Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thanksgiving Devotional

Today was my day to do the devotional in our staff meeting this morning.  I chose to share something very personal with my colleagues here in Namibia.  I told them about Thanksgiving being just a few days ago in the US and told them that I usually share what I am thankful for with my friends and family and so I wanted to share a personal 'thank you' devotional with them.  To my surprise, after sharing my piece (below) they all started chiming in with their own thank-yous to each other for specific things they appreciated one another for.  It was truly a great moment in my Peace Corps experience and so I thought maybe my Thanksgiving letter to my colleagues was worth sharing on my blog as well.

Thanksgiving letter to my colleagues here in Namibia:
On this Thanksgiving, 2012 I am thankful for....
  • being given the opportunity to be here in Namibia
  • being able to meet and work with all of you
  • being challenged by the people and issues here and for the personal growth this has provided
  • having an exemplary, motivated supervisor like Mr. Ya Otto (principal) to guide and help me but also to collaborate with on his journey to improve the standard of education in Namibia
  • for making such great new friends and colleagues to laugh with and for some who are so amazing and devoted new friends that they comfort me even when I am violently ill in the local clinic and who share their family and culture with me by inviting me to weddings and events
  • for working with people who love the learners unconditionally and devote their lives to educating and inspiring the next generation and giving up countless hours to work on their science fair projects or help them study for a spelling bee
  • for learners who, though they get on my nerves sometimes, give me their hearts and minds for 40 minutes a day so I can do my best to teach and motivate them, and so I can once again see the world through the eyes of a child
  • for the combi (minibus) that takes me to and from work everyday (and I hope it survives until the end of the term)
  • being able to share my passion and talents with everyone here and for being received with open arms
  • for being humbled by all that I do not know
  • for being challenged and confronted with problems and arguments, but for coming out on the other side a better person for working through difficult issues and learning from them
  • for you all (my colleagues) accepting and forgiving my sometimes harsh or aggressive American ways
  • for all my family and friends supporting me back home
  • for all my opportunities in life
  • for being given a year here in Namibia that has provided me with countless hurdles, but also love, laughs and smiles
But mostly I am thankful for being given another year here, because although at first two years sounded like a long time, now, with only one year left, it feels too short.

Thanksgiving Mcdonald Update

Seasons Greetings! :)

As we move into the holiday season Rudi and I have become a bit nostalgic for American culture. Because of this, I sat down the other day and wrote a list about all that I was thankful for in this past year in Namibia. Mostly my list had to do with the people back home who have supported me, the people I have met here, and also one specific person that has touched my life...... Mcdonald. I am thankful to share his life-changing experience and see him moving forward.

This past weekend, the community had all of the confirmations in town for the young adults in the churches. Mcdonald was one of them. Thanks to all the generous contributions by family, friends and acquaintances (many of you!), Mcdonald was able to buy a suit to wear for his confirmation. When you look at the photos, there is a look of humbled confidence in his eyes and his mother looks very proud of all he has and is accomplishing. His mother is wearing a traditional Herero cultural dress which they often wear for special occasions such as this.

Then, on Monday I saw something else that made me smile. As I rode in the teacher combi (minibus) towards our school in the location, I saw Mcdonald. When he was in the wheelchair he had to pay a taxi every day to pick him up. On Monday, I saw him walking to school, with all his friends and schoolmates, using crutches for just basic stabilization. At the beginning of the year, the teachers used to have to let Mcdonald leave class early so he could slowly navigate his way to the next class. This too is no more, he now moves with ease from one class to another on his new legs, just like all the other students. When you ask him how he is doing, it's always, “I'm fine Miss/Sir” always polite and always humbled and shy, still not quite understanding why or how so many people have taken an interest in him. He is still working very hard at school and is growing into an amazing young man. He has now officially graduated from 8th grade and in January will start as a 9th grader. 
His life is completely different than it was just a year ago. He has many challenges ahead of him as he grows up, but he is facing them head-on and overcoming them with youthful vigor. He is a strong, motivated young man and we should all feel very proud of supporting him and his family through this challenging time. His fund is doing well and will see him through junior secondary school and hopefully help him get into a good senior secondary school and college one day. There is clearly a lot we can all be thankful for this holiday season.

So, my main update is this: Mcdonald is happy, humble and mobile! 

Happy (late) Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Changing Can't Into Can

Here is my first installment of Faces of Namibia. As I have mentioned to some of you previously, I did not want to just do your everyday blog. I wanted to do something a bit different. “Faces of Namibia” is my experience here in Africa, told through the stories of the amazing people I meet. It will be a glimpse into my life through them, because they are really want make my experience worthwhile.

So, family, friends... world, meet…
This bright-eyed seventh grader at Ebenhaeser Primary School, where I am teaching, is my first subject for “Faces of Namibia,” for a number of reasons.

