilling the C (codomise) in the A-B-C education model (Abstain, Be Faithful, Condomise). The girls were also introduced to an alternative, D-Do it yourself (or masturbation suggestion). Influenced by prior Peace Corps Volunteers, Volunteer Kristy and I decided this was a worthy discussion since interest in experimentation is driving these women to participate in early sexual relations. In addition, ladies engaged in role-plays, dance and talent competitions, and heated debates. Questions and Answers included techniques for talking with parents, friends and ex-boyfriends. I found all of the learning to be very relevant to this teen group and felt it would have definitely been something I would have benefited from back in the day.
At a nearby volunteer's site, friends Joanna, Joyce and I assisted with a soccer and lifeskills week camp. With this initiative, students are able to stay active during the month holiday break and learn about essential issues that are often overlooked in schools, such as ‘self-esteem’ and ‘being a team-player’. I sung myself through the week, working alongside recent high school graduates to entertain and educate children from 9-15 years of age. Thanks to the gobs of games, songs, and tricks I have picked up from Peace Corps manuals, trainings and PEPFAR sponsored conferences, especially that on intentional camps presented by Global Camps Africa, everyday at camp was successful because all had a fun and educational time.
As school begins again, I am taking time to listen more to life in South Africa and express appreciation for my community friends and family. I am confident that coming home will have its challenges but I am ready for anything, these days.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

as well as to be expected

Our toilet project is moving forward. Obstacles come and go; community member support and ingenuity allows work to push on. Several of the challenges coming our way are not unique to our Toilet Project, but are seen with any development work in a third-world land. Transport and material availability tend to disappoint and this frustrates most project participants. If it weren’t for African resilience, I am not sure development would ever be seen.

Today, I joined the School Governing Body in a parent meeting. Meant to inform the parents about the project, the meeting parents decided to increase their community contribution by providing R10 (approximately $1.50) for a ‘toilet project opening’ celebration to take place once school reopens in July. The school children parents have also agreed to come together and manage the grounds surrounding the toilets to allow for the children to pass easily from the school building to the toilet and wash center building. Pictured is Winnie, the School Governing Body chairperson speaking with the student’s parents.

In the past weeks, I have traveled to purchase construction materials with Joyce, our project leader. Joyce is becoming quite the negotiator and organized accountant. I sat in a bank queue for 4hours to receive an increase in my daily checking allowance, once at R4, 000 the construction material purchases required five times that limit. Our project team preferred working with Cash Build that promises free material transport, but having just left the rainy season deliveries are quite backed up. Most of the materials were able to be delivered by week close and fortunately this has not seriously interfered construction progress. As of now, we are still waiting on clay bricks. Most structures in the township and rural village area are made of home-made concrete bricks. Our School Governing Body decided against this construction material that tends to deteriorate. Our challenges include several pauses in construction as brick loads continue to be shipped.

I will be in touch in the following week to share another tale. Although, I have been living in this village of 9,000 as the only white for the past two years, it is not until now that I am having more of a presence in the community. Pictures attached show community members working as brick layers. These men typically don't have work opportunities, especially those that are local, so this is providing a great deal for their families. I’m being greeted by a whole new slew of community members that know me for my work with this project. I am happy to share with all of them the incredible support that I have from friends and family back home. At the parent meeting I introduced all of you and your vision for increasing community awareness in health and sanitation. Let me know if you have questions or areas of interests that you wish for the coming writing to include. Thank you once again for your contribution!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

18 May 2010

Dear friends and family,

Thank you for giving to Gemsbok's Toilet Project. On 7May we reached our budget total 39,692Rand (approximately $5,234) in many thanks to you. Everyone this side was delighted to hear the news! Funds have been transferred to my account today and toilet construction has started.

Meetings with Bawokuhle Primary School Governing Body are occurring regularly and contain relevant and organized agendas. I am observing real improvements in their administrative practices and decision making, especially in planning budgets and managing project tasks. Project leaders are requesting my help less and less, and instead confidently taking the lead in negotiating and finalizing plans themselves. The women involved in the project are committed to their tasks and nicely overcoming any gender barriers they are faced. Our anticipated project completion is school closing, June 9 and with signed contracts we are hoping commitments are honored.

