Monday, June 3, 2013

Dreaming and Living and Living and Dreaming and...

Sometimes I forget that pursuing a dream in nowhere near as substantial as pursuing life. 
Before I continue, this is not a thought about dreams ruined or life getting in my face. No, this is exactly what it sounds like.

To quote Lester Freeman in season 3 of The Wire 
"Your work can't save you"

And that's the truth, helping people has been a childhood dream of mine, and the Peace Corps has been an excellent opportunity to prove to myself that I am not useless in that pursuit. 

I have and am living in a dream, a dream that I might just have to wake up from in July 2014.

But even so, as I lucidly ruminate in this bubble called Sagalla, a place of opportunity and growth. Where I've helped build a foundation where young people can convince their own peers to test for HIV (11 today!), whereas before that was (and is outside of Sagalla if you look at the numbers of people tested in my county) more of a dream. Where I helped motivate a man, as I found out today, to work and save so that he could afford his own water pump rather than relying on foreign support, and now he is proud of his own work and making an income he could never have believed a year ago. Yes, I am living a dream, but am I content?

In the most positive way possible, no.

As I left the mosque today, I had another thought bubble in my head..."reaching towards the stars makes you fly, but in the end, it won't give you love, it won't give you breath, it won't give warmth".

I'm in Kenya working a job that is designed to raise people from poverty, and prevent further HIV infections, but I'm also another human being who desires to know what it means to be whole.

Sure food, water, shelter, but more so, knowing what makes me tick, smile, and feel loved. These are not things I associate with dreams, I associate dreams with how far I can reach, but when I fall back down, it's life that holds me.

So yes, I think it's important to follow your dreams, but I also think it's important for you to find out what in life makes you content. Yes, do go for your dream job, but also stop and try to figure out what that smell is on the way to your part time job is that makes you smile (for me, the answer is jasmine, always jasmine).
Yes, travel Europe, but also accept that maybe a day with your parents does indeed make you content (how I wish to hug my mother and father right now just because).

Yes, never, ever give up, never settle for less, never accept people putting you down
But remember that life is full of moments that are more real than any ideal picture in your head, and that accepting and pursuing them are just as important as pursuing your goals.

I love being in Kenya, I love the work I'm doing, but I look forward to one day settling down and being the type of dad my kids will one day be secretly proud of (I'm pretty sure they'll probably be openly embarrassed by me), the type of husband that a Mrs. Somebody can talk, laugh, and grow with, and God knows I can be a better son. 

And I won't forget that I desire to make a difference in this world, I'll just know that I'll be learning to be happy in the pursuit. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Being A Shadow In Development

The 1st of June marked two significant aspects of my service in Kenya. It marked the 12 month I've been in Kenya (my year mark being on the 6th of this month) and more importantly, that the style of development I've pursued since October has been paying of significantly.

By being a shadow within Sagalla, I have been able to initiate what hasn't been done before with the youth (and arguably the whole of Sagalla); create an infrastructure that lead to the testing of 135 people within a single day. More significantly, create a low cost model to promote local testing.
Okay that's enough "I" in this...because the whole point of being a shadow is being an extension of those visible on the ground, giving them a reach on the ground they normally couldn't. So let me explain.

Nine months ago, my Public Health Officer, noticed over time how difficult it was to reach the youth within Sagalla. In fact, to be able to see someone my age go to the health center to access condoms are general reproductive health knowledge was extremely rare due to the fact that there was a stigma of being found at the hospital. Youth were simply afraid to go to know about their own health, much less about their HIV status. Unfortunately, without the right public and institutional support, the most we could do at that time was just work with a youth football group right near the hospital. However, that didn't mean we didn't work for it. We developed movie weekends, where we would play American films, just to get some of the boys to come to the hospital and associate the health center as a place where they can relax. Unbeknownst to us, this was step one to events leading up to June.

A few months ago, I was able to analyze health data within Sagalla using existing reporting and found out that there were 9 underage pregnancies and 10 high school drop outs within the region over the period of June to July 2012. I didn't do anything new or special, I just placed the numbers per each month side by side. More importantly, as a team, we were able to find the right people who not only cared, but were in the right position to do something about it. I worked with the in charge of the health center I worked at, who had the bright idea to use our formerly defunct storage room as a Youth Friendly Resource Center, and just as importantly, members from the US AID branch APHIA PLUS, who already were attempting to engage the youth population in Sagalla, pledged their efforts as well through bringing in paint and building materials initially, and promising training for youth in the future.

