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. 

1 comment:

Miss Lynda said...

Ah Honey, what an awesome story, and wonderful job you are doing! I can only tell you how I see things, but if you ask me, the good Lord has been preparing you, and leading you to this particular junction in your life. I have known you since you were what? Five years old? I remember your passion for shopping for Christmas gifts for underprivileged children, and the thoughtful care and consideration you put into each and every one. And then, the "shoes" project that you spearheaded, gathering shoes to send to children overseas. Your cheerful, genuine care and concern for each individual you encountered when working the dinners for the homeless there in St. Augustine. There are many more instances when your compassion and heartfelt empathy for others just unfolded, like a flower. And those who were fortunate enough to observe you in action appreciated the beauty of that moment. And that is what you are doing now! Perhaps with ABC flash cards, but more with just the simple act of appreciating these women for the individuals they are, recognizing and applauding all that they have come through. You may be some redheaded "chick" from Florida, but you are truly God's "redheaded chick" and He has a plan for you! And those women, with or without formal education, will not only recognize your genuine desire to reach out to them, but they will respond, and blossom in the light of your beautiful smile, nurturing TLC and teaching skills! You and they are there, by divine appointment, and we can't wait to see and hear what is going to happen in both worlds! We love you honey, and are always so proud of all that you attempt and achieve. And even though we don't know your "students" our hearts are proud of them, as well! With all they have endured, (and we admit that we have no comprehension of their horror) they have not chosen to sit by the wayside, in defeat, but have picked themselves up and come to Miss Jessica's classroom! Like we said.... "Divine appointment"! Love and prayers! Miss Lynda and Mr. Al
P.S. Your godbrother, Cam, said to tell you hello, and he is super proud of all that you are doing.