Friday, August 28, 2015

TechKobwa

Rusty Ott
Education 6
Western Province
Nyamasheke District








During the August school break--the two weeks separating the second and third terms of the Rwandan school year--I volunteered to assist a camp called TechKobwa. This is a technology camp for female secondary students in Rwanda--Kobwa is derived from the local language's word for "girl." The camp has been put on for the last few years in a partnership between Peace Corps, IBM, Michigan State University, KOIKA (the South Korean version of Peace Corps), and various Rwandan NGO's. It was held at a vocational college in Kibuye (also called Bwishyura and Karongi), the capital of Western Province, on Lake Kivu. Much leadership was provided by the Camp Director, Peace Corps Volunteer Elisabeth Turner, who has been working with the camp since its inception.

Sixty teenage girls from ten schools across Rwanda, along with their schools' teachers of ICT (information and computer technology--a required course in Rwandan secondary schools, even when they lack computer labs) came to Kibuye to spend a week learning about computer technology. My role was to be in charge of games and recreational activities in the evenings. That was a good role for me, because while I enjoy playing games, I know very little about computers.

However, there was much more to this camp than simply learning about computers. As I see it, this camp was mostly about female empowerment. For one thing, purely technical classes were complimented with life skills lessons on topics such as public speaking, self-confidence, and finding your voice. For another thing, technology skills are an incredibly empowering thing for a young woman in Rwanda--they lead to jobs, but also give them access to communication and information; they make their world bigger. Lastly, I cannot overestimate the positive impact of an all-female learning environment, plus being surrounded by so many strong female role models--some from America, some from South Korea, and some from Rwanda.

There were girls, who, during the camp, sent their very first email in their lives. There were others who learned to type for the first time. Others had a great deal of fun playing with cameras, taking their first pictures*. One evening we did a group Skype call to the classroom of an ex-Rwanda PCV who is now teaching a summer program in Baltimore. It was a bit chaotic, but one of the highlights of the camp. Part of that was seeing American students, sharing cultures and entertaining each other (the Baltimorians performed The Whip and the Nae Nae for us, and our girls did a traditional Rwandan dance for them). But a large part of it was experiencing Skype. We could have taught a class about Skype and explained everything there is to know about it, and yet it might have remained a fairy tale to them, something rich people in America use. Instead they used Skype. I also told them it was free. And so, as soon as the Skype call was finished, the girls were asking how they can download Skype, if they can use it to talk to people in Rwanda, and various other questions implying that they plan on using it.

As to the power of an all-female learning environment, a little background on Rwandan culture may help explain this. In Rwanda, girls are conditioned--sometimes subtly and unintentionally, and sometimes overtly--to believe that boys are stronger and smarter and it is their job to be outgoing and speak out in class, while the girls should be reserved and quiet. In my English classes I will sit down next to or across from a female student and ask her a question. If I do this with one of the brighter and more confident girls, she will reply a correct answer in a voice so quiet I can barely hear her, and when I ask her to repeat more loudly fall silent. If I do this with one of the more shy girls, her response is to chew on her pen and look away. Meanwhile, the boys will shout out what they think the girl should say at the top of their lungs. At TechKobwa, this did not happen. At first, the girls were very quiet and self-conscious, but by week's end there was a noticeable difference. For once, Rwandan teenage girls were being loud, enthusiastic, exuberant. Six girls from my school attended the camp, and in our short time back, I have noticed a difference in them. In my classes, they seem more confident, more forthcoming with answers, and happier, almost as if they are enjoying my classes for a change.

Furthermore, they had so many positive examples of strong women. One afternoon, there was a career panel of Rwandan women who spent a few hours telling their stories and answering the students' questions. One of them had been born in America to a Rwandan immigrant family and chose to come to Rwanda to work. Later, we were visited by two students of Akilah Institue for Women, an all-female university in Kigali preparing young women for careers in business and hospitality management. When I pulled up the university's webpage on my laptop, several girls crowded around, looking at pictures and asking about the application process. Many of the girls at TechKobwa come from schools where almost all of the teachers are men, and from communities where most of the leadership positions are held by men, so spending a week surrounded by so many strong and successful women was a change for them.  

