Thursday, May 31, 2012 / 6:22 am

Letter From Botswana

How Susan got computers at the library in her village.

by Donna Schoenkopf

Tags: Peace Corps | Botswana | Computers | Bill and Melinda Gates

Susan in Botswana

Meet Susan, Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana.  She's sent this latest letter about the computers Bill and Melinda Gates sent to the village FIVE YEARS AGO.

You will love her!

Donna

*   *   *

Fw: ONE YEAR TO GO!
Inbox

Sent: Thursday, May 31, 2012 4:11 AM
Subject: ONE YEAR TO GO!

A Couple of Good Days

Maggie, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer came to visit me over a week-end and a holiday.  On Monday, I had to work so Maggie went with me.  We went to visit a girl I had been told about who is in a wheelchair.  The girl actually has spinabifada  sp? And club feet and she needs special shoes AND she has not been going to school!  She wants to go to school so this is a good thing.  She can read and write some in Setswana but cannot speak or understand English.  She had not been to the clinic in awhile and not seen the Doctors here at the clinic.  We told the girl and her mother to get her into see the Doctor and then things could start to happen. We reported all this to the clinic staff.  After our Tuesday Holiday on Wednesday I had to go back to work at the clinic but several chores were supposed to be done by other people so I had prepared myself for some disappointment as follow through here is sometimes non-existent.

I was walking Maggie to the bus stop when we saw the little girl (Masego) and her mother on the way to the clinic.  This was a great site as Maggie and I had just visited the family the day before and had encouraged the mother to get Masego in to see the doctor.  They were all cleaned and dressed up which made us both feel good.  Later, I get to the clinic and the mother and child are waiting to see the doctor.  The doctor arrives at the clinic and he is someone I know and like which is a very positive thing.   He had worked with helping me with Kato, the boy who got the wheelchair.  His presence is good because he is very nice, is a good doctor, cares about the patients AND speaks English.  Then, Edwin – the Head Nurse – tells me that they have gone to get Kato and he is being taken to the Occupational Therapist in Mahalapye.  This is something I have pushed for  - for about 3 months.  I am so happy for the follow through so it is good day for follow through so far!  

I decide to sit with Masego while she and her mother wait to see the doctor.  Masego is extremely shy and she looks scared, so I am hoping this makes her feel better.  She is so shy if you talk to her she puts her paper in front of her face and she won’t look at you and she is very hesitant to speak.    She is 13.  I guess this is because she has just been kept at home for years.  None of the family speaks English so it is hard to know what is going on.

Since I know the doctor I can go in with her and make sure everything is done and I can ask some stupid questions.  I know nothing about Spinabifida – I can’t even spell it!    The Doctor is helpful and orders her to be fitted for shoes in Gabs so I think this means the clinic will have to take her.  He also tells her not ever to walk on the tops of her feet!  And is aghast at her not being in school.  Yeah!   He says  “get her in school” . 

So, we have waited for the doctor a long time, we see the doctor, miss lunch and I have to be at a meeting at the library in fifteen minutes.  I have been told the meeting is supposed to be about the computers and the craft group.  As usual, I do not know much of anything about the meeting but I am assuming that it is the Library Council coming and telling us about the computers they should have already placed in the library.  I am afraid they are coming to tell us the computers aren’t coming!   The official people who are coming are late and I am sitting at the table waiting for people to show up.  Cars drive up a bit later and I see white people getting out of the cars!  This is very unusual to see a white person in my village. I am the only white person living in the village and rarely do you see white people in Kalamare.  Of course, I jump up to greet them and they speak English and are from America.  It was such a shock and pleasant surprise!  I ask a woman with the group where she is from and she says ‘California’!   The best news is one of them was from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation!  Yeah!   The others are from some kind of consulting organization but obviously here on the invitation of the foundation. From what I could gather from the conversation, I think they were here to assess the impact that the computers and internet have had on libraries in Botswana.  Gates Foundation gave Botswana $4,750,000 in 2009 to establish internet in every library in Botswana.  Well, that is fine but Kalamare hasn’t received computers or internet so this meeting was a very good thing for the Library and the village.  I think the group from America were surprised the Library had neither.  Another positive thing was that a good number of villagers actually showed up to the meeting including the Kgosi and the Chairman of the VDC (Village Development Committee)  along with several VDC members.  They asked the villagers how they thought computers and internet would impact the village and they received plenty of answers from everyone including myself.  The people from America could hardly believe that the village did not have internet.

