Archive for the ‘Journeys to Rwanda’ Category
On Fridays we explain independent clauses, but on Mondays and Thursdays we taught (until recently) an entirely different kind of English class. We traveled to Gisozi, the site of one GG project started by Evariste in 2008. The Community Vocational Training School teaches tailoring to vulnerable women (widows, orphans, and prostitutes), and in October we attended the graduation of this year’s class of 24 women, many of whom are using this marketable skill to leave prostitution or free themselves from dependence on an abusive husband. At the reception, we were drinking Fanta and eating bread when some of the women asked Evariste if we could teach them English.
A few days later, Christina and I said yes. Although we receive at least two requests per day for English lessons (taxi drivers, shopkeepers, and teammates are all eager to keep pace after the country’s 2008 shift from French to English), we decided that this class fit with our project because it could improve the graduates’ employability. If a tailor can speak enough English to take measurements of and negotiate with tourists and ex-pats, she or he will be quite popular. (Everyone knows Josephine, the go-to English-speaker in our market.) So, we agreed to a month-long class, thinking that was enough time to teach some occupational English.
Teaching women who have never been to school is not as difficult as I anticipated. It took a long time for the one or two illiterate girls to copy from the board, letter by letter, and the general pace was pretty slow, but most of them grasped the concepts the first time around. They are very eager learners. They took notes on everything, and somehow, between sewing, cooking, and caring for their families, they always found time to do the homework. No one complained about writing on their laps while perched on wooden stools and chairs that collapse without warning. For good lighting, they dragged the one-legged blackboard out onto the front porch of the school. We hadn’t quite figured out yet how to prop it up and on the first day of school, it may or may not have careened forward onto me mid-explanation of ‘I am’. A blackboard falling from the sky was a first in all my school experience, but some things are apparently international: the know-it-alls sit in front, the shy ones never raise their hands, and there was a class clown, Josiane. Looking back, I’m impressed she let that blackboard incident slide… by the end all someone has to do was accidentally say “I am a boy,” and she had the female offender collapsed in giggles. The laughter would die down until someone piped up, “Are you a boy?” and we all deteriorated again. Our classroom management skills may be lacking, but it’s ok—they’d mastered interrogatives!
Part of our project involves teaching English to the Global Grassroots staff. Every Friday morning from 9-11:30, we convert our living room into a makeshift classroom where we explain the finer points of English to Marlene, Daphne, and Daniel. Or try to. I’ve been speaking this lovely language of ours for 23 years, but I have no idea why I say, “I will raft the Nile.” but not, “Last weekend I swam in the Lake Muhazi.” I live by Lake Erie, Christina lives by the Pacific Ocean, on the planet Earth. Whyyyyy?
“Sustainability” was the first word of our fellowship proposal titles, and we’re teaching these classes to make Global Grassroots’ work sustainable. Ideally, someday in the future, the Rwandan staff will write their own grant proposals to international foundations (or even future Rwandan foundations!). Better yet, they will fundraise from Rwandans themselves, just like right now we fundraise from Americans. Gretchen, the founder, talks about our ‘exit strategy’ because Rwandans should build Rwanda. As a Rwandan friend put it, they just need help right now from America, the UK, etc. to jump-start their development. And part of that help includes teaching English, the language of global communication, according to Rwandans.
So, we continue editing translations, clarifying the difference between effect and impact, and explaining why we use semi-colons. They ask questions like “When do you say ‘think of’ versus ‘think about’?” and I admit I have no idea. Christina and I have no formal ESL training and do not pretend for a second that we are qualified to teach. It doesn’t seem to matter to our staff. They show up every Friday and pour over exercises we’ve designed based on a few textbooks and ESL websites. They wait patiently while Christina and I debate whether you ALWAYS need a comma before which… I feel like I should know this stuff. While they are eagerly perfecting their third language (Kinyarwanda, French & English), we’re slowing learning about our first.
In 1910, the First International Women’s Conference in Copenhagen created International Women’s Day, which wasn’t designated as March 8th until 1977 by the UN. (Ok, so the ‘100th Anniversary’ claim is suspect, and was possibly used last year as well, but everyone here is still excited.) My waiter at breakfast wished me a Happy Women’s Day, and a motorcycle driver shouted well wishes after me as I walked down the street in Kampala. Unfortunately, the sentiment was probably the same as when motos SSss at me every other day of the year, which our Rwandan male friends claim are all for men. “I don’t know why you need a special day for you, unless you’re admitting that the other 364 are for us,” Marlene’s husband told us.
Nonetheless, Women’s Day is a big holiday in Rwanda and Uganda (and an official public holiday in Afghanistan and China among others, according to Wikipedia). Some businesses are closed, organizations host special events, and articles about female empowerment run in the government paper. The Director of the Center for Gender and Cultural Development is hosting a celebratory breakfast at her home this morning, and we are speaking at a conference on gender research and activism this weekend.
In a country where we spend our days hearing stories of discrimination, gender-based violence, and inequality in educating daughters vs sons, formal support for women is encouraging, but according to our teams, not yet enough- that’s why they keep calling us! In the meantime, I’ll continue arguing with Marlene’s husband, laughing along with Elvis at the supermarket because I insist on carrying my own jug of water to the register, and wearing long skirts to frisbee before changing into shorts and running alongside teammates who inform me they’re going to marry three wives. …And then I intercept his pass and all is right in the world.
- Women who are widows, orphans and former commercial sex workers lining up for the group picture at the 2010 graduation ceremony for the Community Vocational Training School, a social venture that receives GG seed funding and training. CVTS teaches the women how to sew so they can support themselves.
