Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Onkabetse Peer Mentors

It is officially bragging time.

I love these kids.
First, let me explain how the group was formed.

A few months ago, I went into the classrooms at the highschool, and had the learners nominate a boy and girl from their class who they would feel comfortable going to if they had a problem. I told them they should choose people who they could trust, felt were good role models and were leaders in their community. Of the 60 or so learners who were nominated, 20 or so applied- and these 7 have emerged as the most committed and INCREDIBLE kids.


We have been doing life skills training every week, which includes lessons in communication skills, decision making, goal-setting and HIV education.

During the first few lessons, when we were focusing on HIV education, they got inspired. Something lit them up- perhaps it was the newly formed understanding of how the virus is transmitted, maybe it was the recognition of how it impacts their community- whatever the reason, they were motivated towards action. They wanted to do something; they wanted to teach their community about what they themselves had just learned.

So that brings us to this month and the next. We're putting on an HIV Awareness campaign at their high school. They will be going in pairs to facilitate the same sessions that I gave to them earlier this year. One will be on the Myths and Facts about HIV, and the other will be how the virus is transmitted, and how to protect themselves.
At the end of the two weeks that we will be going into the classrooms to give these sessions, we will be throwing a celebration event/testing drive.

These kids are doing the planning and the work.

After this campaign, we're looking to go into other schools to do similar sessions.

They're awesome.

Last weekend, we met to do a session. The session was about looking at complicated issues and critically evaluating them. We did a mock trial, where we simulated a court case about a man with HIV and his doctor.

(welcome to my court room)

In this mock trial, the doctor had tested a man for HIV, which came back positive. The doctor tried to convince the man to tell his girlfriends about his status, but the man refused. The doctor ended breaking his oath of confidentiality up telling the girlfriends.

(defense's first witness to the stand, please)

The Peer Mentors acted out this court case, taking on the roles of these characters, placing themselves in their shoes, and critically evaluating the situation.
With a bit of help from Gannon, we had them not only explore a complicated and profound subject, but they simulated a court proceeding. It was a critical thinking lesson, social issue exploration, and democratic education all in one.
They were fantastic.

The discussion that followed gave me a lot of faith in them as leaders of not only their community, but perhaps, one day, their country.

So, yeah, the point of this entry was the brag about how amazing these kids are, and I think I've done that pretty successfully.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I got a new cat! And he's sitting on my lap as I type this.


His name is Kusasa (which means "tomorrow" in Siswati), and he was previously the cat of a volunteer from the group that came just before us.
- She finished her service and needed a place for Kusasa to go.
- I've desperately wanted a cat.
Sometimes the world just makes sense.

I had to come into Pretoria this weekend for other reasons, and so it was a convenient time for me to pick up Kusasa.
Keep in mind that Pretoria is about a 6 hour public taxi journey from my place of residence.
Also keep in mind that most Africans that I have met have a deep hatred/fear of cats.

Yesterday, I picked Kusasa up from a friend. Another friend was going to the same taxi rank as I was, so she was waiting in the cab while I picked him up. I had little time to make friendly with this poor cat. His first real introduction was me stuffing him into a cardboard box and taking him into a series of terrifying vehicles.

Upon entering the rank and finding the taxi to Mafikeng, I observed more than one sideways glance at the box with a ginger cat's head sticking out of it.

Boy, I tell you what- my adrenaline was pumping at that point.
I honestly did not know if I was going to be able to take this cat on the taxi with me. I didn't know what his temperament was like. If he was anything like some of the cats I've owned before, this was going to be some serious trouble.

I climbed into the taxi, and ... well, to be honest, I got about the same response as I usually do.
Apparently, a white chick with a cat on a public taxi is not a whole lot more sensational than a white chick without a cat on a public taxi. Only this time, people mostly talked about the cat instead of me being white.

I tried to keep Kusasa covered, so as to avoid any potential hysteria that his presence might induce. It is not uncommon for people to think of cats as evil, or tools of witchcraft here.

Fortunately, I ended up sitting next to a delightful old lady who thought the situation was perfectly comical. I was inclined to agree with her. We went off, and at that point no one had expressed any serious complaints about the cat being in the taxi.

During the ride, Kusasa hyperventilated some, but for the most part he was very well behaved. He was adamant about not being boxed in and being able to watch the landscape go by. That was fine by me, but it meant that he was exposed.

I believe that the taxi driver first became aware of his presence when we stopped halfway at the gas station and he saw his little head peeping out. He went off on a tangent in Setswana about how much he hated cats and how displeased he was about the situation. I apologized and explained that I had no other choice.
Another good natured older woman who was getting out of the taxi mentioned something to him in Setswana that I could only imagine was along the lines of "you know how those white people are with their pets."
Anyway, I bought the driver a coke and I think that placated him a bit.

We reached my ouse, and he acclimated to my place very quickly.
Within minutes of him being in my room, he recovered from the traumatic experience and started purring under my loving caress.
I believe Kusasa's going to fit very nicely into my world here.
We even have our litterboxes next to each other's.


I think we've got a good thing going here.