Sunday, June 17, 2007

Day 11+ Everything but ... the President?

Fortunately for us, Friday was a day of rest. Since we have collected a LOT of information and had a LOT to talk about before our meeting with the Bishop, we started the day with breakfast and a table full of notes, laptops, and photos. We had to talk about Tyler a lot, too, since it was his birthday. We even played a game of "pin the tail on the elephant", just for kicks.

Anyway... Clad in our casual, comfortable clothes (finally) we discussed the fact that we had met everyone we needed to meet, and everyone we never expected to meet, all in the name of learning as much as possible about the educational system here in Botswana. Everyone but the President of Botswana. Oh well. Maybe next time?

Father Ben arrives to tell us that we have a new appointment on our schedule for the day. We have a 3pm meeting with the President of Botswana... go figure.

Very quick dash to our respective homes for a change of clothes. What does one wear to meet with the President of a country?

Recap meeting with the Bishop where we learn that the fundraising goal for him and Think Tank Thuto is $10 million within the next 6 months. Guess we really do need a business plan, eh?

Our meeting with the President complete with security and press coverage. We were, of course, still in shock that such a meeting had even been arranged. The conversation included a short talk about education in Botswana, a "happy birthday" wish to Tyler (so typical of the standard 27th birthday, really), and photos with the President's smiling face under a USC baseball cap.

Still reeling from our crazy day, we find ourselves at the first of 4 bbq's we have enjoyed this weekend. All of our host families have invited us to their homes over the course of these last few days to celebrate a successful trip. This 1st party was in honor of the birthday boy, who was stunned and flattered by the attention. Before the night was over, he had two feasts and two birthday cakes. I think that we have mentioned many times that the people we have met here are beyond gracious and generous, yes?

Raphael, Mark, and Tyler left for LA early on Saturday morning. Interestingly enough, a few of our team members didn't return home until just a bit before their trip to the airport. When in Gaborone...

Now, fast forward just a bit.
It is now Sunday night and we are heading into our final day here in Gaborone. After a weekend of bbq's with amazing company, delicious food, excessive amount of wine, and fantastic conversation, our cups truly runneth over. We have seen so many faces, so many extremes, and so many sites/sights. We have changed as individuals and as a team, yet we know that this country is one of the most stable and productive on this continent. If we are moved by what we have seen here, what does that tell us about what exists elsewhere? As we have said before, there is so much to do. We can only hope that this project will help.

Tomorrow we finalize a press release for the local papers, take a second visit to Tshiamo Primary School (public) for some final questions, and say goodbye to all of our new friends. And, of course, pass out many gifts generously donated by the USC Bookstore.

It will be very tough to leave this place.

See Day 11 photos below!

Day 11 Photos

Our team with the President of Botswana (with hat)
Dave, His Excellency, and the Bishop

Tyler and Birthday Cake #1

Birthday Party #1

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Kids - Our First Online Album
If you don't have a gmail or picasa account, you will need to create one when you log in.

Days 8-9: More on Francistown - by Amitesh Aggarwal

After spending 6 days in Gabarone, we finally embarked on the trip to Francistown, the site of first of our international schools. The 5-hr trip in a much bigger combi (where even I can stand up straight), entertained by Dave, Ben and Mario's humor seemed like a breeze in spite of the closed quarters. The highlight of the journey was a stop at an orphanage midway at Mahalapye. The orphanage caters mostly to kids suffering from HIV, born of parents who've died of the killer disease. Although it was heartening to know that technically none of these kids were orphans as they all were cared for in the evenings by extended family members, typical of familise in Africa.

Our arrival as usual was greeted by a mob of about 70 or so 3 - 6 yr old kids. The smiles on all their faces hiding their plight completely overwhelmed us all. Dave dove in headlong, Mark completely surrounded by google-eyed kids excited by his digital camera and all of us high-fiving, shaking hands, and talking to them all. And then Lida revealed the bank of toys which gave the chaos theory a completely new definition. The chirps and shrieks for the toys were just too great.

