So, the Minister of Infrastructure, Science and Technology, and the Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture are busy planting a baobab tree. Leaning over to the President I say, “Is there a correlation between how hard your Cabinet members work on volunteer projects, and how hard they work in their governmental positions?”
The President replies, “Well, it all depends on who’s in charge.”
“Who is in charge?” I ask.
“Then I guess we’re all in trouble,” I finish with comedic panache.
No, this wasn’t a weird hallucinatory dream involving strangely specific local politicians (although later that night Malakai, Taryn and I would all come down with a fairly unpleasant 24-hour bug which would definitely create some feverish nightmares). Rather, this past Friday, His Excellency Lieutenant General Sereste Khama Ian Khama, President of the Republic of Botswana, visited our construction site at the Bontleng Futsal Park to support the pilot project of our Botswana-based nonprofit organization (NPO) along with the Ministers of his Cabinet and a number of other local dignitaries and politicians.
We’ve been working on the Bontleng Futsal Park as the pilot project of our Botswana-based NPO, Pula Sports Development Association, or PSDA (pula is a Setswana word referring to rain, or blessing). PSDA is run by a team made up of young Batswana (Swift Mpoloka, Melissa Mpoloka, Sobukwe Mothobi, Mathshidiso Kimwaga, Wame Chiepe, and Malebo Raditladi) as well as Taryn and myself. The idea has been that this project will launch PSDA into a nationwide effort to initiate much-needed sporting, environmental, and educational infrastructure in underdeveloped areas. While Botswana has amazing infrastructure in most regards, this kind of grassroots development has been lacking, leaving children and young adults at risk to alcoholism, vandalism, drug abuse, and other negative social behaviors. Without feeling like they have options, it’s understandable that kids and youth turn to what’s available around them.
The Bontleng Futsal Park, located beside some popular bars in a rough part of Gaborone known as Kofifi, is set up with a futsal court (5-a-side football) which can also be used for basketball and netball. The 670-square meter surface will experience an average of over 400,000 liters of annual rainfall, which drains off into a 50,000 liter underground cistern. This water will be used for traditional gardens on site, as well as for introducing newer gardening methods such as aquaponics (fresh fish, fresh vegetables, minimal waste or overhead cost). The site is also landscaped using permacultural methods to contain rainwater, prevent erosion, and allow for maximized soil fertility. Because of this we’ve started to plant dozens of new indigenous trees on site, which will eventually result in a microclimate within the park, an area which is cooler than the surrounding region. We are also in the process of building a recycling center which is itself built out of recycled materials, such as pallets, cans and bottles (lots to be had due to the proximity to the bars), as well as medical waste aggregate in the concrete (sanitized and shredded waste materials from local medical facilities; perfectly clean, and helps the concrete to retain less heat and cold); a local marketplace full of stalls for local artisans; bio-toilets and solar panels so that the site is completely self-sufficient without need for connection to sewage, electrical, or water lines (the latter due to the rainwater storage). An outdoor fitness park/gym is in the works, as is an eco-cafe for selling local foods and for use by after-school tutoring programs. Finally, we’re almost finished building a playground, which is taking longer than we expected because we’ve been adding some fun touches to it (two big slides off of a single stilt-house; stuff I dreamt about as a kid/still dream about now).
Halfway through construction, this pilot project was blessed to have gained the attention of the Office of the President, which takes part in a monthly volunteer day. After a month of planning with reps from his office the President came to the site, built some chairs alongside Wame (you may remember him from the ‘Futsal Dreams’ video which was posted about two years ago) who then gave one of the chairs to the President as a gift, who then helped to finish the cobbler’s stall for our friend Rra Rraselebogo as well as gifting him with a new wheelchair, worked with some local elementary school children to paint a mural which they had designed, and checked out the construction of the recycling center being done by my old grade 7 classmate and current rock climbing buddy, Guy.
As an added bonus, during the proceedings Taryn greeted the President with the traditional Setswana greeting, “Dumela Tautona,” basically, “Greetings Big Lion”. This redeemed her experience from a few years ago in which she had met him at a function related to our prison ministry intending to do the same and had instead simply blushed and given a perfect, if silent, traditional handshake and bow.
It’s hard to measure the success of this event in regards to the long term efforts on the Bontleng Futsal Park, and of Pula Sports Development Association as a whole. We were able to meet a number of individuals who are influential in Botswana, to encourage the community of Bontleng with a visibility which they are not often afforded and be featured in the national newspapers and on the evening Botswana Television news. We hope that the visibility and new connections will help as the PSDA team continues to work hard in order that we may see the project finished before August, and that we may lay the foundations for the ongoing work of our NPO.
The greatest takeaway for our whole team has been that God is faithful to bring to completion that which he starts (to take Philippians 1:6 out of context), and that it’s not up to us to know God’s timing (to similarly abuse Acts 1:7). As much as it’s been a long effort, and which still has a long way to go, we’ve been fortunate to be given the right encouragements at the times they were needed, and to be constantly reminded to trust in the Lord rather than in our own understanding. We’ve been constantly amazed at the ways that God has provided, which we didn’t plan for and couldn’t have expected. Please keep praying for God’s continued guidance in this work, and that Nathan would have better jokes the next time he meets a President.