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.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Educate Women - Do it Now! By Caitie G.

Caitie Gibbons 

Kigali City, Kigali 

Rwandan women are amazing, so much so that I cannot fathom everything they do in a day, let alone in a week. They are awake before sunrise sweeping both the inside and outside of the house. They’re out the door by six or seven headed to the fields with a baby on their back, and only tea in their stomach. They farm for eight hours a day, usually without eating. They arrive back to the home around sunset, wash, and begin preparing to cook dinner on charcoal in the dark; a three hour or longer process. They don’t relax until eight or nine earliest and depending on how many babies they have they don’t even relax then. They serve their husbands every want and need, even though they’ve worked all day. And they do all this respectfully and without complaint.

I could never do this. I did this for one day and afterward slept for a day and a half fatigued by all the strain I put my body through. 

As January arrived March 8, International Women’s Day, weighed heavily on my mind. International Women’s Day is a day of celebration and appreciation; it is also a day of action and change.  Women are the backbone to this country the unsung heroes, and this year this was going to be celebrated in some way.  
It came in the form of a training of over seventy participants, from governmental officials to local community leaders to volunteers serving abroad.  The training taught participants how to lead celebrations for women in their communities, initiating change, and promoting awareness in the gender gap.

Since the training in mid February, I have been fortunate enough to attend several celebrations and participate in conversations about gender in Rwanda. Many groups questioned if we needed more awareness on gender and if it was actually a problem in Rwanda. The most common thread among groups was that gender is a form of colonization. I’ve heard this argument before regarding a different subject eating raw vegetables, but I digress. Here’s the thing: development is a choice and about choosing that choice. Frankly, if you want to develop both sexes need to be equal, encouraged and given opportunities. When you limit an entire population based on their sex you are ultimately limiting your country from developing by limiting its resources and brain power. Only half of your population is being developed, only half of its people are using their brains for development.

The men, surprisingly, voiced their fears of educating women. After all they might take over, what would we do then? That may be true, and as much as I would personally like to see that future all over the world, I am careful to voice that. Gender and development is not about women taking over, but rather women having the right to choose without a firm male hand guiding her every decision.

The next question remained. So what now?

Education. Educate women and girls, educate all sexes equally. Educate about gender roles and norms. Educate woman and girls so that they can have a choice and access to other options.  
Ultimately my own goal for Woman’s Day was to use the Three E method. The Three E method was developed by a former PCV and an amazing woman. It goes like this: Empower, Encourage, Educate.

Empower (Women and girls to have confidence, make choices, and strive for what they want).

Encourage (To continue striving, we are in for the marathon not the sprint and there are many barriers for women).

Educate (Provide resources and all the knowledge you can to boys, girls, men and women).

Education does so many different things for development. It is the root of everything. It creates opportunities, increases critical thinking, decision making skills and provides access to different options. All of these things in a concrete sense sum up to producing jobs. Jobs are the source of economic growth which creates stability and leads us to development but it begins with education.  And not only providing an education but an equal opportunity education for both sexes. I work for a future in which every girl and woman has the choice and the skills to make that choice. Only then can development really truly occur. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

World's Apart; or are we? by Maria L.

Maria Lockhart

Ngororero, Northwest Rwanda

I was sitting at a soccer game the other day with a few friends after giving an HIV lesson to community members.  As we were sitting there, 5 young girls stood behind me and were having a seemingly controversial conversation in Kinyarwanda.  As I started to listen harder I realized that there were arguing about whether being a "doctor of cows" is a good or bad job.  I found myself laughing and reflecting on young girls in America.  What kinds of conversations do we hear 12-year-old girls having in America?  As this thought sprouted deeper ones, I started to think about whether women in Rwanda are so very different from those of us in America.

