Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Nathan's Story

My Life Story

by NTAHUNGA Nathan
Rukara Sector, Eastern Province, Rwanda

This is a guest blog post from one volunteer's student.  Nathan as you will read in her story, is an inspiration to us all and gives us real hope for the future.  Nathan is preparing to go to University in the US, but she needs some help paying for testing fees and other visa fees.  If you can donate to Nathan she would greatly appreciate it.  Here is a link to her fundraiser:   

I am a girl of twenty-one years old, born of a mother and father, whose father died in 2002.  I am the forth child in our family, where we are six.  I was born in Rwanda in 1995 and after two years, in 1997, my parents went to Uganda, where my father died.  
So I studied my Primary Level in Uganda, where I achieved second in my grade.  I continued my Ordinary Level in Uganda, but I sometimes lacked school fees because we had many children at home.  My Mommy is a peasant, so she had no money to pay for all six children.  So I tried to perform in class and the school gave me a scholarship to study for the remaining three years, from Senior Two to Senior Four. 
        Then, in 2015, I went for Senior Five in Uganda but I lacked school fees.  Nevertheless, I sat for the whole year until in Third Term, when I came to Rwanda.  So I finished my Advanced Level in Rwanda up to 2015.  But in all that life in Rwanda, I lived by renting.  I sometimes used to leave school and go for work to get school fees.  I sometimes had not much food, but I would use my money to buy candles so I could do my homework at night.

After Senior Five, I became the Head Girl at my school, GS Muzizi.  I could not pay school fees the whole year, but I remained, struggling with paying my rent and looking for what to eat.  I thank God that the Headmaster and Bursar were patient with me and allowed me to continue my studies even when I missed the fees.  Somehow, I graduated from secondary at the top of my class.
After graduating, I was still struggling, but I continued my prayers to God to help me go study and continue my education.  Recently, I was accepted into a program that can help me on the way to these goals.  Africa's Tomorrow is an organization from the United States that offers guidance and funding to aspiring, ascendent girls from rural families.  I was blessed to be one of sixteen girls across the continent who was chosen for the 2016 group of candidates.  You can read more about all of us here:
Now, I am focused on studying very hard for my Test of English as a Foreign Language.  If I can pass, I will be able to move on to applying to different colleges and universities in the United States and then finally reaching my bigger dreams.  I have too many goals for why I need education, but I will talk about a few of them here.
First, I want to be a doctor, studying and specifying in different diseases that affect both old and young people in Africa.  For example, HIV, diabetes, meningitis, and blood pressure.  Another goal is to set up medical training institutes in my country, where many doctors and nurses can be trained for the betterment of Rwandese lives and Africa at large.  I want to teach other people to do the things I will learn at university.
I also dream of writing books and publishing.  One part of this is making research on different diseases and looking for some medicines or cures, then publishing what I discover.  But also I want to do advertising and public health announcements for teaching people to fight against diseases, such as the ones mentioned above and many others.
My last goal is working and supporting the Non-Government Organizations, for example the Red Cross, in helping more damaged and sick Africans.  Especially I want to be a job-creator and entrepreneur for Rwandans and other Africans in the domain of health.  
Of course, I cannot do any of this alone.  In particular, I need your assistance with covering my fees for taking tests, sending applications, getting my US visa, and so on.  It is astonishing to think about how the cost of taking the TOEFL exam one time is almost equal to the fees for four years of secondary school!  You can help me by donating money to the following account:   

I especially ask for your breadth, not depth.  If every person who reads this can contribute even a few dollars, it would mean so much and take me so far.  For instance, each person can donate the amount that reflects the year you graduated college (like $20.15 for the class of 2015).  I have so much appreciation for the people who have donated already.  I feel happy and excited to have many people caring about me.  It was so surprising to get support from those who I do not know.  It inspires me to continue dreaming.  Thanks to them and may God bless.
Finally, I would like to offer some advice to other young women across Africa.  I hope many of them -- especially from Rwanda and Uganda -- will follow after me with Africa's Tomorrow and other similar programs.  I want them to know that they can reach their dreams and visions, as long as they believe in themselves.  Always do your best.  Have self-esteem, determination, and hope.  As long as we wish and work, we can change the world.  Thank you for reading my story and supporting my journey.

Friday, July 22, 2016

My Farewell Blog by Grace M.

