Thursday, December 30, 2010

Painting the World and other such activities


I said to my campers as I entered the classroom and we embarked upon a journey to empowerment and self-respect. A couple of weeks ago I found my speech heavily sprinkled with confidence-building words used to encourage and inspire young girls. As a facilitator in charge of 13 adolescent girls I spent a good deal of time reciting many words that I remember hearing at girl scouts’ meetings. Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) was first established in Peace Corps Romania back in 1995 and has made its way down to Rwanda, last year marking its debut. This past summer I found out about the camp and jumped at the opportunity to help out. And I’m very happy that I did because it was an extremely rewarding experience. Not only was I able to facilitate the process of girls learning how to be strong and confident but I also gained from it myself.

During the sessions, I taught my campers about HIV education, making decisions and developing assertive behavior. It is incredible how eye-opening it can be to realize one’s own behavior does not exactly match with one’s perception of it. Ultimately, I learned how to be assertive OR rather, I became aware of how unassertive I am, ignoring and turning away from those who hassle me in my village or alternately, shouting at them. The information on HIV/AIDS also served to be valuable in that, I will know be able to properly inform others about the transmission and prevention of the HIV virus, symptoms and the progression to AIDs, and most importantly, how it affects women and children. Camp Glow also promotes gender equality education which is very important for growing girls to learn.

Rwandans understand the meaning of empowerment and the idea of encouraging female participation in society is promoted but it is somewhat superficial. The main objective of the camp is to apply that knowledge. I cannot count the times I’ve received the answer, “complimentary between men and women,” to the question of what “gender” means, illustrating the an incomplete understanding of the government mandate to build equality between men and women in Rwanda. Every girl still wrote that her goal in the future was to be a good mother and wife despite acknowledging that she also wanted to become a successful leader in her community. As with most everything in society, buhoro, buhoro, equality will be made a reality.

At camp I was made acutely aware of my age; I am no longer a teenager. At night, during all of the bonding activities like bonfires and talent shows I found myself drooping, unable to keep my eyes from slanting shut. It was wonderful to see the girls so excited and enthusiastic, jumping and singing and screaming with joy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen individuals so taken with jubilation when the music speakers were set up for the dance on the last evening—the campers couldn’t contain themselves any longer and began using forks as microphones to sing along to Medi and Chris Brown. It was a great way to conclude the past couple of days.

A few weeks before I went to camp I found myself once again making the trek back down to Nyamasheke where I met up with a few colleagues to celebrate a new holiday, “Thanksween.” Or “Hallow-giving,” depending on which major U.S holiday you would like to focus on. As it turns out, there were some complications when it came to organizing a rendezvous for this year’s Halloween bash, thus allowing for the creation of this new festive day. Having already scouted out and bargained for our costumes at the Musanze market, my friend Chris and I were determined to display them in all their finery over a fine turkey dinner—well, they ate chicken which (I was told) did not taste the same as a turkey and I had my ficken from a can which was delicious as always.

Throughout all of the gorging and dressing up, we were also busy at work recreating the world across the broad expanse of a hallway wall. Our colleague, Christa, had posed the project to her headmistress and as timing would have it a group of us turned out to help over the holiday break. And it was a masterpiece, if I may say so myself, but take a look for yourselves!!

Afterwards, we celebrated by slicing up some pumpkin pie and sharing it with Christa’s nuns, decked out in a very dignified if not completely accurate display of American history: colored paper head gear in the shape of Pilgrims and Indians. I think the sisters got a kick out of the experience, especially the impromptu chicken dance that led to a jolly parade out the door.

After the revelry we all packed up and headed north to Kigali. A half hour outside of the capital city, in a small suburban village called Ndera, was a secondary school where we were destined to be one of the first groups of Peace Corps volunteers to participate in the National Exam Marking. There were some noticeable differences in the approach to grading that presented some challenges for the ten PC volunteers who turned up for the significant event. I won’t go into details but to summarize: it was a week of continuous debate. English teachers from all over the country, as well as the DRC and Uganda came and shared their opinions over whether or not certain answers should be accepted, causing much discussion and ultimately, what we all determined was filibustering; during the first week of “training,” the teachers were paid daily and therefore wanted to make every minute count. It made for some tedious arguments and unnecessary discourse. Some volunteers interjected their opinions and offered advice but the other teachers did most of the talking, after all, they were getting paid. As it was designed to be a bonding experience for everybody to get to know each other so we were all placed into separate groups, including the dining hall where we had designated seating arrangements. Needless to say, there was little time for the PCVs to get together and digest what was going on which made the 8 ½ hour days a bit taxing. The experience as a whole was something to appreciate from a distance. It was not as great as one would have hoped for but it served as a foot in the door which is valuable for next year if we want to participate in editing the national exam. In the end, the other teachers thanked their American colleagues, saluting us for our presence and contribution.

Ok, that's all for now!

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