Monday, June 27, 2011
Taking the Bad with the Good
I'll begin this blog by reiterating how great the people here in Gaborone really are. If you need directions, help finding something in the grocery store or mall, or just feel like striking up a random conversation, the people here are wonderful.
Now, what you are about to read may lead you to believe differently, but please, keep that first statement in mind throughout the following paragraphs. Before I get into the "meat" of the story, some prep work is required. Before we left Canada, we were told about the theft in Botswana. When we arrived in Botswana, we were told about the theft in Botswana. Don't walk around with your laptop, camera, cell phone, anything of value really, in plain sight. Any opportunity that presents itself will be taken by someone and the result will leave you with one less item in your possession. Since I got here, I've been careful with my laptop. I've been careful with my camera. I haven't, however, been careful with my cell phone. I take it out everywhere, walk around with it in my hand, think nothing of it - it's honestly a cheap piece of junk that gets me by. Or at least it was until last Thursday.
One of my roomies and I decided to get some exercise and go for a walk. It was still light outside so we decided to take a little path and discover, what we hoped would be, a shortcut to the grocery store near our house. That was mistake #2. Technically mistake #1 was leaving the house with my cellphone in one hand and my keys in the other. As we came to the end of the path and were presented with a decision as to whether to turn right or left, two teenage boys came strolling down the path. We didn't think anything of it. We pass people all of the time. It's no big deal. Well, this time it was. One of them grabbed my phone to which I reacted by clutching it tighter and yelling at him. I guess I wasn't scary enough, what with my 5'3" frame and all, because he proceeded to bite me until I let go of the phone.
Now let me clarify; it's not the piece of junk phone which I've since replaced for around $30 or the $50 in airtime that was on it when he took it that upsets me. Not in the least. I mean it was annoying to have to go and buy a new phone, but that was taken care of with little effort. What bothers me is the insecurity, stupidity, violation, frustration that I now have to get over. I will get over it, it'll just take some time.
Please remember, after all of that, that Botswana is a wonderful place to visit. Although it has been deemed a 'middle to high income' country (which is ridiculous by the way), there is a lot of poverty and, in turn, desperation. In the grand scheme of things, the vast majority of people here are the most kind-hearted people you will ever meet.
Alrighty, now for the good stuff! Thanks to one of the other volunteers here who knows my love of books, I was invited to come and help pick out books for the library at the Stepping Stones International centre in Mochudi (that's where her placement is). Of course, I was thrilled.
When I walked into the school hall where the collection of books was being held, 'thrilled' doesn't even come close to describing the emotion that came over me. I had heard that there was a possibility that the books had come from Books for Africa, and while a part of me was hopeful, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be that lucky. When I walked into the room and saw the hundreds of brown cardboard boxes with the red Books for Africa logo on them, I nearly screamed, fainted, cried, and/or all of the above. Some of you will know and understand why. For those of you who don't, I'll try my best to explain why this was one of my life's dreams come true.
Over the last two or so years, we've (by 'we' I mean my fellow WUSCers at Brandon University) collected used books (textbooks mostly), packed them, and shipped them to Better World Books. As partners with Better World Books, we were able to choose from a number of literacy organisations that we would further like to partner with. That organisation is Books for Africa (BFA). By partnering with BFA, the money from our sold books and/or the books themselves is used to further fund literacy projects in Africa - like the Botswana Book Project. So you see, being in that room with all of those books (even though they weren't Brandon University books) meant that I saw my work come full circle. I saw the smiling faces of the teachers and community group leaders as they carried out boxes and boxes of books. It was incredible. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the hours spent unloading book collection boxes, packing books into shipping boxes, and loading those boxes onto the truck, is worth it. Sometimes it's frustrating, all of the time it's back-breaking work, but being in that room, surrounded by those books, will make future shipments from our little prairie university so very worthwhile. One thing I can tell you for sure, is that from now on, the money raised from our books will be specifically designated to the Botswana Book Project.
Before signing off, I need to bring your attention to Pam Shelton who is otherwise known to me and many others I am sure as Wonder Woman. William Moulton Marston created the original Wonder Woman with a mission to bring ideals of love, peace, and sexual equality to the world. Pam Shelton has a similar mission, but in addition to peace and love, Pam seeks to provide education to build an informed nation; and build education she does. Judging from my glances at her listing of book recipient, 30+ schools and community groups received books from the shipment she brought in. If that in and of itself is not impressive enough, Pam doesn't see a single penny or pula from the donations that come into her self-founded organisation. She doesn't have an office space or an office supply budget and she doesn't pay herself a salary. She does all of it, each and every ounce of it, out of the goodness of her heart. Pam Shelton is my hero and who I want to be when I grow up. She is living my dream and if I had to leave Botswana right now, I would go home having had the experience of my lifetime.
One last tidbit (I know I said that already) to those of you who know me. You can bet that as soon as I get home, I'll be planning a fundraiser for Pam and her incredible Botswana Book Project! You can also bet that I'll be needing your help :)