In mid-March 2018, I reached Botswana through the border with Zambia, in Kasane. I crossed Chobe national park by car and I could see that Botswana is caring a lot about its wildlife and the region is amazingly green.
The park is huge and there are many veterinarian controls along the way that left me an impressive feeling. As I reached the south of the park, Maun city, the landscape started changing slowly. The green was now faded, the soil sandy and the air dry.
As Botswana is by 70% covered by the Kalahari desert, it gives this half-desert climate. Our lack of research before going to Botswana did not prepare us for this but it was not a major challenge. I was positively surprised by the good road conditions. In Botswana, unlike all the countries I have been before, people drive up to 120 km/h. I could reach the town of Selebi-Phikwe, where I was expected, within the same day.
Living and working conditions
I joined my teacher and a teammate who were already in our accommodation. I was very surprised as I discovered our place. A big house in the front, well protected, with another house in the back. Our house was big and seemed new.
The living room was empty and gave us a lot of possibilities to make sports there. Then a dining room with a table and 4 chairs, a kitchen with a new stove, all equipped by the staff of Humana, a bathroom with bathtub, 2 single rooms and a double room. 3 out of 4 beds were in excellent state, my room was equipped with an air conditioner and the double room had its own bathroom.
On the first day, we went to work, on foot. Our house in the neighbourhood Phase 1 was only 25 minutes away following the main road to Botshabelo, where our project is. The road is quiet and there is a footpath all the way. The area was very sandy and the bushes are growing everywhere. In the morning, the government is employing people called “Ipelegeng” to cut the bushes. Cutting them offers better visibility and fewer possibilities to hide to commit a crime. This reduces criminality and gives more room for shade trees to grow.
At work, I discovered the centre. The Humana centre is big, offers a lot of facilities such as a computer lab, a big yard for children to play, a multi-purpose hall (aerobic, meetings, etc…), a sewing lab, a kitchen, a few small meeting rooms, offices and a big garden. In the centre, we met a few area leaders, who are working with Humana.
Students who are in an internship, mostly in public health, and volunteers who want to be engaged in helping communities. As it is a child aid project, many children from the area come to play together, watch a movie, get to know new people or participate in one of the many activities proposed by the centre.
I met many challenges, way more than I expected. Mostly the work together with the people. Our way of working and time management is very different, and although we have been told it will be, it is hard to be ready until we live it. So I struggled a lot with waiting for people or people not showing up at all.
At the beginning of the project and a visit throughout the centre, we got to establish a list of things we want to do and it took me a lot of time to think of something that could be useful as I didn’t know either the project, the people around or the needs. By establishing my ideas, I couldn’t think something different than I used to do and it made me feel, not to bring anything new into my life when I was there to challenge myself.
Also, the culture was quite a shock to me. Mentality-wise, I was between Europe and the USA. The influence of these two parts of the world, mixed with the local culture, gave me a strange feeling. A feeling of being lost between three cultures that have nothing to do together but meet here.
As an example, the way to shop. I was back into shopping centres, no more shopping in the street, which I enjoyed a lot. In the centre, everything was well organized as we have in Europe, the malls are everywhere and the distance between them is good to walk. It was also a challenge to fit all my shopping within the budget for the first months as Phikwe, is quite expensive.
My achievements are more related to Botswana than to the project. I have achieved to understand more the mentality of the local people and get along during these first three months of the project.
I have achieved to adapt myself to Setswana time. It means that if there is a time fixed for a meeting in the morning (example 9 a.m.), it is going to happen anytime in the morning and 9 a.m. only confirms it. Botswana smiles a lot and takes life easy, which was irritating at the beginning but way more comfortable as I got used to it and took life easy as well. It allowed me to see other things around that I didn’t notice before. Life can be quiet and peaceful anytime, and it did me a lot of good.
Project-wise, I succeeded to find an important topic: food security. I was very happy to get involved in it and see that the need is big in Botswana.
I also had a few interesting talks about how Botswana is inefficiently managing its food production and that is why it is necessary to bring a local solution to as many people as possible. In the garden, I could do a few things such as setting a heat compost and see that the centre is a nice meeting point for the community, where people come to get information, computer training and take care of their plots.
Conclusion and word to next DIs
To all of the next DIs of Development Volunteers going to Botswana: do not focus on what you hear about Africa. Botswana is in all points different. Make some researches before you go, to know what the country is about and be ready to experiment something different. If you know this, you will save time and disappointments of not seeing the Africa you have been told about. Botswana is differently beautiful.
Humana People to People will make sure you get the most out of it. Segametsi is an adorable person, listening and patient. If you need support you can’t find at your project, she will help you. The other people in the head office will also be helpful.
A mistake I did and I don’t recommend you to do is to expect anything. We can’t know what a project is about until we are there. Take it easy and you will enjoy. I enjoyed a lot the second part of my stay, mostly for personal reasons. Both places offer volunteers different setups and possibilities.
The accommodations were great, although staying together for 6 months can be challenging, so make the right decision before to go. Also, get all the papers the school is asking you for before you go. It takes 2 months for a letter to come from Europe to Botswana and is never sure to reach. Get all the translations done for the visas/permits.
Botswana is a surprising country and has a lot of places to see. Make friends and ask advice. During long weekends. I discovered some waterfalls next to Palapye.
Also, we had a week of holidays and investigation, allowing us to submit a budget. Time is passing fast, make sure you get the best out of Botswana and its kind people.