Being the youngest of four girls and one boy in a family with a single mother, I would say I have been exposed to quite a bit of feminism.  My mother has always driven the idea of being independent and never having to rely on a man to complete your goals or to be happy.  When I was 11-years old in my social studies class in middle school, my classmates and I were asked to draw a picture of ourselves in 20 years.  I looked around and noticed that others were drawing pictures of two-story houses with a man and woman holding hands, while holding the hands of two, three or four small children.  As the class posted their pictures on the board in the back, I grew self-conscious as I pinned mine next to the others.  Amongst the happy heterosexual families was my picture of me with a shaved head, wearing an army uniform.  In my hand was one baby, and next to that baby in parenthesis stated “adopted”, just in case anyone was under suspicion that I needed a man to have that baby.  I was the weird one now, because I had no dream of being married and finding a husband.  I was 11 years old in 1997.  17 years later, have things changed that drastically?  Are women’s dreams still only to be married and have children?  Can a successful career and fulfilled dreams mean nothing if you have no man or partner to share it with? 

In Rwanda, I believe that having a husband and child is a need of many women.  While this is something in common with America, the drive behind this can be quite different.  Women in Rwanda are not given the same opportunities as majority of women in America.  Often women are not able to live independently or leave their parent’s home until they have found a man.  If a single woman lives in the village alone, you may find that she is criticized and mocked.  People can say she is promiscuous, or is a sex-worker; therefore finding friendships may be difficult.  While things are quite different in the capital city, Kigali, this struggle for women is met for the majority of the country who live in the surrounding villages.  This makes the search for a man a crucial one.  If you would like a life with your basic needs met, or a life independent from the one you’ve been raised in, most times you must search for the man with the means.   

These reasons are clearly breeding what I consider a very male-dominated society here in Rwanda.  The women are left with limited options, and are often times valued through their ability to have children and behavior as a wife.  Why is it then, in America, do women still value their lives at times through men?  We have the means and capabilities to have dreams beyond just finding a man and raising children?  Our privilege, even in the lowest income neighbors in Detroit, far exceed those in Rwanda.  I do not believe that the amount of women on a man-hunt in America greatly exceed those who are not, however in 1997 I do recall that very few girls had dreams of their own outside of raising a family.  Perhaps if I went into that classroom today, there would be pictures of all different sorts spread across that wall.  Maybe there would be some drawings with families, and others with girls flying planes to other countries, or opening the next big computer company.  I do know however, that my experience in life in these short 28 years, I do not see a huge difference between America and Rwanda in terms of woman valuing oneself through the man they found.  The difference I do see however is that women in Rwanda have a far greater need to find this man since their life can remain stagnant until they do so.  So what is it that needs adjusting in this world to make women more independent and less in need of a partner, but simply just a want?

I believe self-worth is what is needed.  Women in the world and Rwanda in general need to believe in their own self-worth and ability.  We can do some pretty amazing things, especially the incredibly strong women I have had the privilege to know in Rwanda.  So when can we start believing that we are the bread and the butter that we need?  This is not to say that a desire to have a family and life-long partner is a flaw in a woman, because I do not believe that.  However, when a majority of women in the world have to make this their priority and need, instead of a desire, this is when I believe it is a symptom of sexism.  When a woman chooses to have a family because she has gotten to a stage in her life where she wants to share and have a companionship, there is a true beauty in that life.  However what I am seeing here in Rwanda is that women are forced into a position where they must find a man and have children in order to have any sort of life here.  This is something that I believe GAD here in Rwanda wants to help influence and change.  Helping women believe they are worthy of having their own life with their own dreams, this is the kind of message I can only hope myself and others can share with young women in this country. 

American women, we are not many years out of oppression.  Sexism is still influencing our society, income and life in America greatly.  I believe it was in the most recent presidential election that a candidate expressed that companies need to be more flexible with women so they can go home and cook dinner for their families in a timely manner.  Perhaps if we can continue to grow out of these systematic flaws in America, then we can begin to understand how to be examples for other women in more challenging situations like the ones women are facing here in Rwanda.  I had my mother as an example of how to have self-value outside of a man, and I hope to be that same example to Rwandan women.  I attempt to live independently with pride and dignity here.  I attempt to say through my actions that I am happy and content, man or not.  Perhaps culturally, myself and other female PCVs here in Rwanda are viewed upon as strange or too old to not have children, however we may also be confirming one girls dreams to be something other than a wife with five children.  So keep on keeping on ladies of the world.  Worldwide we need these examples, not only just here in Rwanda.  Be that example and let women choose their own dreams, whether that be with a man, a woman, children, or not.  The men will begin to understand, and perhaps they too will begin to fall out of the places that society has molded for them as well.  Rwanda cannot come to the place it desires to be until both men and women alike are educated and creating opportunities.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Access by James D