Speaking of men, there were several besides me who worked very hard to make this camp a success. Several were Rwandan ICT teachers who came with their students, others were with KOIKA or Peace Corps, and others were with Rwandan NGO's such as Creation Hill and Keppler. Not to mention we had much assistance from the staff of the school that hosted the camp. Some of these men had less-than-progressive attitudes towards women. The day the girls all arrived I went to the bus station with two Rwandan men and one Rwandan woman to meet them. As we started, I asked "Are we all here?" The men answered yes, but I noticed the woman was hurrying to catch up, a ways behind us. When I said, "Wait, Mary isn't here yet," they replied "Ah! It is just a woman. She is weak." While some of my acquaintances home in rural Iowa might say something like that as an ill-advised joke, these guys were completely serious and surprised when I had a problem with that statement. Other times, when I tried to tell people how in classes I have taught across the world the smartest students have often been female, their response was, "But in Rwanda, it is different." While these attitudes are less than enlightened, to put it mildly, these same men worked their tails off to make the camp successful. Getting the girls from the bus station to the school turned out to be very challenging, and I could not have done it without the help of the same men who said "Ah! She is a woman. She is weak." Those same men put their hearts and souls into the camp. Obviously, I hope that the sexist attitudes many men hold--in Rwanda and everywhere else in the world--change for the better. But it would be a mistake to wait for those attitudes to become perfect before including men in gender empowerment work. Including them will both serve to change their own attitudes, and will increase the potential of projects such as TechKobwa.

*An almost excessive amount of fun--whenever we gave them cameras with which to practice photography, they went crazy taking pictures of each other modeling their best poses and finding opportunities to get pictures with the Americans. Each camera session led to them being at least 15 minutes late for their next scheduled activity, and ended with me prying the cameras from their hands and physically pushing them towards the classrooms

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

In Living Color by Ciara C.





Ciara Christian
Ngoma District, Eastern Province



Upon accepting my invitation to serve as a volunteer in Rwanda, one of my greatest anxieties was serving in Africa as an African American.  “Doesn’t it help you?”  “Aren’t you able to blend in better?”  are among the numerous questions asked by my colleagues who don’t share my race, and in many ways, my experience.  Having been to other African countries, I already anticipated that my darker hue would correlate to my being treated as a host country national woman.

Again, many would think that being identified with Rwandan women would be beneficial to me.  The reality is, this occurrence has proved not only frustrating, but challenging.  I, and other volunteers of color, especially women, am held to higher standards of conduct.  Rwandan gender norms are projected onto us. I can only speak from my own experience, but I can say with certainty that many of we “dark girls,” we women of color serving in the Peace Corps Rwanda community, pride ourselves on our fierce independence; on our ability to accept and reject the societal norms of our choosing; on shattering the prescriptions for gender that our own societies have for us in the western world.  So, when very rigid and conservative gender norms are forced onto us, norms we might choose to reject, it can cause problems for our integration and acceptance.

Single young Rwandan women don’t live alone, I do.  Single young Rwandan women don’t dine alone in bars, I do.  Due to these and other differences in gender norms, I’ve been told that I’m both a woman and a man by colleagues in my community. Though people see my skin and assume I’m Rwandan, I’m a single, young, western woman with western ideas and behaviors.  This leaves me with the burning question: how do I share ideas of gender equality with a community that often appears uncomfortable with my rejection of their traditional gender roles?

I have found the answer to this question to be: through personal relationships.  It can generally be said that in sharing and exchanging cultures, personal relationships allow for the most impact.  In my experience with the intersection of my race, sex and gender, it holds especially true.  I live in a community where conformity (in regard to gender norms) is seen as right. I share the face and features of many women around me, but I stand out.  Because of my aesthetic commonalities with them, I feel that I have a greater responsibility to them in regard to gender equality.  In my unwillingness to be anyone other than myself, in conjunction with the personal relationships I’ve forged, I am enabled to share my notions of gender equality.

The young ladies in my classroom and in my GLOW camps see a woman who looks like them, but who feels no inferiority to men.  Through our relationships, I am able to encourage, and hopefully empower the young ladies in my sphere of influence to feel the same. I, in no fashion, mean to say that Rwandan gender norms are “wrong” or “bad” or anything of the sort.  I, myself, actually embrace and enjoy SOME gender norms that are considered traditional.  That is, however, my CHOICE, and I try to exemplify to the women around me that it can be theirs, or not.





Saturday, June 13, 2015

Changing the Mindset About Gender in Rwanda: An Interview with LCFs by GraceAnne H.

