Dear friends,

I hope that you are doing well and that the winter days are getting shorter as spring begins to make it’s appearance. Here is a little update of news from this side.

I’m sure that you have already heard from Andy and Cecilia about the shortage of rain that we have had here this season. It doesn’t seem like we will be hitting our yearly average unless the rain keeps coming late this year. There have been reports of major water shortage in South Africa which in turn affects food prices here in Botswana as we depend on all of our imports from South Africa. Local farmers here have also refrained from planting as much as they usually plant. Those that have access to ground water and irrigation are able to keep their crops going but a lot of the smaller farmers who depend on the rain for their crops have decided not to plant anything this year as the rain was very late coming and has not been coming regularly. Also because of the low rainfall, meat production has also taken a toil as the cattle are not able to fatten up after the dry season because there is insufficient grass. Cattle farmers are either slaughtering their animals with low weight, therefore making less money or they are having to buy feed and grains to fatten them up a bit. What all this means usually is that production goes down and prices go up and it is always the poorest people who suffer the most from these conditions. I have yet to see any major signs of malnutrition from the children attending the preschool but it is something that I will be monitoring closely this year.

We have finalized last years 2017 accounting which I have attached with this letter and we are waiting for Seby to finalize his official copy so we can send it to you when it is complete. As you know we had large expenses in fixing the big bus and I had to pay out some gratuity to some of the employees last year. I have also seen an increase in gas and petrol prices and consumption which I will monitor more closely this year. I’m hoping to bring our overall cost down by the end of next year. I’m expecting to see a slight surge in food consumption as the prices of everyday commodities like maize, flour, and rice will increase depending on how bad the drought gets. But all in all, we should be able to tighten up the budget a bit and bring it back down to our usual expense that ranges around 50,000 euros for the year.

I did something a bit different this year for registration of the children. I have noticed in the past that if the children are of age to go to primary(5.5 years), the parents will automatically register them into primary even though they have not finished the three years here at the preschool. I have discussed with the head of d’kar primary school to understand what the cut off is for children to begin standard one and they have told me that they will take children into standard one as late as 7 years of age. What this means for us is that when the year starts up again I am often short of children in class A as the parents will take their children directly from class B and register them into primary even though I have explained to them that it is in their best interest to have their children complete the three years here and then register into primary, all this to no avail. So I have begun a much more strict registration process that follows the minimum age requirement of the primary school where children that are 5.5 years of age can register. I have shifted some of the children around in the school depending on their age and their progress (whether they are advanced for their age or not) and registered children in all 3 classes this year in order to fill the school. I have 90 children total registered and we have an average so far of about 80 children that show up each day. I also sollicited the help for the local social worker to point out some of the needier families in D’kar to no avail. After multiple requests from myself last year she was not able to produce a list that we could consider for registration this year. As usual I ask the teachers who live in the community to hand in a list of children that they believe could benefit from coming to the school which I discuss with them to know more about the families. Often times their list consists of children that are of age and tht belng to families that have other children that have attended our school in the past. But in order to not put to much of a burden on the teachers or have people in the village harass them in order to get their children registered in the school I opted this year for a first come first serve basis for registration. We posted the number of spaces available as well as the date and time of registration at the clinic, primary school and ghotla. We proceeded with the registration in a timely fashion and I believe we have quiet a variety of children from different economic backgrounds attending school this year.

I opted for this type of registration as I thought it would be interesting for a variety of reasons to have children from different social and economic backgrounds attend the preschool. The first and main reason is our ongoing challenge to keep children in school after these children have graduated from the preschool. It is a fact that we see more regular and long term attendance from children who come from families that are more economically stable. What I am hoping for by mixing things up and not only focusing on the poorest in the community is that the children, no matter what their background, will make friends with a variety of students and they will take example from their friends who stay in school. Another reason is that I believe that a mixture of students from different ethnic, social, and economic backgrouds is healthy and creates diversity and acceptance. (When I say different ethnicity, we still have a majority of San but even within that category, many come from different tribes depending on where their family heritage is from.) It is nothing new here to experience the discrimination that occurs on an almost daily basis. That discrimination is not only based on ethnicity but also social and economic standing within the community. I am hoping to break down these barriers by strongly promoting equality, acceptance and respect within our teachings here at the school.

