Site Visit

This last week we went on site visits to meet with the organizations we will serve over the course of the next two years. We also had the opportunities to meet with our homestay families and see the housing that is being prepared for our arrival at the first of April.

The five days of site visit were some of the hardest I have had since my arrival in South Africa.

Let me first say that my organization is great. I am working with a victim support center that specializes in working with domestic violence and rape victims—two huge issues in South Africa. Most domestic violence here goes unreported as women often are not aware of their rights or are afraid of stepping outside the bounds of culture and tradition. And in South Africa the incidence of rape is the highest in the world. (I should note here that the incidence of rape amongst Peace Corps volunteers in South Africa is very low.)

The support center is staffed by some amazingly strong and fiery women who are very passionate about preventing abuse and helping to protect victims in our community. Almost all are volunteers who receive a small monthly stipend. A large percentage of NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) in SA do not have the funds to pay staff and rely heavily on government stipends. This creates a lot of instability and turnover for many organizations, but finding reliable funding and donors outside of government grants can be very difficult here.

The center is currently in the process of completing a shelter that will be used as temporary housing and a safe house for victims of abuse. The shelter was intended to be completed in January, however, life can move a lot slower here and deadlines and contracts can become very flexible. I know my co-workers are very frustrated that the shelter is not yet complete, but they have little ability to speed the process.

On my visit I heard rumblings that once the shelter is complete the Department of Social Services plans to take over the center making it a government run organization. This is a great plan for the center as it will steady their funding stream, apply needed structure to the organization and provide steady pay for the staff. However, I am slightly concerned about what my position will be with the organization at that point. I feel that my role with the organization as it stands is to assist in developing the organizational structure and policy and to assist in building a reliable network between organizations in the community that work to assist victims of violence. However, when Social Services steps in, they will fill that role, leaving me and my skill set not being fully utilized for the rest of my Peace Corps service. I've expressed this concern to Peace Corps, and they seem willing to work with me, the support center, and my community to make sure that everyone is getting the most out of my placement.

My current home-stay is an entirely other matter. Actually I do not have a home-stay as Peace Corps is in the process of finding me a new home. To make a long story short, the home originally found for me was very shady. Peace Corps SA requires that PCVs stay in stand-alone houses separate from the host-family home. During site visit, I found that my house was not yet ready for me, and I was offered my host-parents’ room to stay-in for the few days of my visit. Soon after I arrived, I discovered that my host-father (mid-thirties) spoke little English and was drunk—a condition that persisted for most of my visit. I also discovered that my host-mother (also in her thirties) runs a “spaza” shop out of her home and rents the empty rooms in the main house. Unlike the “tuck shop” on the property where I have been staying during training, the spaza shop seems to serve a lot of seedy characters.

There are many stories to tell about my no-longer host-family. Fights between my host-mother and father (not actually married to each other). My drunken host-father accosting me about teaching him English. His drunken friends hanging out around the house. My host-mother demanding a ridiculously huge amount for electricity every month (electricity in SA is very cheap due to government subsidies). And to top it off, finding out upon my return that my host-mother lied to Peace Corps saying that she was the only person living on the property and hiding the spaza. It became clear after the last bit of information that my host-mother is an opportunistic woman and planned to make financial gains from having an American living with her.

Peace Corps will be working over the coming week to find me a new living arrangement. In the mean time, we move ever closer to swearing-in on April 2nd. I am looking forward to officially being a Peace Corps Volunteer and leaving the hectic schedule of training behind. By that time I should also have more frequent internet access and be able to post blogs as I write them. But until then...