Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A truly golden moment

One popularly known secondary project Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) hosts is Camp GLOW (Girls and Guys Leading our World). This is a special camp hosted once a year in the capital Windhoek, where approximately 35 learners across the nation are selected to attended. Globally, girl's rights and education is being recognized as a critical area of need and concern. Awareness to such topics are being talked about across many age groups, with a lust for change wanted by several across any gender identity. Let Girls Learn (as commonly known) was the stepping stone to the creation of many such programs and camps in Peace Corps programs around the world. Here in Namibia, we have GLOW.  In this 1 week camp aids the learners in developing positive leadership skills and gaining confidence to be advocates in their community for gender equality. I would like to state that I am not one of the volunteers involved in GLOW, but last year I did have 2 learners selected to go, and they loved it would be an understatement. They came back from camp glowing. This year all volunteers were again granted the opportunity to nominate 2 learners to potentially be selected.

Well, this year one of my grade 10 learners got selected to attend camp!

"NJ" is a very special learner to me. This kid works so hard! He's always one of the very last learners to leave school because he's always pushing himself to study hard. He is such an optimistic guy. Some may consider his position rough, but he considers himself blessed. NJ just has a pure joy for life. He's mature beyond his years always looking out for his brother. And some how between all his hard work and paternal nature he still makes time to be your typical 10th grader playing soccer and feeding a new love for jig saw puzzles and Harry Potter. He has definitely given me a new perspective on life.

 I was so happy when I recieved the email notifying me he had been selected that I jumped up from my chair in the Peace Corps office and instantly printed a copy of the email and list to show NJ. I couldn't wait to tell him! The following day when NJ walked by me sitting under my favorite tree I told him I had something for him to read. He first read over the part informing us that only 1 of the 2 learners had been selected before even looking at the list of selected names.

"Madam, I don't understand so only one of us can go?" NJ asked

"Yes, NJ it will only be one of you"

With a slightly concerned he looked at the first page again, then back at me and asked "Well, which one of us will go?" So I told him he would have to look at the list on the next page to find out.

He looks at the list for a moment.

"Ms.Tena, thats my name!!"

Honestly, this has been one of my absolute favorite moments in all of service. He really deserves this opportunity and is completely ecstatic. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

100 days

As my service has started winding down to its final handful of months I set a countdown in my phone of (more or less) the remaining time. Where once the idea of leaving for 27 months was intimidating, I am now down to basically the last 100 days. This brings on a lot of emotions! It’s almost like leaving for service all over again knowing I’m about to leave for some strange country again, with no exact idea of what’s going to happen when I get there. 

This realization has brought a few things to surface, some of those being the things I didn’t do. I started off service documenting everything. I blogged, I attempted keeping a journal, I took pictures all the time of every little thing I could… and then I stopped. As can obviously be seen where I blogged weekly, well its now been 6 months since the last post. I still take photos, but not nearly as often as I use to. This has been for various reasons, in part to being busy, in part to becoming comfortable with my environment and honestly just taking it for granted, and in part because I had fallen into a funk.

I want to make it very clear that I am beyond thankful for the experience. Looking back at every good, bad, and in-between I am glad it has happened. If I knew everything about service that I do now, I would still do it all over again. The slogan that this is “the hardest job you’ll ever love” is perfect. Late in last year I started little by little falling into a depression. I felt like things with service weren’t going quite as I had envisioned, and between that an a few other things, I felt like I was becoming jaded. I was losing hope in the agency, bitter towards my some of the aspects of my host country, and just disappointed in myself/service. I don’t feel like a public blog is where those kind of issues need to be vented out. However, as I do realize it is something that does hit volunteers. Multiple volunteers (one of which I considered my closer friends over the first year of service) have decided to ET over not being happy with service, and that’s okay! Late in January I found myself questioning if I could make it through the final 10 months. A friend who was in the same interpreting program as me posted a blog about a similar struggle he was experienncung through his Peace Corps service in Europe, and that really hit home for me.It was one of the most honest and raw things I had read in a long time, and helped me not only cope, but not feel so alone. I for one am thankful for his posting. To view Daniel's blog post click here!

I told myself a million times, if you throw in the towel its okay. If you stay, that's also okay. Neither option would make me any less of a person. Staying didn't necessarily mean I succeeded, and going home didn't mean I failed.  I believe sometimes doing what you need for yourself is one the hardest things you’ll ever do, yet one of the most invaluable decisions you’ll make. I kept a bit quiet about what was going on except to a small circle. When I would talk to them I got various perspectives and pieces of advice, but one piece in particular stood out to me. It came from a good friend I’ve known since high school who completed her own Peace Corps service not long ago in the Pacific Islands. Though she was in completely different parts of the world, it felt like some parts of service were interchangeable, so I asked if she ever considered ET-ing (Early Termination). I was a bit relieved to hear I wasn’t alone in my feelings. She suggested that I get a calendar and at the end of the day when I “X” out the day, ask myself “Can I do this for one more day” if the and answer was yes then handle just that one day, and when I do, be proud of my decision. If I can't handle even one more day, then nothing wrong with that either, just still be proud in my decision...  Then wash, rinse, repeat as needed. So, I did. Every time I questioned myself or was curious to which was the “better option” for myself, I would ask, can I stay one more day?