Tyler showed the kids his soccer skills, I helped create an Ultimate Frisbee team. Deb, Lida and Mark decorated little girls with all the girly things we brought, Jeffery showed off his camera skills, while Rafael played with the groups of kids. The departure from the orphanage was saddening but we left with a mission to organize donations for a shaded playground for these kids. For those of you who are interested in assisting us, don’t worry… we will be in touch! Another highlight of the drive was when we crossed the point where Tropic of Capricorn crosses Botswana.

We arrived in Francistown to a magnificent resort - Marang hotel set in a beautiful tropical forest. Evening dinner was organized by the Anglican Church Parish in Francistown. It seems like it’s in Botswanan culture to overwhelm their guests with huge welcomes. The crowd broke out into synchronized African singing and clapping. After the pleasantries, we were treated to a huge banquet prepared at the homes of the parishioners. I had the best dinner so far in this trip as even I had at least 6 different sumptuous dishes - vegetable rice, 2 different lentils, spinach, greens, salad etc. etc. All of us mingled with the crowds and I met my first Indian family in Botswana. It was great to talk to the mom in Hindi.

After the festivities, a grand departure, we took our tired selves to the hotel for a much needed sleep. I fell asleep dreaming of Sedibeng choir, African dances and lentils.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Day 8 - Mario's Blog (Orphanage and Francistown)

Web blog day ?
I’m not a Student or a professor. Take that back. Definitely a student but not at a University. I am the cinematographer on this African endeavor.

Right now I’m sittng in a combi or obese passenger van as they call it in Bots. My right leg is melting from the lack of air circulation and space between Amitesh and I. We are traveling back to Gabarone from Francistown. A 400 Km. Expedition, or literally a cross country trip of scattered goats, donkeys, and cows that speckle the highway and demand unexpected bursts of braking and adrenaline. We actually just passed an old carriage with a group of smiling people being pulled by a pack of four graceful looking donkeys. I’m not kidding the donkeys actually looked graceful. It may have been fear from seeing the truck of cattle that was in front of us.

I’m not sure how I got my hands on the computer to partake in your blog but I’m grateful for it. I’ve been with the M.B.A.’s for a week now. I’m used to traveling the world with commercial accounts not University folk. But I’m enjoying the resources of these young stars. I can easily ask for conversions of hectacres, algorithm’s for quick approximations of Celsius to Fahrenheit, corrections on Pandemic versus epidemic or immediate explanations of why children survive birth without contracting H.I.V.

So Here I am with your friends, family, and fellow students. I’m having one hell of a life experience with these guys who I’m learning more about life and humanity than I have ever learned on any of my world travels working for large corporations. First off, No fancy rooms at five star hotels. Were living with local host families in Gaborone which really throws you right into the local culture. Secondly its not just the regions best tourist spots. Were getting to see the things that people usually try to hide from tourists. For example yesterday visiting an orphanage that had a hundred plus children age 6 to 8 who are orphaned from AIDS. Seeing the USC folks hand out gifts and spend time with these kids who had nothing but a roof really has left me challenging everything I thought I knew about life. The fact that these beautiful little kids could just be left suddenly with no parents from a disease sweeping people from existence has opened my eyes to how much worse life is than traffic on the 405.

Watching the task force get involved with these kids also changed everything I felt about privileged college students. These guys really won my respect. Documenting this trip has become very personal. Its gone from doing some volunteer service to make myself feel good about my good life to believing in an idea and wanting to see it become a reality. Today when the Bishop took us to the future site of one of the schools they are trying to build and I could actually envision this whole project coming to fruition I knew that my month in Africa was more than a cool trip to help kids get school credits and for me to add another stamp in my passport.

There’s really no way to express the way I feel right now in these cramped quarters. Instead of complaining to some producer that I should be in better seating, I am smiling and grateful for the lack of space.

I am going to sign of now because Deb’s computer may die at any second. I just want to let you know that the crew is doing an amazing job gathering information and developing a plan to help a country do something extraordinary. I am also proud to be here with these guys because I really feel I am in the presence of greatness. -Mario

Photos from the Orphan Daycare Center

the Orphan Daycare Center
As you can see, the stickers were a big hit!

Mark with the kids.

Dave with the kids.

