Monday, July 10, 2017

Oops! I did it again!

Over three years ago, I arrived in Lesotho and I fell in love...not with a person (sorry gentlemen and Aunt Betsy who is convinced I will come home engaged!), but with the country, its culture, and its amazingly open, welcoming, and friendly people.

Last year, when the close of my Peace Corps service approached, I politely said, "Kea hana!," or I refuse. I extended my service and stuck around for an extra year as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader. 

For me, the first two years of my service were overwhelmingly wonderful. Living in my rural village, working with villagers in Sesotho, experiencing a new culture...none of it lived up to Peace Corps' tagline as "The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love." 

Although my "job" itself still is not difficult, this third year, by comparison, has been a lot tougher mentally and emotionally. I said goodbye to the PC volunteers I was closest to as they returned to America. I spent July to December traveling constantly back and forth between Peace Corps trainings and my village. My brother left suddenly to work in the mines. I then had to say goodbye to my beloved Basotho family and villagers. I spent more time in the US than anticipated when my father suddenly passed away at Christmas. I returned to Lesotho ready to integrate into my new community only to face security issues while readjusting to life without my father on the other end of the phone. 

I cried only twice during my first year here, whereas my third was punctuated by emotional moments in both Lesotho and America. 

Despite these challenges, I cannot imagine being anywhere else. The things I shared a year ago when I announced my extension are just as valid today as they were then. 

And so, with glee, I am happy to share that I've done it again!

I have once again extended my Peace Corps service including my work with both Peace Corps and Sentebale until April 2018! 

Five Reasons I Can't Leave Lesotho

See article here.

5. My current career goals and dream job are on the chopping block.

My top career goals for a post-Peace Corps life include International Development and Foreign Service work. With so much Federal foreign aid and State Department funding in question this year, almost no one connected to government dollars is hiring. I am hoping that after the dust settles on the fiscal changes anticipated this year, NGOs and maybe even government will eventually be hiring again. But right now, there are not any opportunities out there to which I could apply. Continuing what I am doing now is better than struggling to find inspiring work somewhere else.

4. Peace Corps makes me happy.

Rocking a Sentebale sweatshirt at the recent
Day of the African Child Commemoration
in Lesotho.
Really, truly, joy-filled happy. It is not easy. It is not boring, It is not full of those poignant moments that people make movies about. 

It is dirty. It is exhausting. It requires flexibility. It requires more patience than any American can develop by staying home. It is, even after three years, exhausting to navigate life in a different culture. Some days, even the most expensive produce in the country cannot top the dream of nachos and red wine in my sister's living room. Despite these things, I absolutely love it. 

3. Professional development

I am being given absolutely astounding opportunities through both my Peace Corps Volunteer Leader role and my work with my host organization. The skills I am developing are only going to improve my chances of finding work in international development or nonprofit management when I finally move on from Peace Corps Lesotho. Many of the skills I am improving upon are the very areas I needed more experience in like budgeting, capacity assessment, and long-range planning against a strategic plan.

2. Basotho ba batle! 

Basotho are beautiful and, in this case, I am referring to their inner beauty. (Although the longer I avoid mainstream American media, the more obvious every person's physical beauty becomes too!) As evidenced in their idiom Motho ke motho ka batho, the Basotho culture really emphasizes the importance of putting people first. I value this aspect of their culture in profound ways. Without it, my role as a PCV would be much harder. My welcome as an outsider would be more reserved. My connection to this beautiful country would be dramatically lessened. My own countrymen could gain a lot by adopting this attitude and mindset.

The only family I love as much as the one I was born into!

1. Lelapa lesu le metsoalle ea ka

My host family and my friends fill me with joy and love, even though I no longer see them every day, week, or even month. Putting off that big goodbye another few months is a healthy form of procrastination. I know that I will eventually have to say goodbye for more than a few weeks or months, however, at this point, I am just not ready to do so!

Monday, July 03, 2017

Wildlife and Waterfall: 5 Days in Victoria Falls

My friend and fellow PCVL, Catie, and I are walking down a road chatting away and scoping out Baobab trees. When we had been closer to the river, I had startled Catie by pretending I saw a giant crocodile approaching, causing her to scream. Suddenly, glancing past her, I stopped short...instead of jumping her, I whisper, "Holy crap! That's an elephant."