GraceAnne Heater
Rutsiro District, Western Province

When Peace Corps Volunteers first enter their country of service, they are required to go through about three months of training before they are placed at a site as an official volunteer. The teachers who are in charge of getting us from trainees to volunteers are called Language and Cultural Facilitators, or consistent with the Peace Corps' love of acronyms, LCFs. They are all host county nationals, and the majority of them are women. LCFs are some of the first Rwandans trainees meet, and some of the strongest women we encounter in the country. Many LCFs leave their families for six months out of the year to teach rigorous language classes, everything about culture, and to make sure everyone is back with their host families by 6:30 every night. The last one is certainly a herculean task, since trainees are all over 20 and have been living without a curfew for years. Our LCFs in Rwanda are open, engaging, funny, caring, and independent. By interacting with future volunteers and sharing their knowledge, they are at the forefront of the gender and development changes that are happening in Rwanda. For this post, three LCFs have kindly answered some questions about gender equality in their home country.


MUHAWENIMANA Geraldine
From Huye District, Southern Province
LCF for 5 years
 
MUKESHIMANA Stella Matutina
From Nyamagabe District, Southern Province
LCF for 6 years
Not Pictured: TUYISHIME Zilpah
From Rubavu District, Western Province 
LCF for 7 years


What woman do you admire most? Why?

Geraldine: Jannette Kagame, [the President of Rwanda's wife] because of how she promoted the Rwandan girls education. I like also the way she really represents a Rwandan woman and the way she dresses.

Stella: Jeannette Kagame, because of her commitment to empower women especially in education.

Zilpah:  My mother is the one I admire most. She’s so courageous and she encouraged my siblings and me to go to school and work hard. She knew the importance.

What positive changes in gender equality have you noticed in Rwanda in the past 10 years?

Geraldine: In the past ten years, I noticed the changes in executive positions, for example in parliament more than 50% are women. Girl’s education is promoted, especially in secondary schools.

Stella: Women are contributing to Rwandan development at a considerable level. The number of girls attending schools is increasing, Rwanda's empowerment for women is remarkable.

Zilpah: I noticed positive changes in education, executive positions, and in decision making.

What are some challenges Rwanda still faces regarding gender equality?

Geraldine: Rwanda still faces the challenge of changing the minds of people. In Rwanda, to promote women is to change the culture and some women still feel weak in front of men. They need to build their confidence.

Stella: The lack of confidence in women is still observable, some men and women are resistant to gender equality, and the misunderstanding of gender equality in both men and women can lead to violence from both sexes.

Zilpah: There is still a certain nasty mindset that to educate children and do household activities is a women’s business.

What are some challenges you face?

Geraldine: It is a challenge to work in a country like Rwanda which is in transition from traditional culture to modernization.

Stella: Let me say that the first challenge I face is related to giving my opinion! However, I have to be who I am!

Zilpah: To make Rwandans understand that no one is getting the upper hand in gender equality, that everyone is equal to the other one. This is the challenge I may face.

What, if anything, have you learned about gender equality from Peace Corps Volunteers?

Geraldine: I’ve learned a lot from married couples by seeing a husband who is more active than his wife, like in cooking, washing dishes, etc.

Stella: First, Peace Corps Volunteers and Peace Corps in general, helped me to discover and to accept who I am. Competition, creativity and commitment exist in both women and men; valuing this leads to success. There are no tasks just for women or just for men, we are equal and we can do what we WANT to do and BE WHO WE WANT TO BE regardless our gender.

Zilpah: Respect.  Everyone feels responsible and able to mutually help each other, especially married couples.

Finish this sentence: I believe we will have gender equality when...

Geraldine: The mind of Rwandans will change in both men and women.

Stella: Both women and men accept that there is no weak person, but a weak mind!

Zilpah: Everyone will make it priority number one.


LCF Photo Credit: Mario Amaya-Velazquez

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Healthy Living Workshop by Tara S.



Tara Sullivan

Muhanga District, Southern Province






“Health is very important to development because no development without health. When people are in good health, they create and innovate, they think about projects and realize them using appropriate materials and their arms.” –NZAGATUMA Aline, student at Groupe Scolaire Kibangu

Aline is a fourteen year old Rwanda girl who is actively involved in the GLOW Club at G.S. Kibangu, the school where I work.  I would describe her as small and springy with the most beautiful smile that she is not afraid to share with the world.   I read her response to the assignment and knew she would be a perfect fit to attend the Healthy Living Workshop in Kigali put on by Peace Corps GAD committee. 

I asked the BE Club what they believed they biggest health problem in Rwanda was for their assignment.  Hubert, the president, responded,

“The biggest health problem in Rwanda is HIV/AIDS.  I think all people of Rwanda can listen advice of Government and to avoid sexual intercourse without condom.”

