Monday, June 13, 2016

3rd Annual Healthy Living Workshop

Toward the end of May, the GAD Committee held its 3rd Annual Healthy Living Workshop. A total of 15 PCVs were invited to bring one male and one female student to Kigali for the weekend. Throughout the weekend, the students learned about living healthy, both  physically and mentally. The students had the chance to compete in an Olympics to develop commradery, practice teamwork, and of course, to have fun. The workshop finished with all the students running a 7k as a part of the Kigalii Marathon.

Before arriving at the workshop, each set of students prepared a short skit, lesson, game, or in one amazing case, a gospel song about HIV/AIDS. Their first evening in Kigali, the students delivered what they had prepared and covered topics such as destigmatizing the the disease, preventing transmission, and treatment. The students really showed their creativity in what they came up with and demostrated that they have a rather extensive foundation when it comes to HIV knowledge.

We started off Saturay morning with a set of four lessons: Nutrition & Exercise, HIV Myths, Gender Equality, and Self-Esteem. Observing the students during each of these lessons, it was apparent that the students were having fun and taking the information in.

During the Nutrition & Exercise lesson, the students learned how to balance their plate in order to prepare a complete diet and discovered creative ways to ensure they are getting sufficient protein. PCV Hannah Gann also showed them some easy ways to work some exercise into their day with wall sits, push ups, and mountain climbers.These quick activities also became a great visual to show the students that girls can be just as strong as boys.

With PCVs Grace Ann & Michael Heater, the students played some games from the Grassroot Soccer curriculum that debunked HIV related myths such as 'You can tell someone has HIV/AIDS by looking at them' and 'You can get HIV from sharing a drink with someone who has the disease.'
The  Gender Equality Session, led by PCV Sophie Hart, used another activity from the Grassroot Soccer curriculum called Gender Stadium. In this activity, participants sit in two circles, one inside the other. During the first round, males sit in the center circle with the females sitting in the surrounding circle. The males were asked questions related to their gender, what they like about being male, what they dislike, what  they want the other sex to know. During this time, the females are not allowed to respond or react to what the males are saying. Then in round two the sexes trade places and repeat the exercise. This was a rare opportunity for the students to discuss such issues and to hear the perspectives of the opposite sex.

The students finished off the morning with a lesson about Self-Esteem. This one was led by the counterpart of PCV Anna Hirt, who told the students to love themselves for who they are and not who they think they should be. They discussed how everyone is unique and equally valuable no matter their skin color, gender, abilities, socio-economic class, etc. By the end of the session, the students stood as they declared that they are beautiful, intelligent, and worthy.

Following lunch, the students had the chance to hear two excellent guest speakers, one from the Health Development Initiative and the head coach of the Rwandan Women's Basketball team. These two women talked about the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, through exercise, eathing healthy, practicing safe sex, and being self-confident.

The day was finished off with a Healthy Living Olympics. The students were divided into three teams for the competition. The first round included a series of exercises, including stretching, jumping jacks, pushups, and running. The next event was hygiene focused with teethbrushing and handwashing relay races. And to cap the games off, each team created a fantastic song about preventing malaria.

The students headed to bed early that night in preparation for the big race the next day. We headed to the Amahoro Stadium at 7:30am on Sunday morning and joined the crowd of runners. The majority of students successfully ran the 7k Run for Fun Race with four PCVs, but a handful of students accidentally, albiet also successfully, ran the half marathon. All of the PCVs who were  not running stayed on the sidelines and cheered on all of the students.

All in all, the workshop was very successful. Thanks for all the PCVs and students who participated in the event. And even bigger thanks to the Rwandan facilitators and guest speakers. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Teaching Gender and Intersectionality, by Caroline G.

Caroline Golub
Rulindo District
Northern Province
Here at GAD, our focus, and our namesake, is Gender and Development. Our job is to develop gender related resources and programming, plan gender empowering events or activities, and spread awareness about gender news, in regards to both progress and continual struggles. 

