Goals for 2016 + New YouTube Channel!

Tobela ditshomi!

Before I get started with this post I wanted to let you know about my new YouTube channel! If you wanna check it out, I recently uploaded two videos about my life here in South Africa ;) I don't know how often I'll be about to upload due to the Internet sitch (in that it doesn't exist), but I'll do what I can. Check out my channel here or visit youtube.com/morganleestoner.

December 31st marked the end of 2015, and January 22nd marked my first full year living in South Africa! What better way to commemorate those two huge milestones than with a post about my goals for the year to come? (Originally I was going to include highlights from 2015, but I figured you could go back and read previous blog posts haha)

2015 was truly an incredible year. When I look back on the last 12 months, the things that stick out the most are obviously Peace Corps, and South Africa, but in reality, Peace Corps is just a job, and South Africa is just a place. What has made the last 12 months so incredible are all the little moments that made me smile, and the people who were by my side when they happened.

I don’t know how I can improve upon the previous year, but I am going to try my best. Here are my goals for 2016 (in no particular order):

Brother’s For Life: since starting and completing a Zazi group for middle school girls, the boys have been begging for a group of their own. I want to take a back seat role in this project, so I am working with Elias and Kagiso to get the group started this month. I’m sure I’ll write more about Brother’s For Life in future blogs, but for the time being, here is a link to the B4L website.

Grassroots Soccer: this is another independent program that PCVs implement in their communities, similar to Zazi and B4L. GRS uses soccer to teach children about HIV in a fun, interactive way. I am excited to start this up with Kagiso ASAP.

Mental Health Awareness: As many of you know, I suffer from anxiety and panic disorder. You probably also know I am very open about my mental health struggles and I believe discussing my struggles has played a huge role in my recovery and coping. Unfortunately people in my community do not openly discuss mental illness, and if they do, they use terms like “crazy” and “stupid”. Despite the stigma, there are many people suffering my mental illness in my village, whether it is depression, anxiety, OCD, alcoholism, etc. I want to open the dialogue and help reduce stigma against mental illness. I also want to give people a safe place to share their stories, and learn coping mechanisms to live productively with their mental illness. I also want to work with people who may not suffer themselves, but who interact with those who do, to teach them how to be a positive, effective support system.

Animal compassion: Animal rights is an issue close to my heart. I have been a vegetarian for over 7 years, I advocate for “adopt don’t shop”, I don’t buy/wear leather, suede or any animal material, and through high school and college, I volunteered at a no-kill animal shelter. I want to teach people how to properly care for their dogs, cats, cows, goats, and sheep, and show people compassion towards animals. I also want to bring a vet to Mmametlhake to treat the animals who are sick but don't get medical attention because their families either don't realize the animal is sick, don't realize treatment is available, or don't have enough money.

Increase testing and VMMC: One way to decrease the spread of HIV is to ensure that everyone knows their status. An HIV+ person who is aware of his or her status is less likely to partake in unsafe sex and spread HIV to others. In addition VMMC (Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision) is proven to decrease the spread of HIV and other STIs because the male foreskin is more susceptible to "catching" infected bodily fluids. Therefore, increasing testing and VMMC in my village can have a direct impact on the transmission of HIV. I am lucky because there is a hospital and clinic in my village that offer these services for free so I simply need to increase awareness and possibly create a campaign or incentive program that encourages people to visit the hospital.

University visits: I would love to take secondary school children to UNISA or University of Pretoria so they can tour a university. I believe if they see how great university is, they will be encourage to try hard in school and aim to attend university.

Perma-gardening for underweight children: After completing the Health Club and testing the children for common health problems, I noticed that the majority of the children at my org are underweight. I want to work to alleviate that problem. One option is to help families create personal gardens so they have a continual, reliable, healthy, food source. Perma-gardens are special gardens that produce crops year-round and are less prone to natural influences. Another option is a feeding scheme. This would involve getting a government grant (not from Peace Corps) and providing daily meals to the children. Although this is a great short-term solution, I don’t see the same sustainability here as I do with the perma-gardens.

More Zazi groups: I loved my Zazi group and I would love to expose even more girls to the program.

Sustainability: Like I always talk about, I want to create projects that extend far beyond my service, and help people in a lasting way. 2016 is all about sustainability. In whatever form that may be. If you have any ideas, send them my way!

More travel: Aside from the work I want to do as a PCV, I also want to take full advantage of the travel opportunities in and around South Africa. My family is visiting sometime this year (maybe March or July) and hopefully I can convince my friends to visit as well ;) I plan to go to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe for my birthday; Bush Fire music festival in Swaziland in late May; Namibia has a great Oktoberfest apparently; I want to hike the Drakensberg mountains; and absolutely more scuba diving like the Sardine run, Aliwal Shoal and Mozambique.

Setswana: Most people in my village are sufficient, if not fluent, in English, so there is little motivation for me to learn the local language, Setswana. However, I think improving my language skills will help my relationships with the kids and show that I respect the culture of Mmametlhake. Plus, when I put ‘conversational in Setswana’ on my resume, I don’t want it to be a complete lie haha.

Thank you so much to everyone who stood by my side during this crazy journey that was 2015 and I cannot wait to see what 2016 holds!

xoxoxoxo

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