i am a confident young woman.

When it’s that time of the month, I don’t have to worry about having proper hygienic products to manage my period.

Unfortunately, this is not the reality of every woman.

In Namibia, some women without access to proper feminine products will use mattress filling, newspapers, and even leaves during menstruation. Although I haven’t encountered any women that have used any of these methods, it happens. Culture and economic constraints lead to poor menstrual hygiene management. But, most importantly, some young women miss school because they don’t have access to pads during their periods.

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SisterPADS is an NGO based in Windhoek. They provide cost-effective, eco-friendly, washable and re-usable sanitary pads which aim to improve girls’ menstrual health hygiene and welfare.

In early March, my counterparts, Ileni and Patrina, a fellow volunteer, Rachael, and I held a girls empowerment workshop in my community.

60 SisterPAD kits were donated to girls in my community who have difficulty acquiring pads due to financial hardships. We wanted to conduct a workshop not only focusing on menstruation, but to educate girls about sexual health, HIV/AIDS, hygiene and sanitation, reproductive health, and how to care for the reusable pads they received at the end of the workshop.

I am a confident young woman.
I am in control of my own body.
I am in control of my own health.
I am in control of my sexual health.
I am educated about my sexual health.
I make my own decisions about my own health.
I make my own decisions about sex.

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I really enjoyed seeing my counterparts shine during this workshop. They covered the topics of sexual reproductive health with the utmost sensitivity, empathy, and care.

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To conclude the workshop, Rachael guided the participants through a self-esteem activity. The each wrote down what makes each of them unique and how their qualities contribute positively to the world around them.

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Body changes are normal. A young woman should not be afraid of these changes. With SisterPADS, these girls will be able to hygienically and safely manage their periods, but they will also miss fewer days of school.

❤ Krystal

taking a look back

I was selected along with 16 current volunteers to serve as a RV (Resource Volunteer) during PST (Pre-Service Training) for G47. Last week, I attended GTOT (General Training of Trainers), in preparation for the incoming group of business and health volunteers next week.

I am still coming to grips with the fact that my time as a volunteer is coming to an end. I am experiencing many feelings of sadness and denial. And feelings that I could’ve done more.

I promise this is not a sad, sappy post. I wanted to share two things in this post:

My invitation letter & My aspiration statement

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I remember receiving my invitation letter while I was sitting at the WIC office during my community nutrition rotation. Minutes before, I had gotten off the phone with my Dietetic Technician advisor and financial aid office. Due to an administrative error, they had dropped me out of my courses. My advisor was worried and called me that morning wondering why I had dropped courses more than halfway through my last semester. I called the financial aid office to clear things up, which was not easy. When I received my letter, there was a mixture of excitement and frustration. Robin Cooley, my preceptor and one of my references, celebrated with me. Receiving this invitation, solidified the reality of the Peace Corps for me.

My aspiration statement was written after reflecting on my time interning at Brookside Assisted Living during my clinical nutrition rotation. Ms. B, which I found out later, lived in my neighborhood, helped change my perspective on life and death, and how each of us has the ability to do something.

I challenge each volunteer currently serving, coming to the end of service, or even about to begin service to take a look back at your invitation and your aspiration statement. 27 months of service is not easy. Heck, 6 months of service is not easy. While service may play out much different than you expected, looking back can provide the chance to see more of what your country of service has taught you and less of what you taught them.

❤ Krystal

letter home – july 2017.

Another month has come and gone! July was a pretty exciting one.

I posted quite a bit on my blog this month, so if you haven’t read it lately, check it out. Also, the beginning of August marks the single month countdown until COS (close of service). Wow! Doesn’t even seem possible, but it is.

So, July, July, July (insert Decemberist, here). We had our 4th of July braai. That was fun. I also planned it, so it was nice that everything went according to plan.

Then, I went to Etosha. That is also on my blog. 🙂 (I have learned to schedule my blogs to auto-post, since my wifi is unpredictable). So, I am not actually sitting at my computer all day and night, like it may seem.

