Students Without Borders is a WUSC and CECI program that enables Canadian university and college students to participate in exciting, volunteer learning opportunities in South America, Africa, and Asia.

“Are You Winning?”

January 22, 2011

“Are You Winning?”


(Hello everyone!)

On this sunny, humid Saturday afternoon, having spent just under two weeks in Botswana and a week at my internship placement, I can say like maybe a Motswana in my place would,  “Heeiiiissshhh, what a week! ”

Setswana is Botswana’s national language, spoken by most of the population in addition to English. It also refers to the culture of the Batswana (the people who live Botswana). One member of the Batswana people is called a Motswana. Got it? Good!

The other WUSC interns and I left Canada Sunday evening on January 9 (after a three-hour plane delay) and arrived in Botswana’s capital city on Tuesday last week after a long 10-hour flight from Heathrow to Jo’burg and a quick skip over to Gabarone – weary but excited and deep-vein thrombosis free. Still, even considering the time change forward it was an exhausting trip!

In our jet-lagged state we dived right into orientation, but managed to perk up pretty early on since we had so many exciting activities to do!

Probably the best part of the orientation was the trip to the Mokolodi Nature Reserve where we did a game drive (mini-safari). Because Mokolodi is so close to the urban areas, there are no major predators in the park with the exception of fenced-up hyenas and cheetahs (my favourite!).

Sadly, the cheetahs were hiding when we reached their end of the reserve. We did, however, get to spot giraffes, zebras, kudu, ostrich, warthogs (abundant), gemsbok, eland, wildebeests, cobras and more! But I’ve made it my mission to go back to Mokolodi and do the game drive that allows you to pet the cheetahs and track the park’s white rhino on foot with a guide.

Orientation also included lessons in Setswana language and culture, political history of Botswana, gender and development, and HIV and Aids. I wouldn’t say that learning Setswana is easy but I’ve managed to nail down some key staple phrases:

Dumela mma (rra): Hello, madam (sir).

O tsogile jang: How are you (literally, how did you wake up)?

Ke tsogile sentle: I woke up well.

Go siame: Goodbye (literally, it’s okay).

Ke kopa thuso: I need help. (I find myself using this one a lot …)

AND, my favourite of the basic phrases …

Ga ke na mathata: I don’t have a problem.

… because of Hakuna Mathata! – which is not Setswana, but is Swahili for (of course) “There are no worries.” But, it’s definitely a fun coincidence … or so I thought. And then my inquisitive mind got to wondering and discovered that both Setswana and Swahili are both Bantu languages, of which there are more than 200 dialects spoken across east, central and southern Africa. Nifty!

Okay, on to the meatier stuff. I’ve started my assignment at DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights.  DITSHWANELO was founded in 1993 by Alice Mogwe, a multi-award winning and trail-blazing human rights activist. It is the leading, most comprehensive, human rights organization in Botswana.

The organization is active in pursuing human rights on a variety of fronts for  differet people, including for the indigenous Basarwa (or San) peoples living in the Kalahari Desert; gay, lesbian and bisexuals (there is very little research on transgendered and transsexual communities in the country and homosexuality remains illegal and punishable by imprisonment); domestic workers; refugees; and criminal offenders (accountabibility in justice and advocacy against the death penalty, especially for juveniles).

DITSHWANELO also provides paralegal research services for those in need and works to bring national law in harmony with international human rights laws and normative frameworks, tackling issues of poverty, stigma, culture and tradition.

I’ll be working with DITSHWANELO’s Children’ Rights Programme. And as I sit in a local coffee shop writing this I’m  listening to a little piece of Canadian Americana I brought with me (“Stage Fright” by The Band) that reminded my of my first couple of days at work:

See the man with the stage fright
Just standing up there to give it all his might
He got caught in the spotlight
But when we get to the end
He wants to start all over again

As a person who loves change but can take a while to settle into something new, life in Botswana has been thrilling, but sometimes overwhelming. And, while my first few days  left me a little bit apprehensive and unsure of myself, I’ve gotten my mandate, which is so fantastic! Now at work, I seem to be the last one to leave … :)  So, I really think this is going to be a great semester that they might have to literally drag me away from come April 1st’s return flight!

One of the main subject areas I’ll be working in is the rights of Zimbabwean refugees and migrants living in Botswana. I’ll be helping to undertake fieldwork (interviews) with refugees living in Botswana on the behalf of DITSHWANELO in order to determine their socio-economic status and access to vital social services. Other southern African NGOs will be doing the same thing in their own countries in order to determine whether the experiences of displaced Zimbabweans differ across borders. This will better enable the organizations to locate the most vulnerable, socially-marginalized groups and hopefully improve service delivery to realize their human rights.

I also may get to be part of another qualitative research project that will interview the refugees on the reasons they left Zimbabwe, as most are believed to have fled in 2008 after post-election violence.

My second major project will be with a women’s rights organization called Emang Basadi (in English, Women, Stand Up) which aims to harmonize the existing incongruency between Botswana’s Affiliations Act and Children’ Act. Currently, the provisions relating to child support (called maintenance, here) and other forms of financial assistance to families described in each don’t mesh, which disadvantaged women and children. This is a really pressing problem in Botswana, where multiple concurrent partnerships (having mroe than one sexual partner at a time) is practised, which can leave wed and unwed mothers alike without adequate support for their children. When the endemic rate of HIV prevalence in the country is considered (which adds medical bills to the lists of expenses mothers must bear), the area is a really crucial and practical one to tackle.

I’ll be doing a literature review on the topic, developing an interview questionnaire and possible assisting in the administration of the questionnaire to notable magistrates, NGOs and other groups in Botswana.

Finally, I’ll be responsible for carrying out an exhibition in several local elementary schools where schoolchildren can learn about Zimbabwean children’s experiences with forced migration. I’m really excited to work on this project as child-to-child learning and advocacy is a great way to get kids concerned about their communities and motivated to make meaningful change.

Another exciting project that isn’t specifically mine is DITSHWANELO’s annual Human Rights Film Festival, to be held March 1st, which will showcase films on poignant human rights issues from Botswana, Africa and internationally. The theme of this year’s Festival is Trafficking in Persons. I’ll be doing some research for the US Embassy in support of this project.

So …. Heeeiiiisssh!

On that note, you should know that another awesome expression in Setswana culture is “Are You Winning?” In Setswana culture, when someone asks you whether you are winning, they are asking whether or not you are succeeding in the task at hand.

The beauty and awe of last week’s trip to Mokolodi  and the excitement of getting my jam-packed mandate at DITSHWANELO fresh on my mind, I think I can say before I sign off, “I am winning.”

Sala sentle!

(Keep Well)

1 Comment

  1. Lorianne on January 22, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    you are amazing! Keep up the good work. :D