James D

Nyagatare, Eastern Province

Life is all about access. Access to education, to the right networks for employment, to water, even to family planning. Generally speaking, fertility is often higher in poorer families within society for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons is a families income, and countries that have higher fertility rates often have a lower average income. Low incomes for families modifies the variety of economic opportunities that are possible. While Family Planning is not unheard of in Rwanda, many families at some point have to make a choice about who to send to school, and more times than not the family sends the male children to school and keeping the girls behind at home to help with the growing family. 

During Pre-Service Training, in the sub site Karama, where I lived, there were trails of used condom wrappers up to an area known as "the rocks." From there it was obvious that teenagers were having sex even though no one in the community was talking about it. But it was nice to know that condoms were available to the youth that lived in the area. However that is not always the case in all areas of Rwanda. My village in Nyagatare is heavily religious. On Saturday's the town center is virtually shut down as the majority of villagers are 7th Day Adventists and are in church throughout the day. The village doesn't have a bar or a butchery as 7th Day Adventists do not drink or eat meat. There are a few boutiques that sell contraceptives but they are both operated by men. At the health center condoms are offered at consultations however the only nurses at the health center are men, and that might intimidate single women or secondary students from getting what is available to them. The weekly family planning consultations have wide support with the older women of the village, and the health center regularly gives out oral contraception or the IUD. But not all women attend these consultations. When I asked the midwife at my health center why more women don't come in to use these free services that are provided for them her response was that many might not know that they are available. Each village has one community health worker responsible for helping with family planning but one person per village can only do so much. 

This brings me back to access. Access to education is extremely important. Especially education about ones own health and benefits. Luckily the Ministry of Education has just recently released plans for a nationwide secondary school sex education program. The logic behind the program is to try and curb the number of teenage pregnancies but also to inspire self esteem and teach about HIV/AIDS. This is a step in the right direction and hopefully one day all women and men will have the access they deserve to family planning. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Peace, Unity & Love- GLOW Camp 2013 by Hannah N.

Hannah N.
Ruhango District, Byimana Sector

As the new year begins, I have taken some time to reflect on my first six months of service. Did I accomplish any of my original goals? Have I successfully aided the community in some manner? Although it has only been a short period, I can say yes.
 Before I came to Rwanda, I knew that I wanted to participate in the GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camps. I grew up attending summer camp, and I loved the endless activities and camaraderie that resulted from spending (almost) 24 hour days with a group of girls my age. Summer camp was an unforgettable experience, integral to my youth. GLOW Camp, I know, has served the exact same purpose for Rwandan teenage girls, though with more fervor and gusto. Like most camps, GLOW had its arts and crafts, recreation, and talent show, but most importantly, it taught girls how to be empowered through goal-setting and HIV/AIDS education. It was an opportunity to use and practice their English, without judgment being passed. It was an open space, for girls to ask any and all questions about life and love. Furthermore, GLOW Camp was a getaway from family pressures and cultural expectations, a time to have fun and enjoy youth.
Girls from across the Southern Region were able to connect on common ground, and it is my hope, and the goal of GLOW Camp, that these bonds of friendship not only continue, but that they share the message they learned with their peers at school and in the community.

GLOW Camp helps make possible gender equality in Rwanda, and I am proud to be a part of this movement. 

-Hannah N. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Camp #TechKobwa by Liz S.

 Liz S. 
Karongi District, Western Provinch

A couple weeks ago, I had the great pleasure in working at Camp TechKobwa, a camp designed to encourage girls to pursue interests in science and technology. The camp was the brain child of Ed3 volunteer, Lyla Fujiwara, but around 15 volunteers from around Rwanda contributed to the camp in some way. It was hosted at Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology in Bugesera District in the Eastern Province. 48 girls attended from 7 different schools, representing all 5 provinces and over 10 districts.

Zach and Joselyn oversee the lesson teaching Email and Internet security 

The girls studied a range of subjects including computer basics, touch typing, email, internet and computer security, basic programming, circuits, excel, blogging, and photography. With the school's two computer labs, each girl could use her own computer - a first for many. With Rwanda's large class sizes, if a school has a computer lab, students often must share one computer between 2-4 students.

