youth empowerment workshop

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My friend, Zoe, is a Community Economic Development (CED) volunteer. Her host organization approached her about tackling the issues of high youth pregnancy rates leading to increased school dropouts, lack of sexual reproductive health (SRH) education, and lack of motivation and education for youth to plan for their careers and long-term success.

As a special treat, Zoe helped me write this post.

Your Future, Your Choice

Many times men are left out of the conversation about SRH, citing it as only a woman’s “problem.” A portion of the workshop addressed the stigma around sex and pregnancy which is useful knowledge for all. With the endorsement of her supervisor, Patrick Masiziani, Zoe created a pilot program called “Your Future, Your Choice,” to address SRH to both men and women to help empower all to make good choices regarding their sexual health and encourage youth to look ahead to a bright career.

Peace Corps Volunteers are highly encouraged to collaborate with volunteers across sectors. Zoe and Patrick invited me to co-facilitate the health aspect of the program with Apollonia, an HIV/AIDS Trainer from a local vocational technical centre (VTC). Together, we debunked myths about sex and pregnancy, provided information and proper instruction on protection and contraceptives, as well as tools for having a healthy relationship.

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The career development portion was led by Peace Corps Volunteers Rachael, Justin, and Zoe.

In Namibia, the reality is that many business owners enter into an extremely over-saturated market selling produce, airtime, and other common goods and services.

Rachael, Justin, and Zoe led discussions on finding your career path, developing career plans, career preparations which included resume/interview readiness and goal setting. Justin also led a discussion on financial stability with an emphasis on savings.

About 70 youth were in attendance at the 3-hour workshop. We sadly had to turn some away who hadn’t pre-registered for the event. I like to believe that everyone left the workshop feeling empowered in their health choices and future careers.

“On a daily basis we see issues such as rape, sexual abuse, and cases of domestic and gender based violence. In our daily papers, on the TV news, and even first hand, we witness these events. I want to believe a workshop of this nature has addressed these issues and empowered trainees with ways to deal if they find themselves in such situations.” – Patrick Masiziani

Zoe’s thoughts leading up to the workshop:

This was my first time planning an event as a Volunteer and also my first collaboration. I wanted to everything to go as smooth as possible in hopes that trainees would see value in the workshop and staff would support an annual event of this nature. I was so grateful to have the support of other volunteers across the CED and Health sectors, because they were able to help fill in the gaps where I had little or no experience. And that’s why collaborations are so great. They really helped me work through logistics like measurement and evaluation, reporting, and most importantly, creating content to share during the workshop.

Leading up to the workshop was a bit hectic. First, our centre got word that our electricity may be cut off which would mean no lights, presentation, or air con in a room of 80 people. Because this wouldn’t have been a conducive learning environment, we agreed we would postpone if there was no electricity. Luckily, my supervisor worked tirelessly to get the issue resolved and we were able to continue with the event as planned. The morning of, I learned we did not have the proper equipment to use with the projector. Things we did have included (1) a compatible laptop with no charger (2) an incompatible laptop with a charger (3) an incompatible HDMI cable. Ah, the joys of technology. After about 2 hours and with the help of a few trainers, we finally found a VGA cable that connected to the laptop with a charger. Two hours before the start time, one of our facilitators told me she couldn’t make it anymore and I almost had a meltdown. Turns out she was joking.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the workshop went, despite the scramble prior. The health portion was especially engaging for trainees, and they asked question after question about what seemed to be first-hand experiences. The fact that they felt comfortable enough to ask these questions in front of a group of 70+ others gave me confidence that we accomplished our goal in making the forum a “safe space” experience. In fact, their curiosity on subjects like healthy relationships and voluntary medical male circumcision made me realize that these topics need to be addressed more often. Krystal’s approach in opening the workshop played a big role in their comfortability, too. She started out talking about how “we’re all adults” and how treating them like they were all practicing abstinence was unrealistic. Because it’s true! They’re having sex, its reality. Playing that angle was key because it made them feel like she was talking with them, not at them.

