Sunday, February 27, 2011

Good news all around!

First off, a quick fundraising update!

Since I forgot to get a blog update to you all last weekend, I’ll fill you in on how we’re doing on raising funds for the Kruger Park Reimbursement Fundraiser and the KLM Half-Marathon:

“Running” Total (pun cheesily intended): $300

First week: 5 people donated $75 through Facebook;  1 person donated $25 from my blog

-->Weekly goal met! Thank you!!<--

Second week: $100 donated from the blog!


I have just over 3 weeks left to raise the rest!

Your mission this week, should you choose to accept it: Be one of 7 people this week to help me raise $280 (that’s $40/person). Think it’s doable?? Let’s please try it!


To show my continued commitment to this fundraiser, I’ve been continuing to train for the 13-mile race. I’m up to 6 miles, 3 days a week with a determined group of boys ages 12-15, most running on gravel roads without shoes. Thank you for your support! And now…

Photo Intermission!


 Making tin-can ice cream on a hot summer day!


  And enjoying tin-can ice cream on a hot summer day!


 Toy foam pills turned into dinosaurs in water(shoutout to Liz “Lizasaurus Rex” Doane! Thanks!)



 Playing in the rain


Backyard sunset


P1140264(480c360)These dramatic skies appear overhead practically every summer evening and happen more often than I can remember.

Onto the truly great news!

I’d like to congratulate my sister, Eden, her husband, Seth, and their son, Austin, for their most recent addition to the family: Jonah Michael Boyer. He was born into this beautiful world on February 25, 2011, happy and healthy! The whole family is doing very well.

I’m looking forward to meeting my newest nephew in 7 months. But for now, Skype and photos will have to do.


Last few thoughts:

-I’ve been slacking on photos. I’m sorry, pictures always make things more fun to read! More to come…

-A HUGE thanks to Dr. Johnson and the faculty at St. Cloud State University for coming together to send our school some great science supplies! Safe travels to South Africa, Dr. Johnson and group!

-If you’ve already donated, THANK YOU! If you think your friend may want to support this cause, please forward the information or Facebook link!

-It’s still freakin’ hot here!


I’d love some input: what do you want to hear about that I’ve been neglecting to blog about! Leave a comment or write me an email and let me know! ◊ Salang Sentle—Stay Well

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Phones, Sparks & Giggles.

Hello and I hope this blog finds you all well. I had some thoughts over the weekend, and here they are, in 3 acts:

Act I: Calling All Readers. Act II: Sparks & Fire. Act III: Giggles.


Act I: Calling All Readers.

Scene: An imaginary phone conversation between you and me.

[Your phone rings]. You: Hello?

Me: Hey, it’s Matson, how are you?

You: Can’t complain, just finishing lunch, deciding what I’d like to do for the rest of my Sunday. How about you?

Me: I’m doing pretty well. My house is an oven, currently set at about 90 degrees in here, so I’m melting. But besides that, I’m busy writing a blog, but I decided to take a break to give you a phone call. Hope I’m not interrupting lunch.

You: No, not at all. What’s up?

Me: Well, I wanted to take the time to call and say thank you.

You: Thanks for what?

Me: Well, last week, you clicked on that PayPal button and donated to my fundraiser for the Longtom charity marathon and the Kruger Park Trip. I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciated it. It’s being put to great use. With donations like yours, these kids are getting opportunities that they’d never get.

You: Well I appreciate the call. I figured $5 couldn’t hurt, right?

Me: Oh, it’s a HUGE help! Any bit helps, especially if many people think the same way. I know how hesitant one can be when considering making a donation , especially online. But, I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to raise about $125 of the $1000 goal so far in the past week with a few donations, but there’s still a ways to go.

You: Well, is there anything else I can do to help?

Me: You know, I appreciated your donation a ton! I hope you know that. If you could pass on the word, I’ve got a weekly goal for this week: $250 or 5 more people to donate, which ever comes first! If I can get either goal met this week, I’ll be thrilled!