But GAD efforts go beyond just the committee itself. Within their many GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) and BE (Boys Excelling) clubs and camps, volunteers seek to educate youth about gender, trying their best to convey dense and often abstract concepts in digestible, comprehensive forms. They facilitate lessons and exercises in gender equality promotion, women and girls' empowerment, thoughtful leadership and gendered allyship.

I cannot speak to others' experiences, but in my own, it has been incredible to watch the strides a number of my students have made towards understanding the complex notion of gender, and discussing and devising ways they can promote gender equality in their homes, schools, and communities. I can see many of my girls displaying increased confidence in class, volunteering to answer questions, and thoughtfully contributing to discussions during club or class time. Moreover, I have seen evidence of some of my boys beginning to defy traditional gender roles, proudly telling tales of their efforts to help their mothers and sisters around the house, and actually trying to understand the meaning behind that mysterious phrase "gender equality," instead of simply regurgitating it as a known ideal.

Proud as I am of my kids, I do not want to present a false optimism, the idea that these kinds of behavior changes and attitudes have come about quickly or easily during my short tenure at site. Many of my students had been exposed to these ways of thinking long before I arrived, by previous volunteers or teachers, by attending past camps or workshops. Some of the most drastic changes I have personally witnessed have taken over a year to really bloom, aided by frequent encouragement and reinforcement in the form of clubs or personal friendships.

Yet perhaps above all, I also recognize that many of these accomplishments, these small triumphs towards our expressed goal of "gender and development," have not, could not have progressed to the extent they have by a merely singular discussion of "gender." After all, gender itself is not solely responsible for a given person's life experience, though no one can deny its tremendous influence. I am approaching now, the thesis of this post, an aim that I try to incorporate throughout all of my teachings on gender, for it has been tried and true that individuals learn and retain best from lessons or narratives they can relate to in multiple fashions. I am talking about intersectionality.

What is intersectionality? It is, quite simply as it sounds, the interconnectedness of many different social identities coupled with their respective social institutions or systems of oppression. It means that you cannot have a discussion about say, gender, without also addressing factors like race, class, sexual orientation, location, or religion, that together heavily contribute to an individual's identity. Even if we are focusing more directly on one of these narratives over the others, each identifier remains a factor that affects each person's unique experience. That is to say, that a more privileged, upper class woman or girl living in the city may view the societal constraints of her gender much differently than her lower class, village dwelling counterpart. 

Intersectionality is important when talking about gender, because gender itself is not a singularly uniform concept. It is of course true, that women/girls and men/boys have many definite shared experiences within their respective genders due to societal gender norms, but these may vary greatly depending on subsidiary factors. While you can promote certain ideals for gender equality or equity, share common goals towards development, it is necessary to entertain a diversity of experiences so as not to invalidate any individual's unique gendered reality.

Of course, this undertaking isn't easy, especially for those of us who have no means or counterpart to express the subtleties that intersectionality often requires. Additionally, some identities, such as sexual orientation, prove much more difficult to openly discuss, in a culture that still fraught with prejudice and taboo. However, I absolutely believe, that as much as you can incorporate intersectional thinking into your lessons, your clubs, or even private discussions (even in rudimentary form), your students or colleagues will reap the benefit of better understanding themselves and their societal positions, and can therefore work towards a better understanding and strategy of how to break down those barriers, how to approach those systems of oppression for themselves. And that kind of personal growth, multiplied by hundreds, or thousands, is the real means to which Rwanda can continue to progress on its path of development.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Love Letter to America, by Tara S.


Muhanga District, Southern Province

My Love Letter to America

Dear America,

This is my love letter to you.  You, America, are far from perfect and continue to develop and change but I want to take this space and time to express why I love you.  In my opinion, most people love you because of your economic and diplomatic leadership, or for your glory in war and foreign affairs or your global media and cultural domination, but the reasons I love you America I would have never discovered if I had not left you.