Unfortunately, the amount of time spent on health limited our time to discuss career preparation topics. Originally we had talked about a four hour event, but ended up being limited to three so as not to interfere with other classes that trainees were required to attend. After we wrapped the health portion and took a break, we were only left with 40 minutes for goal setting, budgeting, CV and interviewing tips. While this wasn’t ideal, I’m glad we didn’t rush health because that’s a topic I’m definitely not as knowledgeable in and I’m always available to help trainees edit CVs and apply for interviews. In the future, I would make it a two day event so that we have enough time to cover material, do activities and answer all questions.

I definitely learned a lot during this workshop and have identified numerous way to improve next time around. My advice to volunteers who want to host an event or something similar is to just go for it. It might be a success or it might be a failure, but either way you’ll learn a lot in the process. And chances are that, even despite potential chaos, your colleagues and community will appreciate the effort put in.

❤ Krystal

camp o-yeah.

Camp YEAH (Youth Exploring & Achieving in Health) is a health camp hosted by Peace Corps Volunteers and their counterparts in Namibia. Each year, in-school youth apply and are then invited to a week-long camp to engage in topic discussions and activities that will empower them in making healthy choices regarding their health and the health of their communities.

This was the inaugural year of Camp O-YEAH (the ‘O’ stands for O-Land) which was hosted in Oshakati. 18 youth from across the four regions of O-land (Oshikoto, Oshana, Omusati, and Ohangwena regions) gathered for a week of activities involving teamwork, goal setting, and of course, health awareness and education.

Victoria’s very first time in a swimming pool.

This year, I was able to bring Victoria as a camper to Camp O-YEAH. Victoria is a grade 12 learner in my village. Although quiet and soft-spoken she always has a way to light up a room. She wakes up early each morning to walk 3k to school. She spends hours studying under a torch or lantern, because there is no electricity at her home. As the winter days have become shorter, this gives her less and less daylight to not only get home from school each day, but to complete her chores while continuing to make time to prioritize her studies. Victoria wants to become a tour guide when grows up and has determined the path to get there.

During my service, I have asked myself many times, “Am I doing the right things the wrong way?” I’ve struggle with community “buy-in.” I’ve struggled with finding counterparts who see the bigger picture and realize it begins with smalll daily actions. Victoria has been one who sees the bigger picture.

Camp O-Yeah opened up a world of possibilities for Victoria.

On day 1 of Camp O-Yeah, each camper was given a dream book. They were told to decorate their books anyway they wanted to. Within their dream books, they could write anything they wanted inside— thoughts on life, studies, draw pictures or write poems— anything. Their books were for their eyes only, and campers could choose to share the contents of their books if they wished.

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On a few ocassions, Victoria shared a few entries of her dream book with me. The content she shared with me made me realize even moreso how beautiful and courageous this young lady is. Each day she battles many obstacles to receive an education, change her fate, and have a voice in her future.

So, whether or not I ever find out if I am doing anything right during my last year of service, there is one thing I know: Victoria came into my Peace Corps service at the right time, and if in any way I am able to impact her life in a positive way, that will make all of this worth it.

❤ Krystal

down by the river.

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The Kavango River: separating Namibia from Angola.

It still amazes me how different the landscapes are as you travel through Namibia. This weekend I spent some time in Rundu. I knew I was getting closer to town when I saw vivid green foliage, traces of water from recent heavy rains, and elephant crossing signs. Yes, seriously. I live in a country where elephants and people can cross paths (although, it wouldn’t be a great idea). How crazy is that?

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One of the many beautiful peacocks roaming around Camp YEAH over the weekend.

Each year volunteers in the Kavango Region host Camp YEAH. YEAH stands for Youth Exploring and Achieving in Health. The camp focuses on educating youth about the risk of HIV/AIDS and other issues affecting youth such as teen pregnancy. Volunteers and counterparts select motivated learners from their communities to participate.

