Olibukom is so small it is not listed on most maps of Botswana. The village is located just 100 kilometers west of Francistown and 100 kilometers east of the first and largest diamond mine in the country. The volunteer we stay with will finish her two year service on June 7th. She is fluent in Setswana and knows the names of every child, shopkeeper, neighbor and dog in the village.
Inram spends time walking us through the village and telling us stories of this place and its history. We visit the clinic, school, lands, bar and shop. We meet hundreds of people in just two days.
What I see and hear in this place breaks me to a shape I have not felt before.
I cannot describe my reaction to these things with any justice so I’ve listed them here as a report. My intention is that, in reading this, you will experience a small fragment of this aching world, as I have. My sense is that this is the beginning of us both learning to interact with a broken place that holds potential and purpose and hope.
there is much that overwhelms me here.
Here is a brief (and thus unjust) account of what I’ve learned about Olibukom:
The village population is 1200 inhabitants, 600 children of whom are children
200 adults, 25 pregnant women and 5 children are being treated for HIV with government funded antiretroviral (ARV) medication
In 2007 over 30 children were receiving ARVs but this past January the government removed 25 of the children from treatment due to noncompliance by their caregivers
Medical noncompliance is a problem for most Olibukom caregivers due to alcoholism and their own illnesses
90% of the adult population in this village suffer from severe alcoholism
Shabines are small houses turned “bars” where villagers brew their own beer
Beer brewed in shabines is considerably cheaper than brand named brews and has a potency equivalent to that of moonshine
In a 15 minute walk through the village one can come across 10 shabines packed with people who have been drinking since 8:00 in the morning
Parents and caregivers receive monthly food baskets from the government for orphans and vulnerable children
A large majority of parents and caregivers sell the items in the food basket for alcohol to feed their addictions
Olibukom teachers complain of children coming to school drunk and hung over from alcohol fed to them in place of food
Last month an elderly woman got drunk and crossed the one main road in town. She was hit by a passing car and died instantly. The driver was a government official who had killed another drunk pedestrian just last month.
The village does not have ambulances and, as a result, wheelbarrows are often used to bring patients to and from the clinic
Today a patient arrived in a wheelbarrow and was told that the gangrene in his leg was so bad it would need to be amputated. The man elected to be wheeled home where it is believed that he will die.
Vulnerable elders receive monthly food baskets from the government which their children often steal from them and sell for money to fund their alcoholism.
There is a community of elderly citizens that live on the outskirts of Olibukom
One of these elders is a very old woman who the town social worker and PCV have been working to help.
The woman was given a lock to keep her son from stealing her food.
The social worker also hired this woman a caregiver who lasted a month and then became drunk
one night and jumped into a fire. She was sent away to Francistown for medical treatment.
The old woman was found dead in her hut this morning.
When someone dies in Botswana family and friends come to the home to sit, talk and pray for the family until the burial. Burials occur only on weekends.
Many families go bankrupt trying to feed all of the people who come to grieve in the week before the burial.
Violent corporal punishment and pedophilia run rampant throughout the schools systems in Botswana.
Teachers whose offenses are discovered are transferred to different schools throughout the country. They are not fired for misconduct.
Children between the ages of 5 and 13 attend primary school in the village
To begin the day, primary school children line up in the school courtyard at 7:00 shivering and singing morning prayers. Many of them arrive with half uniforms, torn clothes and no shoes.
One child is elected to begin singing the morning prayer. After the first few soloed notes, 600 children join into the prayer in perfect unison and harmony.
Olibukom’s primary school as built in 1985 and is the first educational facility the village has ever seen
Because the great majority of the village parents have never attended school they do not encourage or understand homework and many children have reported that they are beat for studying outside of school
Children who opt to attend school after the age of 13 must travel 120 kilometers to the closest secondary school and live there for the term
This past February Olibukom’s secondary school children left the village and spent several weeks at school where they were not being fed.
Several students were given or promised food in exchange for sexual favors from their instructors
Other students eventually attempted to walk back to Mokubilo to find food
Two children were lost on their way back to Mokubilo and have not yet been found
It is believed that one of these children was kidnapped and killed for witchcraft
Tomorrow I will write of the amazing work Inram has done for the community and the progress they are making towards health and prevention.
There is a place for hope and a place for grief.
It is 11:22 in the evening on May 9, 2008. I am sitting in Inram’s kitchen writing by candlelight because the village does not have electricity in the nights and early mornings. Tomorrow I will be hopeful. But there is a place for hope and a place for grief. This is my place of grief.