Welcome back! I know it’s a week early, but I just couldn’t help but get back to blogging after receiving so many phenomenal comments and emails from readers during my hiatus. Starting today, this blog is resuming its regular Sunday postings. August and September were busy months, and I’m glad to be back at the keyboard sharing this African life with you.
In August, my intake attended our first conference since training. This is one of three mandatory conferences that my (and all) intake will attend during our service. In-Service Training, or IST, is 10 days of workshops related to HIV/AIDS (part of the U.S. PEPFAR initiative) and technical training. IST is a unique chance for our intake to request certain kinds of trainings and workshops related to knowledge we wish we had in the field. Each volunteer may invite up to two Zambian counterparts to take part in the training, allowing us a unique opportunity to do project development and HIV/AIDS training in a multi-lingual environment (Nyanja, Bemba, and English) with the people we are closest to in our villages.
Our group met in Lusaka on August 10th and departed August 21st. During that ten days, we attended and gave presentations in a variety of topics:
- Safety and Security – Updates for country-wide issues, reminders on staying safe, and introduction to our new (and phenomenal) Safety and Security Assistant, Ba Jonathan.
- Introduction to our new country director (CD), Leon Kayego. CD Kayego was raised in the DRC and studied in the United States before returning to Africa. He has been the country director in other Peace Corps posts, and now joins us in Zambia. My first impression: CD Kayego is thoughtful, interested in getting to know the volunteers and understanding our challenges, and has an open door policy – something I really value in a supervisor.
- Alcohol awareness and resiliency seminar – Zambia’s mental health medical team visited us and asked us about our initial integration experiences into our villages. We talked about avoiding negative coping mechanisms when dealing with village and service stressors as well as how we might expect our next year of service to feel. I was highly impressed with our medical health staff, and feel confident (and have heard good stories from other volunteers) about their responses to mental health crises.
- Technical training – Our technical trainings and updates covered a range of topics including: dambo ponds, rice cultivation (with a presentation from the Japanese NGO JICA), beekeeping, animal husbandry, grant writing, groups and cooperatives, and monitoring and evaluation of our work. The grant writing was especially interesting to me, and I will be teaming up with Mbala neighbor Scott to small projects assistance (SPA) grant to purchase net-making material and train all Northern Province RAP volunteers and their farmers to make fish nets.
After the first four days of just volunteer training, our fish farming counterparts joined us and we worked on project development mapping. This included matrix ranking and problem trees to help communities identify the symptoms and causes of problems, our community’s assets, and work toward solutions instead of being caught up in the problems. Going into the training I admit I thought it would largely be a bureaucratic waste of time, but I was pleasantly surprised by how efficiently the problem tree diagramming cut across cultures and languages to help us work with our counterparts toward identifying problems and solutions in our communities. This portion of the training also included an intro to permagardening and a visit to a very successful permagarden run by a women’s group in Lusaka – a highlight of the training for most of our counterparts.
The last three days of our training consisted of HIV/AIDS training through a program called Grassroot Soccer (GS). GS is a useful program for non-health volunteers to implement in our communities because it’s easy (the program comes complete with a soccer ball, a “coaches guide” (lessons), and tips for working with young adults) and doesn’t have the heavy feel of formal HIV/AIDS training. In addition, GS is aimed at young people from 13-19; this age group is the most susceptible to HIV/AIDS infection, but also most responsive to preventative trainings and education. By teaching young people about HIV/AIDS through Zambia’s beloved past time of soccer, we non-health volunteers have a far greater chance of passing on important information, dispelling myths, and helping young people remain HIV negative than if we tried to do both fish farming and rural health work.
While the training at IST itself was valuable, the highlight of the trip to Lusaka was seeing everyone in our intake and having 10 days to tell our tales of woe and wit from community entry, catch up with close friends, eat something other than nshima, have a few drinks, and take a break from village life. We found a few minutes to take our traditional group photo, too.
While most volunteers go on their first vacation after IST, I chose to return to my site with this guy:
Rob is a fellow RAP volunteer, living in North Western Province (he speaks Lunda) and has appeared in this blog before as a boon companion. He visited my site for a week and helped me make my new hut into a home. Having someone visit your site can sometimes be tiresome since our supplies and lifestyles are really arranged around accommodating one person, not two. But, having Rob visit was nothing short of a delight. We cooked, we cleaned, we sewed curtains (side note: Peace Corps is totally a re-take of your 9th grade Home Economics class), and enjoyed the heck of each others company. More than anything, it was nice to have that close support system to help me readjust to the village and to get to know my new home through the appreciative eyes of another.
Since I’ve just moved to my new village and Rob has since departed for his own site, the next few weeks will be dedicated to finding my routine, getting to know my fellow villagers, and getting a few projects off the ground (more about those in future posts). Let the adventure continue!
Psst…My latest article with Go Girl Travel Network is online! This month, I’m interviewing a fellow PCV about harassment in Peace Corps. You can check it out by clicking here.