I am still struggling to find the right formula in order to maintain relationships with the students who attend our school so that we can continue to monitor them and encourage them to stay in school once they have graduated from here. We still regulary go to visit the primary school to see which students are still attending and we do our best to visit the families of those that no longer attend to encourage them to go back to school. But the unfortunate reality is that if they drop out, the likelyhood of them going back to school is pretty much nil. As I told you in my previous summary at the end of last year, the conditions and level of education at the primary school in D’kar are despicable and I think are a big reason for the large number of dropouts (whether it be students that have attended our preschool or not). I have been thinking of various ways to go about this. There is the idea of either creating after school programs for the children who have attended our school or even expanding the school to either accommodate more preschool students or creating a primary school ourselves. These options come of course with a great cost which I think would be intersting to explore and work towards as perhaps some long term goals for future development of this project through various grant applications and fundraising. But on a more immediate scale, I see the need to improve the conditions of the existing primary school. It’s a long shot and will also take some time to see results but I believe that through local community involvement and constant lobbying with council representatives in Dkar and Ghanzi we might be able to make things change. I think that if we reach out and educate the parents so that they continue to encourage their children to stay in school but I also think that if they band together their voice will be stronger to demand better for their children. I know this perhaps sounds all a bit utopian and revolutionary, I’m still side stepping cultural differences in my quest whether this is even possible. But if I don’t try, I won’t know and I don’t think that the primary school will be any worse than it already is and if anything, it might even improve a bit. I will keep you updated on the progress.

Last year the children did a few traditional dances in order to raise awareness about the school and to raise a bit of money on this side, the amounts raised are small, but we are beginning a small network here in ghanzi that we hope will continue to educate the people in the community about the work we do here. The children danced for an anti-corruption day organized by the ghanzi council and they donated 6000.00 BWP to the school. They also performed for an award ceremony at the Ghanzi Brigade school (school of trade) and the director, some teachers and a few students visited us at the beginning of this year and gave us a big food donation for the school. I will send you a few pictures of this via wattsapp.

Our goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens are all doing well and the numbers are steadily increasing. Our female pig should be pregnant and we are waiting to see if she has little ones soon. Andy has been incubating eggs to get our chicken population up and the sheep and goats are happily multiplying. We have had this big hive that made its home under the container in which we keep all the clothes for the children. As Cecilia is highly allergic to these insects and this is a container in which she often goes, we had a huge operation to get the bees out and into a box so that we can harvest honey on a regular basis. I’m sorry that I actually don’t have any pictures of this operation. Andy and one of the guys all suited up as they dismantled the wooden floor in the container in order to remove the bees. I do however have pictures of the finished product, which is a new cement floor poured in the container using a variety of recycled materials as filler then covered in cement and our happy bee hive box full of bees as well as our very first honey harvest. We have one more hive that we have to tend to which has made its home in a tree near the school, I will try to get pictures when we do that to tell the story.

We just recently had a field trip that we organized with the cheetah conservation camp here in ghanzi where the children learned about different plants and animals and especially cheetahs. It was a good educational trip in order to teach the children the importance of the different plats and animals and how they must respect and protect them. I will send you video and photos of the field trip on wattsapp.

We are very happy that Cecilia and Ingrid are here and they have, as usual, begun their journey and work here full throttle. They are preparing the clothes for all the children, tracking down all the distance adoption children and also activating the women’s project. I will keep you updated on their progress and will send you a few pictures of that as well.

I will also take a few class pictures this year as it is something that we have not yet done since I have been here and I think it will be nice to post on facebook and perhaps the website class photos of the children. I will send them to you when I do it.

I hope that this information finds you and Giancarlo well. Please don’t hesitate to contact me of you need any further information and pictures. I will do my best to give you regular updates with pictures of what is going on around here at the school so you can post them on our different sites.

Best regards,