Month: January 2016

A Day in the Education System (Part 1)

nsjss admin

     (Administration building Nare Sereto Junior High School)

We thought we would share some of our experiences that we are having at our respective jobs. Teresa’s was first, now mine. I amat a Junior Secondary School which is basically grades 8th, 9th and 10th. They call them Form 1, 2 & 3 andthere are 4 classes in each form of about 40 students each so 12 classes, and I think there were actually 460 students. There are about 40 teachers and maybe 15 support staff, cooks, cleaners, supply,

My introduction to school was in September when we came for a two week site visit. I have an official supervisor and counterpart. I met my counterpart during the training previous to the visit and got to know her a bit, very nice, very understanding of my lack of hearing and was pretty good at looking right at me when talking and occasionally filling me in during lectures when I missed information. During the visit I attended a staff meeting and introduced myself to the staff, there were about 20 teachers attending. The meeting was in English and I was told later that it was only done because I was there.

Since then all of the meetings have been in Setswana with occasionally a few things said in English. My counterpart is the senior teacher of the Guidance and counseling department, she is also the only person in the guidance and counseling department although one other teacher teaches a couple of the guidance and counseling classes. I spent most of my first two weeks reading the text books used and sitting in the staff room trying to get to know the staff who spoke Setswana to each other although when they spoke to me they used English, by the way they pretty much all would be classified as native speakers. The worst thing is they often use UK English and not American. I have learned several new words so my English is improving, can’t say the same for my Setswana. My only other major experience during that first two weeks was being introduced to about 25 students who are struggling in school. I was introduced as Mr. Gary and these are the “students who are failing”. “You are all failures and Mr. Gary is going to fix you.” “Would you please stand up and tell him why you are failing.” Nobody stoodup, surprise. Then I left and went back to training for another 5 weeks.

First day back on October 19th. I spent the first day making a list of all the students who received an E or U last term. They get A, B, C D, E and U. U is failing but most Es and Us will not make it to Senior Secondary school, Grades 11 & 12 or Form 4 & 5. You have to pass a national test to be able to go on to school. Big problem in the country since only about 50 to 80% pass, different schools have different levels of success. Mine seems to pass about 60%. That is a lot of kids who are out of school at the age of 16-17. There are some vocational schools and other training but most don’t go, by that time they pretty much don’t want to have anything to do with school.

I decided that I needed to get to know the system and the students so I began to sit in on the classes. They have different teachers for different subjects like we do but for the most part the students stay in one room and the teacher moves around. There are 7 core subjects. Math, Science, Social Studies, English, Moral Education, Setswana and Agriculture. Their education week is 6 days long, not scheduled Mon thru Fri but day 1, 2 and so on, evidently this is so that Monday holidays do not always happen on the same day, could be day 1 or 5 or so on. Noe really sure I understand the rational and I get terribly confused as to which day it is. Each of the classes get a different amount of time, Math and Science get 6 40 min. periods over the 6 days. The others get 5 or 4 40minute periods. They also get 1 40 minute period for a Guidance and counseling class as well as 1 period for a computer awareness class although I don’t think there is a teacher for that class. Then they get to pick two options and they have each of  those for 4-5 40 minute periods. The options are business procedures, office management, art, music, design and technology (shop), home ec, PE and religious education. A little different than ours but not a  lot except the part for the Moral education and religious education and guidance and counseling. Most of the material would be included in our psychology classes but lots more teaching of values however I was pleased to see that the values were taught as option, no one belief is put before another, here are the options and so on. Sex education; abstinence is best at this age but if you are going to participate then use condoms and etc. Much more frank about the whole sex thing than we usually do. It is possible it is more out there in the US today than I am aware since it has been a while since I took any classes and I am only marginally aware of what is being taught today. But the entire country is much more frank because of the HIV issue. Lots of billboards and advertisement for condoms and circumcision as well as not having concurrent sexual practices. Clothes, TV everywhere is the message about anything that will help reduce the spread of HIV. The country is about 90% Christian and the majority of that seems to be evangelical type, however in the RE classes they teach about different religions including ATR (African Traditional Religion) which is not widely practiced anymore except that a lot of traditions and cultural practices are based on what was taught as a religion years ago and of course there are still some of the older and more traditional people who still practice.