I appreciated his response because of his candidness and thoughtfulness.  As a 16 year-old Rwandan boy he understood that he has a responsibility to help with health problems in his country.   Hubert was also invited to attend the Healthy Living Workshop. 

So early on Friday Morning May 22nd we met at the mini-bus stand in my village and we began our adventure.  We met with another volunteer, Kim, and her students for lunch in Kigali and then we explored the city.  We walked past the president’s house, saw some fruit bats, walked past the most fancy hotels, and saw the big banks.  The highlight of the day was our ride up a glass elevator in Kigali City Tower.  Most of the students had never been in an elevator before, so the experience was both wonderful and a bit scary for them. 

The Healthy Living Workshop was held at a hotel near the Amahoro Stadium in Kigali.  There were 18 volunteers in attendance, 3 leading the workshop and 15 who brought students.  The students were from all over the country, with different backgrounds and opportunities.  At first they were a little shy but by the end of the weekend they found new friends.

On Saturday the students had classes on Nutrition, Exercise, Body Image/Self Esteem, Mental Health, and HIV/AIDS.  They discussed how these issues pertain to both men and women but in different ways.  Empowering both women and men to lead healthy lives contributes to gender equality in a variety of ways.  For example education on women’s health allows women to make well-informed decisions when it comes to their reproductive health, mental health, and nutrition.  This gives women the power over their own bodies, which traditionally were often under the control of their husbands.  Educating men on mental health and self esteem gives them healthy ways to cope with stress and other emotions which can in turn reduce violence and substance abuse.  Also by educating young men about sexual health they can hold equal responsibility in practicing safe sex.  Education about healthy living is critical to promoting gender equality for both sexes.

After the students finished their lessons, we made an action plan for our school.  Aline and Hubert plan to teach these same lessons in their GLOW and BE clubs at the school, thus spreading the knowledge even further.  They also agreed to talk to their basketball and football (soccer) teams about some of the information they learned and do some of the activities with them.  As they educate more and more of their peers the benefits of the workshop will be seen throughout the community. 

We finished the day with some wacky Olympics that included a dance competition, a dribbling race, and an egg on the spoon race.   Both Aline and Hubert did a fantastic job and really put their all into the races.




It was a blue-sky morning as we walked over to the stadium on Sunday. The Kigali Peace Marathon was the big event, but our thirty students along with four of us volunteers ran the 5K Fun run. I ran around the stadium with Olive, a young female student.  We kept a slow but consistent pace, and soon enough were back at the stadium.  I told her to finish strong and we sprinted across the finish line.  One of the students actually won the 5K race, which was very exciting.  After lots of photos and some snacks we headed home.  With more knowledge and lots of enthusiasm to share all that we learned with our friends at home. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

World Malaria Month by Grace M.






Grace Mullin
Muhanga District, Southern Province




April 25th started World Malaria Month. As many of you may know, Malaria is a huge problem in much of Africa, in fact 90% of malaria deaths occur in Africa, most of those in children under 5 years old, and the equivalent of $13 billion is spent each year in Africa on Malaria (that is 910,000,000,000Rwf). That is an enormous sum of money, and if used for other things, could really advance so much in Rwanda, and Africa as a whole. The reality: with the proper precautions, malaria really can be eliminated.

Sure, malaria is a huge issue, but this is a Gender and Development blog, so of course we have to tie it into that. So I will do so on two fronts.