Grace Mullin

Muhanga District, Southern Region

The time has arrived for a farewell blog. While I am certainly not done with my GAD work, I am officially closing my Peace Corps Service tomorrow. I have learned many things while on GAD, and have had many opportunities to grow as a person.

I could not be more grateful to have worked in a country who too is aligned with gender equity. I have learned so much through Rwandan programming, government mandates, and the gender-related programming we have done as Peace Corps Volunteers. Our last post highlighed one of my favorite projects of my service... our Let Girls Work Initiate. In addition, I have seen two Healthy Living Workshops, many camps, and even more trainings. I am humbled and inspired by those I have met in the process. The boys and girls who participated, the men and women who helped co-facilitate, the staff who worked behind the scenes. With the trajectory laid out by the Government of Rwanda, and the many programs here, I can see a very bright future. The students who have attended our programming have already begun to move on to bigger and better things. The staff who helped us teach, have been able to take what they know and learn and spread it farther than Peace Corps programming could ever take it.

To all those who have helped with GAD programming over the course of my 26 months in Rwanda, thank you. I am truly honored to have met you, learned from you and worked beside you. I will never forget the things that Rwanda has given me!


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Let Girls Work! By GraceAnne H.

GraceAnne Heater
Rutsiro District, Western Province

      About a week ago, the Peace Corps Rwanda GAD Committee wrapped up the project I am most proud of during my Peace Corps service. We started the project in January, called Let Girls Work, in alignment with Michelle Obama's Let Girls Learn Program and Rwanda's Gender and Development Goals. The purpose of the program was to educate girls about the professional opportunities available to them outside of villages and give them the tools they need to reach their professional goals and become active and contributing members to the development of Rwanda. The program was broken into three phases: a series of lessons, a local mentorship day, and a weekend workshop in the capital of Rwanda.

         In the first phase, PCVs taught students a series of five lessons about professionalism. The students learned about career paths, gained important knowledge about applications with CV writing and interview skills, and were given tools for success through goal setting and personal savings. After the lessons, the students who attended these classes wrote essays for phase two, and three girls were selected to continue on to the next phase.


         In the second phase, PCVs took three students to the their regional town to shadow a successful woman in the field of the student's chosen profession. This allowed students to experience the jobs first-hand and learn about jobs available at the regional level - in a larger town than their village. PCVs were in charge of finding a mentor to teach and motivate each student, and after a morning of shadowing, the students and mentors shared their experience over lunch.



        After the mentorship day, students gave a poster presentation at school, and a single girl was selected from each school to continue on to phase three.

         The third phase took place in Rwanda's capital city, Kigali. Sixteen PCVs and one girl from each school traveled to the capital for a weekend workshop with a new set of mentors and guest speakers. These girls were exposed to high-level jobs in their sector of interest and taught lessons to continue their professional development. The weekend started with a dinner meeting between students and their mentors. We worked with the Makerere Alumni Group to secure these mentors, ranging from doctors and authors to bakers and craft makers. The mentors were just as excited about the project as our students, and they insisted the mentorship would be an ongoing relationship, not just a single meeting.

         The next day, the students went off to shadow their mentors. Their activities included checking their blood type in a laboratory, writing a short story, making jewelry, helping operate boutiques and shops, and working with lawyers and accountants.

         After mentoring, everyone met at the Kigali Public Library, where the girls got to debrief about their day and try fruit smoothies.

         The following day, students learned how to tell their own story from PCV Sarah Howard and learned about public speaking from PCV Michael Heater. They then went to the Akilah Institute for Women where they were given a tour of the school and lessons about confidence, growth mindset, career guidance and basic computer knowledge from five young women attending the school.

         The girls were given an American-style brown bag lunch, complete with apples and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

         After a tour of Kigali, PCVs, students, and the guides from Akilah joined together for a team-building sports activity - bowling!  I loved seeing how close the students bonded with each other, the mentors, and the Akilah students and how excited they were for every single pin drop.


         It was incredibly inspiring to show our students role models who have succeeded after overcoming the same obstacles they face, and to be able to bring them to parts of their country they would otherwise struggle to travel to. This event required a lot of work from each PCV involved, and I am amazed at everyone's dedication to the project. With such success, we in GAD Rwanda hope to make this an annual event.


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.