A little bit about the buildings themselves and then I will do another post telling you about what I learned during my observations. The classrooms look like our inner city poor schools. All of the desks are falling apart and there are not enough chairs in several of the rooms and the students share, 3 kids to 2 chairs. However, I have to say that they sit that way even if there are enough chairs. The Batswana are a very touchy close people. Even in the heat the students sit close together. The teachers always shake hands when seeing each other first thing in the morning and seem to hold the other hand for much longer than we do. They also do not have enough books to go around and so often 3-4 students will share, part of that is that the students forget to bring their books or they have lost them but in general they are short of books anyway. Most of the class rooms do not have electricity, it was there but has been torn out and a lot of the switches and outlets are gone and there are just wires visible, I am not sure if any of those rooms are live or not ( I should ask about that) and almost all of them have some windows broken, the walls look like they have not been painted since they were new and bulletin boards are torn with entire sections missing. They have green chalk boards but the teachers have to bring their own chalk with them, although I have noticed that students frequently have a small piece available when I needed it. Usually there is not an eraser but often a piece of toilet paper is used. A side note, one always takes their own toilet paper with them as it is rarely available in any public restroom anywhere. Not really sure why except people would take it home with them I guess although it isn’t terribly expensive.

Anyway, there is very little maintenance and of course there is no heat or air conditioning or fans in the classrooms. There is some air conditioning in the administration building and in the library. There is a computer room but the computers are pretty old, bulky desk tops with disks as opposed to flash drives . They are connected (hard wired) to the internet although it is very slow. Of course schools are different but so far all of the ones I have seen are pretty similar and I think this is pretty much the norm. It seems pretty discouraging to me but this is what they have and have not had anything else so I think they are pretty much accepting of the conditions. More in the next installment.

(View from Administration)njss long view 2


Several people have asked us- but what are you actually doing? So, we have decided to take the next few posts to talk about what we are each doing. This post is about Teresa’s work at Gabane Community Home Based Care (GCHBC). (Picture below- classrooms to right, kitchen in front and offices to right, playground-not shown). I usually get to work around 7:30 and leave about 3:30 or when the combi is ready to take the last load of kids and staff.



GCHBC started in 1997 in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis which was leaving many children orphaned. There was also a need to help people in their homes as they were dying. To meet these needs two approaches were adopted. The first was to establish a pre-school for orphans and children left vulnerable due to HIV/AIDS. The second was to develop a team of volunteers who visited patients in their homes and helped with self-care, cooking, medicine adherence, and social contact. This was done in coordination with the local health clinic. There was also a support group established for those who were living with the virus.

Flash forward almost 20 years and here’s what has changed. People aren’t dying so much from HIV/AIDS anymore as the government supplied ARTs (Anti-retroviral-treatment) are allowing people with HIV to live positively with the disease.  So the focus of the Center has shifted a bit.  First, the support group broke off and became its own NGO (non-government organization).  Patients are still being visited but are not necessarily suffering from HIV/AIDS. They may be suffering from other chronic, debilitating or terminal illnesses.  The preschool is going strong,  but not as many are orphans. There are still plenty of “vulnerable” children due to socio-economic conditions but the rate of transmission of HIV to newborns is less than 4%.  GCHBC is committed to providing pre-school free to this population as well as to families who can afford to pay, albeit GCHBC is the lowest priced preschool in Gabane. Transportation and two meals per day are also provided.

There are 8.5 “staff”- technically they are volunteers but volunteers get paid something in Botswana. There are 2 cooks, 1.5 cleaners, 1 driver, 1 office administrator, 1 teaching assistant, 1 teacher, 1 head teacher/center coordinator. There are also two national youth volunteers who are about 20 years old.

So, what does this all mean and why do they need a PCV?  They run on a shoestring. Since Botswana has been declared a middle income country, much of the outside support has dried up, particularly for NGOs. That doesn’t mean the government has let up on its regulations. So, I am there to help improve systems- financial, personnel, etc in order to put the organization in a better position to receive grants and other types of support.

They have gotten donations of computers but have no money for Internet although we do have a “dongle”. Recently, however, I have been able to save the Center quite a bit of money by finding competitive prices and alternate sources for goods and services by using my home Internet.  There is one reasonably new computer but the others are dinosaurs and the printers are even worse. One computer has Word 97 on it and the other has Word 2003. Printer drivers are not available for one of the printers so the newest computer (a laptop) does not work with it and if I need to print on it, I have to transfer to a USB and then the versions of Excel are not compatible although Word seems to be with some formatting glitches. I make a lot of PDFs in order to print. The other printer is good for about 250 prints before the ink runs out and at about $25 per cartridge (US) it gets pretty unaffordable. Sometimes I bypass the lack of black ink by making it only print using the color cartridge. This printer is also used to make worksheets for the kids. Whatever happened to the old mimeograph machines! Add to this, serious electrical problems and we may not have power to run anything on a given day or maybe some things but not others.  I gave you that detail so you can appreciate how I spend a lot of my day jerry rigging and figuring out what can be done where with what is available at that moment.