Besides his charming smile, positive attitude and great energy in the classroom, all of Mcdonald’s teachers also say he’s a wonderful student, who works very hard, always strives for improvement and is, for many other reasons, a real pleasure to have in class.

I admire how strong Mcdonald is, emotionally and mentally as well as physically. He is an inspiration. He is proof that when life hands us bad news or unexpected challenges, no matter the severity, we can and should rise up and keep moving forward. I remember being sad as a child for various reasons — but can’t say I’ve ever been in situation comparable to the one Mcdonald has to live with every day. He had his whole life altered in a matter of seconds and is now forced to cope with the reality that life is going to be much different.

Mcdonald was born and raised in Karibib, Namibia and has three siblings, all of whom live with their single mother in a small, under-developed part of Karibib called the location*[i]. Mcdonald enjoys spending time with his friends, going to school, reading and playing sports, especially soccer. He recently told me that he used to dream of playing soccer for his entire life — and maybe even, one day, as a job.

His father works at a butcher shop in a nearby town. He and Mcdonald’s mother got divorced years ago; now he’s re-married, but does not help support the family. Mcdonald’s mother used to work for a local construction company, but she had to quit her job earlier this year to take care of Mcdonald and his siblings, so money is tight. Mcdonald’s uncle assists the family when he can, but he struggles to make enough money for his own family.

On what seemed like a typical Monday morning — November 8, 2010 — Mcdonald was playing on the physical education court with his friends before school, just like they did every day. They were all running, laughing, joking and kicking a wadded up ball of plastic bags around in a makeshift game of soccer. But that Monday ended up being anything but typical: a brick wall that divided the physical education court collapsed, pinning his legs and trapping Mcdonald under the rubble. One of Mcdonald’s friends ran to the school office to get help. Shortly thereafter, an ambulance came and rushed Mcdonald to the local clinic where they quickly determined that more advanced help was needed.

The ambulance then rushed Mcdonald to Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, 200 kilometers away (which is a two and a half hour drive at posted speed limits). Mcdonald was badly injured; his right foot had to be amputated that day. As Mcdonald was lying in the hospital recovering, he said, “… exams are starting on Thursday and I want to go back to school. It will not be easy but I will have to do it.” (http://www.informante.web.na/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7419&Itemid=100)

But a return to school wouldn’t happen just yet: despite the doctors’ best efforts over the course of the next few days, his left foot also had to be amputated because of damage that was beyond repair.

This kind of injury would be difficult to deal with in any imaginable situation — but in the developing world it’s even more of a challenge. There are no special needs services readily accessible in this part of Namibia, and many families like Mcdonald’s do not have insurance, nor do they have the financial resources to pay for prosthetics, modern wheelchairs or the transportation that he needs. There are also no special needs schools, special needs teachers or certified school counselors available at the school Mcdonald attends.

Fortunately, Mcdonald has an immensely caring and supportive community around him — as well as many, many friends who are always more than willing to help. Every day when I go to the Primary school to teach, I see a group of Mcdonald’s friends surrounding him in the school yard before, in between and after classes, all taking turns helping push Mcdonald’s wheelchair from class to class. Although the school is all on one level, there are no ramps, so getting into each classroom does require some help.

Even outside of school, the terrain of Namibia presents an ongoing challenge for Mcdonald’s mobility. Most of the land is desert and completely covered in sand and rocks, with the occasional tree or bush. In small towns like Karibib, all roads other than the town’s main street are just sand and gravel. As you can imagine, this makes getting around in a wheelchair incredibly difficult.

Next year, Mcdonald will be heading to secondary school, most likely the one just across town. Going to school anywhere else would be too difficult on Mcdonald physically, as well as financially challenging for his family. His friends have all applied to various secondary schools in different parts of Namibia and so, unfortunately, there is a good chance that many of them will not be in Karibib next year. This sad fact has crept into Mcdonald’s thoughts lately and, as a result, he hasn’t been the same cheerful, young boy whom we all have grown to love.

He’s nervous about leaving his friends, scared about how he will get to and from the secondary school, concerned about whether or not his family will have enough money to pay for his daily transport, and anxious about all the unknown stressors this new transition will bring.

School has also been unsettling for Mcdonald these days for other reasons. Recently, one of his teachers was doing a lesson about the human body, muscles and the skeleton in her physical science class. It was too much for him to handle; he broke down and it took hours for the teachers and his friends to calm him down. He is devastated by the loss of the normal future he had expected for himself, the future that he has dreamt about. He misses playing soccer with his friends, running and jumping and being a carefree kid like everyone else.

Mcdonald is extremely resilient considering his age and the extent of his disability in such a challenging setting, but sometimes the harsh reality of his situation is too much for the 13-year-old boy’s emotions. His parents and teachers would love to help him get regular counseling and prosthetics so that he can have more independence and confidence, but funds raised so far by the school principal, teachers and community is just not enough.

