The last few days have flown by as we have completed our Academy for Conscious Change intensive training course. Today our teams made final presentations. The work they are embarking upon is not easy, and they challenge me to think about how I might go about advancing my own rights in the face of opposition or threat of violence.
One team, “Handicap Rwanda, Reintegration, Rehabilitation & Development “ (HRD) is working on violence against women who have handicapped children. Apparently, the stigma is so great against children with disabilities (including the blind, deaf, mentally disabled and physically handicapped) that they are often kept home from school, as they are considered to be without value to society. HRD is providing education to parents about how to care for their children, and they will be creating an association for the mothers so that they can earn income to contribute to the needs of their family. Through this association, they will have access to a support group with whom to share their challenges so that they will not feel isolated from the rest of society that discriminates against them. The venture will also travel to raise awareness about the rights of children and the needs of handicapped children.
Another team, titled “A Friend Indeed”, is combating the issue of violence against single mothers. They are working with 80 single mothers, with a total 120 children, in learning how to parent. They visit the mothers every two weeks to provide support in child care. They are also providing education to young girls about reproductive health. Finally, they will utilize theater to fight the stigma against single mothers and young women who seek access to contraception. Their vision is that no child will be born who is not planned or wanted, and they hope to expand their program nation-wide.
In the next phase of the Academy, the teams develop a comprehensive venture plan over the next 3-6 months with our advisory support. I cannot help feeling like a committed coach rooting for their success. And yet, who am I to coach them? Each of them is living in the midst of hardship unimaginable to most Americans, and yet they are fearlessly committed to working with those even more vulnerable than they to advance equality, opportunity, justice, and human rights.
Take “Justine” for example. She has four children, including a teenage daughter born of another man. Her current husband is HIV+ and sounds as if he is battling severe depression as a result of his circumstances. Luckily, neither Justine nor her children are HIV+. However, she carries the full weight of her husband’s anxieties, as he contends the support she provides for his step-daughter to go to school results in less care and attention for his own needs. He frequently demands the daughter be sent away to live with her grandparents. Justine is caught between a dying husband and an isolated daughter, both of whom need her care. Even still, Justine is working to fight unplanned pregnancies through reproductive health education within her community. Apparently there have already been three pregnancies of young girls aged 12 -14 in their village this year.
These women’s hearts stretch to what appears to be a limitless capacity to take on the needs of others. I think I could stand to do an apprenticeship with each one of them.