February 2016 Bar Bulletin
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February 2016 Bar Bulletin

Lawyer’s Peace Corps Work in Africa Promotes a More Promising Future for Youth

By Matthew R. Kenney


Since graduating from Georgetown Law School in 1964, I have practiced law specializing in civil litigation, except for spending time in the U.S. Peace Corps from 1987–90 in Niger, and more recently from August 2013 to September 2015 in Botswana.

In Botswana, I was assigned to the Moshupa Local Government office as a capacity builder. Moshupa is a village of approximately 24,000 residents and is located about 41 kilometers from Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. For part of my time in Botswana, I was joined by Bob Klein of Short Cressman.

Botswana is located in the southern part of Africa. It is greatly affected by an HIV/AIDS pandemic. Approximately 25 percent of its adults (male and female) live with an HIV infection. Although the government attempted to mastermind a campaign to eliminate any new HIV infection by 2016, that will not happen. It is calculated that there are 40 new HIV infections every day in Botswana and the annual total is estimated to be 10,000.

Many young adults (ages 15–35) are among the newly infected. The major causes of this HIV pandemic in Botswana are unprotected sex (low condom use), low rates of circumcision among the men, preference of both men and women for multiple concurrent sexual partners (and it is not uncommon for a person to have up to five sexual partners), excessive use of alcohol and, more recently, drugs, and gender-based violence in which the man imposes sex on his partner, whether married or not.

The rate of HIV infection among young girls is four times the rate of infection among their male counterparts. Older men who are already infected with the HIV virus seek sexual favors from young girls in exchange for expensive clothes, cell phones, perfumes, cash and other similar favors.

In Botswana, my primary projects were two-fold. The first project was called Peace Corps SKILLZ Grass Roots soccer. My Moshupa Peace Corps colleague and I ran five-day programs with each of 10 different primary schools, teaching more than 400 primary school students (between the ages of 10 and 17) how to protect themselves from an HIV/AIDS infection when later in life they start engaging in risky sexual behavior. The reality in Botswana is that by age 13 almost 15 percent of the youth have already made their sexual debut, and by age 15 more than 55 percent of young girls have participated in sex with a male partner.

Our soccer-related HIV youth prevention program in the Moshupa Sub-District was a tremendous success. The Peace Corps group that administered the program advised us that our program was ranked No. 1 in the Peace Corps world, whatever that means. For myself and my colleague, we were extremely pleased with how we developed the program and reached out to the youth in the community.

However, we will never know how successful the program was because only the future behavior of these young people can forecast their future and freedom from an HIV infection. But we certainly tried to teach them to make the right decisions when they eventually engage in risky sexual behavior.

The second project that I primarily spearheaded is the building of a youth center in Moshupa. This project started with my almost solo effort to persuade the Moshupa Sub-Land Board to grant a plot of land on which to build the Moshupa Community Youth Center. That happened on January 21, 2015, when the Sub-Land Board issued a 50-year renewable lease to the Umbrella Chairperson of the Village Development Committee on behalf of the Moshupa Community Youth Center for a plot of land on which to build a youth center. The annual rent is 100 pula (about $10 a year). The land is strategically located in the heart of the Moshupa village.

After obtaining the lease for the plot of land, I worked with Diboys Selebogo, principal architect for the Moshupa Sub-District Council, who drafted a rendering of the Youth Center building. The building will have two floors and will include a library, gym, auditorium, health clinic, games room, computer room, meeting space and offices.

The youth center will have several main components. Its purpose will be to provide a structure where the youth of Moshupa can engage in activities that will lead to employment either as an entrepreneur or as part of an existing business located in Botswana.

With the Theatre in Development programs, youths will engage in plays that they will author and perform before audiences of their peers, families and friends. The plays will focus on social ills affecting the youth of Moshupa, such as HIV infection and prevention, excessive alcohol and drug use (one of the major drivers of the HIV pandemic in Botswana), teenage pregnancy and other social ills. The youth center will also have a computer department where youths will learn computer skills based on their
aptitude and, if skilled, will learn how to use Microsoft programs such as Excel, PowerPoint and other programs.

Besides these major components, the youth center will have a youth-friendly health care facility where youths will be tested for HIV, and receive antiretroviral medication and obtain counseling if they are positive. The health care facility also will test for non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cancer and heart-related illnesses. In Botswana, youths tend to avoid the clinics that are the primary health care providers. However, with youth-
friendly health care facilities, young people are more willing to discuss and explore their health care problems.

The center’s gymnasium, exercise room and games areas will provide space for youths to play and more productively utilize their idle time, including doing their school homework.

The principal architect has estimated that the youth center will cost 2.7 million pula to build, which is approximately $337,000 U.S. (conversion rate is 9 pula to 1 dollar). To help raise the money, while in Botswana I drafted separate funding proposals that I forwarded to 13 entities pursuant to their specific funding guidelines. These entities included diamond companies, banks, foundations, government funds, foreign embassies and grocery chains, including the Alcohol and Levy Fund under the auspices of the Ministry of Health of Botswana, and Debswana, a joint venture of De Beers and the government of Botswana, involved in the extraction and marketing of diamonds.

These funding proposals demonstrate the benefits the Moshupa community will derive from the building of the youth center and the multiple health benefits it will provide to the community’s youth. Except for two proposals, these funding requests are still outstanding. The committee of local government and private partners we organized prior to my departure from the Peace Corps will continue to solicit funds from these organizations.

The entity I have written to most recently is the 30/30 Project, which is primarily focused on improving access to comprehensive health care in communities impacted by HIV-AIDS.1 The vision of the Moshupa community youth center is exactly the same. The youth of Moshupa will learn through the activities of the Youth Center how to protect themselves from an HIV infection, and also how to keep themselves in a general state of good health and to protect themselves from life-threatening, non-communicable diseases.

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