Dienstag, 18. Dezember 2007

Tea in the President's House

Today the volunteers of Camara were invited to Áras an Uachtaráin to meet President McAleese! It was really a nice experience! I was surprised who informal and relaxed the whole event was...We got the chance to talk to her and had a nice cup of tea! Thanks for that Mrs. President!

Mittwoch, 28. November 2007

africa CAMARA 2008

What a nice piece of work from our volunteers from capturescratch.com:

Einfach genial! Excellent!

Freitag, 16. November 2007

Back in Ireland we get ready for Africa 2008!

Hello there,

It's a while since I posted some news! While our days are getting longer and we get ready for the lovely winter time of Advent and Christmas, the summer is arriving in Lesotho!
We are all save and sound back in Ireland, back at work, back in the workshop - back to normal!
But we also start to get ready for Africa 2008! If you wanna support us and you don't have all Christmas presents yet, why don't you have a look at

*Just click on the picture to get to Camara's website!

Montag, 30. Juli 2007

The job is done...

Hi folks,

this is "Jonas Hello" from Cape Town! After a great last week in Lesotho with an outstanding night in the Irish embassy, we brought the team back to Jo'burg on Saturday and the leisure part of my trip starts...

But first of all credits for my team: You guys from Team Lesotho were brilliant and it was a pleasure to work with you! Kea leboha!!!

Die letzte Woche in Lesotho haben wir in Maseru verbracht! Es war eine ereignisreiche gute letzte Woche und ich bin absolut begeistert mit welcher Energie und mit welchem Enthusiasmus Team Lesotho auch diese vierte Woche noch genommen hat!
Wir bezogen Unterkunft im familiaeren Boikhutsong B+B in Hillsview, einem der besseren Stadtteile von Maseru! Da wir die Moeglichkeit hatten selbst zu kochen, haben wir nach 3-4 Wochen Catering in den ersten paar Tagen regen Gebrauch davon gemacht! Die erste Haelfte der Woche hatten wir noch 2 Trainings paralell laufen, waehrend der in der 2 Haelfte ein spezial Training in Computerwartung und -pflege angeboten wurde. Des hat noch einige Kontakte bezueglich seines Aids-Projektes knupfen koennen und wir hatten Gelegenheit alles zu einem guten Abschluss zu bringen und Freitag mittag Lesotho zu verlassen, um unsere letzte Nacht in Ladybrand im Little Rock Resort zu verbringen, wo wir schon die erste Nacht geschlafen hatten! Samstag morgen habe ich dann in aller Hergottsfruehe einen Bus mit Anhaenger organisiert, der uns zum Flughafen Jo'burg gebracht hat! 5 von 10 sind am Samstag dann heimgeflogen, waehrend Eoghan, Des, Jen, Dallan und ich im Diamond Digger Hostel abgestiegen sind und dort Ciaran, Dallan's Bruder getroffen haben!

Camara Lesotho 2007 ist vorbei und ich muss sagen ich bin fast ein bisschen traurig, auch wenn ich gleichzeitig froh bin, dass sich meine Verantwortung jetzt wieder ganz und gar auf mich beschraenkt! ;-)

Sonntag, 22. Juli 2007

Week III 22/07/2007 - DES MCDONNELL

So here we are at the end of our third week of teaching. We arrived this morning in Maseru, the capital city of Lesotho and our final stop on this month long adventure. Our accommodation is a nice family run guest house in Hillsview, a fairly affluent suburb on the outskirts of the city. We spent a few hours this afternoon in the city centre, eating pizza and catching up on email, shopping and other urban luxuries.

As Tuesday was the King of Lesotho's birthday and a public holiday, this was a short week for us in the classroom. We ran one three day course in Siloe High School which is situated half way between Mafenteng and Mohales Hoek in the south of the country. After redistributing a few sticks of RAM we ended up with 19 working computers and one "spare". One of my observations of this years trip is that there seems to be less faulty computers in the labs than last year. I'm putting this down to improved refurbishment processes over the last 12 months and the hard work of the lads back in the workshop in Dublin. 21 people completed the course in a nicely setup lab. Simon, one of the members of SchoolNet, our partner organisation here in Lesotho, was among those who passed with flying colours.

