Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Preparing for Eastern Region GLOW Camp by James D

James D
Nyagatare, Eastern Province

In about one week, volunteers in the Eastern Region of Rwanda will be putting on a GLOW Camp. As you may already know, GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World. It is a weeklong camp for secondary school girls to learn about life skills, as well as HIV and malaria prevention, and sexual health. Volunteers throughout the region are bringing students, senior facilitators, junior facilitators, or all three. Since I still do not currently have a GLOW Club at my school (although, I did just meet the headmaster the other day, so fingers crossed that one can be started in the near future) I am in charge of the career panel, monitoring and evaluation, and the malaria component of the camp.

Not only is the Eastern Region providing bed nets for all campers for use during the camp and to take home, we will also be implementing the Grassroot Soccer Skillz Malaria intervention throughout the week. Grassroot Soccer is a nonprofit organization that focuses on HIV/AIDS education in Africa, with pilot programs in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and South-East Asia. Grassroot Soccer also has interventions on malaria and women's empowerment. Last March, Grassroot Soccer came to Peace Corps Rwanda and provided a weeklong training on the HIV and malaria interventions and will host another training this fall. I also had the opportunity to see the full Skillz Malaria intervention in action at the STOMP Out Malaria in Africa Boot Camp hosted in Theis, Senegal, this past June.

You may be wondering, how is malaria related to gender? One of the most at-risk populations for malaria are people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). According to the Rwanda Biomedical Center's Gender Assessment of Rwanda's National HIV Response, "Rwanda's HIV prevalence is 3.0% in the general population aged 15-49, but is higher among women (3.7%) than among men. (2.3%)" Also, the report concludes that young women aged 18-19 are ten times more likely to to acquire HIV than men of the same age.

Co-infection of Malaria and HIV/AIDS is a major cause of death in sub-saharan Africa. According to the WHO, HIV increases the risk of malaria infection, especially severe malaria in adults and in turn malaria increases HIV replication. Both of the diseases cause over 2 million deaths each year, and due to their increased risk of co-infection, it also increases the transmission of malaria each year.

At the Eastern GLOW Camp we will teach both about HIV prevention and malaria prevention, and hopefully the girls will really take in the information that they learn and continue the giant steps Rwanda is making towards an AIDS free generation. Tuzareba!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

"I'll Make a Man Out of You" by Max M.

Max Marsland
Nyaruguru District, 
Southern Province

When I was a junior in college, I wrote a paper for a class on America in the 1970s about a “crisis of masculinity” in American culture. In the aftermath of Vietnam, the Women’s Rights Movement and Second Wave Feminism, the emerging Gay Rights Movement, and the loss of faith in established authority due to Watergate, I saw that sports movies showed an attempt to rediscover what it meant to be an American man. What they showed was men losing; in Bad News Bears the underdog team and washed-out coach lose the big game, in Slapshot the team plays honestly for their final game and loses, and in Rocky Sylvester Stallone, the epitome of a traditional, working-class American man, gets beaten in the title fight by Apollo Creed. These films reflected what was happening in America then, and some of what’s happening in Rwanda now: in the wake of great social changes and increased opportunities for women, young men and boys don’t know what it means to be a man.

So, Rwandan men are in a predicament here: how can they react to women who are being empowered? I don’t have the answer; as an outsider, I and many other male PCVs are in a difficult position. I want to show Rwandan men and boys how to behave like how I think a modern man should, but there are some problems with this: as an outsider that isn’t my place, and frankly I’m not 100 percent sure what it means to be a modern American man. The best thing I can come up with is don’t feel threatened. Women’s empowerment isn’t at the expense of men’s; “power” in society isn’t a zero-sum solution. Roles shift and change over time, in every culture and every place in the world. Women in America have been fighting for their rights for decades and men are not worse off by it. I can’t think of a reason it can’t be the same here. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

I realize it’s difficult to not feel threatened; change is intimidating and scary (I think every PCV can attest to this). But, as difficult as it is, have faith. Many of the women I have met here are amazing people, who want to do incredible things to benefit their families, communities, and country first, themselves second.

Masculinity doesn’t need to be in crisis. It’s OK to not know exactly what it means to “be a man” because then you’re free to find it out for yourself, and define it how you feel comfortable defining yourself. This can only happen when you aren’t feeling under attack, when you are free to be yourself and pursuit your path without fear. You do you. As one of my favorite artists once said: “However you’re choosing to live your life is beautiful.”

Monday, June 16, 2014

Intellectually Acknowledged by Ciara C.

Ciara C.
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.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

LGBT Issues and the PCV by Samuel B.