Peace Corps Namibia’s Media Committee paid a visit to my site for 5-days late-July to film for an impact video which will be posted in the next couple months. The Media Committee is comprised of volunteers throughout Namibia who create media to spotlight PC Namibia to the rest of Peace Corps. Many Peace Corps post (countries) have media committees. It was really fun to have them follow me along. Many of the MC volunteers are town volunteers. There seems to be a feud between the town and village volunteers. Mostly about the have-nots and the have-nothings. lol. All volunteers have their challenges, but it was nice for them to see what some may call “The Peace Corps Experience.” In many ways, my PC experience is what many volunteers envision when they apply. So, the “townies” totally soaked up the village-life for a few days. My host family and colleagues welcomed them with open arms by providing meals, transport, and new skills to take back to their town-life. (Although, we didn’t kill a chicken this time.)

I can’t wait for the final cut of the video to be posted, but it was a magical experience. Stars aligned during those 5-days and everything worked out with projects, people, etc. (ok, maybe having a camera crew helped), but it was great.

I know it seems opposite to think or say, but it really was a humbling experience. I’m really fortunate for the community I have been placed in (warts and all). I had a heart-to-heart with Vern. He’s a newer business volunteer to the country. He’s retired military with over 30 years of working experience. I sat down to talk to him during one of our lulls through the week. I was able to tell him about challenges I have encountered throughout my last year. I have had many frustrations (some I have told you about) and times where I wanted to be home, close to friends, family, and colleagues who appreciate my hard work and effort. I know now that without my community, I am nothing. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer means absolutely nothing without a community. I have been blessed to have a community that cares for me and takes care of me in absence of my family back home.

There never is really a “failed” project, it’s just a project that is not fit for a community at this time. There always seems to be new projects that arise in failures.

So, now my weekly schedule consists of the health club, exercise group, mentoring Victoria, and community health outreach (checking BP, weight and health education) in the community. Still waiting to hear back from the Ministry about a secure meeting space to host our teen HIV support group. Fingers crossed.

Anyhow, more personal fun stuff:

  • I have almost finished all 10 seasons of Friends. Season 8 is by far the funniest, in my opinion
  • I finished reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I am currently reading Wild, The Blind Side, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and BIG TEAM, a leadership book written by one of my friends I worked with at Chesapeake.
  • Started on 2017 table cloth embroidering (slowly, but surely).
  • I’m in a wedding this weekend. My bridesmaid dress is blue and I’m somehow supposed to wear 3-inch heels in the sand, oh boy.

August means another school break is in store, and I will be spending the last week of the month hiking Fish River Canyon with some volunteers.

Also, Camp GLOW will take place during the last week of August. If you would like to still donate for that please do so here: https://donate.peacecorps.gov/donate/project/camp-glow-namibia-2017/

I added a lot of pictures this time. I figured wherever you’re reading this, you have better internet than I do, so this won’t take all day to load.

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At the end of each month, there is a pension day. Eligible elderly go to pick up their pension checks. One that same day, there is usually a market setup in front of the clinic and sell goods such as brooms, shoes, baskets and they even butcher meat. It’s like a one-stop shop for people who travel long distances from their village. This picture is with the ladies who were selling N$5 avocados. ($1 USD= N$13). I don’t even really like avocados, but you can’t beat that price anywhere. Photo Credit: Peace Corps Namibia Media Committee

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Me and Ms.Frieda, she’s the principal at the secondary school and one of my friends in Namibia. Photo Credit: Peace Corps Namibia Media Committee

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A few of my colleagues at the clinic- Josephine and Pehevelo. (The shack looking thing in the back, is actually an outdoor kitchen, called an epata, it is covered to protect from the rain in the rainy season. Oh, and when I say kitchen, it’s literally just a few stones on the ground to hold your pot for cooking over an open fire.) Photo Credit: Peace Corps Namibia Media Committee

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Passing out some more teddy bears at the kindergarten across from the clinic. I think I was dancing in that photo. Why was I dancing? Photo Credit: Peace Corps Namibia Media Committee

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Washing clothes. Yep, hand-washing. I learned from the “townies” that some of them actually wear gloves to hand-wash their clothes. It’s really not that bad, just time consuming. Okay, I actually hate it, but my host family usually helps me and I offer a few dollars or sweets in return. Photo Credit: Peace Corps Namibia Media Committee

I wanted to send this email tomorrow, but with my luck with Wifi, I figured I would send it now now.
Have a wonderful week!

f i s h r i v e r c a n y o n

1 round-trip train ride. 5 days. 8 Peace Corps Volunteers. 500 pictures. 75 kilometers.

