Friday, August 5, 2011

A trip home

So at the end of June I was very fortunate to be able to go home to America for a couple weeks!

The first part of the trip was spending time with my best friend since 5th grade! She got married (weird how growing up works...) and we had a lot of last minute running around to do. This included going into Toys-R-Us which was a bit overwhelming and I was still getting used to being around so much English which means I was cursing more than I should have been... The wedding was so beautiful and only had a couple snags along the way so that was good. I really enjoyed spending time with an old friend, being able to actually help with the wedding stuff (felt pretty guilty that I was the maid of honor but couldn't do much from Madagascar), celebrating her love with a great man and seeing a bunch of her family too that I hadn't see in a very long time. The one sad part about this trip is that I barely squeezed into my dress for the wedding resulting in me not being able to gorge myself on all the great American food that I wanted to... Even having Special K cereal and cold milk was Amazing though!

The second part of my trip was going back home to Colorado. My family and I drove back from the wedding and watched movies in a spacious car, which is about the furthest away from my Madagascar experiences as I can get! I forgot how much seeing the Rockies just makes me feel at home too... I was able to see a few good friends and hit up my old college town to chat with some folks. I also got to spend the 4th of July with my family and take a motorcycle ride into the mountains with my dad. I had a lot of Cinnamon Toast Crush and PHO!!! Rocked my world. My mom let me sleep in her bed while I was home too = A-maz-ing!!! So soft, so warm..! These are the things I was excited about haha!

It was great to be home, to speak English, to be in my own culture where I understand everything, to be with my friends and family...but sadly I had to leave all over again... 5 different planes and a lot of hours later I was back in Madagascar to finish out my 1 year+ of service. I was able to stay in the capital for a little bit and welcome the incoming health and education trainees, which was fun. I finally made it back to my banking town, then to my site and back in my house. My house felt smaller and I wanted to take a few days of just being alone to readjust to everything again. I have gotten back into most of my routines and have a lot more drive to focus on my work but my attitude towards everything is not the same as before leaving for America.

I'll clarify that a bit... I'm a lot more homesick than I was before. I am less inclined to go out and just sit and talk with people - This is in part to do with me having a new computer to watch movies and stuff on and in part, sitting around and talking is slightly uncomfortable when I can't always relate or contribute much to the conversation so I would rather spend my time planning and organizing my work. My focus on work has been better, the computer has allowed me to work on my funding proposals at site where it is quiet instead of having to wait to use the computer in my banking town when I really don't feel like working since I'm around other volunteers. I am more on the fence about a third year extension than when I left, I'm still considering it but I still need time to think about it before having any serious conversations with Peace Corps about it.

So that's pretty much where I'm at at this point. I've got something coming up almost every month for the rest of the year so that'll move things along nicely :) Helping a couple other volunteers on projects this month and in October (which will also be my 24th birthday..!) September I will be in the capital again helping out with language translating for Operation Smile. November I am headed back to our original training site for our Mid-Service Conference. Hopefully during all that the project proposals will come through and we can start working!

Mind-trip: A year into service, a year left and 2012 is just around the corner

Monday, May 23, 2011

I found a project!!! But I need your help!

Manakory aby (Hello Everyone)!

I hope this finds you all doing well and that work, school and life in general is good. As for me, I'm good, great actually! I've been in Peace Corps now for 10 months, with about a year and 4 months left but am thinking about extending my service for an extra year. If you have been following my blog, which I try to keep up with as much as I can (, I hope you have been enjoying reading what I've been up to. I remember thinking that 2 years was such a daunting amount time and now it seems like it is going to run out before I know it!

