Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ga-Seleka Home Based Care

With the New Year, came changes in my work life---all for the better. As many of you know, I have been struggling to find my way in an NGO facing internal struggles. Ga Seleka Home Based Community Care is currently being housed out of the local clinic’s garage. Amidst filing cases and one table, I spent most of my first three months working on improving my Setswana and trying to find a place where I could make a contribution. Peace Corps had pegged those months from observation; a time to determine areas we could work on within our NGO’s and the community at large.

The NGO oversees two parts; a team of 27 home based health care workers visit ill patients in Seleka, and thirteen surrounding villages, known here as “Seleka Trusts”. As we have an in-resident chief in the village, he is responsible for all of these villages. The second part of the NGO, a drop in center, is located not five minutes from the clinic. Here, we serve about 115 orphans and vulnerable children. They receive two meals per day, one in the morning before breakfast, and one in the afternoon before heading home for the evening. These meals are sustaining children that may be going home to grannies caring for five others. Or, maybe they at the young age of 15 are watching over siblings, making sure they do their homework, wash their clothes, and have a bed to sleep in at night. Either way, the nourishment and care these children receive from the drop in center is essential in their daily lives. A group of ten female carers work here, cooking, washing clothes, bathing young children, and organizing activities. Paul and I have been truly honored to become a part of their lives.

After Christmas break, we worked out a schedule where I would be at the drop in center 2-3 days a week, and the other days I would be helping out at the schools. Paul is currently spending one full day at the drop in center and many afternoons. One of the activities we have taken on is a Tuesday afternoon ‘Life Skills’ lesson. Working with Sello, a young man from a national organization called Love Life, we have now covered teenage pregnancy, nutrition, and puberty with the children. Normally, our days start with working with two carers and Sello, determining what information will be covered in our presentations and who will present what. I have come to look forward to these times as a time and place where the carers feel comfortable asking us health questions. Some issues that we consider common place, as we’re learned them in school, from family, church groups, etc. are not understood here. In our first presentation, one of the carers turned to us and asked “Boipelo, what is menopause?” Paul and I silently exchanged a glance realizing that she, an educated woman in her early 40’s, had never been taught what menopause is.

These days are not just an opportunity for us to teach. It is also an opportunity to be learners. During our nutrition lesson, we were discussing why it is important not to eat too many sweets. I mentioned that eating too many sweets, dizimba (a version of Cheetos here), and cold drink could make you feel sick, cause weight gain, rot your teeth……one of the carers interrupted me and said, “but Boipelo, here we want to become fat.” Of course, I had forgotten that in Tswana culture it is a sign of beauty for a woman to be round. She is then considered healthy, and well cared for by her husband. We quickly changed our tune, asking the carers if they knew about obesity. Yes, and decided that no, they indeed did not want to be obese. They later conveyed this message to the children by emphasizing that by becoming obese, you would be as big as a balloon; not being able to walk or even get out of a chair. This generated giggles from the children, and a realization by Boipelo and Thato that they had just received another lesson in Tswana culture.

At the schools, Paul and I spent one week working on a photo fundraiser. Between both Seleka Higher Primary School (grades 5-7) and Baphoting Lower Primary School (grades R-4) we took 452 photos. These photos look nothing like a school photo in the US. Children here are taught a different definition of what’s ‘cool’, and a photo is a prime time to show that they’ve learned their lesson well. Most of the boys wanted to cross their arms, definitely not smile, perhaps flex their well tone muscles, and certainly not stand up straight. Girls would prefer to wear sunglasses, again no smiles, with hips thrust out, generating laughs from all their classmates still in line waiting their turn.

Photos here are special. A family may have one small album containing every photo they’ve had taken in their lives. The day of handing out the photos was worth ever ounce of work that had gone into the fundraiser. From grade R, all the way up to the 7th graders, we could hear their squeals, laughter, and running from room to room to show friends. We were thrilled that out of the fundraiser, Baphoting made R1700 (around $250.00) and Seleka made R600 (almost $100.00). Baphoting will be putting the money towards purchasing their own digital camera, so that when we leave they will be able to continue an annual photo fundraiser. Seleka’s money is going toward buckets to help with their school lunch program. Who knew that our digital camera, a gift from dear friends and family, could be a tool to bring such joy to our community? Without even knowing it, you all have added a special photo to the family photo album of the majority of Seleka children. Thank you!

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