For me, the 3 day teaching week was made even shorter as I took some time out of the classroom on both Thursday and Friday to do some research for the HIV AIDS educational software I will be continuing to work on when I return to Dublin. On Thursday I traveled to Maseru with Carla and Jonas. Government transport had been arranged for us by SchoolNet. Our driver was in a rush to get to government buildings in the capital for a meeting so on went the hazard lights and out the window went the speed limits. I have to say it made a very pleasant change to be chauffeured around the country in relative luxury - a far cry from the rickidy minibus taxis we have become accustomed to over the past few weeks. After spending some time with Carla and Jonas, negociating accommodation for the group for the final week, it was off to visit a New Start HIV AIDS Voluntary Counseling and Testing Centre. New Start is a NGO funding by, among others, US AID and Irish AID. It aims to provide a first point of contact for people to get HIV tests, information and counseling. It has clinics at 6 locations throughout Lesotho and is also present in many other African countries. After a short wait in the waiting room (and a memorable demonstration involving a femidom and a plastic penis) I was ushered into an office for a brief meeting with one of the counselors. She was very interested in the project and is keen to schedule a meeting with me next week to brainstorm in more detail. I have to admit, I was a bit taken-a-back by her openness when she volunteered to tell me that she herself is HIV positive. But then again, with some estimates claiming that anything up to 30% of the population of Lesotho are carrying the virus I have to remember that HIV really is a integral part of life here and can never be too far away.

On Friday Joe and I continued the HIV research in Mafenteng, with visits to a local GP, another New Start clinic and the National Drug Stockpile Center which operates on behalf of the government and has responsibility for accumulation and distribution of Anti-retro viral medication in Lesotho. It seems like the Lesothian government is, in recent times at least, performing reasonable well in the response to the HIV pandemic. ARV treatment is available free of charge to all who need it. This is at a cost to the local exchequer of $150 per person per annum (a considerable amount in this economy). Throughout the day, we got a few extra leads and suggestions of people we should talk to. This lead us to the Karabong treatment clinic where people who have been diagnosed as HIV positive come for further counseling, regular checkups and administration of their ARVs. While wondering around the Old Government Hospital in search of an elusive Dr McPherson, we were approached by a very helpful young woman who invited us to meet with the support group she runs for local adolescents living with HIV. We arranged to come back in the afternoon and spent the intervening time preparing questions along with some soft drinks and treats for the group. On arrival back to the hospital at 2pm we quickly realised that there had been some kind of misunderstand and that we were infact going to meet a group called Mother 2 Mother who provides support for mothers or mothers to be living with HIV. The young lady who runs the group was first to tell us the story of her life with the virus. She was followed by two other group members who were very open and willing to impart their experiences. In some cases the women's babies had been born with HIV while others had been lucky enough to escape. This was a very emotional encounter for both Joe and myself and we spent much of the evening discussing it between yourselves and relying our experiences to the group. The bravery of these women and the so many other people in Lesotho living with this condition is something that will live long in the memory.

Last weekend marked the midpoint of our month long assignment and we were lucky enough to be able to celebrate it with a long weekend (due to the King's birthday) in the highlands of Malealea . After setting up base in the interesting and cosy Malealea Lodge we spend our time exploring the stunning surroundings in this rural utopia. I was very impressed with how things are organized in Malealea. All excess funds generated by the various tourism ventures are put into a development fund which is used to finance various projects in the locality. The holiday village and the many activities on offer also provide much needed employment for locals. Our accommodation took the form of 4 thatched huts a kitchenette area, showers and a bathroom in a clearing the forest. Think of Tellytubby-land and you won't be too far wrong. We set up a little campfire in the middle of our little commune and this became the focal-point of drinking and the craic into the wee hours long after the electricity had been shutoff throughout the village. Sunday morning saw the group embark on a 3 hour trek in search of cave paintings. The route, while very scenic throughout, was quite challenging at times (especially under the midday sun). We all arrived back at the lodge tired yet invigorated and hungry for more of the outdoor life. Bright and early on Monday morning we split into two smaller groups. The girls opted for pony trekking and matchmaking with their guides while the lads set off for the summit of Fuku Fuku (the highest mountain in the region). Standing at 2300m above sea level, it provided a more than adequate challenge on the way up, a stunning vista from the top and an excited and giddy decent.
If you have followed the previous Lesotho team posts you will be aware of the "complications" regarding our luggage. While most of the group have received their bags at this stage (some more complete than others), Dallan and myself are still waiting in hope. With the exception of one girl in the Dublin office, our "friends" at British Airways have been far from helpful to our plight. Following almost daily calls to so called helplines in four airports in their respective countries (Ireland, UK, South Africa and Lesotho), we still have no clear indication as to which city (or indeed which continent) our bags are currently in. BA latest hunch is that they are either back or on their way back to Dublin. I'd love to know where they have been in the meantime. It seems like they are probably much better traveled than us at this stage. If only luggage could write blogs!!

