Postcards From Botswana 3 - Helping Children Attend School


Postcards From Botswana 3 - Helping Children Attend School

By: Kayla Donnawell | International Co-op Student
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SFU Kinesiology student Kayla Donnawell is in Botswana, Africa volunteering with the Students Without Borders program (SWB).  In this article, the third in the series, Kayla explains her role in helping vulnerable children attend school.

Wild times in Botswana, if only I could put it all into words, but I will try my best.

Things here are so, well....different, but that's not really a surprise. After the insane hotness, which I am becoming accustomed to, there are many things to tell.

I have wanted to sit down and write about exactly what it is that I am doing here, but it is pretty tough to put into words, but I'll do my best.

Most days are spent wandering from house to house in an area of town called Old Naledi. This is the poorest area of Gaborone. I am part of a team of social workers that is involved in identifying orphans and vulnerable children in the community and ensuring that they are able to attend school. Many of these children are from a very large family that lives in a very small home. The average number of children per home in Old Naledi is 7. Can you imagine, seven children in a one bedroom house that is probably 10 feet by 10 feet. Many of these children have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS.

Though I know that most of the children I speak with are orphans, there is something that happens when you look into a child's eyes as they tell you that both of their parents are dead. You can almost see just for a second how much the loss of their parents hurts them every time they talk about it. Every time, it reminds me just how human we all are. Poverty means something entirely different in Canada than it does here, but in the end, we are all human, we all hurt and we all need to be loved by someone.

After meeting with these children and their caregivers (or parents, if they are so lucky), I can sign them up for RECLISA or PACT, the two organizations that provide funding for these children to attend school. This includes: school fees, uniforms, textbooks, notebooks, and basic writing utensils. Some of the money has also been used to support a soccer (or football as it is called here) team, a drama group, traditional dance, and a marimba group (they are my favorite).

Basically this group of social workers are the liaisons that ensure that the right children are getting what they need to be able to stay in school, and more importantly survive.

They are so many things that I have seen here that I would love to share with you all, but I will try to keep it short and avoid novel-length articles. Two days ago after visiting several homes in Old Naledi, we were flagged down by a woman for a ride to the local HIV clinic. This woman probably about 5 foot 6, weighed roughly around 70 lbs. If you can imagine skin stretched over top of a skeleton, that was what she looked like, every moment cause her pain because there were literally no muscles on her body to propel her movement. She since is pain even as she shifted in her seat in the kombi. She whimpered as she coughed. Her upper arm had no muscle on it, and was thinner than my wrist. I could count every rib and vertebrae. Her skin was stuck only to her bones, there was no other tissue in between.

After dropping her at the clinic, I found out that not only was she on ARV (anti-retro virals - the medication used to slow the progression of HIV, but she also had TB - Tuberculosis). TB is an opportunistic infection that attacks the lungs in the later stages of HIV as the body's immune system weakens. When I think back to it, there was this woman, her body reduced nearly to skeletal remain, infected with both HIV and TB, and nothing left to fight with. Though watching this woman move though life was painful to watch, I thought it was amazing that she kept going, and she is literally fighting until there is nothing left to fight with but what remains of her poor withered body.

I truly believe that experiences such as the one I am living right now can be the best of times, but they can also be the worst of times.

Some days, you get to send a 16 year old girl that can't even write her own name to school, and some days you meet a woman so withered, she is days away from death. Sometimes at the end of a rough day, I will come check my e-mail to hear from everyone back home to be transported (for just a second) to a world that I understand, a world that makes sense to me.


Beyond The Article

Posted on March 07, 2011