May 14 and 15, 2012
I hit the road at 5:30 am on Monday to catch a flight to Maun which is in the northwest side of Gaborone and about 500 km away. It is known for its tourist attractions, with Okavango delta nearby and being a departure point for Kalahari desert safari trips. My reason that I was there was for my volunteering work. After arriving to Maun at around 8:30am after a smooth landing with a small plane only with 12 rows (each row consisting of 4 seats), we directly went to the Maun BOCAIP centre to start our interviews with the stakeholders, including the centre’s supervisor, caregivers for the orphans, counsellors, a social worker, a teacher and a board member all of whom had lots of ideas to share with us. It was obvious that these people were genuinely interested in the wellbeing of the orphans and the vulnerable children (that is the program I am evaluating), however there was a sense of a lack of manpower, the knowledge and the skills that they needed to implement the program especially in the absence of funding. As an evaluator, I should make sure to stay unbiased, but after seeing the orphans at the day care, I wanted to help each and every one of the 53 kids some of whom showed me their toys and wanted me to play with them. They are all bright kids with a great potential given the opportunity. And when I say opportunity, I am not talking about special lessons or anything like that. I mean their basic human rights such as access to shelter, food and clothing. Most of their homes are composed of leaky roofs made out of tree branches, walls consisting of plastic bags. I saw some of the houses with my own eyes. The situation here is quite intense. The emotional side of my brain tells me that I am helpless and the situation is too big for me to make any meaningful contribution as an individual while the logical side of my brain ensures me that I am not helpless and my being here is a first step to reach my hand to them, be their voice and advocate for them. I choose to do the latter.
Tuesday, we went to Gumare, a 3 hour drive away from Maun, a small remote town to do more site visits. Out trip was interrupted several times due to cattle crossing across the roads. It is quite a scene when cows gather and pass across the street, those slow animals suddenly become very agile. Gumare had its differences when it came to the community. I learned that there were different tribes living here. Especially my visit to the home of a caregiver (a grandma) was something I will remember for years to come. Their so called home was in the middle of a sandy garden fenced with woods to prevent animals from entering, she brought us a plastic chair which they made me to sit on, and a wooden stool which has seen better days. She sat on the sand over a piece of plastic bag with her grandchild next to her. The caregiver had her kids, her late daughter’s orphaned kids and her son and daughter who had her two kids plus she has a daughter who was 17 and was also a mother to a child. The teen pregnancy is on the rise here, increasing the risk of getting HIV. It is almost incomprehensible to think that one every three people may be carrying the virus here and most of them either do not know that they have it or do not want to know. There is a pretty strong stigma that is dividing people and causing social isolation for people with HIV and AIDS. Have I mentioned that there is no running water in the vicinity? This is a big problem both in Maun and Gumare. The water that they have in Maun is contaminated so it is not good for anything. The caregiver tells us that she owes money to the neighbour who has a well. I doubt that she would ever be able to pay for it. I hope she could. While we were talking with them, the thoughts were racing in my head and I was trying to figure out how I could help these people. Then I remembered the peanut and raisin bag in my backpack that I had as a snack and asked the BOCAIP representative if it would be appropriate for me to give it to them, after getting her OK, I showed it to the little boy who came right to me and accepted it with a smile on his face. I am not sure if I was tricking myself into believing that I did something so I could now feel better or if that snack did anything for the child except letting him taste it and may be making him wanting more I will never know.
At the end of the day, I had the privilege to come back to my luxurious hotel to spend the night but that little boy stayed behind exactly where I met him. Is he ever going to be able to make it?