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My initiation into the African way of life

The Peace Corps Chronicles, Part 2

My Initiation

With the quest for vision underway, it was now time to make action speak louder than words. So, I visited the nearest optometrist which is 70 kilometers from my village. He is a Botswana doctor, currently working abroad, and after discussing my needs, the arrangements were made.

There would be an initial screening free-of-charge and a follow-up examination for those with vision issues. Then we would pull together a plan to fund the glasses they would need. I had good impressions from the doctor and was proud of my bold steps towards solving this problem.

Working as a volunteer in Africa, my mindset and expectations have changed since leaving the States. My days here can be life-affirming and welcoming but then there is always another side. This is the part where work doesn’t get done how you want it or the pace of progress slowly drips. This is neither an accusation nor a complaint but rather it’s a way of describing life in another country.

Foreigners coming to work abroad often have to readjust their mentalities coming from a fast-paced, insanely competitive homeland. But as Namibia, and let me say Africa, can attest to, life isn’t always about success but resilience.

This is one of many things I’ve learned in that Africa can teach you lessons you thought you already knew. Lessons that make you realize what can be important in life.

Now, back to the story, I left the doctor, who was seemingly reliable and trustworthy, and I proceeded to arrange with the school for the upcoming visits. You can probably sense my foreboding as the path to your destination always has curves, bump, and obstacles.

Otherwise, things will be too easy and few lessons learned. Unbeknownst to me, the future plans will need a slight adjustment…

The Peace Corps Chronicles are written by Spencer Mandzik who joined the Corps in Feb 2010 as a volunteer in Namibia, Africa. He is living with a local family and learning to speak the language of Oshiwambo. These are his stories as he follow’s John F. Kennedy’s dream to serve our country “in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries.”

Read Part 1 – A quest for vision in Namibia

That's Namibia in red.

A quest for vision in Namibia

The Peace Corps Chronicles – Part 1

 

The Beginning

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in an African village, I am a teacher, librarian, HIV/AIDS coordinator, after-school program manager and all-around helper for any school functions.

Upon arriving here in Namibia, I had a great ambition to accomplish many things in my two-year service. I did a lot of brain-storming until it occurred to me that the students don’t need big things because they face serious and immediate issues such as malnutrition, hunger, poor hygiene, broken families, and the list continues.

It would be ill not to mention that Namibia has one of the highest HIV infection rates in Africa, and the nearest town has one of the highest within Namibia. All of my kids are affected by this in one way or another.

With that said, I reevaluated what my school and students needed. In the village resources and life are very basic. The schoolhouse has no electricity, no nurse, no continuous feeding program, broken chairs and desks, and missing many other basic items. Moreover, I noticed that not many students wear glasses.

Is it possible that something as fundamental as vision is not being addressed. What if the reason some kids are misbehaving or failing is because they can’t see?

Over half of the students are documented as OVC’s (Orphans and Vulnerable Children). Along with hardship at home, life at school could seem even more hopeless if you are struggling to read whats on the board and in the textbook.

With these facts and observations, the motor started churning in my head. I consulted another volunteer and luckily found that he had already initiated something similar. With his help I began my quest to aid the kids who deserve to be treated with fairness and open opportunities. What better a way to fight poverty and hardship then a motivation for educational success. Now, I realized the project to work on.

NEXT: PART II: The Initiation

The author, Spencer Mandzik, joined the Peace Corps in Feb 2010 as a volunteer in Namibia, Africa. He is living with an African family and learning to speak the local language of Oshiwambo. These are his stories as he follow’s John F. Kennedy’s dream to serve our country “in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries.”

Namibia (in red)