Monday in a Picture – Girls Got Game

This past weekend, a fellow PCV, Deacon, hosted a camp to introduce computer programming to girls from twenty communities around Swaziland. The camp began with a basic overview of what a computer is and various related TED Talks. Each community, represented by two girl students and one adult mentor, received one laptop computer with a variety of programs. Many of the students admitted that it was their first time touching a computer. 

The students learned programming through an interactive graphic language program known as Scratch. They followed tutorials to create games while learning what various commands did. It was amazing to see the students try different variables attempting to achieve desired results. In one instance, a pair of students and mentor asked for assistance with a variable that wasn’t working. I directed the students to the help section of the tutorial. Before I could go through it with them, they were searching for the solution to their variable problem. I watched as they found the solution, and adjusted their program accordingly. It was impossible to contain my excitement as students with limited computer knowledge in the morning were developing and troubleshooting interactive games by late afternoon. 

The next step for the students is to return to their respective communities where they will design unique games that tackle a social issue in Swaziland. In early 2018, the students and mentors will reconvene to showcase their games in a competition. 

The above picture was taken as pairs and small groups worked together to develop their games. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Does Any of This Matter? 

Peace Corps service is often shrouded in mystery. This is true for family and friends of the PCV, as well as the PCV. The question often gets asked what do PCVs do. The answer to that differs from post to post, and amongst volunteers serving in the same post. 

Peace Corps boasts three goals. 

  1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Before my service, I thought of Peace Corps mainly in terms of goal one. I thought about the tangible work. I thought about the data driven outcomes and evidence-based practices. While all of those things are extremely important, they are not of sole importance. In the 18 months that I’ve called Swaziland home, I have known many volunteers who struggled with the idea of “not doing enough”. At times, I have wrestled with the question of whether or not I’m doing meaningful work. In ten years, will it matter that I taught that Life Skills class? In seven years, will it matter that I co-facilitated that permagarden workshop? That’s the Goal One lens of Peace Corps. 

Some time ago, I was perusing Reddit when I was reminded of something salient. Not only does Peace Corps have more than one goal, Peace Corps service is as much about diplomacy as it is capacity building. It’s important to build community spaces. It’s important to build the community’s capacity for effective and sustainable change. It’s also important to build and foster friendships. It’s also important to show America as more than the often told single story of rich white people living lives of great abundance. 

There are times when the presence of a PCV leads to valuable conversations about America and the world. This is not to suggest that PCVs or America have “figured it out”. I don’t believe that we have; however, I believe that magic happens when diverse voices, ideas and perspectives get to sit at the proverbial table and speak freely. The metrics don’t exactly capture that. Similarly, they don’t capture the newfound excitement of the Form 4 student who tells me that he’s looking forward to my class tomorrow. They don’t capture the conversation with the young lady who expressed her excitement that her community gets to host a Black volunteer. 

On the other side of that diplomacy coin is (hopefully) the eradication of the single story that (insert host country/region/continent here) is only one thing. Previously obscure places become more than names on maps. With personal stories and experiences, Africa becomes more than a singular, monocultural place made of brown and bush. 

As I start to wrap things up here in Swaziland, I’ve pondered more on what it means to have had a successful service. My reflection has shifted my focus from making monuments to making memories. I haven’t built or renovated any structures in my community. However, I have taken my students on a world tour (including my home in DC) using Google Maps Street View. That probably won’t be in any annual report, but seeing the faces of my students as we explored the streets of Abuja, Paris, and Cairo makes up for any lack of metrics. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Monday in a Picture – Tempting Ten Kilos of Fate

There’s a certain feeling that overcomes me as I’m about to finish something that I previously thought was impossible. I experienced that feeling again this past Saturday morning as I approached the final stretch of the ten kilometer race known as the Simunye International Friendship Run. 