I will be providing regular updates and pictures concerning the project. The first picture is of community workers who are laying the bricks. The second and third photos are of our contractor (left)and School Governing Body member, secretary and project leader, Joyce(right).

Once again, the community of Gemsbokspruit thanks you. Our school community is overjoyed with thanks. They feel very blessed to have this opportunity to improve the learning atmosphere for their learners and their own skills in project management.

Haley McDonough
--U.S. Peace Corps 2008-2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saved by the Storm

The storm saved me.
It is the 17th of March. Usually, there is nothing that can distract me from my cultural obligation to this holiday. Last year, my nearest volunteer and I skipped school and headed to our nearest shopping town for pap (South Africa’s maize meal, staple food) and Amarula (similar to our Bailey’s Irish crème), both of which we colored green with our own food coloring.
This year, I canceled our date because of work commitments. There couldn’t have been a better message than that of the hovering storm clouds beckoning me home, to put me in check and remind me of my little remaining time here in South Africa and need to slow my pace, blog and celebrate this holiday(even if it doesn’t include a green beverage).
To makeup for my lack of documenting, I will try to provide a short reflection of the past month’s highlights rather than detail my mother’s clean scent when I first hugged her at the airport terminal, or tell you about the youthful smile spread across my father’s face as we laughed about his misfortunes in traveling this side. I will instead give you some small features in my life that have me remaining grateful for this experience and opportunity to continue learning about myself and EVERYTHING.
You should know that my sound track for this message writing is Freshlyground, ‘Nomvla (After The Rain)’. Since my PC friends and I attended a concert last year November, I have been obsessed with the traditional sounds of this radical racially diverse South African group. The bands lead singer, Zo jumps and jives around the stage to the unique beats, summoning all it’s listeners to hit the sway, clap, and sung Xhosa click in rhythm. The girls and I had a memorable time out, having all worn our summer sun dresses, we spent the whole night dancing and enjoying each others company in the big city of Pretoria.

Around this same time, I also had the amazing opportunity to meet and visit with recently appointed Peace Corps Director Williams. Previously, the South African Mission Director for U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and a Dominican Republic Peace Corps Volunteer, Director Williams welcomed our discussions about the eminent challenges accompanying living in South Africa and acting as a volunteer. Children screamed in excitement as we and Director William’s 10 person entourage circled the school and village. I felt great pride introducing my community family and friends to this American.

In celebration of World AIDS Day, I worked with our newly formed group the Healthy Living Project to provide a testing drive, entertainment and education event for our Gemsbok community. On December 4th, we successfully tested and educated over 200 community members and felt great satisfaction in the work we had completed sans funds. Elders of the community donated their time to cook a hot meal for our volunteer high school student entertainers. Local vegetables were collected and a generator was given when last minute, the electricity failed. Our work together has continued and we have recently received $2k in U.S. President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funds, with the completion and approval of our VAST grant (requiring the community to contribute at least 25% of need for AIDS awareness project).

Funds have arrived and are currently being put toward our Human Right’s AIDS Testing Event this Friday, 19March. Once again we are having several entertainment groups and local officials giving their support for HIV understanding. Our community group has been busy preparing advertisements, crafting AIDS ribbon pins, and learning about Tuberculosis (TB), proper condom use, caring for people with HIV, and proper nutrition.

When I leave our afternoon meetings, I am always reminded why I enjoy this work. These teenagers, just like those in the states are able to communicate with me about their interests and questions and our dialog is always relaxed and informative for all.

Just next, my parents visited and we vacationed in Southern Africa. As I left for the airport to pick them, I received notice via email that my father would not be arriving with my mother; he had been detained in the U.S. for his lack of visa papers and would arrive the following day. Once Dad arrived we visited with my village schools, community members, and families. Standing with interested friends, mom shed tears at the clinic, just as I had 17 months prior. We then sought after our adventures across diverse South Africa. In Coffee Bay, we dodged pot holes left and right to get to Coffee Shack, but greatly admired the scenery of green pastures and brightly painted roundaval homes. Our driving schedule was stressful, but stay spots and small adventures along the way made even the backseat driver comments worthwhile. Cape Town and the wine lands each had their unique beauty and European flair that we all thoroughly enjoyed. Whether picnicking at Cape of Good Hope or wine tasting by horse back, my parents and I enjoyed exceptional moment’s animal sighting and labyrinth walking. My mother and I later briefly visited Botswana’s Salt Pans to see the Zebra and Wildebeast migration.