Week II 07/07/'07-13/07/'07 by Dallan Cunniffe & Joe Finn

On Saturday, we make the journey to Teyateyaneng (TY), a town south of Pitseng. We stay in the Blue Mountain Inn there. At first glance it seems to be a very Westernised compound, but we find the rooms to be more modest than we had first expected. Considering that there are three of us in each room, personal space is at a premium. We finally get the opportunity to use the internet. Not to our surprise it is incredibly slow as there is only one dial-up connection serving four computers. On a brighter note, Dallan manages to obtain the results of his degree there. Our initial thoughts regarding the inn's western leanings are realised when we celebrate his results and Cormac's final night with the group. We had been eating quite traditional food until this point, but here the menu was limited to fast-foodesque cuisine. We had an enjoyable evening that commenced our positive experience of TY. On Sunday, we look around the town. TY is the most urban place we had stayed in so far. It is a bustling town with a wide assortment of shops.
On Monday our group divides in two as we have four courses to deliver this week. The divide in the team alters the group dynamic, but our growing confidence overcomes any additional pressure on individuals. Thirty-eight students obtain certificates in the first half of this week. One group goes to Peka, a large school of which now much is disused. The other group have a shorter distance to travel to their school, Kolonyama. Due to bus difficulties, both groups had long distances to walk to their respective schools. Power supply difficulties were an ongoing problem in both schools, and a power box explosion in Kolonyama was followed by a frantic “every man for himself” evacuation from the building. One memorable experience for Dallan was explaining to a commerce teacher a variety of business questions. Despite being on their syllabus, none of the teachers in that school know what shopping channels, trading blocs or store cards are. Two more bags arrive from BA, considerably lighter than when they left Dublin Airport. This development is a slight drag on group morale, but is quickly forgotten.
On Wednesday, we moved on to two new schools, Cana and Mamathe. Cana is a rural school at the foothills of the Maluti Mountains. They were well prepared and ready to embrace us. Mamathe is located close to TY, and is the first school we've been to that doesn't have drop-toilets i.e. a hole in the ground. The school was well prepared, and with an enthusiastic class, they were also among the quickest learners that we have had. Another forty-one students succeed in obtaining certificates.
On Thursday evening we celebrated Jonas' birthday. Simon represented SchoolNet, and generously provided two bottles of champagne, as well as birthday cards and mugs for Jonas and Joe's belated birthday. We arrive back to our room to find a cloud of smoke surrounding our faulty heater, and a cold night with all windows open follows. On Friday, Joe is approached by Thubuktha a student in Cana. He politely offers an invitation for Des and Joe to join him for an evening in Maseru. Due to the nature of our stay here and the local environment we were obliged to refuse in the nicest possible manner. Although we have been unable to venture out after hours we have still managed to keep ourselves entertained within the walls of Blue Mountain.

Week I: Conor's view 30/06 - 06/07/2007

Day One, Saturday June 30th:

Well, we have arrived in Lesotho. By we I mean the 10 people sent out by Camara to teach computer literacy in schools, this is Conor, Jonas and Carla (our coordinators), Aisling, Deirdre, Helen, Jen, Dallan, Joe and Des. Cormac who is the founder and CEO of Camara has also travelled out with us but he will leave us shortly to travel to the 4 other countries that have volunteers sent out to them as part of Camara's Africa 2007 volunteer programme.
So the journey, we were flying from Dublin to Heathrow and then onto Johannesburg. Here we were being met by Jonas and Carla who have been out here for a week before us getting everything set up for our arrival. After Jo'burg we really didn't know what exactly was planned, whether we would stay overnight there or travel to Bloemfontain or head straight to Maseru the capital of Lesotho. Anyway our flight to Heathrow was delayed by about 50 minutes so a final pint of Guinness (or two) was had to say farewell to Ireland and last minute supplies bought. As we all know Heathrow is notoriously disorganised for transferring flights so the fact that our plane was delayed by nearly an hour was not good news. Luckily we were arriving into terminal one and leaving from there too but we still had to make a mad dash across the terminal only to find that the queue was so massive for our Jo'burg flight that we would be waiting around for a good half hour!
Flight was grand, flew British Airways and got absolutely no sleep on the flight which didn't help with the day of travelling we had ahead of us.
We were paranoid with the delay that our luggage would not make it and of course it didn't! There was talk of there being something like 12,000 pieces of luggage in Heathrow needing to be sent on to their rightful owners. So we don't have our bags at the moment which is slightly annoying but we have all the important stuff.