You: I’ll spread the word! What’s the website again?

Me: They can visit: And please let them know that just $5 or $10 goes a LONG way here.

You: Great, I’ll do that.

Me: Thanks a lot once again, it’s really great to have your support. Take care. Bye!

You: Same to you, bye!


Act II: Sparks & Fire.

Sometimes I’ve found myself overeager to start project after project in my community, even if they may not catch on with the community in the long run. Be they computer labs, a recycling program, gardening, running clubs, a world map, newsletters, an A/V cart with video library, or any other number of proposed projects either alone or partnered with others, it just feels good to see a project become successful. This seems to be a common theme among PCVs, and it can get quite discouraging after long delays and lack of support if they don’t work out.

But I realized something recently that made things a bit more clear and manageable (*warning: cheesy metaphor ahead): these projects are like sparks in the community: the right spark can lead to a great fire, providing light and a source of energy. But if the wood and kindling for that fire isn’t prepared properly, that spark does no good. And that’s where I think I need to take a step back.

I’ve been so anxious to get projects off the ground that perhaps I haven’t been properly preparing those for which the project was designed. I’m the first Peace Corps Volunteer—and foreigner, for that matter—in my village. Especially in a such a rural and traditional village such as the one where I live, it’s going to take a bit more time to adequately prepare that firewood. The spark may have to come later.

I hope this makes sense. I knew that I was missing something, some key to why project success was not what I’d hoped it to be, especially compared with success back in the States. Aside from an obvious lack of resources (information, infrastructure, people, and finances), it was that preparation within the minds of the community that needs the most attention, first and foremost. A very valuable and sobering lesson.

So, in the end, I suppose I rely on corny metaphors I dream up while sitting next to the fire in my family’s outside kitchen (scarem) to help make these experiences more relatable and tangible.


Act III: Giggles.

Tonight I met the Giggle Monster. The Giggle Monster can possess any person with the heart of a child at any time. No one has ever seen the Giggle Monster (many believe it’s invisible), but tonight I saw what it did to a little six-year-old girl.

It was about 6:15pm this Sunday evening. We were sitting outside on the front stoop of the house. She was with her mother who was getting her hair done by my host sister. I brought out some toys for the little girl to play with while she patiently waited. I brought my box of small plastic animals—a wide and colourful variety of mammals, birds, dinosaurs, and creepy crawlies. Upon receiving the box, the little girl peered into the box and quickly threw a giant plastic praying mantis onto her unsuspecting mother’s lap, making her shriek for an instant before knocking it away then realizing what it was. This is when the Giggle Monster attacked. The girl went into a hysterical fit of giggles—one of the most adorable and contagious cases I’d ever seen. We, too, started laughing. The more bugs she pulled out, the more the giggles set in. And there was no stopping them (I mean, with giggles this cute, no one would!) The giant ladybug was the kicker, though. Nothing set on the giggles inside this girl like the giant plastic ladybug as big as a silver dollar. I wish I had a video camera. It made my evening.

I now know where the Giggle Monster resides: inside my big box of plastic toy animals.


Final thought…

I just wanted to end by saying thanks again to those that have already contributed to my fundraiser! And if you’d like to help, too, please visit: or go to the previous blog posting here to find out more information and see more photos on where the donations are going.


Will you be one of the 5 donors this week to help me reach my goal? ◊ Salang Sentle—Stay Well

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kruger Park Field Trip & KLM Half-Marathon

Have you ever experienced that moment where you fully and completely realize its all up to you, where the choices you make at that very moment will change the outcome for those around you? Take a second to recollect when you felt people were counting on you and only you. (I’ll wait…….)

Got it? Now, with that moment in mind, what was the result? Are you happy with the decision you made? Any regret? I’ve got a moment of my own to share with you. I hope you can take a few minutes to read this story.

