Feb 16, 2016

Women For Women.

“Gender equality and empowerment of women is key to the success of the Millennium Development Goals. Not only as a specific target, but for the goals in general. Women bear a heavier burden of the world’s poverty than men, because of the discrimination they face in education, health care, employment and control of assets.”
-Johanna Siguroardottir, Prime Minister of Iceland. 

Meet my girls. 

It's taken 5 months to get these classes aimed at empowering marginalized women started, and I am so, so happy/proud. Two weeks into the sessions, I am feeling tired and fabulous. I have two days a week at the Women for Women Opportunity Center, about 1.5 hours from my home in Kigali. On Mondays, members of the community who were vetted based on interest, goals, and poverty level come to the center for class On Wednesdays, genocide widows who have been selected by the center to train in handicraft skills such as weaving and basketry come for lessons. The two groups are very different. On Mondays we discuss sentences and ideas. Though a translator I explain cultural nuances of English and can get them to laugh. On Wednesdays, my ladies are illiterate even in their native tongue, kinyarwanda, so we drill the alphabet and numbers and recite simple dialogues...over and over. Most of the ladies don't know how to hold a pen or write their names. 

My first week I found myself wondering, "What is the point?" I am riding the public bus 3 hours round trip to drill the ABC's with women whose husbands were slaughtered in front of them 21 years ago. It is easy to slip down a rabbit hole of, "Who really freaking cares about the ABC's at this point in life?" These women have seen so much. Lived through so much. Accepted so much. So much that I don't understand and will never ask. They have continued living after unspeakable tragedy in a culture that proclaims equality and yet has culturally ingrained injustices against women that are visible even on the surface level. They've raised kids, lost kids, managed a home, and just...continued.  And now, some redhead chick from Florida has shown up with flashcards and a flipchart. What's the relevance? 





These women get a free english class with a native speaker once a week. Once a week, they can sit in a circular room together with an American and have an experience many have not ever had - proper education. For the first time my teaching objective is not a standardized test, or university admittance, or job acquisition. Now, our goal is empowerment. By adding an activity to the weekly schedules of these women that focuses on their own wellbeing, their minds, their creativity and individuality, we are giving them a safe place for expression. A place to challenge themselves and learn something new...like how to write their names, how to introduce themselves to foreigners, how to count and spell. I find that I have been tasked with the most meaningful (and challenging) work I've ever done. 

Please send some uplifting thoughts our way, if you find the time. 

walk slow. xoxo. 

Feb 9, 2016

5 month switch up.

The story is long and dramatic. But the blog post won't be. 

Last week, at the 5 month, half-way point of my fellowship, I was granted funding and permission to move from the goat field to the city. Several of my superiors masterminded and worked to grant me this funding and approval. I am thankful for the kindness and understanding of my bosses, who understood that my situation was unique in its crappyness, but also recognized my true desire to be here and keep going. 

Mushu and I have a one bedroom apartment in a wonderful and convenient part of town. I have a kitchen. I have tile floors. I have a hot water heater, a flushing toilet, and electricity 95% of the day. 

I'm so pleased, and relieved, and guilty. I feel so guilty for being happy having creature comforts. 

But for now, I am resting in my bedroom. Safe, comfortable, and surrounded by conveniences that make me feel better prepared to do my job. 

Kibungo will be one of those things that I am really, truly glad it happened. 
And really, truly glad it's over. 

Photos of moving day:  

the boys and mushu having a final pow-wow

goodbye, goat boy! we love you! 

the last ear scratch 

Mushu throwing a fit 

We both will miss our yard! 


best friends saying goodbye

Cheers to 5 more months of a fellowship in Rwanda, without evacuations and commuting!

walk slow. xoxo.

Feb 5, 2016

Little Pen Pals: A Teacher Collaboration Story.

I know some awesome teachers. 

One of those incredible teachers lives in New York and spends her days teaching little minds. (A job I envy! My pre-school assistant days many years ago were fabulous.) 

My friend Jennie and I decided to have a pen-pal program with her little people and my big people to give American students and Rwandan students a chance to ask each other questions and create a platform for curiosity and understanding. Her school's culture theme this year is Africa and lucky us...I live in Africa. 