In some ways off the bat I felt like this had a bit of a tone setting in itself, “can I?” Psh! People are capable of phenomenal things when they really want it. I hate it every time I'm told I "can't" do something, then I'm like watch me! And here I was with my the job I dreamed of having for half my life, something many people would love to have, and here I was questioning “can I”? I had exactly what I wanted, all while living in an absolutely beautiful country, and yet I was struggling to simply be happy. Well, some days I “could” better than others; now, looking back at my calendar, and see all those X’s it makes me a bit sad, but more so happy and appreciative for telling myself that I "can”  for one more day.

Service really needs to just be taken a day at a time. I had so many plans, I was going to get the library up and running, I was going get the feeding area rebuilt so that the program can be utilized, I was going to start a fit club and get toilets installed at the school and I joined every “extra” committee I could. Those things that I thought were such a big deal didn’t happen, and I was very disappointed in myself for not doing anything monumental with my time. I felt like I let others down too. Service has it own hardships, this type self sabotaging pressure benefits no one. What I did do though, were the exact reasons why I would tell myself “I can for do this for one more day”. I love my learners!! They have become a central part of my world. I look forward to girls club and boys club. I may not have started a library, but I have a Harry Potter book club with the kiddos, and now they get mad at me when I’m “too slow” to make copies of more pages of the book. Some of my learners are writing poems in English, just because they like too! Maybe these aspects are not the “biggest” contribution ever, but these are the parts of service that mean the world to me! Looking at all the chaos and darker days I realized I accomplished more than I gave myself credit for. Even in days I was so if-y, countless good moments happened as well that I only recently recognizing. For that, my newest promise to myself is to not take a single one of these last hundred or so days for granted! Starting with doing those little things I told myself I would do in the beginning.

Self-care is so important in service! Be nice to yourself! Pack coloring books and little knick-knacks that make you feel good. When it comes to what are must brings, its all those little things that just bring a smile to your face. You won’t regret it, trust me! Know your own limits, its okay to have them. And have a good support system. I consider myself so blessed for the support system and those who have been there for me. I didn’t get through this alone, and knowing that adds depth to service in itself.  

“I may have to do this myself, but I don’t have to do this alone” –Mary Louise Romero

I do need to do this myself, but I definitely didn't do it alone. I couldn't have gotten through it alone. Service can get hard, and that’s okay!! Some days are better than others; but isn’t it the same for everyone, in every job, all around the world? It’s impossible to save the world, or even a village on your own. It was a bit silly to even think so. This doesn’t leave the service time in vain by any means or anyone a “bad” volunteer. Service (as life) brings a whirlwind of self-discovery. Sometimes the best approach is just to handle it a day at time. However, Some loving friends and family (along with care packages with comfort yummies) sure do help as well. You're always told about the relationships you'll build during service (and you will), but what's also great is how much deeper the roots of previous relationships can grow as well. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sunday Funday Pictures are back! 13-November-2016

BIG NEWS I forgot to tell you. 2 of my learners applied to Camp GLOW (Girls and Guys Leading Our World) a special camp held by Peace Corps Volunteer in many serving countries. The attended the week long camp in August and absolutely LOVED it!! 

Every blue moon volunteers get to escape to the coast to get fancy and find fun crystals, stones, feathers and shells. 

 (Another PCV taught me how to make dream catchers!)

My latest collage. Reflection time/Down time is always good for the corazon. 

While I was on Med Evac an old friend gave me a new tattoo. Now I have learners drawing their own tatts as well. he he he :)

Broke into the hot cheetos stash!!!! OH YEAH!!!! 
 I just want to throw it out there that I'm almost out;
 Christmas is soon, 
for the most part I was a good girl this year. 

My host niece is such a little cutie. Its never too soon to introduce them to books. 
This girl is 2, and already smart as can be. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Goals of Peace Corps: The Bright Side

The past couple weeks have been rather, emotional, for me (as for many).
Don't worry; this is nothing political.

Lets just skip the past week in general shall we?

Peace Corps has 3 main goals, I'd like to highlight goals 2 and 3.

Goal 3:  To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Two weekends ago I received word that a good friend of mine back home had an accident and was in the ICU on life support. Monday morning (my time) I woke to news of his passing. Now if you've read My Story: The Reason you know, death is quite the heavy load for me. However, as The Lion King taught us, it's part of the circle of life. So for today I ask of you. whoever it is you pray to, say a little something for Gary Davenport. That guy, he was just a genuine soul and one heck of a jokester.

