Swaziland: OVCs and HIV

I would like to start off with a sorry that it has been so long. My internet access, though it has increased, has only been on my phone. It is hard to type up these posts on my phone so instead I type in word and then copy to the blog when I have an internet connection. I am looking into options for more frequent internet access but I don’t know when it will actually happen. As is said here TIA (This is Africa), meaning things go at there own pace and things work at about 85%. Alright, now on to the real post:

Peace Corps Swaziland has two programs, Youth Development (which I am in) and Community Health. The programs overlap a lot actually because we are in such a small country. Swaziland only gets one group of volunteers a year, usually around 30-40 people, and there are approximately 70-90 total volunteers in Swaziland. Our two closest countries with volunteers are South Africa and Mozambique. Each of these countries has around 270 volunteers at a time. I just want to give some perspective as to how different this experience can be in such a small country. During PST we are doing a lot of training about what kind of projects we may help to develop as volunteers but mostly we are learning about the country and the Swazi culture. Some of the sessions have been really humbling.

PEPFAR (The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) is another US organization that works throughout the world. In Swaziland, Peace Corps works with PEPFAR to fight HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR defines an OVC (Orphan or Vulnerable Child) as a child that is 0-17 and the child could be either a single or double orphan. PEPFAR states that if a country has more than 5% of the population affected by something (such as HIV) than all children are OVCs. Swaziland has an HIV rate of 31%, the highest in the world. This means that 31% of the population is infected with HIV. It would be a struggle in this country to find someone that isn’t somehow impacted by HIV/AIDS in some way. I knew that Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV in the world but I don’t think I actually thought about what that meant before I came here. Every child in Swaziland is an OVC.

The unemployment rate is another issue here. The unemployment rate determined earlier this year is close to 29%. That is insane! Just recently the government called for army recruits. A Swazi can’t just go and decide to join the army one day, it is done by the army deciding to accept new recruits. The army was only accepting four new recruits from each Inkhudla, which is kind of like a district. There are 55 Tinkhudla (plural of inkhudla) in the country. Out of those four, only one in each group selected could be female. Hundreds tried out and in some tinkhudla they selected no one. The job market is bad enough in this country that hundreds will go out for the four slots the army is opening up in each district even with the odds of getting a spot stacked against them.

On a slightly different note, this week I actually found out my permanent assignment. I will be working at a school for the Deaf. This is a very unique position I am in here. Swaziland does not have a special education system and they just opened a high school for the Deaf in 2010. Until 2010 there was schooling available until grade 7 and then nothing for Deaf students. Also there is no early detection for learning disabilities or even hearing problems at Swazi schools. All the students start in school and then sometime during primary school teachers start to realize that the student is struggling. Luckily for the Deaf community there is a Deaf primary school and a Deaf high school. The same cannot be said for other students that are struggling in the regular school system. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for inclusive education but inclusive education needs accommodations so that students can be successful. That is not something that would work with the current education system here. That is absolutely something that I hope is a goal for the future but right now it just wouldn’t happen.

So for me, my time in Swaziland just got a little more complicated. I will now be learning siSwati and siSwati Sign Language. I have already learned that American Sign Language and siSwati sign have some signs in common and others that are not the same at all. Luckily I found out the ASL sign for “name” is the siSwati sign for “toilet” before I introduced myself to anyone. I am sure I will embarrass myself at some point but I am glad I avoided that mistake on the first day.

I also just wanted to add a quick shout out to my Aunt Jo and Uncle Terry. Thanks for the headlamp. It has been an amazing help for me at night. It has been especially great the nights that the power goes out but it’s only 6pm and pitch black out. I have a feeling this headlamp will get much more use over the next two years.

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