Perks of being a Peace Corps Volunteers include opportunities to travel and see the world. Namibia is a country of contrasting beauty, a sentiment included in the nation’s anthem.

Last August, seven volunteers and I took on the challenge of hiking the second largest canyon in the world, Fish River Canyon. Located in southern Namibia, Fish River Canyon hiking trail stretches about 90 kilometers and is one of the most visited attractions in Namibia.

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Fish River Canyon hiking trail contains a steep descent, boulders, rocks, deep sand, slippery river crossings, baboons, snakes, scorpions, and wild game throughout the canyon.

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Being a beginner hiker, here are some things to consider if you plan on taking on Fish River Canyon.

Tips if you plan to hike Fish River Canyon:

Print a route map to carry along. Luckily, one person in our group thought to do that, otherwise, we’d probably still be hiking to this day.

Know your fitness level. Although minimal hiking experience is needed, the trails are a mixture of stones, deep sand, grass, bedrock and in some places steep ascends or descends. It requires moderate fitness level. You will be spending the major of the days walking under the blistering sun, which can add to the difficulty of the hike. Many groups finish the hike in 5 days, but taking the shortcuts can cut about a day and a half off of the hike.

Food and drink

A water filter pump is a huge advantage. Water purification tablets if not.

5-day meal plan for Fish River Canyon

Sleeping

You can either sleep in the open or in a lightweight tent. We had a mix in our group, and those sleeping in tents got the better sleep. The wind picked up at night and sand in the face isn’t a great thing to wake up to. Take a super-warm sleeping bag regardless.

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❤ Krystal

 

letter home – march/april/may 2017.

Hello All—-

I haven’t forgotten about you! I have been both busy and not busy at the same time. How is that even possibly?

In March, I joined a couple Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and a Namibian friend to Cape Town, South Africa for a relaxing vacation and we also attended PRIDE. Recently, Peace Corps Namibia, with the overwhelming support of former Global Peace Corps Director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet (I met her last July), formed Diversity Resource Partners (DRP). As you can imagine, PCVs join Peace Corps during all stages in their lives. From recently college grads to retirees and many volunteers in between. Serving as a black American volunteer has its challenges, including times where I must “prove” my Americaness and ability to do things as well or even better than white Americans, of course considering my skills and knowledge. While this remains my main struggle during service, many other volunteers face challenges in being open about their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, political affiliations, etc., which can make it a very lonely place for a volunteer. We created DRP to provide a place for volunteers to connect and have a place to address these challenges and provide a sounding board in how to deal with challenges (respectfully and tastefully) in our communities (with other volunteers and our actually Namibian communities). This has definitely been the one time in my life that I have truly thought about my physical identity on a daily basis, whether people are giving me the run around because I don’t appear American enough for them, to subtleties such as watching a cashier hand a fellow volunteer their change while placing their left hand on their right elbow (a sign of respect) and that same cashier sliding my change to me on the counter, or having an HCN approach a group of volunteers and shake everyone’s hand except for mine, are moments that are hard to shake and leave a lasting impression. I can’t say most days I thought about that in the States. DRP provides a place for me to talk about these challenges so they don’t eat me up inside.

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I also made a trip home in March. I’m kinda regretting it now. It just made me miss home too much. I loved seeing everyone while I was home, don’t get me wrong. I also have overall enjoyed my time here, but it just makes it easier to be homesick thinking of the things I am missing out on now to be here. But, in the same ways, one year passed so quickly, I expect my last year of service to be the same. I made a Facebook post recently about things I missed in the States. Thinking back, it was such a superficial list. My best friend, Carrie Hooton, challenged me by responding, “Things I miss by not going to Namibia: (Krys fill this in, top 7)”, CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. Blog post in the works.

April was filled with meetings and lots of transitioning in Peace Corps Namibia. My last email I talked about struggles of the health program. All of the health volunteers were invited to Windhoek (pronounced Wind hook or Vind hook), for a 3-day conference on restructuring the program. Unfortunately, due to continuous staff changes, and lack of support and partnership with the Ministry of Health, being a health volunteer has been, I’ll just say it, HARD!!! Many of us are in clinics in rural villages where English is not spoken or spoken well. So, when a PCVs shows up, the clinics see us as if we’re creating more work, as opposed to helping to alleviate it (even though these clinics have agreed in advance to host a volunteer). So, many volunteers have to be extremely creative and flexible. From the meeting, we were able to come to a consensus of what a true health volunteers role should be and not only that, we suggested new ways recruit volunteers to Namibia because the current application was in some ways misleading.