This year, we will be introducing this camp to Ovamboland, creatively rebranding the name to Camp O-YEAH. Camp O-YEAH will be held during the first week of May. I have been put in charge of getting all the kitchen/nutrition stuff in order for camp. Since this is my first time being on the operations side of any camp, I figured this was a great opportunity to check out Camp YEAH, but also see how a camp kitchen is run.

When I completed my dietetics degree, I never thought I would use any food management concepts again. Not because I would never need to, but because I never wanted to EVER again. (Never say never, my friends!) I fell in love with the community health aspect of dietetics, and not so much with the food management or clinical side of it. Dietetic professionals know that creating menus to feed the masses takes a lot of time, math, tears, and preparation. Move to Namibia and add in converting everything from US to metric, and it turns into one heck of a good time.

I watched as a team of two volunteers with the assistance of a few locals cook and serve three meals per day to approximately 50 campers and staff. I was thoroughly impressed and mostly relieved that some school kitchens in Namibia are equipped with appliances found in commercial kitchens in the States. (They had a tilt skillet, y’all).

Mariah and Winnie cooked and introduced delicious new foods to the campers while reminding volunteers of the yummy foods we sacrificed for two years.

 

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Delicious cheese…oh, and chili.

 

For me, planning six days, 17 meals including 5 tea breaks, and 50 expected attendees will make anyone want to pull their hair out, but I think it will turn out just fine.

 

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Speaking of hair, do you like my new style? Can’t beat a new look for $10 USD.

 

❤ Krystal

 

malaria immunity. what’s your superpower?

Meme insisted that I got tested at the clinic.

I carry sickle cell trait.

Let’s clear a few things up before I go any further.

Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) also known as Sickle Cell Anemia is an inherited form of anemia in which mutated (sickle-shaped) red blood cells do not carry enough oxygen throughout the body. Because of this, the red blood cells “stick to the walls” and cannot pass through capillaries. As a result, this causes chronic pain (sickle cell crisis) typically at the location of the “sticking,” which is often crippling for those who suffer from SCD. SCD is common in those of African descent, but similarly Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, and Asian Indian ancestry can also have SCD.

A carrier of Sickle Cell Trait is a person who only inherited one mutated gene of SCD. Remember dominant and recessive genes in biology class? In most cases, carriers of  sickle cell trait are asymptomatic and commonly do not have issues related to SCD, although there are always exceptions.

Interesting research shows that carriers of the sickle cell trait are IMMUNE to malaria, because SCD stems from mutated red blood cells which carried malaria.

Now, malaria is a real nasty disease. Malaria is caused when an infected mosquito transmits a parasite, most commonly P. falciparum, to its host. Symptoms of malaria include fever, headache, chills, and vomiting.  If left untreated, malaria can lead to more severe symptoms including death.

Does anyone like needles? Nurse Anna laughing at pain.

Don’t get me wrong. Being genetically resistant to malaria is really cool. But, it does not make me immune to mosquito bites or mosquitoes buzzing in my ears a night. So, I make sure to sleep under my properly installed ITN (insecticide-treated net) and wear insect repellent.

Doctors still recommend carriers who live in malaria zones to take daily prophylaxis, especially during the rainy season – which is now in Namibia.

Hey, the more you know.

❤ Krystal

rustlin’ up some grub.

There are a few life lessons to be learned from watching The Lion King. Particularly, “grubs are slimy yet satisfying.”

Every day of my PC Namibian life is an adventure. I learn so much from the children I share a home with. They are so adventurous and fearless. But, aren’t most children?

Yesterday’s adventure led me to oshuungu from a nearby mopane tree.

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In many countries, edible insects, such as grubs and caterpillars offer a source of nutrition as well as income. Dried mopane worms have 2-3x more protein than beef by weight. 100 g of dried mopane worms contain about 430 calories and 50-60 g of protein. For comparison, 100 g of cooked beef is about 290 calories and 25 g of protein. Since mopane worms feed on healthy green foliage, they contain many of the required vitamins as well as significant amounts of fat, phosphorus, iron, calcium, and other minerals.