Because I had jumped her earlier, Catie didn't believe me. But once I convinced her her to glance to our left, she too saw the giant back end of an elephant, not thirty feet away from us. We didn't even pause for photos, too nervous about being that close to an elephant without the protection of a car. We speed walked away whispering jokes that ultimately led to our Instagram hashtag of the trip: #HowWeDiedToday.

Catie and I spent our first few days in Victoria Falls avoiding the town's namesake. We spent far more time checking out wildlife than the falls.

We went to a private resort to watch vultures dining...
Just a hundred vulture friends pushing each other around for a scrap of cow.

We enjoyed a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River upstream from the falls...
A hippo yawn is an impressive sight!

We went to Botswana for a land and "sea" game drive combo...
Fun fact, really young elephants cannot use their trunks to drink water as they will accidentally choke themselves while
trying to suck up just the right quantity before pouring it into their mouth. As a result, they face plant to drink water! 
We enjoyed high tea at a local hotel that seemed like something from the era of Out of Africa...

High tea for high class ladies

Finally, we visited the falls from both the Zimbabwe and Zambia sides. Although the baboon was too fast for photos, Catie really did almost die at the hands of a giant baboon. He managed a sneak attack while she was distracted by her conversation with the immigration representative. Tearing through the plastic bag she carried, the large dog-sized baboon grabbed an apple and then made a run for it. With little ado, the Zambian immigration agent just handed Catie another bag. We walked a little faster whenever we saw the baboons after that moment!

"Better be ready to get soaked" everyone said any time we walked in the direction of Victoria Falls. Visiting at peak water
flow made for a completely drenching experience. For my mariner friends, think about forward lookout or furling a headsail during a squall. Water pelted us from every direction, especially below. It was the veritable definition of awe-inspiring.

A post shared by Catie Wheat (@catiewheat) on

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Superstar Sentebale

Training partners on finding potential donors during a
recent resource mobilization workshop.
My new role, as of my return to Lesotho, is still working half of the time as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader and now includes working half of the time with Sentebale.

Sentebale is the Sesotho word for “forget me not.” The NGO Sentebale was founded by Prince Seeiso of Lesotho and Prince Harry of the United Kingdom. It was started over a decade ago after Prince Harry visited Lesotho for two months during his gap year between high school and university.

Before I began working with Sentebale, I thought very highly of the organization. I had an impression of Sentebale as being one of the highest functioning NGOs working in Lesotho. After almost two months with the organization, I am excited to say that my impression was accurate and the organization is even better than my initial impressions.

Sentebale’s mission is to support Orphans and Vulnerable Children. Initially this was in Lesotho only, however, in the last year they have expanded programs to Botswana and are looking at continued expansion. Sentebale meets this mission through three programs: Social Development programming, Clubs and Camps for HIV positive youth, and Youth Clubs for adolescence in various geographies in Lesotho.
Touring Mant'ase Children's Home for the organizational

While I am in awe of the other two programs, I am working directly with the Social Development programming, which includes herd boy programming, care for vulnerable children, and scholarships for secondary school students. Most of my work is connected to the care for vulnerable children.

The care for vulnerable children was Sentebale’s first programming effort when it started just over a decade ago. Currently, this program helps to fund nine residential care facilities for different vulnerable populations in Lesotho, especially children with disabilities and orphans who cannot live with extended family members in their home communities.

Interviewing the manager of Kananelo School for the Deaf
as part of the organizational assessment. 
My role, at the moment, is giving me really great professional experience combining my skills from working in non-profits in the US with the development work I have been doing the last three years. I am visiting each of the nine centers; conducting organizational assessments of each one. The centers also all have Sentebale-funded outreach programs, which I will be assessing in the near future. After these assessments are completed, I will be creating and facilitating capacity-building trainings for the staff at each center based upon the weaknesses identified in the organizational assessments.

In addition to all of that, I am helping with capacity-building workshops and camps for the children in some of the programs. For example, at the end of March, my counterpart and I conducted a Resource Mobilization (aka finding funding) Workshop for bookkeepers and managers of the centers with which we are partner. 
As difficult as leaving my Lesotho home village, organization, and family was, and as challenging as my initial entry into my new community was, I am absurdly excited about the work I am doing with Sentebale. I know that I am gaining experience and skills that will help in future development employment when my Peace Corps Volunteer experience comes to an end. Additionally, it is inspiring to be surrounded by such dedicated and professional staff doing so much incredible work in this country.
The resource mobilization team after three intense days of training. 
You should choose as your life's work whatever feels the most like play.
-Harvey Oxenhorn