Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! I hope you all are healthy and enjoying the Christmas season. Jed and I are doing well. Christmastime here is a new thing for us. Compared to years past, we’re doing a lot less shopping, shoveling, and baking. To compensate, we’re doing more of other things this year, like listening to Christmas music, writing and making travel plans. We will spend Christmas at the beach with some of our Peace Corps friends. I’m excited to snorkel, and Jed is hoping to try deep sea fishing for the first time. But I’m sure our thoughts will repeatedly come back to home and snow and all of you! We’re praying for a very special Christmas for all of you, for relaxing time away from the daily grind and for God’s peace to enter your lives in a new way.

According to our moms, you all want to hear more about what we’re doing at work, so I’ll try to sum it up. I’m working with Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E). Hands @ Work gets most of its money from international donors (including PEPFAR from U.S. taxes, so thanks!) and each donor requires certain reports from Hands. So, we report narratives and different statistics to each of our donors monthly and quarterly and annually. They want to know things like the numbers of orphans receiving at least three services during the year, which sounds a little less complicated than it really is, because the numbers vary quite a bit, depending on how you define an “orphan” and a “service.” They also want to know things like how many grannies receive training on caring for orphans, how many orphans receive food from the food gardens, and how many patients we care for. Just to give you an idea, in one year we’re required to report on something like 75 different indicators like these. As an umbrella organization that provides services to about 50 home-based care organizations, Hands @ Work has to collect narratives plus the statistics for each of these indicators and compile them in reports for the people who give us funding. My job is to get a handle on the reporting we’re already doing, to improve how we collect and store all the information, and help streamline the entire process. In addition, I will be working to expand M&E within our organization so we start to measure the things we care about as an organization, and not just the things are donors think are important. I’m also helping develop new software and a database to track the orphans and patients and the services we provide.

Jed is working on starting a center for Income Generating Activities (IGA) in the village. The purpose of IGA is two-fold. Donors like to focus on the importance of earning income for the organization so the organization isn’t so dependant on outside funding. For us, it’s difficult to even imagine generating enough income to replace a funder like PEPFAR. We see IGA more as an exit strategy for orphans in the village, meaning a program to educate orphans on business and entrepreneurial skills and even a trade, so that when they turn 18 and no longer receive government grants they have marketable skills to get a job or start their own business. Jed has written a business plan for the IGA center, researched building and programming costs, curriculum for entrepreneurial training, regulations for employment, and more. He is planning to travel in January to visit NGOs that have successful IGA. If all goes well, construction will start on the IGA building in the village early next year. Jed’s also helping with insurance and audits.

Together we’re helping with the Footprints program as well. Every February Hands starts a new 10-week training for “Footprinters” in Masoyi. After learning all about Hands’ activities in Masoyi, the Footprinters are sent out for about 9 months to Hands’ partners in Zambia, Nigeria, Swaziland, Mozambique and other southern African countries to build capacity in those organizations, by replicating programs that are successful in Masoyi. We’re helping with the training curriculum, since we have experience with Peace Corps training.

We’re enjoying our work very much. And we’re enjoying getting to know South Africa and South Africans better every day. We’re also learning patience in a work environment where the expectations are familiar, but the resources aren’t dependable—the Internet and fax machines are down about every other day, it’s about a billion degrees in the office, and the organizations we’re working with can’t afford to fax that report you’ve been asking for for the last month.

Thank you for your Christmas cards and emails. Have a blessed Christmas!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

• Hi everybody. We’ve been trying all day to upload a video of Jed introducing our new (temporary) home, but it’s not working. We’ll have to try again next weekend maybe. For now, let me tell you a little bit about our new situation. We're flat-sitting until mid-January, and we're enjoying it very much. We moved on Monday morning, and the first thing we did was take showers (twice for me in about 12 hours I think). Showers are wonderful things. Next time you're climbing into a nice, hot shower, just think a minute about the millions of people in the world who are shivering over there buckets trying to somehow get clean. Think about all the dirty backs in the world (because that's the hardest part to wash). We're living on campus now, so our commute is a 30 second walk across the lawn. It's a huge relief to have more space. It's also a safer situation. The village/township where we were living felt relatively safe during the day, but nobody goes out at night. Ma Flo told us we shouldn't leave our windows open at night because people will come to the window and ask for money. I'm still trying to understand that one. So, while we never ever felt personally threatened while walking around in the village, there is a lot of crime there (mostly theft). A car was hijacked a few blocks from Ma Flo's a couple of weeks ago. And there is so much fear. I mean, obviously white people are afraid of being in the village, but even within the community itself.
• I've been meaning to introduce you to our siSwati/Zulu names! Let me tell you how these names came about, too. One night a couple of weeks ago I went into Ma Flo's house to put something into the fridge after dinner, which Jed had made in our little room. Ma Flo and our 16 year-old sister Thando were chatting quietly in the kitchen. They called me over and I swear in practically a whisper (which you never hear from Ma Flo), she said "Jed made dinner tonight, didn't he?" She seemed to kind of be in awe. And I said yes, he's a very good cook...he made chicken and veggies in gravy over rice (a common meal for us because of our two-plate stove restriction). Ma Flo and Thando just about erupted. "Oh, you are so lucky! What a wonderful husband you have! Oh, how wonderful!" I agreed of course, and then Ma Flo said you will never find an African husband who would do that. The young guys living at home might have to wash clothes every once in a while, but that kind of thing always stops when he gets married. Anyway, it was just a day or two later that I was informed of my new siSwati name, Nhlanhla, which is just as hard to say as it looks, and means "lucky." Jed's name is Ndando, meaning "desired!" Oh, I love it! I wish you could just hear Ma Flo and Thando erupt in laughter. It's like an explosion. (The people in the community love to hear our siSwati names, by the way!) For short, you can call us Nhlo and Ndo. It rhymes!
• We're going to Polokwane tomorrow for one week of Peace Corps in-service training. Actually sort of sad to leave our nice little flat. Thanks for all your prayers and e-mails and letters. Jed's swimming in the pool right now with Divine, who’s 9 years old. He stays with his auntie Emily, who we work with, here on campus. I'm going to go join them. Hope all is well with you all. We'll post again soon!