About a year ago I was packing up my house, saying goodbyes to friends, wrapping up projects and finishing my Peace Corps service in Botswana. During my time in Southern Africa, I worked on a variety of projects including gender-based violence campaigns, economic empowerment training, and helping the district develop HIV prevention plans and a youth center. This was an incredibly rewarding experience. Living in a different country for a couple of years makes one question everything they thought they knew. If nothing else, I learned how much I have in common with someone who grew up on the opposite side of the world.
However, there are still significant differences that became apparent while trying to enhance the financial sustainability of a few non-governmental agencies. The organizations that I worked with would do the majority of their bookkeeping with paper, or possibly Excel. You would be hard-pressed to find a balance sheet or an income statement. Rules are less stringent, receipts are hard to come by, and power outages are frequent. Maybe that’s why they kept to paper records!
Inter-personal relationships are priority in Botswana; most deals are done by handshakes. People have a reputation here - most stay in the same villages their whole lives, and written contracts are relied upon less than a person’s word.
Individual donations are nonexistent. NGOs are primarily funded by governmental agencies or international organizations. Due to the high prevalence of HIV, the majority of NGOs focus on HIV/AIDS treatment or prevention and nearly all NGOs have a health component.
I found that punctuality was not a priority in Botswana, and even funding lacked attention to timely guidelines. We would often receive funding months after it was expected to arrive.
Even a simple request for “volunteers” varied, as it would often imply a small stipend which had to be included in the budget. A sure requirement was allocating meals/snacks for any training, because training minus food equals no participants.
During my service with the Peace Corps, I learned how to tailor my expectations, which helped me overcome the cultural differences that I faced. Although the adjustment was tough, I built a life that was filled with incredible people, interesting food and remarkable adventures. And now I am going through the whole process again as I adjust to American life!