13 students and two teachers visited Botswana from 19 June to 7 July. The trip achieved its goal of providing direct service to HIV/AIDS organizations, introducing students to Botswana culture, and strengthening the relationship between Catlin Gabel and Maru-a-Pula schools. The trip blog chronicles the day-by-day details. This post summarizes some of the trip themes.
Five Batswana students have attended both Maru-a-Pula and Catlin Gabel through an exchange program. Three of them were actively involved in the Catlin Gabel trip. They provided some of the most personal experiences of the trip, describing their difficulties integrating into U.S. culture and providing a unique look into their families’ lives in Botswana. MK took us to her family’s cattlepost (ranch) for a sleepover, traditional meal, and stargazing. Mmaserame took us to both her father’s village for a thorough traditional village experience and to her mother’s family’s house in Gaborone for lunch and an amazing oral history telling. Our students also met next year’s Maru-a-Pula exchange student for Catlin Gabel, which should greatly ease her transition into the school.
HIV/AIDS Service Work
We had some difficulty planning service activities in detail before the trip, but a lot fell into place once we arrived there. The Botswana-Baylor Centre was great. Peace Corps volunteer Peter took especially linked us up with a number of activities — painting a mural for the teen center (visited by Michelle Obama), designing math activities for pre-appointment playtimes, and supporting the Saturday teen club gathering. Maru-a-Pula hosted an evening with Dr. Ava Avalos from the Ministry of Health and Thobo Mogojwe from PING (Positive Innovation for the Next Generation). We also grew to appreciate the presence of HIV in everyday life across the country, from talk of the new medical school to village trainings for HIV+ people. We toured a new health clinic in Thabala distributed NikeRED laces to youth in Gumare.
Some students wished that we could have provided more meaningful support to HIV organizations than playing with students and painting murals. We concluded that the organizations’ volunteers and staff had far more expertise providing counseling and treatment than did our group, and we were best placed supporting ancillary services instead. We did wish that we could have had more informal conversations with teen peers about HIV and AIDS in Botswana — they may have been instructive to both our students and the youth in Botswana.
A Cross-section of Life in Botswana
Our students got to experience a non-touristic cross-section of ordinary life in Botswana, pretty rare for a visiting group. In two weeks’ time, we visited independent and government schools, internationally-funded health clinics and government hospitals and clinics, cities and villages, the capital city and very remote villages, the edge of the Kalahari and part of the Okavango swamps, a basket weaver co-op, and of course a classic African wildlife experience. We owe this comprehensive tour of the country to our NGO and alumni contacts.
Student Development and Global Service
This was a little tougher. All of our students got so much out of this trip, but sometimes we saw students miss a great opportunity to learn even more. Students were reticent to initiate conversations without ample support structures. The “Catlin bubble” became portable, and students talked about life back home as much as they immersed themselves in Botswana life. We trip leaders were caught between recognizing the students’ development as adolescents and wanting to see them fully engage with the local culture.
This global trip accomplished so much for our school within a short period of time. Perhaps we will move a step closer to fully celebrating our international students and our school’s relationship with a school in Botswana as a result.