Day 7 - School Daze: by Raphael Anderson

Another day on our humbling and spiritually fulfilling educational research trip…

7am – We gather for breakfast at the Gaborone Sun and discussed our agenda for the day

8:30am - We met with the Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana (the only public university in the country). Here, we receive a lot very interesting and important information on the overall education industry in Botswana and his views on the market for schools in Francistown and Palapye. Afterwards, we head over to the bookstore and loaded up some fresh UB gear.

12p – Another wonderful catered lunch at the church.

2p – We meet with some students, teachers, and administrators at Maru-a-Pula private international school in Gaborone. We received a massive amount of relevant information that will guide us in developing our business plan for the two new international schools in Francistown and Palapye.

5p – We concluded the second half of our meeting with the task force, and got a more inclusive understanding of their vision.

7p – The Anglican Church invited a very talented and popular local choir to put on a special show for us. Towards the end, we gladly joined the performance. Although everyone tried his or her best to follow the routine, Professor Belasco out-shined us all…

9:30p – Everyone met in the Church’s office to discuss the agenda for tomorrow and our trip up to Francistown on Wednesday.

Ralphy loves the kids...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Day 6 - Oops, they did it again. (from Lida)

Tuesday started with a fairly straight-forward visit with the Minister of Education. Yes, the Minister of Education for the country of Botswana. Hmmm... there we sit, having tea and cookies (of course) with Mr. Minister, chatting about the state of education in his country. A typical Tuesday for any MBA, yes? Maybe not...

Our conversation with the Minister confirmed much of what we have heard/suspected during our visits to the private schools and the Univ. of Botswana; the government (public) schools face many of the same challenges that LAUSD faces. The usual topics of faculty/student ratio, facilities, resources, and budget were discussed. Of course, they were discussed with optimism and suggestion of future investment, which was good. But we heard about life on the ground a bit later during our visit toTshiamo Primary School, the most successful government primary school in Gaborone. More on that later.

Mid-morning, we split up. Half the team went to Gaborone Secondary School (gov't) and the other half visited Tshiamo (above). I can't speak for those who visited GSS; however, the welcome we recieved at Tshiamo exceeded any expectations a visitor could have. The entire school welcomed us in the parking lot. We heard a hand-written speech from the 10-year-old "head boy" and watched a dance performance by their student dance troupe. We were silenced and stunned by the welcome... these are the kids who most need help, and have the most in common with those that our schools will serve (fingers crossed) in Francistown. We met with 22 teachers (for 850 students), 10 students, and 12 parents. All offered us incredibly candid and emotional feedback about the system and school. The visit was arranged for us by Beauty Autlwetse, the headmaster and one of our hosts, who told us that she does what she does because she is "so in love with" her job. This job, in her world, involves offering evening workshops for parents on parenting skills and communication, on her own time and with no support from her superiors. By the way, not a single computer in the school, except for Beauty's personal laptop that leaves with her at the end of the day. We left her school drained, yet more motivated than ever.

Our day ended with an evening at U.S. Ambassador Katherine Canavan's home. We were invited for a reception along with the local Taskforce members we work with daily on our schools project. It is a funny thing... standing with your colleagues, in Botswana, noticing that your cocktail napkin boasts the offical seal of the U.S.A. Definitely the way we spend most Wednesday evenings. Well, those Wednesdays after American Idol is over...

Oops, they did it again... we are hooked.

See photos of today in postings below. We leave for our overnight trip to Francistown tomorrow (Wednesday). We will see the tentative sites, visit 2 local schools, and make a trip to an orphanage. Wish us luck with that one.

Before I sign off, thank you from all of us for your emails and support!

Day 6 - Photos Part 1

Dancing at Tshiamo

Tyler at Tshiamo

Ambassador Canavan (in blue)

Amitesth and Jessica, at Reception

Day 6 - Photos Part 2

Team with Minister of Education




Monday, June 11, 2007

Day 5: Church & Town - by Deb Kimball

Yesterday we danced with Africans, today we sang with Africans.

Our Sunday morning began like many others thus far – at the Anglican Church in Gaborone. But this time, we weren't there to push start a van or to wait (on Botswana time) for everyone to gather before we went on another adventure. Rather, this time, our adventure awaited us at the church.