However, I did have a rather sweet moment. Later in the day I was sitting under the trees trying to cope, when one of the grade 2 learners came up to me. She noticed I was crying and asked what's wrong. So, I told her "a friend of mine from home died and my heart is broken." She looked at me for a moment, got up and said "Tani wiza" (I'm coming [back]). A couple minutes later she returned with a bag of ice and put it near my chest while she told me about the time she once broke a bone and so her grandma had her put ice on it. I melted. It was a reminder of just how pure and kind people can be. With that moment alone not only did this adorable girl with the sweetest jack-o-latern smile make me feel better, but she inspired me. It was the simplest moment of kindness, and yet I don't think she realizes how much that one moment impacted me. How in that moment, I needed something like that.

So, if there is one thing I want people to absolutely know about my host country Namibia (Speaking specifically of the Kavango region): For the majority, the locals are very kind. They're curious. They're welcoming and  yes, doing an entire greeting is mandatory every time you simply see each other. Overall, there is a astonishing sense of community community.

Rest In Peace Gary Davenport
September 17, 1988
October 30, 2016

Goal 2: To help promote a better understanding of Americans on part of the peoples served.

Let me tell you, being a teacher has some perks. The school year is coming to an end in just a couple weeks and I can guarantee you, the grade 8 and 9 learners learned 2 very important lessons!

1. Chicago is the best city in the whole entire world! Yes, that is indeed a fact.

2. In fact, to go along with that, the Chicago Cubs are the World Series Champions.

Time difference can really affect the news you wake up to, so when I woke up to find messages awaiting in all caps say " WE ARE THE WORLD SERIES CHAMPS", that set a tone for the day. My classes did have an exam scheduled, but being that I'm the teacher, I hold the power to decide to postpone the exam to teach a very valuable lesson to these children. I told them a story about how over 100 years ago a horrible horrible curse was placed on a great team known as the Chicago Cubs. Despite all of the Cubs great efforts the curse could not be broke, until now!! This great triumph was to show everyone not to give up on their dreams and it was basically a holiday, so exams were canceled because we had to all learn a very important song, and dance.

Seriously, this is a video you have to watch! Ms. Tena's very important World Series Champions, The Chicago Cubs Lesson ( https://youtu.be/XniiB8PCLyo )

A gofundme has been set up for the family of Gary. If you would like to donate visit Gary Davenport's Memorial Gofundme page

Monday, November 7, 2016

"Ms. Tena, you discriminate"

If you saw my blog post Days for Girls , then you already know about the Days for Girls kits that were supplied to every single Orphan and Vulnerable Child (OVC) girl who is known to have started her cycle, and all girls club members have also received a kit.

Well right around that same time, a group known as OYO came to do a performance at my school. LET ME TELL YOU, they were a really cool group. Its a local performance company who has invested their amazing dance skills to teach via dance and music about topics such as teen pregnancies, STI's, drinking, issues pressing too many. Their performance was super cool!! Along with teaching via dance performances they offer a 2 week after school class that learners can sign up for to learn more in depth information about these issues. Basically every single learner in grades 7-9 were involved. Well in these after school classes the learners learned to word "discriminate".

 Well one day after school a couple of the boys came up to me and said "Ms.Tena, you discriminate  against us." Confident in their remark.

The first thought that came to my mind was shoot, theres still so much about the culture I'm learning, I did something to offend someone; but like a duck even will my feet going wild beneath the surface, I kept my game face on and asked what they meant. They explained that it wasn't fair that the girls get special gifts and the boys don't. I tried to explain to them the kits would never be something they would use, they were something the girls really needed but not the boys. Thats when in the typical teenage fashion they argued that boys have stuff they need that the girls don't. So I asked for an example, and nothing. I told them to think about it, and then I would see what I could do.

A couple days later they came to me and explained they need ties so that they can go to job interviews one day. As much as I wanted to argue a clothing item like a tie isn't just a "boy's need", I was more so impressed that they thought of something they may actually need one day and a valid reason for it. Not to mention this was in English, their second/third languages. So I accepted.

Well while I was back in the good old USA for my surgery I told my mom the story and she then took it upon herself to tell the story to some of her co-workers and do a tie drive. With in 48hrs till I left back to complete my service in Namibia, they collected over 30 ties! I was really hoping for 17, enough for each of my boys club members and they passed that with flying colors. It took me a couple weeks to get back into my groove in Kasote but then we finally had a very special boys club meeting where each boy was able to tell me 1 thing he learned during boys club in exchange for a tie. Of coarse they were able to start wearing then whenever they wanted. They were  so excited! I wish you all could have seen them walking into school the next day in their ties like the were the coolest thing to ever walk Kasote School ground. I must admit, they looked rather dapper.

I owe a major major thank you to my dad, my mom and her co-workers for donating the ties. The boys rock their ties most days of the week. Yeah it may be simply a tie, but it has definitely added some confidence into the boys steps.

If you are interested in OYO coming to your school in Namibia, they are awesome and you won't regret it. An easy way to contact them is via their Facebook page OYO's facebook link