Be it how it will, do right now.

Sawubona, Hallo and Welcome!

Hi Friends,

Welcome to my blog: isn’t it lovely?  Yes, I know, you’re overwhelmed by the sheer virtuosity of it all.

Well, as it were, welcome to the official record of all things Matt/South Africa for the next 2.25 years.  Here’s more about what I’ve got going on for the foreseeable future, cribbed, as Mrs. B would want me to note, (yay Mrs. B!!) directly from the PC/SA Welcome Book (this is mostly a broad introduction to the Education Program in which I’ll be working):

“The Peace Corps arrived in South Africa at a historic and critical juncture in the country’s history. At a White House ceremony in October 1994, former Presidents Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela met to seal a bond of friendship and a promise to work together to transform South Africa from a divided nation to one united by its commitment to build a democratic, nonracially based society. The Peace Corps was a small but important part of that agreement. The first group of 35 Volunteers arrived in January 1997 to work in the education sector. Since that time, more than 200 Volunteers have served or are serving in South Africa. In 2001, Peace Corps/South Africa responded to the government’s request to join in a partnership against HIV/AIDS. In addition to serving as resources for primary school educators, Volunteers now assist local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in building their capacity to meet the demands of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Currently, about 85 Volunteers work in education and with NGOs.

Peace Corps/South Africa focuses on two main areas of vital need: education and health. Within these areas, projects have evolved based on project assessments and the needs of the government, organizations, and communities with which we work. Currently, Volunteers are working in the Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, and Kwa Zulu Natal provinces.

Peace Corps/South Africa began implementing its schools and community resources project in 1997. Volunteers work with district and circuit educational offices to instill a culture of learning, teaching, and service in schools and disadvantaged communities. To be most effective, this project operates in predominantly black, rural primary schools in villages and townships.  Each school resource Volunteer works with a cluster of three or four schools serving 40 to 50 teachers and administrators.  Volunteers are placed at the primary school level, where they facilitate the understanding and skills of teachers involved in the continued rollout of the new national outcomes-based curriculum, aid school management teams in building capacities related to effective administration, and seek to creatively involve parents and community members in a mutually reinforcing relationship with schools.

In addition, school resource Volunteers are involved in activities to help their communities, such as environmental projects, HIV/AIDS education, computer training, income-generating projects, and youth development.  The NGO capacity-building/HIV-AIDS project began in 2001 in response to the growing challenges that HIV/AIDS poses for the South African government and civil society.  Following a revision of the project in July 2007, it has been re-named the community HIV/AIDS outreach project.  This project offers a unique opportunity to play a significant role in the development of South Africa, putting Volunteers at the forefront of the country’s response to the epidemic.”

Wow, right?  Who knew you could write so much about one thing and not really say anything?!  That’s definitely been one of the most frustrating aspects of the process so far: getting used to the lexicon.  Rest assured, my posts will not be quite so obfuscated.  I imagine, until I get into the nitty-gritty of training, they will actually be much more utilitarian.

In such a spirit, I offer up, below, all the information you could possibly need to mail me something in the next three months (pre-service training – after that ends, I’ll get a new mailing address and homestay).

Here are mailing instructions on how and where to reach me during PST:

Matt Kertman, PCV
U. S. Peace Corps
PO Box 9536
Pretoria 0001

Send letters now.  They take about 4 weeks to arrive.  Below, some of the finer points to remember regarding sending ye ol’ care package:

* There is mail theft and custom duties on packages can be prohibitive.

* Send packages in padded envelopes or bubble envelopes.  Boxes are targeted for theft and charged way to much in custom duties.

* Cover packages with brown / plain paper. Make sure no logos for common companies are visible (e.g. Likewise, if you’re reusing a box / envelope from a product you purchased, make sure the product is not visible.

* In big large visible letters write on the envelope either “Educational Material” or “Religious Material”.

* Declare a low value for the package. This helps minimize theft and reduces the customs you have to pay on the package when you pick it up.  In the customs box, set the price as under $10 and mark it as “Donation” in the the description field.

* Write “Par Avion” and “Air Mail” on envelopes and boxes.

* Number all letters and packages, so I know if I’ve missed receiving one.

* Mail is less likely to be opened/stolen if you write the address in red ink. This is also true if it appears to contain religious material. Putting “Fr” or Reverend in front of my name works well. Religious symbols like crosses or Bible verses also deter some theft. “Pastor” is also (allegedly) a good title to put on any packages.  Plus, how cool is that?

* Tape up packages, including the corners, so they can endure the trip using CLEAR tape. This tells me if some greedy postal worker/customs official has “inspected” for goodies.

* Finally, PLEASE, don’t send anything of high value via regular mail. If you must, hide it in a pair of underwear or something mundane, otherwise send only low value items, WITHOUT the price tag.

And that’s all there is, really.  More to come, of course.  In the meantime, send me Pacific Gold beef jerky – please! Or flash drives full of movies and books.  Or, I don’t know, directions to the craft microbrewery in Kwazulu Natal I didn’t even know exists.  A man can dream, can’t he?

Surely, he can:

“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul.

And sings the tune

Without the words,

and never stops at all.”


3 responses

  1. Lisa

    I am so excited for you. I leave you with the advice I give all my applicants:

    1.Measure your success with small successes. Pretend each small success is a tiny bead that will eventually form a necklace of small accomplishments that you will wear and treasure for the rest of your life. You won’t do huge, great things. You will do small, important things.

    2.Stay in your village. (Or town, or city, or wherever your site may be). The day that you really want to leave your site and go hang out with other Peace Corps volunteers is the day you need to stay in your site and go sit in your neighbor’s courtyard.

    3.Learn the language. Don’t give up on it. Hire a tutor for the entire two years. The day you can crack a joke and express your real, deep down feelings in the host language is the day you can say, “I’m fluent. And now I can get to work.”

    4.Smile. Laugh at yourself.

    5.You have a lot to offer. But you have far more to learn.

    July 8, 2010 at 9:07 PM

  2. David Helmstetter

    So greatful you set this up and look forward to updates. “Don’t adventures EVER end?!”

    July 21, 2010 at 10:15 PM

  3. David Helmstetter

    Matt! Don’t Adventures EVER End?! How incredible to hear of this marvelous adventure you are on. You host family sounds charming and inviting! Can’t wait for the Intestine and Chicken Feet chapter to arrive! I was surprised how difficult it was to face the start of school without being there. I’m certain Janice Guerrero will do a great job but I already miss those rehearsals and Sat. Crew Days! I DID help out at the Az B’Way Dinner Theatre with a recent light hang for two days – doing grunt work and sort of testing the water for future work – the water was ‘Chilly!’ I’m still not certain pursueing more theatre work is in my future we’ll see. I’m still sort of laying low until my return from an extended trip in Sept. up through Idaho, Montana, and on to Minnesota where I’ll attand my 40th H.S. Reunion – NO COMMENT, Matt!
    Don’t keep your eyes out for a package from me – sorry! I recently bought some dog toys to send to family pets in Reno and Minneapolis – they have been sitting in a bag on my kitchen counter for weeks – still haven’t been motivated to get packaging for them. I’m planning on writing a note “from MY dog” to each of their dogs – the best made plans… Now you can imagine how I’d procrastinate sending a care package off to you that may or may not actually arrive?! Hopefully you will be satisfied just to know how proud I am of you, Matt, and continue to send you positive thoughts!
    David Helmstetter

    August 7, 2010 at 9:09 PM

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