Here’s what happened…

Events leading up to the moment: Our village’s secondary school has an environmental youth club that organized an educational trip to Kruger National Park this past December, some 600 miles on the other side of the country for 25 learners. At the eleventh hour, we were notified by participating organizations that our food and transportation commitments would not be fulfilled, due to forces beyond our control. This left us scrambling because the parents had already paid the deposit for the trip in full. Not to mention, these 25 children were eagerly looking forward to this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Now, two days before we were to leave, we had to put our heads together and come up with approximately $1000 to save the trip. (This would be the equivalent of about raising $2000 in America taking into account cost of living). We had exhausted all our funding sources; and since this was a weekend, any last-minute donations or loans seemed dismal. Raising this amount of money in two days seemed nearly impossible.

My heart was breaking. These kids had been looking forward to this trip for so long. These deposits were Christmas money saved by the families so their kids could go on this trip. As I saw parents reluctantly telling their kids we didn’t have enough money to go, I saw kids break down in tears. In this culture, children are taught to be strong and not show their sadness in hard times. But, behind the attempted emotionless faces, I saw the disappointment, no, complete disheartenment that these kids tried to keep inside.

The moment: with emotions running high and after a long internal debate with my conscience, I cleared my head and realized what I felt I had to do. I offered to fund the $1000 out of my savings. I just couldn’t, in good conscience, let this trip along with the hopes of all these kids fall apart knowing full well that I could have done something about it. Still, there was that nagging voice lingering in my head saying, Matson, that’s a lot of money…what if you never make it back? You’re not earning any money as a Volunteer, you know. But, I pushed those thoughts aside convincing myself that I’d try my hardest after all this is over to make it up. And, if not, well then so be it.

Was it the right decision? I won’t say this is a matter of right versus wrong, but if you ask me if I regret it, absolutely not. Granted, it’s still a huge dent in my tiny wallet, but that’s why I’m writing to you with this appeal.

For all those times I walk past someone on the street asking for money, justifying to myself that they probably would have used the money for drugs or alcohol, or those times that charities approach me asking me for funds and I respond politely, “I’m sorry, I’m sure you have a good cause, but I just don’t know where my money would actually be going or how it would be used,” well, now I can say with full confidence that I know exactly where that money went: I saw the smiles on the kids’ faces, I saw the things they experienced, and I know that they brought back memories of a lifetime to share with those that weren’t able to go.

So, as I leave you to look at the rest of this blog filled with photos of our incredible trip, please consider this plea for a reimbursement donation and realize that by donating, you will know that this educational trip and your funds were indeed put to great use!


Sidenote: KLM Half-Marathon!

I am also raising funds to run in the KLM Half-Marathon just like last year in this blog post. I raised $1,355 (top fundraiser last year) with your help and got a great time of two hours flat! This year, my focus is with the Kruger Trip. If you’d rather contribute to KLM specifically, you can follow the directions in this blog post. Either way, you make a difference!

Kruger National Park Field Trip

Environmental Youth Club, December 2010

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The 25 Environmental Youth Club learners ready and eager to start the journey!


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A short rest and a game of ultimate Frisbee at a gas station outside of Nelspruit, Mpumalanga


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After 14 hours of driving, we finally arrived!


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Our first class when arriving in Pretoriuskop Restcamp, Kruger Park


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Hilda, our wonderful SANPark guide


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Playing Predator & Prey—a great ice-breaker!


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Dozens of impala in our campsite…


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…and monkeys!

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More classes and activities with Hilda


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Juckey, the Club’s facilitator


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The learners had to present on the material they learned in class with Hilda


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We were lucky enough to see four of the Big 5 in the park (lion, elephant, rhino, and buffalo)


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While at Skukuza Restcamp, we were given a private lecture on erosion and poaching


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For some leisure-time, I taught the kids Bocci Ball, improvised, of course!