As a young woman from a rural area in America, there are natural factors working against my success and opportunities in life.  In many parts of the world, young girls education is not valued and they are not given the skills and opportunities to thrive.  Yet even though I am from a town of just 5,000 people, I was able to receive a high school that allowed me to go to college and receive scholarships.  My education was individualized, pushing for my success while the education system also worked with my peers who struggled, so at the end we were all prepared for the next step.  In that education, I was taught skills such as critical thinking, public speaking, and using the resources I had available.  As a woman I was never shamed for things I said, but instead encouraged to express my opinions and successes.  While to another American, this may seem like a standard, but it is not necessarily so.  Around the world children, especially girls, from rural areas struggle to access good education.  Girls especially are not encouraged to hold their own opinions or be anything more than a a wife and mother in their cultures. America, I love  you because you allowed me to be more and to dream for more. 

When I finished my secondary education, I went to college on scholarships.  At college I was not a minority, but part of the greater majority.  America you encourage girls so much, that the number of women at colleges and universities outnumbers men.  This too is a unique and exciting development in our history, that is only slowly occurring around the rest of the world.  At college, I was encouraged to explore my studies until I found what excited me most, and motivated to make friends and discover new things outside of my own background.  This appreciation for diversity and individual choice is pretty unique in American culture.    By doing so I was able to expand my critical thinking skills because I began to understand how many solutions there can be to one problem. Learning from people who have different beliefs showed me that more often our similarities are greater than our differences and we can still have mutual respect for each other.   I love you America for demonstrating this diversity of people and thought through having a multi-cultural population and promoting education for all.

As I look to our future together America, I know there will be struggles.  Gender equality is something we will always be working for in America.  You do not pretend to have achieved it, because in reality that would mean we have given up. Your honesty about your struggles allows real grassroots change to happen.  Your people feel like they have a voice, and they have the capacity to change.  Together we are continuously developing ourselves to be more equitable and supportive.  In our future I see more women holding leadership positions, more men stepping up to help in the household duties, and more honest conversations about sex, love, and healthy relationships.  I love you America and I embrace your imperfections and look forward to developing together. 

I know I left you America, but I needed space to really appreciate the depth of what you do and the structures you have in place to provide success.  I had to leave to appreciate how much despite the struggles and frustrations, you are always willing to change.  We will be reunited in the near future, and I will embrace our time together for mutual growth.  Until then, I will continue to share the parts of you I am proud of while pointing out that we have a lot of work to do too.  Thank you for all you have given me and all the opportunities I have because of you.



Sunday, March 13, 2016

Trees of Commitment for International Women’s Day by Grace H.

Grace Heater
Rutsiro District, Western Province

This year, to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, the GAD committee asked volunteers to create a Tree of Commitment with their community. Volunteers drew a tree, and members of the community filled in the leaves with messages about how they would personally commit to women’s empowerment.

We wanted to celebrate and commit to the women in our communities – the mamas who sell fruit and vegetables at the market, the teachers and doctors and nurses we interact with every day, the young women who are still in secondary school into their mid-20s, often because of poverty, but despite it as well, and the old women who we unfailingly seem to meet only when they are passing us as they go uphill, barefoot, and with something incredibly heavy on their heads.
About 15 volunteers participated, and we are proud to showcase some of the beautiful trees we can now add to our Commitment Forest!

G.S Kibangu
Tara Sullivan

G.S. Kinihira
Caroline Golub
Mushishiro H.C.
Grace Mullin
G.S. Mushubati
Anna Hirt
Mushaka H.C.
Karyn Miller
E.S. and G.S. Murunda
Grace and Michael Heater
G.S. Muzizi Rukara
Hannah Gann
E. S. Muhazi
Shannon De Jong
Cyabayaga H.C.
Christina Gallagher
Kibiliza H. C.
Melissa Denton
Muhondo H.C.
Aimee Carlson
E.S. Bisesero
Michelle Burris 
Bubazi Health Center
April Zachary

Muremure H.C.
Shreya Desai
G.S. Bumba
Sophie Hart