Overcoming Disappointment

As I have started working more, I should not have been surprised when I had my first work disappointment. My primary school was approved for the Books for Africa project to get a library at a significantly reduced cost, and they have to pay a small portion of the fees to make sure they are invested in the project. I had suggested we fundraise for the cost, but my head teacher assured me he could pay the fee out of the school fees. Well, as the deadline approached I went to the school repeatedly trying to get the check, and they did not have it. Since the deadline is not something I control, when the school missed the deadline they are no longer qualified for the project. It is disappointing for any number of reasons, but not at all unusual.

Any development work here, especially following the Peace Corps approach is sometimes frustratingly slow.  Besides the differences culturally in definitions such as “on time” or “professional”, there are other barriers as well. The reason my school did not have money from school fees yet is because the government, which now covers fees for grades 1-6, had not yet paid the schools. For the first couple weeks of the term there was no electricity in the school. Obviously, paying teachers salaries takes priority over creating a library.

While this is a problem, there is an underlying problem I noticed the day before the check was due. When I explained, for the umpteenth time, that if the check were late there would be no books, my head teacher seemed slightly skeptical if that would hold true. There is little accountability from some development organizations so it is not entirely surprising our deadline seemed flexible. Secondly, the community having to put in any effort to receive aid is rare, especially in Swaziland. That is not to say they do not need or deserve the assistance, but rather they rarely have to work for it. My head teacher asked me why the US government could not just pay the fee for them when I said we would not have a library this year. While I was annoyed because I had explained repeatedly it’s not so much about the money as making sure the community is committed to the project; I also understand where they are coming from. When other organizations will give away assistance for free, there is little incentive to work with an organization that requires buy-in for the same or similar services.

While I firmly believe in Peace Corps’ approach to development; that combined with a legacy of other organizations in the community can make it much harder to do my job. I was disappointed the project I was most excited for is not going to happen, and sometimes it makes it very hard to feel accomplished. During training the medical unit showed us a chart of the average PCV’s emotions during service. We are currently in a low period according to the chart, and a lot of my friends’ texts, and it is easy to see why. Now that we are starting to do real work we are also starting to see real failures.

I thought I’d post a random picture of me and my friends hiking since my project didn’t work out!

Hiking with the gals

Hiking with the gals

Books for Africa

We have an annual partnership with Books for Africa, an organization that ships books to start or improve libraries around the continent. As I wrote about earlier, my school did not get books this year, but as I am on the board for my group I still got to help out in other ways. Instead of just handing out books we include a librarian workshop to train our Swazi counterparts on how to start, manage, and maintain a library. I completely took for granted the education we get at a young age not only just having a library at school, but having someone to explain fiction and nonfiction, the parts of a book, and how to find books in the library.

Image

Our first day of sessions the room we had reserved for 8am had a church service in it that did not end until 8:20, and by the time we set up everything were already running behind. After that snafu, everything went much smoother. We had two days on everything from cataloguing to mending spines, and at the end of it got a lot of positive feedback. It was interesting, though, our speaker spent an entire session on library rules highlighting all the way kids will mess up the library. He suggested checking backpacks for weapons before they enter the library, and ensuring girls are dressed appropriately so they don’t encourage harassment. The relationship between book borrowers here versus at home is clearly going to be different.

After our last session I ran to Mbabane where we had an embassy versus Peace Corps volleyball tournament. We did not do so well, but had a fun time. It felt like home being around Americans and playing a sport other than soccer.

Image

An American Girl With a New Years Resolution

I never thought my most meaningful relationship would be with someone born in 1961. Yet, Thursday I happily celebrated my six-month anniversary with the Peace Corps. I hit the quarter mark of my service and the new year, prompting the question “what will you resolve this year?” I find myself looking back instead of forward. The obligatory lists of resolutions and goals have been circulated across my Facebook newsfeed and for once they do not make me feel inadequate. I did not make any resolutions last year, and yet seem to have hit many common resolutions that show up on a number of lists.

2013: Live abroad-check, quit your job-check, keep a journal-checl, adopt a pet-check, change your hair-check (I tried and failed to go blonde), start working out more-check, make new friends-check, learn a new language-check, allow yourself to be selfish-check, write a real letter – check, face a fear – check, and the lists go on. Somehow, without really trying, Peace Corps has helped me accomplish a healthy portion of common goals. The past half a year (and really the months of preparation leading up to it) has given me the time to better myself that I would never have had working a 9 to 5 job in the US. This year instead of looking at deficiencies in my life I am happy to instead appreciate my accomplishments thus far. I have finally learned to focus on the check marks rather than the empty boxes.

With new friends celebrating an early Christmas

With new friends celebrating an early Christmas

If there is one lesson I have learned that I can share for the New Year; notice your own envy. When I saw everyone getting jobs after college and settling down with new relationships and apartments it made me more panicked than covetous. Instead, it was the people who had taken a year off, moved to a new country, not worrying about what people expected their career to look like that made that little pang of jealousy resonate. The most telling emotion I have found is the little green flash when you hear good news from someone. What part of what they said appeals to you, and how can you learn from that? So my resolution for this coming year is simple: be jealous. Notice what you are jealous of, congratulate that person, and learn from them. Channeling this emotion has led me to find what makes me truly happy, and appreciating people doing great things rather than resenting them has allowed me to benefit from their success. While you are doing that, help those who have a reason to be envious of you.

While I miss my family and friends at home, I could not be happier to greet 2014 here in Swaziland. So my simple advice for the new year for all of my fellow Americans back home is, if you are feeling a little jealous of those around you as the ball drops, resolve to ask how they do it.

Thankful for all the packages and letters I get from my loved ones back home

Thankful for all the packages and letters I get from my loved ones back home

Being a "deviled egg" for halloween

Being a “deviled egg” for halloween

 

P.S. If you want to ring in the New Year by helping create a library for my grade school to be proud of (and maybe inspire other schools jealousy?), please see the link below. We are raising money to create 30 libraries across Swaziland to promote literacy, English proficiency, and all the wonderful benefits literature has to offer. https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=14-645-001

 

One of the kids I live with who will get to use the library you can help build.

One of the kids I live with who will get to use the library you can help build.