Samuel B.
Kirehe District, Eastern Province
(sorry, no picture this time)

This being my first blog for the GAD Committee, I wasn't really sure what to write about, so I decided I write about something that's been on my mind since the Friday following the All-Volunteer Conference. That night some of us attended the LGBT Panel at the Goethe Institute. With the exception of the Scandinavian(?) scientist who felt it necessary to Google a bunch of bullshit statistics on the factors contributing to the likelihood of being “homosexual or lesbian” and present them in poor English, it was a great event. I think what caught my attention the most, well everyone's attention, was the presentation by the Ugandan lawyer who started a coalition for the defense of those Ugandans being prosecuted under the new anti-homosexuality law. I think his, as well as his colleague's, view on the nature of local LGBT issues and the influence of various types of international pressure directly relates to our position as PCVs.

At a certain point in the lawyer's presentation, it was asked how international pressure, such as rescinding aid, was affecting the internal situation. Essentially, the belief was that withdrawing aid only exacerbated the tension, making the LGBT community the scapegoat and doing little to directly affect wealthy politicians. This question led to many more like it, and I started to think about how we, as PCVs, can take a stance on LGBT issues in a productive way. For weeks, I've been wanting to do some sort of controlled lesson, in a GLOW or BE Club setting, on different lifestyles to maybe spur a debate or at least show that I'm someone that students struggling with their personal identities can talk to. But when I heard the lawyer's colleague claim that Museveni only signed the anti-homosexual bill into law after Obama's public statement objecting to the bill, which was particularly popular to the Western audience, I reconsidered my plans. The colleague went on further to discuss how prior to the bill's signing, it had been passed by parliament on several occasions, after which Secretary Clinton was known to call Museveni personally to discuss the matter. After the panel concluded, I approached the speaker and asked his advice on introducing LGBT issues in the classroom or in after-school activities. He suggested only doing so under the umbrella of general human rights issues, allowing the students to take the initiative. He claimed that he and his colleagues have been trying to restrict the debate in Rwanda to politicians only in hopes to prevent wide-spread support for a bill similar to that of Uganda's. “If we were to open the debate up to the general public, 90% of Rwandan's would vote for an anti-homosexual bill,” he said. With that in mind, I realized that as good as my intentions might be, in a country that currently has no law against or for the LGBT community, simply talking about these issues at a grassroots level would in fact be harmful; a grassroots wildfire, as it may.

Maybe his answer was simply common sense, but I hadn't considered before that at the very least my GLOW and BE Club, the students who are supposedly more enlightened on gender-related issues, wouldn't be the appropriate audience for a direct discussion on LGBT issues in Africa. So, if you have also been wondering what you can do to introduce these issues, do so with caution. Don't champion an issue in the hopes of advancing open-mindedness only to leave a bad taste in the mouths of others who aren't ready for it.

I think we sometimes think we have all the right answers. It's hard to remove ourselves from the subconscious superiority we feel as Americans, but we have to remember that we aren't here to force change. We aren't here to perform invasive surgery on the culture and society we're serving. We have to let the change come to us, as painful as the waiting might be. That doesn't mean do nothing; it just means serve softly. I know there are things about my personality and opinions that I won't sacrifice to blend in or integrate, and I think that's fine, but I can choose how I represent those parts of myself, especially if it means a more positive outcome for something I'm passionate about. It's odd to think about how being less democratic might lead to progress, but then again, the LGBT community in Rwanda is a silent minority; so don't do them a disservice by being vocal for the sake of good intentions. Take a step back. I said to my PC recruiter back in August 2012 that I didn't care about changing every life I came into contact with, whether it was 150 students or more than that in the community, I was doing this in the hopes that a handful get it, that the few that need what I can offer receive it. It's not grassroots, it's bean shoots, and that's quite alright.

Monday, May 26, 2014

2014 Kigali Peace Marathon by Eliza F.

Eliza F.
Ruhango District, Southern Province

When I was in 3rd grade, I was obsessed with Mia Hamm. At the time I was a pretty good soccer player (for an 8-year-old) and was confident that I too would join the U.S. Women’s National Team at age 15. Though by 7th grade I had a feeling that I would never be as good as Mia Hamm, or that I’d even be good enough to play soccer professionally, I still looked to Hamm as a role model. She had so much talent, and not only was the face of women’s soccer, which at the time was just getting off the ground (their first World Cup wasn’t until 1991), but also, with the help of the 1999 National Team, helped bring attention to women’s athletics and inspire girls throughout the country.

As a soccer fan, I knew that when the Men’s World Cup rolled around every 4 years, the Americans didn’t stand a chance. But the American women always medaled at their Cup the following year. Soccer is far more popular in most other countries, and this goes a long way in explaining why the American men just can’t compete with the Brazilians, the Spanish and the Germans.  So why do the women do so well? Because hundreds of thousands of little girls like me had the opportunity to play on teams like our brothers did, and we had role models like Mia Hamm.

While we still debate and fight over the inequality that exists between men’s and women’s sports programs in the U.S., I think we overlook just how much American girls are encouraged to get involved in sports. They have access to teams, fields, coaches, cleats, and uniforms and a support system that will encourage them to stay involved for years. That isn’t how it is for a lot of girls in this world.

