Editor’s Note: Toni Blackman, a New York-based artist, musician, and social activist, spent November traveling through Botswana as part of the “Get Up and Go Tour,” created by the U.S. Department of State. This is a filing from one of the stops on her tour, in Shakawe, Botswana, preceding World AIDS Day events.
Shakawe, Botswana, served as the fifth stop on the “Get Up and Go Tour.” The U.S. Embassy partially prepped me for some of the experiences, but this stop on the tour was an adventure. We crossed the Okavango River on a ferry and then drove for another 45 minutes to reach the Bana Ba Metsi School for at-risk youth. Steve Hart, the principal and founder, was a teacher at a school in town, but noticed how many boys were dropping out or getting into trouble. He decided to start the school after realizing that his home wasn’t big enough to handle the growing crowd. Steve took the boys from the town and created this school in the bush. It’s an incredible opportunity for youth who might have otherwise been left behind. It rained during our motivational talk and activity, but we did get a chance to see the school’s marimba band play for us before leaving.
Getting back across the river wasn’t as easy as coming in. As we waited in line, we also ended up waiting out a powerful rainstorm. Apollo Diablo, a Botswanan hip-hop artist and television producer, said that the rain was a good omen. The chief from the area, a strong supporter of the tour and HIV awareness, shared that he could’ve pulled a few strings to get our military escort across the water. The outreach performance started a little late, but a crowd survived the wait. It typically rains on the other side of the river, but can remain completely dry in Shakawe. A small crocodile was in the front yard of the lodge where I stayed so I passed on sitting by the river. I did, however, appreciate the lush foliage, the warm sun, and an opportunity to see another side of Botswana. I also left inspired by the power of music and art to change the world and to educate a generation, to reduce the threat of HIV.
Photos can be found at the website of the U.S. Embassy in Botswana.