Greetings from the Warm Heart of Africa 3 from Becky Raymond

Another letter from Becky Raymond who is serving a PC Response assignment in Blantyre, Malawi:

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Schoolgirls on an HIV awareness march

Let me start off by answering the question that many of you may be thinking – is there Ebola in Malawi? At this point no. There have been no cases of Ebola here.

Malawi is in southeastern Africa, south of Tanzania and west of Mozambique. Malawi is a long way from the West African countries experiencing the epidemic. The U.S. is closer geographically, than Malawi. That is not to say that it could not come here. As we know, travel across borders can be very easy. Malawi is not at all prepared or equipped to deal with Ebola. There is a branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) here, and they are actively monitoring the situation. At a time like this it is natural to think of one’s own risk. However, my fellow health volunteers and I are thinking a great deal about the situation in West Africa and how to help. So, if you are inclined to make a donation to the many organizations and agencies that are involved in helping fight the epidemic, please go tohttp://www.cidi.org/ebola-ngos/#.VA-ukbxdVig

Meanwhile the HIV epidemic is still impacting millions in southern Africa. That has been the focus of my work here. As I

An IT Centre

An IT Centre

mentioned in my previous letters (yes, several months ago), I am working on a project to map and survey all the HIV/AIDS non-governmental and community-based organizations in the Blantyre District where I work.  My Malawian colleagues and I applied for and were awarded a small grant from the U.S. PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) to cover the project costs. We have finished the surveying and GPS coordinate gathering portion of the project. Last week, a fellow Peace Corps Response volunteer and I held a training for staff in QGIS, a free mapping software program, that will enable us to make and print maps of the locations of these organizations in the District. The purpose of the project is to improve collaboration, response and coordination among the organizations and with the District. It is also to strengthen strategic planning based on the District’s development goals.

Conducting one of the surveys of HIV-related NGOs

Conducting one of the surveys of HIV-related NGOs

I am now in my 8th month, two-thirds of the way through the year. I have been here long enough that it feels familiar, and somewhat comfortable, sometimes not. I am still adjusting to the reverse of seasons. We had winter in July and August, with cold, misty rain and wind. It got down into the 40s at night and really did feel like winter, since there is no heat in the buildings. It is very hard on the majority of Malawians who only have small fires as a heat source.

It is now the hot season and temperatures are in the 90s. The rains won’t come again until late November or early December. Even though I live in Blantyre, the second largest city, there are few places with air conditioning. My office is not one of them. I am learning to work in 95 degree heat, and have brought a fan to my office, but sometimes all it does is blow hot air around.

Malawi held a presidential election in May. It was rough going, with some violence on election day, and several incidents of ballot boxes missing or damaged. The election was contested but official results were finally released three weeks after election day. The new President, Arthur Peter Mutharika, a professor and lawyer, lived for many years in the United States. It is too early to tell what his presidency will bring to the country. Foreign government donors have largely withheld the 40% of the budget that they contribute annually, due to “Cashgate”. Cashgate occurred two years ago, when high level government officials stole millions of dollars from the national budget (mostly foreign donated funds). Malawi is now struggling to operate under a severe austerity budget.

At the end of May, I moved into a small guesthouse in the central part of the city. It is walking distance to my office (about

Becky's house

Becky’s house

a mile and a half), is furnished and very comfortable. I even have a washing machine and microwave! Quite spoiled by PC standards. My landlord is Irish and his wife is English, so we have fun communicating in our respective accents and comparing and contrasting our cultures and countries. They have lived in Malawi for 18 years and raised their four sons here.

My thoughts turn more and more now to returning home in February. It is right around the corner. It will be wonderful to see you all again.

Love,

Becky

RPCVs of NENY Welcome Glenn Blumhorst, NPCA President

On October 18, Sara Poggi met with NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst (pictured here) who was visiting from Washington DC.Glenn-Blumhorst-NPCA-President-600pxl-e1360882599394

Sara provided a detailed update about the status and activities of RPCVs of NENY. Glenn discussed news from the national level and stressed stressed that NPCA is refocusing on serving affiliate groups like RPCVs of NENY.

If you have any ways that NPCA can help our group, please contact us.

We appreciate Glenn taking the time to meet with our group and get input from our President.

Happy Hour at City Beer Hall

A great time was had by all at our Happy Hour event at the City Beer Hall last Friday. Check out some pictures below. Thanks again to Heather Senecal for coordinating the event. Stay tuned for future Happy Hours and other events from the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Northeastern NY!

 

Sarah Janeski and Eliot Cresswell

 

Ruth Senchyna and Heather Senecal

 

Eric Snell and Eliot Cresswell

 

Judith Wines and little Suraya Matejka

 

James Higby, Maseeh Mukhtar, and Bill Batt.

 

photo 1

 

photo 5

 

Jose Sanchez and Taya Louise

 

Kelly Thompson, Saru Zvoma, Bob Crowley, Jeanette Gottlieb, and Rich White-Smith.