The first is that pregnant women are at a much higher risk of having severe complications from contracting malaria. To begin with, pregnant women release chemicals that attract mosquitoes, putting them at higher risk of contracting malaria to begin with. Furthermore, once they contract it, it affects their bodies more, as their immune system is weakened, and the parasite can occupy the placenta without detection, which can cause harm to the unborn baby, including early delivery, low birthweight, and potentially the passing of malaria to the unborn child (congenital malaria). For this reason, Ministry of Health standards in Rwanda mandate that every woman receives a mosquito net during her first pregnancy. The problem though, is many women in Rwanda refuse to sleep under their nets. Many find them hot, or have fears, mostly based on old methods of chemically treating the nets, that the nets can negatively impact their health. It is important as Community Health Volunteers, Education Volunteers and Educated Rwandans to help these mothers to understand the risks they put themselves and their babies at, by not sleeping under the mosquito net every night. Sure the nets can make you slightly hotter, and the net has been known on a very rare occasion to make someone itchy, but the consequences of not sleeping under the nets can be deadly. For the sake of camaraderie and for cross-sector education and support, I will debunk a few of the malaria myths (and then move on to my second focus of this blog).
  • Certain groups are more susceptible to severe complications from malaria, these are children under 5 years old, pregnant women, people from areas that are not endemic to malaria (and therefore have no immunity to them) and people living with HIV/AIDS (or another immunodeficient condition).
  • In 2013, WHO estimates that 198 million clinical cases of malaria occurred and 500,000 people died of malaria, most of those were children in Africa (CDC Website, "Malaria FAQs," accessed May 5, 2015).
  • The Anopheles mosquito generally feeds at night, and then rests inside on the upper portions of walls to digest its meal. There are other mosquitoes that bite during the day, or have different resting patterns, but these are not mosquitoes that cause malaria. This is why being under a mosquito net during peak hours is so key to prevention.
  • Mosquitoes need stagnant water to lay their eggs, which is why one of the important prevention techniques is to eliminate stagnant water from around the house (even a piece of trash can hold enough water for a mosquito to lay eggs).
  • Many believe that chopping down bushes by one's house is the key to preventing mosquitoes. While this may be a good practice for other things, it is not known to impact mosquitoes or the rates of malaria.
  • Mosquito nets should be tucked under the mattress, holes should be repaired (they can be sewn with just a needle and thread), they should be washed gently with non-abrasive soap 3 times per year, and left in the shade to dry.
  • Anyone who has symptoms of malaria should seek treatment immediately, and if prescribed, should take all of their medicine to completion.
  • When awareness campaigns, prevention techniques, diagnostic tests, transportation to health centers/posts, medicine costs and loss of wages due to illness, are all taken into account, one can see how much Malaria really does cost.
  • Malaria IS spread from person to person, just not in the traditional sense. No, one person cannot directly give malaria to another person, but if a person sick with malaria is bitten by a female Anopheles mosquito, the mosquito can transfer that malaria to another person. An Anopheles mosquito cannot be born with malaria; it must contract it from a human. If no one has malaria, the mosquito cannot spread it.
  • Many people are under the assumption that because malaria has never made them sick, it is not important for them to try to prevent it. The reality is: it may not make them sick, but they can pass it on to someone who may become very sick.
  • Malaria, if left untreated, can kill.
So, that is my pitch on how malaria works, and my plea to remember how it is a GAD issue because it affects pregnant women (and other vulnerable groups) at a more serious rate than some other members of society.



My second focus of this blog is the Southern Region of Rwanda's Malaria Tour that took place this week. During the tour, 8 volunteers were able to visit through 3 schools and 1 health center reaching approximately 1,000 children with malaria education. Through this tour, the volunteers were able to integrate GAD work, by being mindful of the participation in both genders and utilizing programs GAD has previously created.
  • On multiple occasions, volunteers could be heard thanking boys for their answers, and then requesting for a girl to answer the next question, thus creating an environment of equality.
  • A few of the lessons taught were attended by a significant number of female students, who were given voices to share their knowledge and opinions.
  • Both boys and girls worked together in healthy and productive ways to complete activities, play games, answer questions and put on skits/songs.
  • At one of the secondary schools, the female students took the lead on a rap they had written about malaria.
  • The first malaria session of the tour was organized by GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) and BE (Boys Excelling) Clubs at the school. These clubs were extensions of the GLOW and BE camps that had taken place in the past. The students that had attended the camps were able to take what they learned and bring it back to other students, who participated in these clubs, who were, in turn, able to take all that they had learned to help give it back to the entire school.
 
