“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.