The mass began at 9:30 a.m. (or so – that’s the Botswana time, here). We sat together, front and center. All eyes were on us, so it’s a good thing we know how to behave :-) Fortunately, Raphael gave us a few primers on what we could expect.

The Bishop welcomed us as guests to the congregation when he began to address the church. He mentioned that he would elaborate more on our participation later in the ceremony, but the extent of the elaboration we didn’t realize.

After singing hymns, performing a few ritual acts, and hearing the Sunday School students read some scriptures, the Bishop gave a thought-provoking and very timely speech about focusing on the door of opportunity that opens up before us instead of focusing on the door that just closed behind us. I couldn’t help but be grateful and thankful for the awesome opportunity we have here with this International Schools Project!

Then came the part of elaboration. The Bishop asked all of us go to the front of the congregation to introduce ourselves. So, in front of 150 people we got up and stammered while introducing ourselves. Of course, Professors Belasco and Nutt and Director Jennings were cool, calm, and collected. Professor Belasco finished up our time in front of the congregation with an eloquent speech explaining (what we believe to be) our role with the educational plan of Botswana.

After the ceremony and some tea, we met many members of the church and mingled some. There we met Thobo who has invited us to her grandma’s house for dinner on Friday.

Then, Father Ben took us around Gaborone to show us the city. We were kings – or at least we thought we were by the statues of the three kings. These guys are also on the back of the 100 pula bill.

Some more driving around the city, some goats blocking the road, some chickens following behind, and we returned to the hotel.

At the hotel we worked through the night (can you believe it?!?) to develop a strategy for some of our upcoming research. We’ve got a lot to learn…

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Day 4 - Ostriches, Impalas and Wart Hogs, Oh My! (by Tyler Monroe)

Today we set off on a mini-safari adventure in the Botswana bush at the Mokolodi Nature Reserve, a few kilometers outside of town. Here is a recap of our day…

9:00AM – Our pre-arranged meeting time at the Anglican Cathedral. Half of the group and our host/transportation are missing (late).

9:05 AM – Mark, Tyler and Lida engage in an INTENSE game of Hopscotch with Teyo, the “Botswana National Hopscotch Champion” for the girls under-10 division. By narrow margin, the reigning champion claims her victory when Mark trips over himself.

9:30 AM – The group minus one is still without transportation.

9:50 AM – Still in the parking lot, now trying to jumpstart the minibus . . . with people-pushing power!

10:00 AM – Finally on our way.

11:00 AM – Climb aboard Mokolodi Nature Reserve off-road vehicle and start our Safari.

11:01 AM – Ostriches and Impalas on the road.

11:02 AM – Wart Hogs rummaging for food in the brush!!!!

11:30 AM – African White-Headed Eagle sighting at the Hippo pond. Sadly, no hippos.

12:00 PM – Cheetah enclosure. We were excited to see two amazing Cheetahs roaming their large enclosure on the reserve. They are brothers, orphaned only a few weeks after birth, before they were taught the necessary hunting skills to survive the wild.

12:30 PM – Arrive at a clearing overlooking the hippo pond, where a surprise fantastic, fresh cooked “bush lunch” with all the fixings awaited us; a gift from the Bishop and the church for our work here in Botswana.

12:45 PM – Dancers arrive from the nearby Mokolodi Village to demonstrate the traditional dance passed down generation to generation. Their settlement was only recently recognized as a village, when they reached a population of 500 people. As a result they do not have health or school facilities. These dancers were therefore raising money to purchase a mini bus to transport their brothers and sisters to neighboring schools 15 kilometers away.

1:30 PM – We return to and are allowed to enter the Cheetah enclosure, where Lida reenacts a scene from “Dances with Cheetahs” and then proceeds to get choked up when petting one of our new friends. This was one of the highlights thus far; how often does one have the opportunity to pet nature’s fastest animal? Raphael challenged one Cheetah to a 40 yard dash, but he declined citing the need to take a nap after his chicken lunch.

8:00 PM – We venture out to “Bull and Bush,” a local bar/restaurant, to enjoy an evening out with our team and recount the day’s adventure. Looking forward to tomorrow – Sunday – and seeing the Bishop in action with his congregation at High Holy Mass; something that most of us have not experienced for many, many years, if ever.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Day 4 - Photos

#1: Jump-starting the right-side drive, stick-shift church van at 10am.
#2: Our latest and greatest group photo.
#3: The incredible rescued Cheetahs at the Mokolodi Reserve.