I live in the rural commune of Sahambavy, located in the southern highlands, which is known for producing all of the tea production in Madagascar. Although technically we are considered "ambany vohitsa" (countryside), my commune is a progressive one. We have regular transportation to a larger city near by, a sizeable market twice a week, a library, elementary, middle and high schools, several chruches, a basic health center staffed with a doctor, midwife and pharmasist as well as supporting health educators in all the surrounding villages. I've spent enough time in my community now to understand what their needs are and have a ton of ideas for projects that I want to accomplish. My main concern when choosing which projects to focus on is the question of sustainability. Does my community actually want this project? Will they find it helpful? Will the people continue to use it after I have gone? A crucial factor in project sustainability is when the community is the driving force behind it. I am writing to you today to tell you about a project that my community has approached me about.

Each village is made up of a few small clusters of houses called tananas. There is a tanana called Toby in the village of Bedia that sits 5K away from the center of the commune. Several years ago a pastor began to support chronically ill people in Toby Bedia, by way of healing through prayer. A new church was built about 4 years ago to continue daily prayer for the people in Toby. This tanana has become a place where people with various physical and developmental illnesses are referred to because community members have committed themselves to being care takers as well as spiritual leaders for the sick. In an effort to improve the (goals) of Toby some of the community leaders have approached me about a project they would like to implement. The health center is located in the main part of the commune which means villagers have to walk to recieve consultations, vaccines or medications. A woman named Radety has been collaborating with the Mayor and Doctor to try to bring health care to the people of Toby Bedia. She would like to construct a building consisting of 4 rooms that would provide space for the doctor to do weekly consultations, keep a stock of medications and supplies as well as rooms for patients to recover after treatment.

As progressive as Sahambavy is, funding for such a project is hard to find. The commune and family members of the sick do their best to provide rice and clothing to the people of Toby, but the main funding for building the new church and a building to house the caretakers has come from the personal funds of Radety. After being approached by my community, spending some time in Toby to understand their lives and hearing about their ideas, I set out to search for funding for this project. Peace Corps has what is called the Peace Corps Partnership Programm (PCPP), which is a way for volunteers in country to connect with people at home to provide funding for materials for whatever project they are planning for. The way PCPP works is, say we need $3,000 USD to build this care center, and through your contributions and the efforts of PCPP we only raise $2,500, then the difference could be given from other people as the website is open for everyone to donate to. Unfortunately, it is not guaranteed that I would recieve that funding and if not, it would go into a Global Fund which would be dispersed to various projects around the world. Of course the funding would be used for other great causes but it would mean that my community and I would find ourselves back at square one.

The community members are the driving force behind this project. I met with them recently to explain the process of PCPP; not only are they writing the bulk of the project proposal (which I must say is a lot of work and needs to be done thoroughly) but they will also be contributing at least 25% of the total project cost. They are dedicated to making this project happen, so of course if they are put back to square one again they will try another strategy to get it done. I would love to see this project become a success the first go around while I am still here as support but I need your help! I am asking you all in advance to see if you are interested in contributing to this cause and a rough estimate of how much you would be willing to donate. If I can get enough responses/pledges, I will submit the proposal to PCPP for review and upon its approval the project will go on the Peace Corps website. This is where you can sumbit your donations and once the amount is reached the funds will be sent to me to begin project implementation. I want to secure donations prior to submitting the proposal in order to complete this project in a time frame that is not discouraging to my community, as well as allowing myself to be able to see it succeed.

I will be checking my email as regularly as I am able to so please send me a reply to my email below if you are interested! Also, please do not hestitate to forward this to anyone that may be interested in directly making a difference in Madagascar.

With love and peace,

Tisa Kunkee

Peace Corps Volunteer - Community Health - Madagascar


Saturday, April 16, 2011

I need a detox for my brain...

I should really start working out soon so I can clear my mind... Here is what is on it currently:

-How to get funding for a pump and/or health center project at my site. This has many, many components such as identifying potential donors, project descrition, timeline and budget. All of those have various parts and this is just for the proposal, there is no guarantee that the project will get funded...

