Starting in just a few weeks, locals can connect with Botswana and its culture through Ridgway resident Amy Loper McBride, who leaves on July 21 for a two-year Peace Corps assignment. Excited by most aspects of her upcoming career change, McBride is probably most enthused about the opportunity to share information about the country in southern Africa with her community back in southwest Colorado.
“The Peace Corps has three goals for volunteers,” explained McBride, who has lived and worked in Ouray and Montrose counties since 1991. “They want us to apply our skills in a useful way, share American culture with the people of the world, and share the culture of the place where we are assigned with people back in America, which is why I’ve started my blog.”
Through amyinbotswana.com, she plans to write about her daily life and what she learns about Botswana and its people. She also will write to “anyone” who writes to her and hopes to set up pen-pal relationships with classrooms in schools.
One of the first facts that she and the 85 Americans heading to Botswana with the Peace Corps learned about the country is that internet service is widely available there, though bandwidth can vary. Skyping and posting videos may not be easy outside of the major cities, but basic online browsing and internet-based phone calls are accessible.
“Even in my group, people are wondering if people have printers in Botswana. It is actually a very affluent country. The average per-capita income in Botswana is about $16,500, which is higher than Costa Rica,” McBride said, listing the top three industries as diamond and nickel mining, tourism, and livestock. “Every Peace Corps volunteer brings their own laptop. I’m bringing two. You can buy most anything there, but electronics are expensive and they may not have what you want. I’m bringing backup cords, phones and power supplies. We aren’t guaranteed electricity, so I bought a solar charger, too.”
Botswana is probably most known for its wildlife safaris and the Kalahari Desert as well as having the highest population of Bushmen, the indigenous hunter-gatherer people, in southern Africa. The country is sparsely populated with only about two million people in an area equal to three times Colorado’s size.
As a former British colony, Botswana’s official language is English. The national language is Setswana, which McBride has already started learning through YouTube videos. After her first 10 weeks of training in the country, if she is assigned to an area where one of the country’s other 20 languages is spoken, she will have to learn that as well.
Her job in Botswana will be to help nongovernmental organizations — basically, nonprofits — as well as schools, local governments and clinics build organizational capacity in order to better respond to the AIDS epidemic. Roughly 18.5 percent of the country’s population is infected with HIV and 52,000 of Botswana’s children have been orphaned by AIDS.
McBride has a long, local history of assisting nonprofits. She worked for the Western Colorado Congress (WCC), which aims to create healthy, sustainable communities, social and economic justice, environmental stewardship, and a democratic society, first as a community organizer for eight years and then as a development director for eight years.
She became the full-time development director of the Montrose Library District in 2007, and resigned in 2015 to run for a seat on the Ouray County Board of County Commissioners. Having lost that race, she took up nonprofit consulting.
“I think that my work as a community organizer is really going to lend itself to what I’m going to be doing in Botswana,” she said. “I helped to create the Ridgway-Ouray Community Council” in the course of which “I had to learn the local power structure, where people hang out, population dynamics and how things functioned. We are going to be doing the same thing in Botswana.”
David Sinton, who met McBride shortly after moving to Montrose and organized the Ignite Montrose lecture series with her, served in the Peace Corps from 1989 to 1990 in the West African nation of Senegal. He said McBride communicates extremely well, which will contribute to her success in her assignment.
“Not only is she articulate when she speaks, but she listens very well,” he added.
Former Peace Corps volunteer Karen Sherman Perez, who served in El Salvador from 1998 to 2001, has known McBride through her various jobs. “Amy’s ability to create community and network will be very important assets for her to integrate into the community she is living and working in,” Perez said. “It’s really tough for introverts to break out of their comfort zones and do really well in the Peace Corps — and this shouldn’t be a problem for Amy. I think she’ll be amazing!”
After her two-year assignment, McBride could extend her stay for another two years. While she is not sure whether she would do that yet, she is certain that she wants to continue to work in some capacity with Africa after her first two years are up.
“I think an ideal situation would be to come back here and continue to work in and travel to Africa” from Ridgway, she said.
For now, she’s looking forward to practicing the unusual sounds of the Setswana language with a host family and learning about the people and organizations of Botswana. Plus, she’s pretty excited about starting a garden, introducing her new friends to Scrabble, catching an Okavango Delta tigerfish and snacking on mopane worms — the large, edible caterpillars of the emperor moth.