Post was a bit delayed because there aren’t many internet cafes up north!
After taking a weekend break from meetings to raft with some friends at the source of the Nile, Monday morning we met our driver and the 4×4 we rented to drive North, the area where we hope to identify new change agents among the victims of war violence. The driver estimated it would take three or four hours to get there, and the distance was “over 200 kilometers.” (Key word: over.)
Welcome to the concept of African Time. As our co-worker Marlene explains to us, time is “kinda flexible.” I shouldn’t be surprised when my frisbee teammate tells me he’ll be there in five minutes and shows up half an hour later. I’ve grown wary of trusting estimates like that. Once, Marlene told me that if we left for a field visit at 9, we would return by 2. “The bus is 2 hours, and then it takes thirty minutes in a car to get to the village,” she explained. Doing some quick math, I deduced if we finished by 2, we would spend exactly zero minutes at the site. So, with a knowing smile, I accepted her time estimate, and shared her amusement when we missed dinner at 6pm.
African Time prevails in Rwanda, and apparently Uganda as well. We had estimates of three or six hours for the 200+ or 350 km trip to Gulu. We would be flexible. After three hours, Christina and I pulled out our laptops to type some reports, and as we approached hour four… POP. Metal grinded on pavement and our driver Joseph expertly maneuvered the car to the side of the road. The back tire had blown out, the entire tread peeling off in protest of the 100+ ºF temperatures and the friction on even hotter pavement. We weren’t very surprised, given four straight hours on the road. According to the estimates we were almost there. But alas, across the road from our lopsided vehicle loomed an ominous sign: “Gulu 250 km.”
“Joseph, is that sign right? How far to Gulu?”
“Very far. What did the sign say?” Then, “Yes, that sounds right.”
“I thought you said 200 km… What were we doing for the last four hours?” Christina nudged me and I stopped myself, sharing her defeated laugh. Thirty minutes later we were underway. I called our Gulu contact to reschedule our afternoon meeting. “No problem!” she said. “Don’t hurry! Just call when you arrive.” We were meeting on African Time, which was good since our journey took seven hours, including the tire blow-out, a lunch stop to bargain for some mangoes, and the traffic (a big problem in Uganda, especially where two major roads meet). And, like she suggested, we didn’t hurry. She was doing some business in town when we arrived— the system works when everyone is on it.
This Thursday, Caitlin and I will travel from Rwanda to Uganda. I’m so excited –- both personally and for Global Grassroots’ upcoming expansion into Uganda, our northern neighbor. We’ll spend a couple of days in Kampala and then head to Gulu, further north. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) periodically ravaged northern Uganda from 1989 until 2007, when Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA, fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Our trip will have several purposes. We’ll learn as much as we can about northern Uganda’s current situation: What has happened to Kony’s former child soldiers? What has happened to the girls once forced to serve as sex slaves to his army? How are women involved in the rebuilding process? What and where is the greatest need? What organizations are working in the area, and who’s doing what?
We will also meet with a dozen potential partner organizations. Caitlin and I will learn about their program structure and commitment to participatory development, and we’ll share the Global Grassroots philosophy, mission, and model.
In short, this is a scoping trip. If all goes well, Global Grassroots will continue the dialogue with our most promising potential partners and launch an Academy for Conscious Change in northern Uganda this summer.
I can’t wait to see Uganda. I really, really can’t wait to visit all the amazing organizations we’ve crammed into our trip’s schedule. We’re going to learn so much both from their leaders and from their beneficiaries.
I went to a boxing match.
Our friend Eric convinced me; he’s friends with an American woman here who runs a boxing club for local kids, which is funded by the boxing-fitness classes for expats that she organizes.
A dozen fights were scheduled; $4 admission included a free soda or beer. I sat down with my Coke and watched Rwandan kids punch each other in the face. I was sitting in the middle of a huge group of expats in white lawn chairs.
(I am trying to say here: it was weird.)
I stayed for a few fights and walked to the bus stop to head home. I got a jump seat next to the driver, which I like because of the wide-windshield, aquarium view of the world at dusk. I read a chapter of Eat, Pray, Love – Liz Gilbert is in India and has this cutting realization about her own character flaws – and I felt that emotional high you get from hearing a moment of your own story from someone else’s articulate mouth. The bus raced the settling darkness, brown streetlight after brown streetlight.
Sometimes Kigali reminds me so suddenly of its beauty (look, it says. look at me) and I just fly on the strength of that loveliness.
But then. At every stop, every Rwandan on the street stared in at the almost-white girl, sitting on display with her knees tucked up in the front of the bus. I was no longer quite so airborne. One stare, two stares, ten stares, twenty-second-stares… reminded me of the trade-off for my front row seat. I felt much, much better about the boxing, though.
Conscious Social Change
Personal Growth Sabbatical
Intentional Fast for Darfur
Journeys to Rwanda
The Transformational Capacity Project
Trauma Healing in Haiti
Women Making Mischief
Asking the Poor for Money: Creative Fundraising in Rural Villages
Mixing Cultures: A Job Interview in Rwanda
Literacy: A Love Story
April Showers Bring May Flowers
When communities get smart, girls don’t drop out
On Love. And Shooting B roll of a Filmmaker.
Genocide Commemoration: A guilty conscience on April 9th
Change Agent Profile: Perpétue, People of Love
Teaching Basic English to Vulnerable Women
Water and Women’s Disempowerment
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