So far I have developed a system to see who owes us money and how much, a more robust registration and attendance system, a system to track that we have the proper documentation for each child, a way to compare food prices at different vendors to get the best deal, a proposed personnel structure, and I am learning Quick Books as the volunteer who was helping with this quit and the Office Administrator still needs training.  With QB we will be able to easily invoice parents and issue statements. I also developed a marketing brochure.

Other days are spent riding in the Center’s combi (van) doing errands with the Office Administrator and Driver. There is basically no postal system for mail delivery and email usage is sporadic (I have it at home and check the Center’s email from there). So, whenever we need quotations in order to spend any money, we have to go to the business and get it in writing in person. This is required by our major benefactor, Pelegano Industries which doesn’t give us the money up front, but we have to get the quotation and then they are invoiced and they pay it for us. This includes food, petrol (gas), etc. So, a transaction often involves going and getting the quotation, getting it approved and then going back and ordering it, then again to pick it up. Sometimes, we have our own funds and this requires getting the quotation so we know how much we need, getting a check signed, going to the bank to cash it and making deposits of school fees at the same time, going to pay for the item- maybe get it on the spot- maybe order it and go back. I think you get the idea. This all takes a lot of time. It is not unusual for us to leave the Center around 10:30/11 and not be back until 3 when it is time for the kids to go home or sometimes even later and the kids are kept waiting.

Since none of the staff have cars, it is not unusual to include others on the trip and for extra stops to be made to accommodate various personal needs while we are in Gaborone.

I have also offered to do a story time once a week with the kids. We are expecting a shipment of books through Books for Africa (great organization to support) in June which should help the unfortunate state of our “library”.

Gary and I leave tomorrow for 3 weeks of PC training. One week is on gender issues. I am partnering with a teacher from his junior high school and when we get back, we will start doing gender work with the teens and I will try to incorporate some of what we learn into the preschool curriculum. Gender inequality and gender based violence are major contributing factors to the spread of HIV/AIDS but that is another entry for another day.

I know we could be more efficient if we had compatible computers, possibly setting up a network if we had Internet access or another means to communicate, and having up to date equipment. But there are so many needs, not sure when this will happen. We also need a new kitchen, dining area and more toilets in order to meet government licensing requirements. So I will be working on finding grant funding for that, although we will need an audit in order to apply for two of the sources I know about and that takes me back to learning Quick Books and getting the Center to use it appropriately so we can pass an audit.

I am afraid this is way too long so hopefully you have not fallen asleep or given up and gone back to more interesting Facebook postings. In a future post I will reflect more on the differences in working styles that I have found most interesting. I will close with a picture of our latest friend- our neighbor’s rooster whose favorite spot was the window ledge outside our back window until the neighbors made him go home with them at night. I named him Cogburn (yes, I am dating myself) and was promised he is not scheduled to be dinner any time soon.

Ten Things

Sitting around today we’ve been talking about what we miss  most about life in the U.S.  This is not intended to be a list of complaints about our life here. We are actually quite content and happy with what we do have.  Our experience thus far has just made us realize how much we take for granted.  We don’t stop often enough and just appreciate what we have when we have it. Guess that is one of the fundamental ways that service in the Peace Corps changes you.

The following is a list of the Ten Things we are most thankful we have back in the U.S.:

10. Being able to go out to eat or order in when we just don’t feel like cooking.(Corollary: Microwave oven for reheating things we do make ourselves like pizza)

9. Having pets

8. Flush toilet without worrying about how much water we are using

7. Consistent and dependable running water

6. AC when the temperature is over 90 degrees for more than a day or t      two

5. Having a car

4. Washing machine

3. Any recycling at all!

2. Curbside recycling

1. Regular trash pickup

But, then again- We don’t have this outside our front door in the US…

more mom and baby


sunset after storm

Water went off at 5 pm after 5.5 days of luxury. Storm hit at 6:30 and left a layer of dust all over the house. Power went around 7.  BUT- we got this beautiful sunset so no complaints.