However, none of that would be possible, I would not be beaming with joy, if it wasn't for what happened next

See the meaning of what it means to be a shadow in development, is that you focus on capacity building of the target population. By developing their own capacity to succeed, you effectively do not have to be in the forefront. And the more their light shines, the more distance your own shadow can cover.

After the small interactions and friendships I've slowly made with the Mlondo Football Group, they decided to come and refurbish the storage room on their own volition, without pay, without any guarantees. They did it because they realized that out of their own hands, they can build something for themselves. And they did.

Then when they finished, at our guidance, they held elections and started doing something no group did before...including women. My contribution was to suggest creating a position for Woman Representative and making sure that the President and Vice Presidential office was held by two genders.

So they held elections, had the bodies, what was next? Without pay, and with help from PSI, which gave footballs and T Shirts, they held a football tournament that included women, dramas, singing, and a health talk focused on Malaria, bringing in over 300 people, mostly youth. No group had done this at such a low initial cost.

6 our of 7 of the Executive Board Members

Making a presentation about Education Through Listening (ETL)
 So they had the capacity to bring people together; how about the quality of presentation of their knowledge? That was another issue. So US AID, impressed with the given results, provided several training sessions in the last few weeks based on topics of health. Here you were, for the first time in Sagalla, training youth to be able to teach their peers about topics pertinent to them...teenage pregnancy, drug use, HIV, stigma, with the explicit mandate to help the people they are closest to.
Making a presentation at Mlondo Primary
So in the last month, they've taught in three schools, introducing dramas, and teaching what they've learned from US AID. My bosses at the health center provided important critiques in case the wrong information passed through, helping mature the work of the members of the Center.
Over time, the young men and women started developing a bond that I won't say yet is breaking gender roles...the women still end up doing the cooking and leave the men to do hard manual labor during the non work hours, but there is less tension between the two sides and when they work together, they work more as one group rather than two roles.
And all of this leads to yesterday. Specifically the issue of how to get youth to test? In recent memory, the highest number of youth to test was towards November, when US AID funded for a giant activity bringing in youth; we were able to test 60. However, it was a top down exercise, not involving the young men and women we were helping to necessarily have a say, and we realized we needed a different approach. Most exercises pertaining to HIV here are outreach, spending around $100 to teach people about HIV, but not necessarily getting people to test. The issue was; how do you get people to come and willingly test? My hypothetical answer; host a party!

So I went the the Center and asked simply, "If I contribute a goat, can you program an event and bring in over 100 people in the area?" The answer, and the result was a resounding "Yes!"

Making preparations for the goat, for modesty's purpose, I won't post pictures of the goat

The Clinical Officer testing a youth, YRC was his brain child
 Not only did the youth contribute their own money to acquire rice and spices and a PA system, they created their own programming. Teaching about drugs, STIs, and reproductive behavior. Take a look at the next picture.
 That woman works at the local restaurant and the young man is a captain of the football team. In the last few months, they can teach without being embarassed how to apply a condom on a penis model. The woman has started organizing health based dramas and is a tremendous actor, while the man was elected secretary and is learning how to use computers to document the Youth Resource Center. They've done all of this on their own volition, and the only thing we did as a facility was simply challenge them to grow and provide the resources (US AID) to train them towards their goal. I simply said that I wanted results, people being tested, but the Center did that and more. They created an event where people didn't come and sit down and be talked to, but interacted with their own peers and I can guage had genuine fun!

 Young men and women who normally would never test, could see their friends test. Interesting enough, young girls around the age of 13-15 even came, a demographic that I'd never even imagined could be reached out since we started months ago. These young people maybe won't have to fear as they get older, as they see a solid foundation of individuals older than them conquering their own fears.

So what does that mean in terms of my role as a shadow? How does sifting the responsibility of organization and teaching change my task load?

For the first time in my service, I've had youth come up to me and ask me questions about their own family life. Someone asked me about their fear of their own drug use, something I'd never imagine people to be comfortable enough talking to a foreigner. Yesterday, I felt for the first time happy about my work in Kenya, or more importantly attached.

Don't get me wrong, I don't choose the term "shadow" because I fear being involved personally with Sagalla. I am a shadow a shadow is space between one light to another, and if I can help make the lights around me brighter, and bridge the gaps, making it easier for my friends to shine here, then shadow development will make the future brighter.