IST + “What if I can’t do it?”
Long time, no blog…
July was a crazy month for the SA31 cohort. We spent two weeks in Empangeni, KwaZulu-Natal at IST (Internal Service Training <- remember reading about that in my earlier blog posts?), and we celebrated SIX MONTHS in country!
IST was great because it was a chance to catch up with people I hadn’t seen since Swearing-In (although, in reality, we saw each other at AllVol…..), but it was a jammed pack couple of weeks. Sessions started at 8 a.m. every day, and we didn’t have a single day off. Our supervisors joined us for a few days at the beginning and then our counterparts came for five days in the middle.
Supervisors are essentially our bosses at our org, and counterparts are people in the community we work alongside to implement programs. My counterpart is Kagiso (aka Simon), he is 19 and he works at my org. Counterparts were invited so they could also learn about different programs because, as I said in a previous post, Peace Corps is all about sustainability and providing people tools to help themselves, rather than sending a PCV to “fix” everything and then leave in two years. Prior to traveling to IST, Kagiso had never seen the beach (can you imagine going 19 years without seeing the beach?!) and many other counterparts from Mpumalanga hadn’t either, so PC was amazing and arranged for the counterparts to go to the beach one afternoon! I didn’t get to go, but I saw the pictures and they had so much fun! The smile on his face when he got back made the whole two weeks worthwhile.
The conference took place at Canefields Country House, which was basically in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by sugarcane fields, so we were stuck with each other on the property with no escape 😉 Volunteers who live in Mpumalanga (like myself), had to travel for 10+ hours on a Greyhound bus from Pretoria to Empangeni to get to the venue.
Some of the sessions included Grassroots Soccer, Zazi, and Brother’s For Life (programs that volunteers frequently implement to teach kids/youth about HIV and health), language lessons, cultural exchange, grant writing, monitoring and evaluation, reporting work to Peace Corps headquarters, and policy/procedure.
I also got nominated for the Language Training and Resource Committee and my job is to design and layout the PCSA newsletter each month! But the most exciting news… July 22 marked SIX MONTHS IN SOUTH AFRICA! I’m so glad I got to spend it with my entire cohort even if we had to spend the day in sessions.
Don’t worry, it wasn’t all work. We ended the day between 4 and 5 p.m. and I got to go for runs in the sugar cane fields, hang out with friends, watch a performance by traditional Zulu dancers, and go to the bar (which was on resort property).
IST also marks the end of isolation/integration and the end of my (tedious) CNA. Now that I can start implementing programs and I’m done with the initial integration phase… I feel like a real volunteer! This also means I can start traveling outside of my village/shopping town/Pretoria and boy have I planned some awesome trips already…. Heritage Day weekend at Blyde River Canyon, diving in Durban in November, and Cape Town for Christmas! Not to mention visiting fellow volunteers at their sites.
Returning to my village after IST was a hard transition. I miss seeing my friends every day, always having something to do, and essentially, socializing. I’ve always been a pretty outgoing person (I mean, I was given the Social Butterfly superlative in fifth grade ;P) and although that aspect of my personality has ebbed and flowed over the years, I still love surrounding myself with people. My idea of “alone time” is sitting in a crowded Starbucks reading or working on my computer. So moving from IST to Mmametlhake was a bit of a shock (again).
I’m not gonna lie, I’ve had moments where I thought, “can I really do this for 21 more months?” but seeing the kids at my org each day reminds me why I’m here. I just finished applying for a grant to start a health program at my org and take the kids on a field trip! I’m also planning a Halloween party and lock-in at my org to teach the kids about Halloween!
I can’t wait to see what the next 21 months hold 🙂