Kelly Thompson, Saru Zvoma, Bob Crowley, Jeanette Gottlieb, and Rich White-Smith.

 

 

Hope to see you all at the next one! Stay tuned for further details.

 

Annual Summer Picnic

Our annual summer picnic was held on July 12th at Bob Crowley’s house in Poestenkill. 25-30 people were in attendance, including RPCVs, one current PCV, husbands and wives, and plenty of friends and family. A good time was had by all as we ate, drank, swam, and talked the day away. Until next year, everybody!

 

Good discussion

Good discussion

Good food

Good food

And a great host! Thanks, Bob!

And a great host! Thanks, Bob!

Peace Corps Happy Hour at Umana Restaurant and Wine Bar

A great time was had by all who attended the Peace Corps Happy Hour last night! Thanks again to Umana Restaurant and Wine Bar for hosting us and to RPCV Heather Senecal for organizing the event.

 

The restaurant created a special menu just for our event.

The restaurant created a special menu just for our event.

236 Washington Ave., Albany, New York 12210

236 Washington Ave., Albany, New York 12210

Bob Crowley and Joe and Pat Doherty

Maseeh Mukhtar and Steve Gottlieb

A tableful of RPCVs!

Tessa Eckholm, Sarah Janeski, and Eliot Cresswell

Cheers!

Happy Hour Update – Menu attached

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick update on our Happy Hour Event next Friday (May 2nd) at 6 PM. First, thanks to everyone who RSVP'; it is going to be a fun night. Umana has reserved us the ‘back room’ in the restaurant. It’s a nice open space and we can definitely mingle. We have let the local PCMI programs (School of Public Health and Rockefeller) know about our happy hour and hopefully we will have some future PCV-ers there too.

If you are not sure about whether you can attend, there is still time! As further enticement, Umana has sent us a menu of special small plates they will have for us to order (attached). All prices are inclusive of taxes (but not gratuity). You can also order larger plates off their menu. We decided people can order the wine on an individual basis (rather than trying to find wines that everyone will like) and they will have a bartender available to our group.

We don’t need to order anything in advance; however, Umana asked that I update on approximate numbers by mid-week so they can have ample food on hand. You can order and pay directly at the restaurant.

Hope you can make it. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

See you Friday,

Heather

Click here to view menu.

Habitat for Humanity Build – Saturday May 10th

Looking for (another) way to Volunteer?

Some of you may have met our member Tessa Eckholm (RPCV Mexico). She is looking for some folks to help out on a Habitat for Humanity build. Habitat for Humanity is celebrating National Women Build Week May 4th – 11th. They are looking for 5-10 volunteers (open to everyone, not just women) for Saturday May 10th at the Sheridan Hollow Project site. Building will take place from 8am-3pm and they are having an after party at the Habitat for Humanity offices, just up the street at 3:30 as a thank you for all the Women Build volunteers.

If you are interested in participating or have any questions please email Tessa directly: tessaae@gmail.com. For planning purposes it would helpful if you could RSVP to Tessa by Thursday May 1st.

Here is some information about Women Build Week:

May 4th – 11th is National Women Build Week.  Women Build is a Habitat for Humanity International program that encourages women to make a difference by building homes and communities. The program seeks to encourage women volunteers to further the home-building mission of Habitat for Humanity. Since Women Build’s official creation in 1998, Women Build volunteers have constructed more than 1,600 homes around the world. Women Build 2014 will be taking place in the Capital District May 6th through May 10th, 2014 in Sheridan Hollow. This is a 60 house neighborhood revitalization project in downtown Albany. There is a suggested donation of $25/volunteer for this build to help empower women in the Capital District through home-ownership!

Survey request from PhD candidate Meghan Kallman – Brown University

Dear RPCVs of Northeastern New York,

My name is Meghan Kallman, and I am a PhD candidate in the department of sociology at Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island.  I am writing a dissertation about the relationship between organizations and social change work. I am interested in civic participation, the third sector, and development; in other words, what happens when people try to make their worlds better, and what do formal organizations have to do with that process?

I have elected to write my dissertation on the Peace Corps because I am interested in the effects of volunteering on people’s lives: how are volunteers’ biographies, identities, and politics shaped by participation? How do individual volunteers carry their Peace Corps experience with them throughout their lives and careers? How does this sort of international service experience permanently affect people?

As a part of it, I have created a survey for RPCV’s asking about their experiences abroad. I would be extremely grateful if you would distribute it to your listserv, via Facebook or your social media outlets, and to any other RPCVs in your personal or professional networks. The link is here: https://brown.co1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_0v3sObMYOUf8N0N

You should find the survey intuitive and enjoyable, and it should take about twenty minutes to complete.

This research has been approved by the Brown University Institutional Review (ethics) Board and is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy. Please contact me should you have any questions or concerns. I very much appreciate your consideration.

Regards,

Meghan Kallman