Ngoma District, Eastern Province
Being my first blog post as a GAD member, I feel the need to introduce myself. Hello, readers!! My name is Ciara. I’m a recent graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C., with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Political Science, and a newly elected GAD member from the Education 5 (ED5) group.
Similarly to my ED5 colleague, Sam, I was unsure what I wanted to write about for my first post, so, I’ve decided to begin with a personal experience.
While perusing through the clothing section of the Kibungo market on a typical Saturday afternoon, I happened upon a group of American volunteers who were exploring my town for the first time. Their leader, a professor at a small, liberal arts university in Missouri, said that my glasses told him I wasn’t Rwandan and the accent of my “hi” gave away my American nationality. After a brief and pleasant conversation, we agreed to meet at the private, Anglican school, directly adjacent to mine on the following Tuesday.
Embarrassingly, I have to admit that in my six months as a teacher, I’d never visited the school that practically shares property with my own. I was pleasantly surprised to learn, upon arrival, that my pastor teaches there. As I waited for the professor, Pastor Ray showed me around the main office and introduced me to available staff members. Among them was a teacher who I will simply refer to as “M.”
“M” is a Ugandan teacher of Economics, and holds a degree in History. I learned these and many other interesting things during our lengthy conversation. Little did I know, that first conversation would be the prologue to what is blossoming into a lovely friendship. I ended up seeing “M” a number of times that week, both by chance and by choice. In that initial introduction and in every subsequent interaction, “M” has shared how much he appreciates my intellect and ability to articulate my ideas.
HOLD THE PHONE. I am in East Africa, right? I am in a male dominated society where women are not regarded as complex thinkers with ideas of their own, right? I’ve intentionally pushed hot buttons and limitations with controversial subject matter when speaking with “M.” We’ve touched on subjects that are culturally sensitive, especially in regard to gender. “M,” while having no problem disagreeing with me, has yet to dismiss my opinions or tell me that I’m wrong. In fact, he’ll often tell me that because of his cultural upbringing, he disagrees with me, but yet understands my arguments and sees them as being valid. He even introduced me to one of his friends as being “rich in the mind.”
Before meeting “M” I didn’t realize how long it had been since I felt appreciated for my intellect, especially as a woman. Thanks to my sheroes, like the late Maya Angelou, I already know myself to be a “phenomenal woman,” but there’s something to be said about a man who can recognize and appreciate the same, particularly in a culture such as this. It made me wonder about my female students. Have they ever felt appreciated for their minds? Have they ever felt regal and beautiful and strong for their opinions? Have they ever been acknowledged by their male counterparts as being wildly intelligent?
I’m certainly not suggesting that one needs to be validated by men, however it’s appreciated when members belonging to the group deemed “dominate” are able to recognize and acknowledge that members of “the other” are not, in fact, inferior. These interactions with “M” challenge me as educator. They remind of my responsibility to the young queens in my care. It is my job to acknowledge and appreciate their intellect and to encourage my young kings to do the same. It is through cultivation of the mind that they might, too, see themselves as being phenomenal.