So we were met by Jonas and Carla at the airport. The plan was to get a minibus south to Ladybrand which is a town just over the S.A.-Lesotho border near to Maseru. We even had a little trailer for all our luggage which was sitting in London. The journey down was about 450km and was really nice, the views of such vast tracts of land were amazing and the sun was shining. It's winter here and the days are generally quite sunny with clear skies, although once the sun drops it gets very chilly very quickly. Carla was saying that the week before we arrived it had been snowing and with it getting so cold at night I'm not at all surprised. On the bus the mood was good despite the missing bags and typical African music was interrupted by the odd bit of Westernised music.
The drivers over here are a little bit loony on the roads, overtaking on bends, going at ridiculous speeds and so on but tucked away at the back of the bus I didn't really mind let alone notice. That was until I heard what sounded like a glass bottle smashing off the bus. We then started to swerve and slow down rapidly and it was obvious something was wrong, we all got a bit panicky until the bus finally shuddered to a halt at the side of the road. We all piled out and inspected the damage on our left rear tyre. It was only for the great driving sense of our driver Sonny, and the fact that there wasn't anyone speeding behind us that it wasn't more serious. So we relaxed at the side of the road as Sonny changed the tyre and the cows looked on.
Eventually we reached Little Rock Resort which was kind of like a camp site and had nice little thatch chalets waiting for us. It was so nice to finally arrive somewhere and relax a bit and it even had Rocky Saloon, a little bar with chilled Castle Lager for 6 Rand each which works out about 60 cents. They even had sausage dogs, three of them, and some Lassie dogs to welcome us! So after several beers and a pizza we climbed into the bunk beds to fall off to sleep.

Day Two, Sunday July 1st:

So we have crossed the border and entered Lesotho. We got a taxi bus down to the Maseru border crossing with our passports ready. We had a pretty easy passage through the immigration. Once we entered Lesotho we waited for another taxi bus and our contact Malefetsane from SchoolNet, our host and local partner. He works for the National Cirriculum Development Center who do great work trying to promote education within Lesotho. The area when you cross over was quite an introduction to the poverty that is in Lesotho, all shacks with corrugated iron tops selling fruit and bread. After a short wait we met Malefetsane and headed off in our taxi bus toward the town of Butha-Buthe. We decided that, seeing as our clothes were still missing, we would stop off at Peps, which is the Lesotho version of Penny's, and get some clothes to see us through the next few days.
The place in Butha-Buthe we are staying is nice enough, four rooms and eight beds between eleven of us and one shower which gets colder as you turn it hotter. Our landlord Steven is a funny fella who keeps smiling, laughing and saying "I am happy". He's going to be attending our first teaching session too which should be funny. Well here's looking forward to getting stuck into teaching tomorrow, we all can't wait to get stuck into what we came out here do.

Day Three, Monday 2nd: First Day Teaching

Today was our first day getting cracked into the teaching. Up at six in the morning! Our first school is called St. Peter's and is well off the beaten track. The school is situated in the most amazing place, a load of small stone buildings sitting in the midst of some of the most picturesque mountain views. As we got stuck into setting up the classroom and the computers our first students arrived in dribs and drabs. Some hung around outside the doors nattering away while the braver ones sauntered in smiling brightly and shaking hands. We had 19 working computers and 26 students so we had to use our laptops for some students. After a few blank faces at the beginning (I really don't blame them that early in the morning) we got into the swing of things. The people are so friendly and happy it really was such a thrill to get in there and really interact and get to know them. We all pretty quickly formed bonds and everyone had a pet student.
So thoroughly chuffed with our first days work we headed off home for more of Mamatela's cooking and a few Maluti beers. In Conor's professional opinion Maluti is much nicer than Castle Lager. We had been joking about the idea of having a fashion show with all our highly fashionable clothes we bought in Peps. Oh and our bags are still missing!!!