He has to use the word ‘can’t’ right now: he can’t play soccer, can’t run, can’t jump, can’t do basic things on his own… my heart aches for him, for the physical and emotional challenges he faces now and that he will continue to face throughout his lifetime. I desperately want to help. I want to find a way to change those ‘cant’s into ‘CANS!’ The other teachers at the school feel the same way and have already pooled some of their money to help his family, raising the equivalent of one month’s salary to help with medical expenses. The community also came together in a big way: many people who sometimes worry about putting food on their own tables offered to help and donated what little money they could. It’s heartwarming; I can really feel how much this community cares about one another and how much they really want to help. Unfortunately, this support can only go so far. As I’ve mentioned, prosthetics, rehabilitation and counseling cost much more than his family can afford, even with the community’s support.

My request from you all is simple. If anyone is aware of medical grants, nonprofit organizations, hospitals or individuals that may be willing to help — that I can put in an application, proposal or letter to — please, please let me know as soon as possible. We are now approaching summer here, and the kids are finishing their final exams this week. I’d really like to be able to calm his anxieties a bit by providing some assistance, but I am not sure where to turn.

If you have any advice, recommendations, contacts, etc., please get in touch with me by email (jensenk7@gmail.com), phone (+264 81 758 1717) or Facebook.

Thanks all for your help and positive thoughts; any guidance is much appreciated.
All the best from afar,

A trust fund has been started by the school to accept donations for Mcdonald and his family.

Apart from the artificial limbs, Mcdonald will also need to pay for the surgery costs and is still in need of regular check-ups and doctors’ appointments. He has also been referred for further professional counseling (to deal with the trauma of the accident and his anxieties about the future), but his family cannot afford any of these services. In total the costs for the prosthetics and additional doctor appointments could be somewhere around US$25,000. When considering how much this money would help him and his family, this seems minimal.

Overall Estimated Total: US$25,000

The following is the quotation for artificial limbs given by E.D. Orthopedics in Windhoek: Prosthetics Total: Namibian $65,098 US $8,267.45

Breakdown of Prosthetics costs:
Transtibial Socket N$19,000 x2 N$38,000
1 D 10 Foot N$5,300 x2 N$10,600
Stump Socks N$285 x12 N$3,420
Bk Skin Cosmesis N$2,911 x2 N$5,822
Bk Cosmetic Foam N$3,628 x2 N$7,256

[i] A location is a Namibian term most easily described in US terms as (generally) a combination of a suburb and a ghetto. However, sometimes a location can be just one or the other, i.e. there are some very nice, middle class locations without much poverty, and there are some that are the opposite, where almost all the people living in them are impoverished and live in shanties or make-shift scrap metal houses. Sometimes locations can be a strange combination of the two as well, which is the case here in my town, Karibib. Locations are, from what I have been told a remnant of segregation here in Namibia, which can be seen by the fact that the ethnic demography of them is generally all black and/or colored. Most towns/villages here in Namibia have areas that are considered ‘in town’ where the whites and upper class/middle class families live, and the locations where middle and lower classes live. Sometimes there are multiple locations for larger cities, or in very small villages there is likely no location; though, I have not yet traveled widely in the country, so I will have to confirm this with my volunteer colleagues in the north and other regions at a later date.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Letter to Friends and Family

We wanted to send out a short note to just wish everyone a VERY Happy Thanksgiving !
(Sorry this one is going to be a bit sentimental)

Although we will not be celebrating here today, like everyone in the US, this Saturday we have a fun little get together planned with our host family, two other World Teach Volunteers from the US who are based near us, and possibly a few other friends we've made around town (particularly the wonderful local grocery store owner who helped us track down a turkey!).

Rudi and I also wanted to say that we feel very thankful on this particular Thanksgiving. Although we've both travelled quite a bit over the years, the short time we have been here in Namibia has still opened our eyes and changed our perspectives in amazing ways. I realize even more how much we have to be thankful for now, and throughout our lives. I feel so lucky to have realized my childhood dream of becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa, being able to share this with my amazing husband/best friend, and to have had some of the wonderful experiences I have in my life. Right now life isn't perfect, there are definitely ups and downs and many challenges, but I really don't feel like there is anything at all to complain about. The good and the bad are all part of life and are what really make it great. We are lucky to have our health and happiness and to be doing something we love and believe in.

We also wanted to say how much we really appreciate each and every one of you. Even living thousands of miles away, I can say that we still feel very connected and thankful that we have so many fantastic people in our lives. We'd also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have taken time out of your busy days to send us an email/letter/card/package and for those of you who have helped me with some small projects I've needed professional advice on (thank you!!). It really means a lot to me, and us, to know that you are all there for us even though we are so very far away.

We wish you all the happiest Thanksgiving possible!

All the very best from Africa,
Kristin and Rudi Pettersen