I have high hopes that this little meeting will hasten things up and we will see computers and internet in the near future.  Word has it that the Government of Botswana has been slow to get internet connections to all libraries and the Gates Foundation told them if they didn’t do it ASAP, they would take the money back.

Obviously, we didn’t talk much about crafts but the Librarian had taken a bit of effort and cleaned and displayed the crafts which included the bead jewelry, pottery, paper mache and the macramé I had just taught her to do.

A few days later:

So, I go to a meeting which I have been asked to attend.  It is a meeting of the Kalamare Economic Development Trust and we are there to talk about a request I can make to the US Embassy in Botswana for a Self Help Grant.  The Trust has a Garden and Orchard Project they have been working on for some time.  The problem is there is no water source for the land in which the project is located.  There really is no way a project like this can succeed without water.  I want to apply to the Self Help Fund to obtain the money to drill a bore hole.  (water well)   I attend the meeting in order to gain input into the vision of the project so I can complete the application with accurate information and to get the Trust’s permission to submit the request.

At the end of the meeting, I tell the Chairman that I have two other items.  One is yet another announcement regarding the Craft Group which is still meeting and trying to gain steam.  The other is about the computers for the Library.  I encourage the members to speak up and ask for the computers from the Library Council and point at the Chairman of the Trust and the VDC Chairman (Village Development Committee) and ask them please to make a call to the Library Council contact and ask for our computers.  It seems people in Botswana have a hard time speaking up for themselves and asking for what they really deserve.  I am trying to encourage them to speak up because I have no trouble doing so as you well know.

So, I leave the meeting and go home to have lunch so I can go to the Library in the afternoon.  As I am sitting there having lunch I get a text from the Librarian which says for me to come to the Kgotla immediately.   I quickly get ready and fast track down to the Kgotla.(the central meeting place)  When I arrive, I see the representatives from the Library Council and immediately greet them.  I say hello to the head honcho who I have been calling every other week for the last 5 months.  I asked him if he has brought the computers.  He tells me then that he has not brought the computers and that we need to go and have a meeting in the Kgosi’s (chief of village) office.  My heart drops.  I think – they have not brought the computers and there is some reason and he is going to tell us this sad story at this meeting.  I sit in the meeting and my heart is beating.  I don’t want to get angry but I am afraid I might.  I want these computers for the village.  Everyday someone asks me if I will teach them to type or when are the computers coming.  The head of the Library Council makes a long speech telling the problems they had with one of the computers and with finding a serial number for the printer  —-  and blah, blah, blah   -   and then smiles and looks at me and tells me he has indeed brought the computers for the library.  Most Motswana DO NOT  have a sense of humor so it took awhile for this to sink in for me.  He had been teasing me before the meeting and wanted it to be a big surprise!  He actually took my hand and held it for a long time while we talked of our accomplishments.

I don’t know how much impact the meeting with the Gates Foundation has had on us finally getting the computers but I think it might have.   The whole troop of us drove the computers down to the Library and spent the rest of the day unpacking and hooking them up as best we could.  The VDC Chair and the Trust Chair and the Kgosi stayed with us and assisted us in installing the computers while other villagers came in and watched the process.  Everyone was very happy with the new additions to the Library.  You must remember that these computers sat in a box in the trust office for FIVE Years! 

Sometimes it seems it takes a “Bitch” to make a village.

There are some days when I feel like a broken record and I do harp at people trying to get them to get things done!   -  to really do things for themselves.  Some of you know me as the Campaign Bitch and now I feel like the Village Bitch.

Anyway, it was a good couple of days which are rare here and I just wanted to share the stories with you.
I asked the VDC Chairman if I could go home to America now that the computers were in the Library.  He quickly replied “no Neo”.

Love and miss all of you,  Susie.

Donna Schoenkopf recently retired from teaching at 61st Street School in South Central Los Angeles, and has moved back to Oklahoma, where she spent her teens.
donna@fourstory.org

Get the FourStory Mobile App

Available now for Android.

Coming soon for iPhone/iPad.

Top Tags

Mailing List

RSS Feed

FourStory on Twitter

FourStory on Facebook

Archives

Features | Blog