At the end of April, I was involved in the first Camp O-YEAH in my region. Because of my food science background, I was pretty much the camp cook. Josie knows, I hated food management! My food management rotation literally brought me to tears. Well, I ended up planning the menu for a 5-day health camp- including requisition, recipes, menu, and the US to metric conversions! Most meals turned out great. Campers were happy as well as the facilitators. The campers were able to try new foods that they don’t eat at home, and let’s just say, EVERYONE LOVES TACO TUESDAYS!

During the month of May, the schools were on holiday. The schools here are year-round (somewhat), so there are month-long breaks during May and December. I didn’t have much planned, so the principal at the secondary school, Ms. Elago, invited me to her home for a few days. It was nice to get away for awhile. We relaxed, picked lemons from her lemon tree, and talked about projects for the upcoming term. I did make another trip to Rundu located in northeast Namibia, for the going away party of the group who arrived in Namibia a year before me. My friend, Steffi, was a business volunteer in Namibia. Recently, NPR did a fantastic reflective piece on her service, you should read it! She’s heading to NYU in the fall.

Next weekend, I am heading to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe to run a 7.5K (it was only R45~ $3.50 USD). I am probably going to bungee jump, Mom. Just be warned now. Then, later this month, my cohort group meets for our Mid-service conference, marking our one year at our sites.

I hope this email blast wasn’t full of complaints. I mean, like always I take the good with the bad, and that’s normal for any job, whether it’s brewing my life away at Starbucks or roughing it while trying to balance cross-cultural interactions. Some days are good, some days are challenging. The most important thing is learning from each experience, amiright?

Books I’ve read this year (I am always open for suggestions):
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, JK Rowlings
We Should All be Feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Columbine, Dave Cullen
The Magnolia Story, Chip and Joanna Gaines
The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World, Chris Gulliebeau
Push, Sapphire
Power Lines: Two Years on South Africa’s Borders, Jason Carter
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah

Do I like reading? I don’t know. But, after reading some of the books I’ve read in the last year, I am convinced I could write a book about my life and sell a lot of copies.

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I met the Minister of Health, Dr. Bernard Haufiku. He came to the health camp and spoke with the youth. He is an intelligent man and so kind. Invited us to his house from dinner the following evening. In US terms, this was like meeting the Surgeon General of the US.

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I took a photo of a taxi rank, where you should haul a taxi from, but this is not the reality. I still hate hiking in this country!

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I have a roommate, it’s a mouse and it likes to eat my produce.

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Rainy season is over and everything is dry and dead, again!

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We harvested all of our mahangu for the year, the kids are using sticks to get the grain off of the reeds.

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Our dog, Brownie, had 13 puppies two weeks ago, I haven’t decided if I am keeping one yet.

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I passed out some bears at a local kindergarten. Bears were donated by the Mother Bear Project. If you know how to crochet or knit and want to find a way to put a smile on a child’s face, check out their website.

i choose to stay.

Last year, I wrote a post about FOMO (read: the truth about fomo as a peace corps volunteer). I mentioned how being a Volunteer means missing out on birthdays and other significant milestones back home. But, there is one thing I left out.

Death.

Because the thought of death still makes me uncomfortable, although death is as natural as life.

On Sunday, February 11, my Gramps was placed in hospice care. He passed away early in the morning on Saturday, February 17, the day after my 31st birthday. He was 87 years old.

With only 3 months remaining of my service, I choose to stay in Namibia. This was not an easy decision to make.

Throughout the course of the week, my days were filled with what can only be described as signs from God. Signs of comfort and peace and understanding. This helped guide me through the grief of being away from home during such a significant time for my family.

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I choose to stay.

Because I want to continue your legacy of service to others.
Because I want to remember your glances as if you already knew you were looking at me for the last time.
Because I want to remember your big white smile and gentle laugh.
Because I know you wanted me to remember your life and not your death.
Because no matter how far away I am in distance, you’ll always be in my heart.

Dedicating my Peace Corps Service to my Gramps
Cary Holland, Jr.
November 13, 1930 – February 17, 2018

❤ Krystal