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The learners love playing ultimate Frisbee!

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Photo under the marula tree before we left the park


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Into the sun we rode home, taking back with us smiles, lasting friendships, and experiences we’ll never forget.

Please consider a donation. Thank you. ◊ Salang Sentle—Stay Well

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hesitant to blog…Then, a change of heart

Six months. One half of a year. Has it really been six months since my last blog entry? It has, hasn’t it?

No, I didn’t decide to take a spontaneous trip to Antarctica, nor did I choose to renounce all worldly possessions. There were many decently justifiable reasons for my hiatus. Allow me to explain:

1) My blog is public, and I was unsure for a long while as to whether or not I wanted it to remain that way. I’m exposing myself for the world to see—for better or for worse.

2) I can realistically only share a fraction of my true experience through an online, public blog—many things get lost in translation or misunderstood while writing for such a vast, anonymous audience.

3) I got busy, life happened.

4) I wasn’t sure how much exposure or unsolicited publicity I wanted to give my community or individuals. I feel an obligation to respect and represent my community appropriately and my words and photos must reflect that.

5) I was not finding a balance. If I spend enough time to accurately and adequately express my experiences in a series of blogs, I’ve already spent too much time here and not enough in my community.

6) Let’s throw a bit of laziness into the pot.

That about covers what was going through my mind.

Well, what changed, Matson?

I spent some time back at home in Minnesota for these past holidays. After a year and a half of not seeing friends or family, this was a great and needed vacation. I got to meet newborn family members; I got to see some of my favorite ones growing up; and I got to create, rekindle, expand and rebuild important relationships with those closest to me in my life .

While at home, time and time again, family and friends approached me and said how much they’ve enjoyed reading my blogs and seeing my photos. For that, I am truly grateful and humbled. And I couldn’t help but feel rather guilty for not keeping up with it, like I was letting them down. I realized that if I wanted to just keep a journal of happy memories, I could just keep this to myself, or write personal emails now and again. But obviously, I have a specific intention for this blog and I need to regain that focus. What I’m trying to say is, that during my three weeks home, I realized the impact of my communication with those of you back in America. I realize that not only do I have an obligation to those I live with in my community here, but there’s an unspoken responsibility to maintain and update all of you who take time to read my words.

Blogs, at least for me, often leave this impression in my mind in that they’re a way to vent or ramble on about mundane aspects of life (let’s not get started on the (ab)use of serial status updating on a certain social network). But really, they’re an opportunity to give more than 160 characters worth of your thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

We’ve been given (or some would say we created…who gets the credit is up to you) these great tools to communicate and we are able to do so at a rate and ease far greater than ever before. From written language, then the printing press, then telecommunication, and now the internet. It’s an incredible time for those in our generations.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

This quote may be a bit cliché, but the truth when put into context of communication is that complex language and communication is one significant thing that separates us from other animals; we have the power to do something great with it.

Next question is: now that we’ve got this vast resource of knowledge, what do we do with it?

“Knowledge is knowing something; wisdom is knowing what to do with it.”

Social networks and blogs are great to get the word out, from tweeting to “liking” to blogging about what’s happening around the globe. But how do we make this tidal wave of daily information useful? How do we digest it and make these words do work? Or do we just say to ourselves, hm, that’s neat, then move on to the next insatiable news feed? Talk is cheap, but truly communicating with responsibility is not. It takes time, effort, direction and purpose.

So…? Get to your point, Matson.

Okay, okay. (Gosh, no need to be so pushy.) My point is this: I will try to bring you more blogs, more photos and more experiences. I’m not, however, going to waste my time writing or your time reading some half-butted (sorry for the profanity) attempt just to keep the blog quota high. It’ll be words and photos I’m proud to post and share with you, Mr. and Mrs. Blogreader.

And with that, I’ll leave you with a recent photo of the neighbor kids. ◊ Salang Sentle—Stay Well

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