I'd like to talk here about secondary projects. These are any and all community projects outside of teaching school. They are also essential to my experience here since I find the most fulfillment from them and they generate more of an impact than my super-exciting lectures to 8th graders about kidneys.
I have a JUNTOS group (Jovens Unidos No Trabalho de Oportunidades e Successo), which is a group of 11th and 12th graders who express themselves through art with the underlying themes of HIV/AIDS prevention, the ramifications of alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and discrimination, among other things. My group has been working on a newspaper themed around Malaria prevention and treatment and they have also recently been performing skits and monologues on drug abuse and gender discrimination during our school's morning announcements.
We have a collaborative effort with the Ministry of Education to hold a Science Fair to promote innovative and investigative research. We have two kids going to the Provincial Fair this weekend from Panda: one created a distilation apparatus using items from his kitchen and make his own orange oil with it, which can be used to repel insects, clean the house, and moisturize skin. Another student did an experiment comparing eucalyptus, cinnamon and lemongrass as natural insect repellents. These are two of my rock-star students and I'm so proud of their projects. I can't wait to see how they do at the fair!
I also work with the R.E.D.E.S. organization (Rapariga Em Desenvolvimento, Educacao e Saude), a network of girls' groups with the mission of creating opportunities for young women through health education, skill-building and income generation. The goal is to reduce their risk of contracting HIV/AIDS by empowering them to build better futures for themselves and not fall into the patterns that so many others have felt forced into by society and lack of appropriate skills. This year I am serving as the Assistant National Coordinator for the organization and I am very excited to see it continue to grow and thrive in Mozambique. We have been working hard to create awareness and continue to educate and support our groups accross the country. You can learn more about R.E.D.E.S. on our website www.theredesproject.org if you're interested. If you're not, I made the website so go look at it at least. :)
Our group here in Panda is led by my site mate and I. I'm in charge of leading the girls in dance practice once a week as well, whether it's just for fun or for an upcoming performance in the community. They have performed a few routines already and the community members absolutely love them and have started asking them for encores. It's common for people to put together dances for holidays so other groups also perform but my girls are always the best (biased as it is, I stand by this statement). They have also taught me a lot about traditional dance styles, which I love, but my favorite part has been watching them transformed from the shy girls they were into the enthusiastic and sassy bunch they are when they're dancing in the town square. It's really helped them build confidence and I absolutely love sharing my passion for dance with them.
I have some other projects in the works here, but I'll save those for another post when I can talk about the finished product. You never know when things will fall apart here despite your hard work. I know I've touched on the frustrations of my service before, but when working towards such a large and ambiguous goal as "development" it's so easy to get jaded. It's very hard to see progress or results and sometimes you don't ever get to see them--either because they happen after your time here or because they never happen at all. Failure and uselessness are the things I struggle with every single day.
Things pile up here just like they do in the States, and I probably have the same stress load I did back home in one form or another. The difference here is there is no organization, logistics or leadership in place to help you accomplish goals.
There's just you.
And there's no parameters in place to guide you like there are for normal jobs. There are only your ambitions. So if your ambitions include visiting the beach and fulfilling the minimum requirements of service, you're golden! Have yourself a two-year vacation. But oh, you came here to help people, develop a community, change the world? Phhhh...good luck. Your ideas are put at the mercy of your community. Rallying these people is like herding cats and infortunately even if the need and interest exist the will to work for it just isn't. It's not laziness: most people work multiple jobs, tend a fam that feeds their family and raise kids--there's no time for volunteer work or community development. You're the one expected to spearhead the thing and the only one left to do the legwork. So you get burnt out and yet another idea gets archived while you fall back into the routine of "getting through" your service instead of trying to do something with it.
This is the cycle I struggle with. It's ugly and it's depressing, but it's real. I am happy here and I take pride in the small victories--I know it's all about the individual impacts. The relationships I have here with my students and neighbors, my experiences and progress with my youth development groups, they alone make this all worth it. But third world development is messy and hard and I can't ignore the feelings of impotence that come along with it. It's a difficult job, being a PCV and not for the weak of stomache--figuratively and literally because you never know when diarrhea will come along to top off your worst (or best) day!