We road the Okavango Delta on a mokoro (dugout canoe) and walked Zimbabwe and Zambia’s boarder to wade in Victoria Falls and it’s daring Devil’s pool. With a goodbye that lasted a few days longer than expected, I was able to really touch ground with my mother and recognize how much I miss caring for my family and friends stateside.
Afterward, I went on to see Namibia’s diverse lands with traveling companions that care for a slightly different travel routine. Planning to camp just outside Fish River Canyon (the second largest canyon in the world) my PC friends and I stocked up on petrol and beverages at the border and made our way into the desert. At Shark Island we endured windy conditions in our tiny tents held down by stone and string, to wake on the water, witness dolphins swimming in the frigid waters, sail boat and oyster taste. Our last stretch of travel was out to the Namib Desert to see the miraculous dunes at sunrise. Day dune surfing and late night and early morning drives were halted by a two hour walk out to sit with the dunes and admire the greatness of this natural wonder. A must in Southern Africa travels, for sure!

After holiday and back at site, I have been busy with projects. Reading intervention with grade 4 and 5 learners has taken on several new routines and the students are making small improvements that are meaningful to them and their school educators. Educator projects have included changing of the timetable to supplement the newly reinvented school classrooms. EkuJabuleni educators have been trained on the preparing learner librarians and Bawokuhle primary is organizing library room materials.
Gemsbok’s Toilet Project proposal has been listed online through the Peace Corps Partnership Program in great thanks to community completion of proposal plans and we are looking forward to completing the project once we receive your donations. I’ve been recently requested to train educators from neighboring schools in classroom management, creation of school wide discipline plans, and reviewing a document I created named, ‘Understanding Special Needs’. I am putting finishing touches on projects to prepare my work and site for an incoming volunteer and overall community sustainability. And as the state’s school year enters its 2nd semester, I am busy preparing for my anticipated August arrival back to Ohio. I am spending every hour outside of work out in the village, online job applying. Let me know if you would like to help.
Next week, I am once again participating in the half-marathon at Longtom Pass in Sabie. PC South Africa Volunteers run for the KLM foundation created by previous volunteers and gather funds for a scholarship to send deserving, underprivileged South African children to school.

The World Cup is beginning in June and I will be attending a game. I hear you will be able to catch a few of the soccer matches on ESPN and I hope you will tune in for the historical profiles about South Africa. My friend Jo and I will be hosting girls’ soccer camps for our villagers as the nation’s schools are closing to ease visitor transport.
There isn’t a week that goes by that doesn’t still include me questioning my capabilities and interest in being here. However, the brightness that arrives in each day’s trouble is inspiring and pleasant beyond belief. Miss everyone and will be seeing you soon. xo

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Giving to my community of Gemsbokspruit

Hello friends and family,

I am rounding the corner of my Peace Corps service in South Africa and heading back to the states in August, after living for two years in the village of Gemsbokspruit. Having learned from village members about community life and real pain, I am grateful for this experience and what it has taught me, I have the capability to give of myself whether it is with a smile or only a few minutes to listen and welcome possibility. My assignments in this community have required that I identify community needs and motivated individuals to plan for the future. I would like to introduce you to our toilet project and invite you to contribute to this worthy cause. I am overseeing the toilet project completion for the remainder of my service and am confident in counterparts and their proposed plans.

I understand that financially everyone in the states is suffering, however this project and your pennies can help eliminate the spread of disease and most importantly teach the skills required to live an informed healthy life. With better hygiene we are creating a more conducive learning environment that will highly influence how the learners acquire skills on keeping good health and what the children will learn and take with them for a lifetime. The small children this project directly services are at an influential age and this project will help them to learn skills appropriate for cleanliness.

