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

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!

RPCV Starts Language Learning Library Project

Ray Blakney (Mexico 2006-08) has begun a 3rd goal project with the PC regional offices and the PC 3rd goal office in DC to try to create an online archive to keep the language training material made all over the world from getting lost.  Ray has created a sub-section on his website with all the information gathered to date. He has currently close to 100 languages with ebooks, audios and even some videos.

The next step for this project is to get the world out about this resource so that it can not only be used by PCV’s or those accepted into the Peace Corps, but also so that when people run across material that is not on the site. There should be something there for almost everybody.  It is all 100% free to use and share.

Any assistance in getting the word out would be appreciated, whether it be by mentioning it on your website, in a newsletter or just word of mouth in your group.   Here is the page:

http://www.livelingua.com/peace-corps-language-courses.php

Thanks for any help you can provide in making this 3rd goal project a success.   And if anybody in your group has some old material they can scan or already have in digital form, and want to add to the archive, you can email it to Ray directly at raymond.c.blakney@gmail.com.

Call for Input on a Library Project in Sierra Leone

Via Beth Deitcher:

Sewie Pujah, a friend of Beth Deitcher (Namibia 2007-2010) is looking for input and assistance for a library project in Sierra Leone. Sewie was born in Bondea, Sierra Leone, grew up in the United States and is now living in Albany, NY.  She has been collaborating with the chief of her village to develop the idea for this library project. Sewie is not affiliated with an NGO and is trying to figure out the best way to fund the library.

Some planning documents are available to view. For more information or to get involved, email Sewie at speppah@yahoo.com or Beth at cinnbin@aol.com.