Rwanda's Southern Region Malaria Tour

Under the Mosquito Net

Malaria Skit

Final Lesson of the Malaria Tour


 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dance of the Lioness

Brooke T.
Ngoma District, Eastern Province 
My name is Brooke and I have been a volunteer in Rwanda for over 8 months now. I joined the Gender and Development Committee, because for the first time in my life, I see extreme gender discrimination and I wanted to do something about it. Growing up as a female in America, this was never something I saw and felt on a day to day basis. Not to say that gender equality isn’t an issue in America, because it is, but because I had never personally felt blatantly discriminated against for being female. At my young age of 23, I’ve never been turned away from a job because I am a woman. I’ve never felt unequal to or less favored by teachers than my male peers. I’ve never been told that certain things I desire were out of my reach because I am a woman. Living in Rwanda for these past 8 months has opened my eyes up to many things, one of which is the obvious gender inequality that exists here and in other developing countries all over the world.
            A problem that I have continually faced during my projects here is getting girls to participate…in anything. I have had multiple events at the community center in my area, including a World AIDS Day event and art lessons in the center, and yet, only boys show up. Maybe 1 in 15 of the students who showed up to these events was female. My first response to this was frustration. Why would girls not participate? Don’t they want to better themselves and seize these opportunities? After some time and thought, I began to try and understand these girls a little better. Do they not participate in these events because they are helping with household chores at home? Maybe they are shy and insecure because the culture values them less than their male peers. It was through this more understanding approach that I came up with the idea for my next event. I hoped this event would allow these girls to come out of their shells and participate in an activity without fear.
            I asked one of my coworkers if he would help teach a traditional dance class at the community center every week for a month. I had heard from other Rwandese that this was an activity that young girls enjoyed very much. My coworker, Pacifique, performs in the nearby town occasionally and is an incredible traditional dancer. He agreed and the first lesson was a big hit with the community. The first lesson was half girls and half boys. This event had a better turnout for girls than all my other events combined. As the weeks went on, the boys stopped coming and more and more girls were showing up. Unfortunately, after a little over a month, my coworker became too busy to continue the lessons. I still felt that these lessons were a huge success, even though they were short lived. Girls were willing to participate in certain things and in order to figure that out, I just need spend more time getting to know them and trying to understand them.

            I had heard traditional dance referred to as “the dance of the lion” before I had started these lessons, but I didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until later, when I learned that in the past, only male dancers participated in traditional dance, that I truly understood the irony of these all female dance classes. I think it’s safe to say that after the primarily female dance classes, the girls of Mutenderi (my village), can now refer to traditional dance as “the dance of the lioness.”

Friday, February 27, 2015

Gender Stereotypes by Grace M.


 
 



Grace Mullin
Muhanga District, Southern Province
PC Rwanda Health 6





Rwanda still has a ways to go in regards to gender equality... But so does the world. Living in a developing country, so very far from home in many aspects, has illuminated the strength with which gender stereotypes still exist in the United States. To some extent, it is much more pronounced in regards to men, as the stereotypically "masculine thing" has become much more blurred than the stereotypical "feminine thing."

Clothing is an area where these American stereotypes are still significantly pronounced, mostly in the sense of "men's colors" and "women's colors." While many women, especially those living in the villages, still wear skirts exclusively, many other clothes, clothes that in the United States would be clearly defined as either male or female, are equally shared between the genders. The stereotype of colors does not exist here. Men and women wear all colors of the rainbow without a second thought, it is not uncommon to see grown men in bubble gum pink shirts, floral attire, or rocking the Hello Kitty, and most shirts are worn extremely snug to the body. In fact, at our latest Southern District BE Camp (Boys Excelling), we had issues with the shirts because none of the boys, even those in their upper teens and beyond wanted anything other than small! They like it, they wear it (tight). It is that simple. Yes, poverty exists in this country, but despite what a fellow volunteer once suggested to me, these choices are not based on poverty. Given the choice between two clothes of equal quality, size and price, it is solely personal choice that make the decision, and personal choice can swing in either direction. There is no notion growing up that certain colors can only be liked by either gender. It is often impossible to tell the gender of a baby, and there are no outside cues to help you out. Blue, pink, loose, lacy... unlike in the "progressive" United States, these are all exchanged across the genders at free will. I like to think of myself as extremely progressive in my views of gender equality, yet even I often shock myself with my assumption of the gender of a baby or small child because they are wearing a blue hat, a tight purple sweater, or wrapped in a blanket that is fluffy and pink. These cues are so ingrained into our perceptions that it is hard to completely ignore them, even if you are conscious of them.

Another extreme example of stereotypes that exist in the United States can be seen by the touching culture that exists in this country. While homosexuality is not illegal here, it is not a protected class, and is by no means socially accepted across the population. What is interesting about this, is that for a country so fearful of relationships between those of the same gender, there is no stigmatization given to PDA amongst friends of the same gender. While the world is, in general, pretty accepting of this tradition among women, as it is often seen as sensitive and therefore "girly" in the viewpoint of much of the world, it is almost unheard of, in a variety of countries, especially in the United States. Men (as do women) hold hands here, they hug, and they sit on each other's laps. All of the time. It is interesting to see how this bothers many of our male volunteers. It has become a joke. We tease them that they are going to be holding hands with each other walking down the street before we leave, they laugh, but most of them shake their heads and have slight glimpses of panic in their eyes. Here though, not a single Rwandan would bat an eye. They are friends, they are close, they respect and cherish each other, and most importantly they were never told it was "girly" to hold someone's hand. It is only through our American eyes that it is "not normal."