First off, I apologize for not updating my blog sooner/more regularly. My excuse (although a poor one) is that I don't really enjoy writing very much. I spend time reflecting on what has happened during a given day/week/month, but the step of writing it down (either for a journal or a blog or an email) is very tedious for me, so I need to be very motivated to do it. Enough for my complaining, you're probably just interested in what I've done here the last three months.
The beginning of June saw the opening of the Swayimane Community Library, which I helped to build the bookshelves for and in general helped to see that everything was in place and ready for it to open. Many community members and community leaders turned out for the opening, and it was great to see everyone rally around the first library in our community. I would be remiss if I did not mention that the library was made possible by the generosity of Dorothy Kennett and her organization Books for South Africa, which raised all of the money (and books) for the library.
The library is now running well and is used on a regular basis, mostly by students in the community. Even though the library is a new concept to most of the patrons, they have learned quickly and are eager for the knowledge they can gain and the enjoyment that they will get out of the library.
With the library finished (it took up most of my time in April and May), I turned my attention to finding other projects that I will devote my time to during my time here. I went to savings groups meetings, went to a couple of schools, and even went with home-based care providers on one day. While there was not a lack of things needing to be done, I was struggling to figure out what my role in these programs would be and where best that I could apply my time, energy, knowledge, and skills.
Consistently, (or not) our Peace Corps in-service training was scheduled for the end of June, while I was still trying to sort all of this out. I must say that the training held, and the discussions with Peace Corps staff and fellow Peace Corps volunteers helped me to sort everything out. Training helped me re-tune my focus, give me some good ideas for possible projects, and revive my motivation to volunteer. When training was finished (on July 4th), I left with a new outlook and plan for my time here.
When I arrived back at site after training, a group of eight volunteers from America (Metro Church in NYC) was also arriving to volunteer in Swayimane for two weeks. I of course knew they were coming and was planning to slot into their projects where feasible, but I could not have imagined all of the positives that would come out of their time here (both for Swayimane and projects for me to do) before they came. While they were here, they led holiday classes at an area high school, they donated computers and began to give computer training to community volunteers, they started business training for some members of the savings groups, and they started strategic planning with Ithembalethu (the community-based organization that I work with). These were all of the things that I saw a need for in the community and that I was hoping to get involved with. It was great! They got the ball rolling on these activities, and, in short, I have taken over where they left off with these projects.
However, when they left in the middle of July, there was a short lull before these projects got going. This was mainly due to taking a step back, trying to work out some small kinks on these projects, and making a proper plan for them moving forward. By the end of July, these projects were ready to go full steam ahead.
My projects at site were ready to go by August, however instead of starting them then, I had already volunteered and was scheduled to go to pre-service training for the next group of South Africa Peace Corps volunteers. So, the first week of August I left for one week to go to a village outside of Pretoria to help the new trainees learn Zulu and answer any questions they had about living and volunteering in South Africa. I had a great week meeting and hanging out with the new trainees. It was good to see their enthusiasm, hope, and nervousness, and remember having all of the same feelings during my training earlier this year. It was also great to see how far I've come in just a few short months since training. The hope and enthusiasm are still there (most of the time) but the nervousness about living and volunteering here are gone and have been replaced with a contentedness of knowing that whatever happens, everything will work out one way or another.
When I got back from training, I had one week at site before leaving for a one-week vacation (my first vacation here in South Africa) with some friends from Peace Corps. While there was not a whole lot I could do for that one week back at site, I was able to put together a few lesson plans and hold a few training sessions.
Then, on the third week of August I left for the one-week vacation to the St. Lucia area. Since I was on vacation, I was allowed to rent a car and drive to where we needed to go (Peace Corps volunteers are not allowed to drive unless they are on vacation. If they drive while not on vacation they will be shipped back to the U.S.). It was so nice to drive again for the first time since late January. I had to readjust my thinking because in South Africa cars drive on the left-hand side of the road, but it was easier to adjust to than I thought it would be. During our vacation, we spent one day at a game park, took a hippo and crocodile tour, spent a couple of days on the beach (despite the strong wind and high waves), saw some rare palm trees found only in the Kosi Bay area, and just relaxed and enjoyed our week off. It was great to have a week away, spend time with friends, and get refreshed and rejuvenated before digging in for the long haul at site. Vacation was great, but it was equally great to get back to work at site. However, I must say that it was tough giving up the car at the end of the week. Being able to drive a car at site would really come in handy (If anyone from PCHQ is reading this :) ).
When I got back to site from vacation, I started my projects going full swing. I hold a few training sessions each week, plan my next training sessions, write any needed reports, and do any miscellaneous work that needs done. Everything is going very well here, and I'm hopeful and excited about what the future holds here.
P.S. I have also finally posted pictures from site and vacation. They can be found here.