Sunday, February 22, 2009

Good times now, good times to come

Since the last time I've been doing a little of this and that. Nothing important, just determining my future and going on the best trip of my life :)

First of all, i determined when my Peace Corps service is over. May 14th everyone! Will be back in Seattle on May 31st. I'll be meeting my sister and mom in South Africa and travel around there, Victoria Falls in Zambia/Zimbabwe, and then to Namibia before we head back to the States. Following that will be a month of "HEY, WELCOME BACK, HOW WAS AFRICA??" Fortunately there will also be "WELCOME BACK, HAVE SOME FREE FOOD AND BOOZE!" I'm looking forward to it all :) After catching up with peeps in Seattle in June, I'll be spending all of July going on a whirlwind US tour that will take me to San Fransisco, Sacremento, St. George South Carolina, Somewhere Rural Virginia, DC, Suburbs of Boston, Chicago, Omaha, Boise, and then back home. Pretty excited to see friends, family, returned Peace Corps people, and anyone else who wants to see me. This is a great opportunity for me to get re-aquianted with America and also serve as a scouting mission for my future, ie, jobs, school, couches to crash on, etc. That's my immediate future plans...for now. Focus will be on international development and/or government. ID for school and both of those for jobs. PC gives us preferencial status in government jobs, so i'll be looking there. If anyone wants to hook me up with the contact or website of a possible opportunity, that would be amazingly awesonme.

Early February, my g/f Diana and I went on an awesome trip to Lamu Island, Kenya. Lamu is an Island with a very old, rich Swahili and Arab trader history. It is a tourist destination but the people there have their own culture and traditions that doesn't just revolve around tourism. They are well known for hand-carved ornate doors as well as being a donkey sanctuary! There are only 2 vehicles on the island and the rest of transport is either boat or donkey. I wanted to ride one, but it never materialized. The beaches were deserted besides Masai warriors who were there to protect it and/or sell you jewelry. They were white sand beaches and the water was warm and clear. Not a bad way to spend a few days!

As far as work goes, I had a couple of set backs but one big success. I organized for an NGO to sell mosquito nets in my area for $1.50, a cheap price, to people who didn't receive any in the big distribution i did. Unfortunately, my mobilization skills failed and no one bought any nets. I was pretty upset, but at least 30 people got trained in malaria prevention, so that was a plus. Hopefully this means that no one really needs them anymore because they have them. Hopefully... My second failure was waiting too late to apply for a grant through Peace Corps to help me test my entire sub-county for HIV/AIDS. I just missed the deadline towards the end of my service. They understandibly don't allow you to receive grants for projects going to happen your last 3 months of service. This is because if it's not finished when you leave, then the accountability of funds is in question. I'm now in the works with the involved local organizations to look to test at a smaller scale over a longer period of time using their own money and resources.

The big success was being able to give money to 2 women's groups for the sale of some of the hand woven baskets they made. My sister and mother have been working hard to sell these baskets and the sales so far has made many women in my area super happy! It's an amazing thing to see a woman, who under most circumstances in the village are almost powerless over their lives, to now have economic power to create their own income and do their part to take care of their families. The widows group that is attached to the orphan school organization that I work with are going to buy a sewing machine so that they can earn some money as well as make their own clothes. The rest of the money they receive through sales (they have approx. 7 baskets left) will go towards fabric and sewing supplies. They couldn't believe that this was real and thanked me perfusely though I only served as a middleman in this operation. It was my family and they people who bought the baskets as well as the women themselves that did all the work.

The second group of women, an actual women's group organization that I work with, made over $700 total amongst themselves and organized to put %30 of the profits into 3 different programs with each getting %10: a savings account for all the women, more materials for crafts, and towards a women center building that they want to create. The %70 remainder went to whatever the women wanted. They are extremely practical and not one said they'd spend it on an extravagance. The money's all going to help their family. As with the widows, these women didn't believe it was real. One woman was in tears and others kept picking up the money and looking at it to make sure it was real. All this was in one day and that day was one of the best I've had here. So thank you to everyone reading this who has contributed to the cause and a preliminary thanks to those who will buy some in the future. This isn't charity, it's paying for a good product that was handmade. I love that though selling the baskets in America isn't sustainable, the big profits they'll make now will be reinvested into their lives and their futures. Many of the ladies will buy animals, land, and other income generating things with their profits. I'm now working on getting them hooked up with dealers in Kampala who sell to tourists. They won't make as much money, but it'll be more consistent.

In other news, my first political posted, as chairman of the PC volunteer organization in Uganda is now over. My reign as chairman has been fruitful and I'm now certain that I'll be remembered for ages for all the reforms that I oversaw. Ok, it wasn't that dramatic, but it was a great experience and I think the committee got a lot done to improve the services provided for volunteers in country and ultimately make them more productive at the jobs that they were sent here to do.