-General work at site is fine but I've hit a glitch with my counterpart. A certain situation has made our relationship a bit awkward. We had planned to go out to all the villages and do baby food demonstrations but she has started scheduling other work/errands instead of going with me... She tells other people I'm good enough at my Gasy to do it on my own - yet she has told me that my Gasy has retreated back to a lower level and the other issue is I don't know how to get out to all the villages.

-America. I'm missing it but I am also going back in June/July. I've got to get approval from PC and then of course the gift buying process.

-Another HIV/AIDS and Hygien/Nutrition tour is a possibility

-I'm starting to think about "After Peace Corps" which I think has become the most thing on my mind. At least in this current moment. Do I want to extend my PC service? If so, in what way (NGO, response volunteer)? Do I want to find an actual job here? How to even go about that process? Is Foreign services an option? I also want to get my Masters - In what? Where? Through what program? What about travel after service?

So much to think about. Way too much time to think about it...

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Dirty South

I actually feel like a legitimate volunteer now! I just got back from a business trip where me and 4 other volunteers from my stage gave health lessons about HIV/AIDS, STIs and condom use to the classes of our fellow education volunteers living to the south of us.

What we talked about:

Myths and Facts about HIV/AIDS - We blew up condoms with strips of paper inside, tossed them to the students, then they had to break them and decide if the statement was true or false

How HIV/AIDS effects the body - Had volunteers to come up; one representing the body, 6 others in a circle around the first to represent the immune system. Had 2 others try to attack and touch the first to represent maladies like the flu. Then I went round as HIV removing the immune system, the 2 volunteers would then try to attack the body again.

Transmission - Used a hand-shaking game to demonstrate how quickly diseases can spread, the importance of testing and prevention and that there are no visible symptoms of HIV. We talked about transmissible fluids, pathways for fluids, risky behaviors and the life cycle of the disease

STI - those present in M/car, symptoms to go to the doctor for

Prevention - ABCD: Abstinence Be faithful Condom use Detection. Aleo Misoroka Toy Izay Mitsabo: It is better to prevent than to treat

Condoms - Don'ts: Don't use expired condoms, don't use more than one at a time, don't leave them in a hot place, don't open with scissors. This was followed by us doing a demonstration and then we had the students do a condom race.

Interesting notes:

We got asked a lot about the female condom, how AIDS started and got to M/car, how the medicine works, other contraceptive methods (including the withdrawl method), condom use is low here because they say it spoils the mood

Great trip - Great experience

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Food for thought

So I have been having this conversation with people lately and the more and more I think about it, the more I realize how silly life is... One of the things that I have really been enjoying out here is all the fresh fruits and vegetables! I buy local foods, I buy seasonally, and there are no preservatives or any stuff like that in the food. Even with meats, all the animals roam freely and eat grasses instead of corn. It's great! I eat Lychee that are still on the branch, there are mangoes of like at least 5 different kinds here, grapes are coming into season and I know there are avocadoes here and I will be So excited when I see those in the market!

But something I've been realizing is that I don't know how any of this stuff grows...

What does a mango tree look like? Do green beans grow on bushes like tomatoes or on vines like grapes? How do beans grow - above the ground like squash or in it like potatoes? What about peanuts - is it a tree? a bush? how does it work with the shell and everything?? Apparently bananas start out as this huge purple pod... and pineapples - they start out red and I don't even know how to explain how they grow because I have yet to see it but it seems So strange how they grow...

Isn't it silly?!? Isn't it silly?! and almost rediculous that I am 23 years old and I don't know how the majority of what I have been eating all my life looks like before I buy it at the store, before I open the can or package, before it is on my plate and I'm eating it..?

The answer is Yes!

I have been disconnected from my food - something that is part of my everyday routine, one of the basic necessities of life and a favorite past-time - for practically 22 years up until I move to an island and have no choice but to see it in a different light!

Sad, silly, interesting and I hope that through cooking and gardening I will find a greater appreciation for my food and the process behind it