The Bawokuhle primary school community wishes to educate it's members about proper sanitation with the use of proper facilities, as currently the learners are relieving themselves in the bush in front of their peers and the community. With a water center, the learners will be able to wash their hands properly and effective education will allow this to be a learning experience that benefits learners and the community for lifetimes, as the children will have less illness. Wellness is important for everyone in the world and providing information and facilities that promote healthy living helps us to create an environment with a foundation for developing motivated individuals ready to set out to do great things.

The Gemsbokspruit community includes many enthusiastic and motivated individuals that are interested in working with this proposed project. Many Gemsbokspruit community members are often people that are unemployed and parents and sisters and brothers that are unable to afford paying the school's needs or learner fees that fund school regular maintenance. Our community also includes several adults and children infected with HIV/AIDS and many more family and friends are affected and emotionally suffering in this small rural village. Gemsbok children are growing up in these vulnerable homes and are most likely coming to school unclean and uneducated about the proper techniques for cleaning and caring for themselves because they are orphans. The members of the School Governing Body hold a well respected position in Gemsbokspruit and are motivated to assist in this project, so that the community of Bawokuhle can effectively care for themselves. The SGB and school staff are committed leaders that are helping our school to be a more successful environment.

Please visit the below website and give to a good cause,or send it to a friend that might be interested. We of Gemsbokspruit and Bawokuhle Primary School appreciate your help!

Health and Hygiene


Sunday, October 4, 2009


some recent and exceptional New York Times articles about South Africa:

Eager Students Fall Prey to Apartheid’s Legacy

South African Children Push for Better Schools

South Africa Is Seen to Lag in H.I.V. Fight

Teaching grade 4 English to learners identified by educators as holding a special need or delay in reading has been very fulfilling. Each of our classes are a mere 45 minutes long but offer varying levels of energized learning experiences that create a relaxed and fun learning environment welcoming all to contribute. Fortunately with the implementation of several class routines and learner leadership roles, our classes move smoothly and are seen by educators as the best behaved despite language barriers that restrict lesson content, disciplining, and expectation setting. With the assistance of some school educators, I have been able to bring a greater theme to our class learning of grammar with guest story book readings translated into Ndebele. I believe the greatest lessons learned by the children are that of consideration and respect. A Bell-work session in ‘Picture Talk’ asks learners to present to their peers and acknowledges the abilities of group writer and reader. Class leaders distribute, collect, and count materials to ensure that all learners succeed in class and that those with a tendency to misplace writing utensils are not overlooked. In considering the grand scale of abilities in this unique classroom, learners hand motion as they finish an assignment which in turn gains a response communicating permission to place their assignment in the designated area for finished work. Students are then free to select an appropriately leveled story book or activity which can be worked on by themselves or with a group. After the initial mini lesson learning I am found individually assessing learners in their reading and checking learner’s assignment understanding and attending to learners with questions. Closing we gather in a grand comfortable circle to review our day’s learning. There is nothing greater than the smiles spread while our class tosses a world globe inviting learners to practice speaking their new vocabulary and phrase for the day.

At the primary school, working one-on-one with educators, month sessions act to improve specific areas of need. Although an incredibly challenging progression, observed improvements are extravagant and the educator’s concluding response is very positive, making it well worth the month’s disputes. Primary school educators are working together on writing and publishing their own appropriately leveled grade 1 Ndebele story books that reinforce followed vocabulary lists.

Intermediate school Technology and Library committees are working towards great things that are presently making a lasting impact on learners. Monthly workshops for educators are inviting educators to consider each learner’s unique abilities and alternatives to corporal punishment. Educators are introduced to practical pedagogy methods with each lesson’s learning.

Girls club members meditating

A counterpart and I are working toward a project that educates members of the community about healthy living. Focusing on personal and environmental wellness, the community group will facilitate learning sessions and provide practical experiences to further understanding. Our kick-off event will take place on World AIDS Day, the first week in December with a testing drive and two day educational session.

In other news, my hair is growing and the rains have arrived! By far my favorite season, I adore the pitter-patter on my tin roof. Today, I showed my Gogo my tattoo. I have a serious obsession for anything ginger flavored, especially Stoney-Ginger beer, which isn't a beer at all but a cold drink (pop). Mom and Dad visit in December, I can't wait!