Day 4 Update from Tyler Monroe coming soon...

Day 3 - by Mark Roberts

So have you heard the one about the tortoise, the hare, and the Motswana? The Motswana came in last, not because he didn’t try, but because he was too busy enjoying his tea break. The Batswana approach to everyday life is an MBA’s nightmare. While the Batswana are as friendly as can be (especially our favorite driver, Father Ben), we have learned quickly that in order to survive this trip, we need to settle back and roll with the slow moving punches, much to Yum Yum Sunset’s discontent. TIA, Team Botswana, TIA!!!

Our first meeting this morning was extremely productive. We were finallly able to hear, first-hand, both Bishop Mwamba's and his taskforce’s goals and vision for the international schools. Although there seemed to be some disconnect among members of their Taskforce, we had a thorough discussion and agreed on an ideology that incorporated their goals, our goals, and the goals that we expect from potential investors. Much to our delight, the conclusion was that the international schools will serve students across the socio-economic range – from the well-off to those of more modest/underpriveledged backgrounds. By serving the educational needs of Batswana from diverse demographics, the schools will be able to achieve their core goal: bringing Botswana to a higher moral, educational, and global standard. We concluded this meeting was a delightful traditional Botswana meal that some of us washed down with a nice can of Iron Brew (think: Cherry Coke on steroids).

In the afternoon, we visited Westwood International School where we gathered invaluable information from the headmaster regarding school operations, compensation system, structure, and recruitment. The facilities at Westwood are marvelous. While we find ourselves ingrained with the Anglican Church and these top notch facilities, we do feel that we are living in a Botswana bubble. We have not yet seen the poverty that we know exists in an African nation such as Botswana…perhaps on our way to Francistown next week? Francistown is smaller city not far from here and the site of the proposed school.

Well that is about all for today boys and girls…next time on MSB Botswana Project: “Hippos; are they really man’s new best friend?”

Friday, June 8, 2007

Day 3 - Photos

#1: Lunch with the Schools Taskforce at the Cathedral
#2: Tour of Westwood International School (K-12) with Principal and Bishop
#3: Arizona or Botsana? Only the roads give it away!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Day 2 - by Amitesh Aggarwal

The second day in sunny Botswana had all the ingredients of a wonderful start to the project - warm welcome by the hosts, a leaisurely walk to the downtown, browsing the national museum and lunch at Bimbo's. A perfect setting for us to kickstart our project, we met as a team and planned out the agenda for meetings with the focus groups on Friday. The day ended on a perfect note with a night at the theater. The serio-comic play we saw was about the ground realities in southern Africa vis-a-vis the dictatorial regime in Zimbabwe. This was portrayed thru ethnic tensions between the Botswanans and the illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe into Botswana - a poignant reminder to some of our own conflicts back home in US.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

We are all safe and sound in Botswana. We were met at the airport by 20+ wonderful folks from the Diocese and University. We could have never anticipated such a warm reception. Our meetings start tomorrow... and we will see the city in the daylight for the first time!

Again, From Jo'burg

Update 1.5...
We have just learned that fatigues are illegal in Botswana. Lida is wearing pink camoflauge pants. Not sure how this will play out in customs, but Dave feels comforted that she will be safe should Candyland be invaded. Fortunately Mark has a spare pair of boxers in his carry on...

From Johannesburg

Update 1
24 hours into the trip.
3 airports. 13,000 miles.
0 missing team members.
4.25 full length movies.
++Deb suggests you avoid "Astronaut Farmer"

2 flights.
9 time zones.
5 hours of sleep.
2.5 miles sprinted by Mark in Dulles because United lost his ticket.
++For interested parties... Mark's route was terminal c to terminal b to terminal a to terminal b to terminal a to terminal c to terminal c to the plane. We were the last 8 people to board...

As of 4:28pm:
5 south african beers on the table.
1 hour until our flight to Gaborone.
All of the above ... priceless.
More soon!