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My host siblings think it’s funny when I do things that really only children do in the village. Things such as running barefoot through puddles, hanging upside down from trees and getting excited to gather oshuungu provide pure entertainment and laughs from all.

Over the weekend, my youngest host brother, Mengela, was out playing and came home with branches filled with plump mopane worms. I begged him to take me next time. Ask and you shall receive.

On Monday, Mengela escorted me to the mopane tree where he had collected his harvest. After giving him a boost into the tree, I stood below, nervous yet excited to collect my very own mopane worms. As Mengela climbed from branch to branch, I stood to assess the tree for worms at the ground level while collecting a few (okay, one) mopane worm(s) in my reach as Mengela climbed his way up and through the tree limbs.

He climbed higher and higher, yelling, “Meme Krystal take,” and as he tossed down branches with mopane worms munching on the bright green leaves, something dawned on me.

“Mengela,” I shouted, “are there snakes in this tree?”

“No,” he responded firmly from above.

Not even a minute later, I saw slithering movement from the corner of my eye.

“Mengela, it’s a snake,” I squealed.

I watched as it dangled from a lower tree limb trying to hold on. But, it was too off balance and dropped to the ground. Once on the ground, it’s lateral undulation caused it to quickly blend into the grass below.

I ran quickly away. Everyone is safe.

Here’s a recipe for mopane worms:

After cleaning, heat oil in a pan and fry your mopane worms until their done.

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❤ Krystal

 

from the ground up.

I enjoy gardening.

In my early 20s, I shared a garden plot with a few colleagues when I worked for Chesapeake. It took a while to realize I cared more about hot compost and blossom rot and sweet potato curing than the average working young adult. I was captivated by sustainable gardening. Although, back then, I didn’t know sustainable was more than not using chemicals and pesticides.

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After returning back to school, I dabbled in home gardening. Bone meal and trellises and garden gloves and worm casing and lady bugs, I soon realized I was spending a lot of money for a tiny harvest.

Here’s one thing the US has wrong about gardening.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to grow a garden. 

We rely on fancy tools, seeds, and fertilizers which make gardening expensive. Many times we take on a backyard garden as if it’s a commercial farm. We start too big. And then our gardens fail.

 

Enter the idea of permagardening. Simple and teachable methods to link nutrition and agriculture which can be implemented anywhere around the world.

Upon returning to site after this workshop, I was on a mission to get serious about our household garden. I knew that this would require some help from my host family. So, I gathered my host siblings.

The type of permagardening technique we used is called double-digging. Double digging not only breaks up the top soil but increases the ability for the soil to hold water as well as adds air to the soil.

I use the term soil loosely because what we are dealing with here in northern Namibia is sand. Sand lacks essential nutrients for plants to grow therefore many plants cannot thrive in sand. During the hottest portion of the day, sand can increase in temperatures to about 120 degrees F. Not an ideal environment for a garden.

This is where science and knowing your environment comes in.

Our biggest task was to improve our soil and we didn’t have to leave the homestead to find all the right materials to do so.

Carbon Nitrogen Microbes
Charcoal Chicken manure Goat manure Egg shells (calcium)
Brown Leaves Coffee grounds Cow manure Wood ash (minerals)
Green leaves
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Host sisters and I pulled overgrown plants around the homestead to add nitrogen to our garden.

Healthy doses of carbon, nitrogen, microbes, as well as calcium, will change the sand into soil over time. This will make a soil rich in organic compounds needed to grow a healthy, sustainable garden.

Cost: Nothing (Except some time and hardwork).

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Collecting rainwater from the roof runoff. One less expense.

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Buried a few palm leaves to provide some shade for the young plants. Also, added twigs and branches from a neraby neem tree to serve as mulch. Neem is also a natural insect repellent. Dark green leaves- Black-eyed peas

My host siblings are thrilled and eager to assist in beginning and maintaining our garden. They have even started growing mango seeds to plant in the garden, although I remind them our garden may be too small for a tree.

❤ Krystal