Last weekend. 18 Peace Corps Volunteers brought 38 students from 13 schools to the International Peace Marathon in Kigali. The day before the marathon, students took classes in nutrition, fitness, body image, and HIV prevention. The day of the marathon they ran with over a hundred others in the 5k Fun Run. Half of the students were girls. I don’t know how much we were able to teach them during the short weekend, but I hope that some of those girls were inspired to stick with running, or whatever the sport is that they enjoy, despite the challenges they face. Maybe a girl saw one of the female marathon runners, and thought, "I want to be like her – and I can be!"

Monday, May 12, 2014

They Why and How by Caitlan S.

Caitlan S.

Rusizi District, Western Province 

The other day, some kids came up to my house and asked for food, "Mpa ibiryo." Usually, I say there isn't enough for them or just simply no, but that day I decided upon a different approach. I asked why, "Kureba iki?" Instead of giving me a reason they simply looked confounded and said, "Bye!"

One of the most difficult aspects about teaching and living in Rwanda can be the lack of critical thinking. I'm not sure how cross cutting a lack of critical thinking is across the developing world, Africa, or even East Africa, but it is a striking difference between students in the United States of America and Rwanda. It is also one of the biggest impediments when striving for true gender equality.

In Rwanda's 'Vision 2020' the government has put a large emphasis on gender balance, and every student and Rwanda can spout off the term and describe its meaning. However, the practice of gender balance is much harder to see.

Throughout the past year and a half of my service, I've tried asking my students why things are the way they are. At first it's difficult. As seen by the kids asking for food, it isn't a common question. In relation to gender and the roles of men and women in Rwanda most students have never truly thought about why girls are destined to be mothers and caretakers of the household and why boys are expected to provide money for the entire family. It's a heavy burden on both sexes, and it's the first step in addressing gender equality. Even more difficult seems to be the how. "How can gender roles change?" When I asked this during a lesson, I received blank stares for probably 5 minutes.

As a committee for Peace Corps Rwanda, GAD is trying to put together the materials and resources to help PCVs address this issue. We are trying to create lessons and activities that provide a setting for both boys and girls to look at the "how" and "why" of gender*. It's not an easy task, but I do believe it is the first step towards behavior change. Before there can be true gender balance in Rwanda both sexes must take a hard look at why things are the way they are and make a choice to change for the better. Not all aspects of gender must change in Rwanda, but many should. It is not until boys can understand the effects of violence that they can stop the violence in their homes. It is not until girls learn to speak for themselves that they will be comfortable to change their futures.

We must begin asking the difficult questions. It is the Why and How that will create a paradigm shift in terms of gender roles in Rwanda.

*A curriculum specific to boys will be coming out in the next month and PCVs are welcome to use the International Women's Day Toolkit which is available in the IRC at the Peace Corps Rwanda office.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Where My Boys At? by Liz S.

Liz S. 
Karongi District, Western Province

Follwing the International Women's Day training last month, my counterparts decided to hold an ibiganiro (literally, a conversation, but means a ceremony that involves some kind of lesson and discussion) to teach the students about what they had learned. The ibiganiro lasted about an hour at the end of the day, and included good discussions about why there's a need to celebrate International Women's Day. At the end of the ceremony, however, boys still felt slighted. Even doing lessons about IWD and gender roles in class, boys can give the pat answers they've been taught about gender balance, but once challenged further, they reveal that they feel left out, threatened, or just scared about what it means for them. Boys see girls getting scholarships, sponsors, extra marks on exams, opportunities to participate in groups, camps and more. It doesn't seem fair. This isn't a new phenomenon of course, but it does pose questions of how we can better engage men and boys in discussions about female empowerment, development, and overall human rights.

Many development organizations have begun to work with co-ed groups to address this problem. By creating clubs and cooperatives for both men and women that provide life skills training and education about GBV and family relations through the lens of human rights, organizations hope to engage community members at a family level that isn't as off-putting to men. While I praise the efforts of these organizations and think they are doing fantastic work, I do believe strongly that there is still a need for women and girls to have their own space. I think GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) clubs and camps have been an enormous source of support and encouragement for the girls at my school, as well as a space to ask questions they would otherwise feel uncomfortable asking. Without boys in the room, girls feel safer to speak up, to voice their opinion, and talk openly about sex, health, families, hopes, and dreams. But where does this leave boys?

In Peace Corps, we have BE (Boys Excelling) clubs and camps to provide life skills education along with important information about HIV/AIDS, sexual health, and GBV. But many times, volunteers struggle with what to do with their boys' groups. And many boys can be resistant to some of the material – no one likes to be confronted with privilege nor do they like to be addressed as a perpetrator. The GAD committee is currently working on an updated BE curriculum that aims to better address these issues for boys. Too often, we forget how gender roles affect and constrain men as well. Too often, men are never educated about how issues that seem to pertain only to women affect their lives and well-being. And too often, the materials we have only address the bad things men do to women without diving deeper into the greater societal constructs that leads to that behavior.

And strong, empowered women can flourish better surrounded by educated, supportive men.