Day Four, 3rd:

Unfortunately Helen left us today to head off home. She will definitely be missed from the group and it's a pity she's gone but we have a job to do and so we have to get our heads down. We kind of know what to expect now after yesterday and after setting out a plan we flew through the material and the class seemed to be really responsive. There are some really advanced people and some not so advanced. The class seem to be really getting into it. Today we are covering Calc (spreadsheets) and the older ones in particular love when they put in a formula and see how the computer does all the work for them. Tonight was our last night staying in Steven's guesthouse. Where we stay is separate from his house but when we are eating dinner we eat in their dining room. We have built up a bit of a bond with Steven as we're staying with him and teaching him too. His wife Mama Tela is absolutely hilarious and always laughing. So seeing as it is our last night with them we sat down and had a few drinks with them and it turned out to be the most surreal, hilarious and interesting dinner ever! Steven was telling us how he is a descendant of a tribe of cannibals (nice one Jonas and Carla, put us in a cannibals house for three nights!) and this tribe killed and ate Moshoeshoe I's father. Moshoeshoe (pronounced Mo-Shwey-Shwey) was the first King of Lesotho and seems to be a very fair and wise leader. He united all the Basotho people and the people of Lesotho seem to all be very proud of him. He found the tribe who cannibalised his father and captured them all and when asked if he would kill or murder them all he said "No I will not because you are my father's grave and I must respect my Father's grave". It was such an interesting tale to hear. The night turned into quite a blur after that and the six o'clock morning wake up call doesn't seem too attractive!
Still no bags!!

Day Five, Wednesday 4th - Finish first school, start second

So today was our final day with our first class in St. Peter's. It's been a fantastic introduction to our teaching and I think we'll be very fortunate if every class we get over the month is as motivated and as friendly as they have been. We covered a little bit of computer maintenance in the morning and then answered any questions that they might have had. While everyone else was busy teaching, Dallan and Joe went off and met some locals and got a tour of a traditional Basotho hut which was particularly memorable. It's a small round hut with just one room and a kind of thatch roof and I definitely want to see one properly. After everything was done we had some tea and got ready for our presentation of certificates. The presentation was pretty amazing, everyone in our class passed and got a certificate which we are all very proud of considering the disparity between some peoples abilities. We presented the certs and an Irish flag to cheers. It was a sad farewell and there were a few people who we want to keep in touch with but we have to move onto more classes.

So we went straight from St. Peter's to our next school, Pitseng High School. Pitseng is slightly south of Butha-Buthe and we're staying near a little town called London. Unfortunately our bags are still in a different London. The new school is less rural than St. Peter's and better equipped. In the mornings in St. Peter's it could take up to half an hour for computers to warm up but this lab is better insulated so we don't have to worry about that. Our new accommodation is lovely with warm showers which is a massive bonus over here, particularly when there's no fresh clothes to change into. After dinner everyone is way too wrecked to get up to much after the pretty hectic day of goodbyes and hellos so it was off to bed for an early start in the morning.

Day Six, Tuesday July 5th:

So we had our first full day with Pitseng H.S. today. Sister Juliet, the principal of Pitseng High and a memorable character, joined us today and was well taught by Deirdre.
There is also a very intelligent man called John Tau in our class. He teaches English at the school and has a real dignified air about him that just demands respect. His name Tau is Sesotho for lion and Pitseng Ha Tau is the full name of the town we are in at the minute so I presume his family would be held in high esteem here. Pitseng's name comes from overhangs in nearby caves which were used as shelter for the Basotho and to protect them when in danger and the guest house we are in overlooks the Malutis (also the name of the beer we have been living on) which are some of the most amazing mountain ranges. This whole place is just full of stunning views no matter where you turn.
Tomorrow is Joe's 27th birthday so we are all getting ourselves ready for the celebrations!

Day Seven, Friday July 6th: Joe's Birthday

We woke up today to Joe being jumped on and sung to by the girls. We tried to get as much of a lie-in as possible and then made our way to the school. Malefetsane, our contact over here, lives around Leribe and is nearby so he picks us up every morning in his open back jeep to drive us to the school and let me tell you that shooting along with the wind battering you at seven in the morning while hanging on for dear life definitely wakes you up in the morning!
We finished up in Pitseng that day and with it our first week. After we finished teaching in the afternoon and as part of the certification ceremony we organised a cake for Joe from the convent's bakery. While we were eating the delicious birthday cake, John Tau was delivering a moving speech to thank us. We went back to our accommodation in Aloe's guesthouse.

Cormac, who had a very productive week in Maseru, came back to join us and we invited Malefetsane, his family and John Tau to come over to have dinner with us. We had a very enjoyable Braai, the African barbecue. Malefetsane was very satisfied as you can't celebrate in Lesotho without loads of meat!
After the dinner we were surprised by the staff of the guest house with a traditional singing and dancing presentation. After their performance we felt driven to add an Irish song to the programme and so we had probably one of the saddest performances of Molly Malone that night...