Monday, August 18, 2008

Black and White Pictures

“If Obama becomes president will they call the white house and black house?”

I’m in stitches. Five little boys crowd our dinner plates asking these hilarious political questions interspersed with Setswana lessons and requests to be taught new American “street talk”. I’m mortified that the only slang I can remember is “Chillin”, “Sweet”, and… shockingly: “That’s Wack”. Fortunately, the boys aren’t able to date my “coolness” and so we manage to maintain this banter through dessert.

The Youth Forum is jammed with lectures, music, debates, games, dramas, group work, songs and sports. A break from hours of tortuous exams and route memorization fills these kids with such energy and excitement it’s hard to take your eyes off of them.

In addition to the novelty of student-centered instruction, this is also the first time I’ve seen Motswana children fully equipped for a learning environment: each child spends the week toting around a free backpack filled with paper, pens and rulers while donning a new orange t-shirt with matching visor.

The t-shirts read: “Empowering Youth for Life: Be on the race’. Although the slogan appears to have a preposition error the kids seem to understand the message despite faulty metaphors. It is fascinating to watch them pour such profound thought, creativity, discussion and inquiry into topics like
· teenage pregnancy
· child rights
· hygiene
· volunteerism
· substance abuse
· behavior change
· truancy
· decision making
· youth stress

This active involvement in combination with each day’s menu of 3 hearty means and 2 tea time snacks means kids are left with little reason for complaint, quarrel or theft (theft is, by far, the worst problem for children growing up in the midst of Botswana’s vast social disparities and grossly underfunded public school system).

As part of the “Security Committee” I spend evenings patrolling the halls and dorms where kids are found comparing the days notes, plaiting each others hair, wrestling, giggling and full of all the summer camp chaos that make kids kids despite a color and a continent and a need.

And so this is a slice of Botswana at its worst and at its best. OVCs eating, clothed, learning and entertained. Seven days for 100 kids. Maybe a start, maybe a break but, either way, a picture of what can and should and will be, on day, in Botswana.

“No.” I smile back at Katlego’s big goofy grin. “No, they won’t call it a black house but they might call it a better house. Change is coming.”

And he beams back at me with all the hope and promise a 10 year old boy can hold.

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