I had been toying with the idea of trying a 10K recently. When I tried to register for one at the beginning of October, I was told that registration was closed. I was secretly relieved. Last week, I informed some running enthusiast PCVs that I was thinking about the 10K coming up. The response was positive, and the idea grew more prominent. I finally asked another PCV to check on registration and deadlines. A few hours later, I received a message that I had been registered. Cue the uneasiness and terror. I was sure that I wasn’t ready. I was wondering when I had acquired masochistic tendencies. In case you’re wondering, I hadn’t actually been training to run ten kilometers (or any distance). I started googling 10K advice. I had some slight concerns that I might actually die on the course. I tried calming myself. Another running PCV offered the advice, “just keep moving”.  

On race day, we arrived early and were shuttled from Manzini to a rural community in central Swaziland to begin the race. Most of the race was on gravel and dirt roads. Luckily, I had put together a 10K playlist. The music pushed me through the rough points and hills. Other runners helped as well, giving thumbs up as they raced past me. After more than nine kilometers, the end was in sight. Seeing the finish line gave me extra energy. Surprising myself, I finished. I ran ten kilometers! 

My legs will be taking a much deserved break over the next week or so. Who knows what my low barrier for suggestion can lead to next? 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

P.S. – As you can see, I received a medal. This was the wrong medal (for the 21KM race). I exchanged it for the proper one. I did not run a half marathon. 

Monday in a Picture – VRF

Each Peace Corps post hosts one or more sectors. Each sector operates within a unique program framework, which outlines the work to be done by PCVs in that country. Twice a year, we (PCVs) have to submit a standardized report on the work that we have done, and are doing. That standardized report is known as the Volunteer Reporting Form (or the VRF). It’s the report that literally seeks to answer the query, what is Kirby doing?

There are general descriptors of activities or projects that the PCV has done (or is doing) along with specified indicators linking projects to targets within the framework. For example, co-facilitating a training on permagardens would be linked to health and nutrition indicators. This would target goals in the framework that deal with food security and access. The VRF also asks PCVs to report on cultural exchange activities of note. After the VRF is submitted to local supervisors, it eventually ends up in Peace Corps headquarters. From there, aggregate data can be generated about how Peace Corps is doing (locally and globally) on each specific target. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Ever wonder what is Kirby doing? Follow the blog!

Monday in a Picture – Peace Corps Press Corps 

As you know from various posts last week (here and here), Swaziland recently celebrated young maidens (unmarried, childless girls and women) in the Umhlanga (pronounced oom-shlan-ga) ceremony. Umhlanga directly translates into reeds. One of our very own Swaziland PCVs participated this year with the regiment from her community. 

I was asked to document the event for Peace Corps Swaziland. I started preparing by trying to acquire a press pass. After different conversations with staff and other interested parties, I was given the contacts for an administrator of the foundation that supports Umhlanga. The contact, a Swazi prince, was able to provide me with the necessary email addresses and a list of documents that I would need to qualify for the press pass. All of this would have to be done in three days. 

I completed the paperwork and submitted the documentation. Time was passing, and I hadn’t heard anything. Finally, the day came for the maidens to deliver the reeds to the Queen Mother. I contacted the administrator at the foundation and received instructions on how to pick up my press pass. There was some confusion when I went to pick it up, but everything was sorted and I walked away with my very own press pass. 

I walked back to the stadium and joined the other media gathered at the event. As this was my first event as an official member of the media, I imitated the others in my attempt to not draw attention to my inexperience. They took pictures of regiments marching pass. I took pictures of those regiments. They stood behind a certain lamppost. I made sure I didn’t pass that point. Eventually, the king and his regiment arrived. With the wave of a hand, the media was invited over to photograph His Majesty King Mswati III on the red carpet. 

I was able to be on the field as the PCV maiden marched pass with her regiment. I was also able to photograph the regiment of senior princesses among others.

I received my invitation to Peace Corps Swaziland two years ago this month. If anyone would have told me then that I would be getting in high-five distance of and photographing the king, I wouldn’t have entertained the possibility. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by those challenge the notion that anything is impossible. The picture above was taken by Leslie M. as I was about to take pictures on the field. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Ever wonder what is Kirby doing? Follow the blog!

P.S. – This is one of the shots that I was able to get while the king was greeting international dignitaries.