Thursday, October 28, 2010

What Would You Say Ya Do Here?

Besides being a quote from a great movie, it is a hard question for me to answer.

My official title from the Peace Corps is "Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Capacity Builder." This basically means that I am assigned to an NGO in Botswana and I am working with them to become a better organization. A lot of the HIV/AIDS response in the country has been led by the government, which offers all kinds of services. The government wants to push some of this to civil society so that the response is not dependent on government funding and is somewhat sustainable.

Non profits (NGO's) are relatively new here and a lot of them grew out of the efforts of one or a few people to address gaps in the prevention of HIV and the care for those infected. They do great work but there have been growing pains as they move from a small group of people doing the work out of their own concern to fully functioning organizations. There is a lot of times a lack of institutional knowledge about running a large, complex organization simply because it takes different skills to found an organization than it does to manage one. When I worked for my fraternity, there was a curious phenomenon where new chapters would go into decline after the original founders had graduated. It is difficult to keep an organization going and the people passionate as it transfers from people who started it to their successors. I have come to realize that whether it is an NGO or a fraternity chapter, it really comes down to having an effective vision and mission and having people who buy into it and the organization's culture. (Working for my fraternity and my experience in my chapter really have turned out to be such good experience, even for work in Africa).

The NGO I am assigned to is called the Light and Courage Centre Trust. LCCT provides palliative and respite care to people living with a chronic illness. The majority of the clients have AIDS and many of them show symptoms of an AIDS defining illness. LCCT works to create a unique care plan for each client and then helps them through it. For some clients that may mean physical therapy, others come for nutritional support (which is critical for people living with AIDS), and others learn skills like sewing and using a computer.

So what exactly does this entail for me? Good question. Some days I help with the budget. Other days I work on proposals. Still others I might be working on the HR policy. I might also help with a bank reconciliation, go out with the nurses that do home based care, or work on a sustainability plan. Basically, I am a jack of all trades, and I am here to help the organization better utilize its resources.

What makes my role different is that I am supposed to work with the people here to train them (capacity building) rather than just do work that needs to be done. I still struggle with this because I can do things (especially on the computer) much quicker by myself than I could if I had to show someone the steps to do it themselves. It will continue to be a balancing act for the rest of the time I am here. I just hope I can get everything I want to get done accomplished.

I alternate between being so busy that there aren't enough hours in the day to sometimes just sitting waiting for something to come up. I think that has been one of the biggest adjustments to life in the PC. Things are now somewhat routine, but each day brings different challenges. Its all in how you deal with them that matters.

Another great thing about being a Peace Corps Volunteer is that I have some free time to develop "secondary projects." I try to spend time at an after school program that is at a community center nearby because I like working with the kids. I also have a few projects that I am trying to get going (and I will blog about them if and when they do work out). Stay tuned...