Around Christmas I received my first batch of letters from the little souls, describing their Christmas holiday traditions ("We eat a big dinner" and "We have a Christmas tree with lights") and asking questions of my students ("Do you celebrate Fourth of July?") The hand written letters accompanied by drawings are sweet and show my friend's dedicated teaching. 

As things would have it, nothing in Africa really goes as planned. The english club I helped to start at my university is defunct (nothing can be sustained if students don't care about it themselves) and I knew any random students I could muster up would not have the english skill set to read questions and reply. So I wrote back myself. 

Last week the students received a care package containing a Rwandan flag and a traditional cloth doll. I answered their questions, ("We don't celebrate American Independence Day, but we have our own rwandan national holidays, etc.") Perhaps these items, a show and tell from Africa, could be more sincere of an exchange than letters from students? I don't know, but it was the best I could do in my weird educational arena here in Rwanda. 

Seeing photos of the little dudes playing in New York with a doll I bought at a market in Kigali made my heart all warm and squishy. Seeing the Rwandan flag hoisted by an American preschooler made me feel that perhaps if we start international exchanges early, than we can create a generation of curious and open souls, and combat misunderstanding of Africa in general, (that it is a poor and/or dangerous place - which is in general not true). 

One of the lesser discussed benefits of fellowships like mine is the exchange that happens with people back home. That perhaps Americans and educators/students in America, more specifically, can benefit just as directly from my being in Rwanda as a Rwandan student or educator. There are benefits on both sides of the ocean. 

I love knowing so many great teachers around the world. Collaboration is one of the best ways to be a successful educator; no one can be great at this job alone. We need each other for facilitation of ideas, support, and implementation of activities like this one, however small. I believe teaching to be an incredibly noble (and often thankless or misunderstood) profession, one that extends back into my family for generations. This little activity gave me great satisfaction and joy. As I hope it did for our little friends in New York! 

Thanks for playing teacher with me, Jennie. You da best. 

walk slow. xoxo. 

Feb 3, 2016

teachers training teachers.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of joining my fellow fellow at a training about an hour outside Kigali. He asked me to present on "teaching without materials" and didn't let me know much else about the audience except that they were mostly primary school teachers from rural areas. 

I prepared a lesson on using newspapers as an authentic material, but then on the drive out to the training, changed my mind and presented activities that can be done using only paper. What made this training cool was that we had 2 Fellows, 2 Peace Corps Volunteers from the area, and a Fulbright Professor in attendance. This collaboration was awesome. I loved seeing the PCV's presentation and hearing the Fulbright's perspective on our presentations, since she is so seasoned and wise. Having 3 English Language outreach programs working together in one room was dynamic! 

There were 30 teachers in attendance and we spent 5 hours getting to the nitty gritty of competency-based lessons, teaching with no materials, and using active lessons in the classroom. Teaching teachers is harder than I thought. Not only are there cultural barriers and language barriers, but also motivation barriers. 

I have found in my life abroad, that many times teachers have not actually chosen their profession, but that they were sent down the education path because of lower test scores. Test low on the national high school exam, but high enough to get into college and you automatically major in Education (or English). (Same in China). This means that while there is heart, and purpose, and most of the time - desire, there might not be the pedagogy or understanding of what a teacher's role actually is. If you are a teacher because that's just the lot in life given to you, where does the drive to find your role come from? A teacher's role is not to write notes on the board for students to copy. A teacher's role is to build skills in their students, to open their eyes to new ways of doing life, and to teach students how to think. Introducing these concepts into classrooms abroad can be entertaining at best and daunting at worst. 

But it's all in a days work. 

Luckily, the teachers at this training were energetic and interested. They participated with earnest and I truly think the day was successful. 

Enter the classroom with me....

our fearless leader 

Add caption

who's that girl? 

demonstrating activities with only paper! 

inside a nursery classroom 

lunch is provided for all attendees

lunch line

using a mattress corner as an eraser! amazing! 

walk slow. xoxo.