Elisabeth and Judi help students learn programming using Scratch
Each volunteer brought along an ICT teacher from his or her school. These teacher's were able to learn all the lessons during the Training of Trainers over the weekend preceding the camp and in turn helped their students master the lessons during the week. With their help, students can return to their schools and work with their ICT teacher to start a computer or media club to share what they've learned with other students. Additionally, with Peace Corps Volunteers, ICT teachers, and various Tech Experts that were invited to teach the lessons, the student to teacher ratio was often 3:1 or 4:1. Students received one on one attention to help them understand new concepts and master new skills on the computer.  

Two students engineers build their Quake Machine using LittleBits

Girls didn't just learn skills on the computer. They explored other aspects of science and technology as well. LittleBits, a company that makes a kind of electronic legos, donated several kits to the camp for the girls to use. Different pieces represent different parts of a circuit (battery, wire, dimmer, motor). Girls connected the pieces to create their own little machines. They then used the machines to run experiments and record data they then used to make a graph in excel. In a photography lesson, students got to play around with digital cameras. They learned about shutter speed and made their own "light painting" photo where they drew out the word of something they wanted to be in the future. Answers included (but certainly not limited to) journalist, doctor, nurse, singer and famous.

The first of two career panels. This one focused on women in the media.
 Throughout the week, the girls were supported not only by PCVs and their teachers, but also a number of Tech Experts and guest speakers. They learned how to create a gmail account from a man who worked for Google. They learned programming from a software designer and excel from a data analyst, both women working at Partners in Health. Our Public Relations Liaison, Akaliza Keza Gara, pictured above on the far right, (blogger, founded her own company, and works with female technology entrepreneurs across Rwanda) not only taught lessons but also served as Dorm Mama. She helped to find women entrepreneurs o serve as guest speakers. These women were writers, filmmakers, scientists, software developers, and many other things on the side. They provided insight, advice, and words of encouragement for girls as they pursue their own dreams.

A team of girls cheer on their teammate during the Field Day competition

 Girls had a lot of fun, too, in and outside of lessons. Everyday the girls could participate in different sports from basketball to frisbee. They played computer games and made paper machee piggy banks. They watched movies and did a lot of dancing. On the last day, there was a camp-wide competition between the 6 different groups. Through these activities, girls were encouraged to be LOUD - something Rwandan girls often struggle to do. We hope the girls not only learned about computers and technology, but also were empowered to speak out more in class, to participate more in their own learning, and not be afraid to have fun.
Volunteer Lauren stands with her students from T.T.C. Muramba proudly displaying their certificates
The camp was an amazing experience to be a part of and is one of the highlights of my service thus far. The girls seemed really excited and engaged, and you could see real pride in them by the end of the week. We hope many will continue to use what they learned back at their schools by starting clubs and encouraging the administration to promote the use of technology in their schools, especially for girls. And most importantly, we hope they had fun and feel proud of themselves and their accomplishments. They're an incredible bunch of girls!!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Speak Up! by Eliza F.

Eliza F.
Ruhango District, Southern Province
 Term 2 of the school year has (finally) come to an end. The last few days have been spent frantically marking papers and exams, calculating grades, and sitting in teacher meetings. I’m ready for the break. I have grand plans for the next two weeks – visiting other PCVs, reading some books, baking a chocolate cake, cleaning my jerry cans. But I also have started to and will continue to think critically about how to improve my teaching and my students’ learning during term 3.  
One of the largest challenges I want to tackle next term is the reticence of the girls in my classroom. I teach Senior 4, 5, and 6. In Senior 6, the second in the class is a girl, in Senior 4, the first. However, these two incredibly intelligent young women are totally silent during my lessons, as are most of their female peers.  Why? Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely quiet boys too, even ones who I know are following along and could answer my questions. But it's not to the extent that my girls remain silent. In Senior 4, my top student will sometimes whisper the answer but when I ask her to repeat her answer more loudly, she withdraws into herself. Of what is she really afraid?
Reflecting on this dilemma, I remember the fact that in high school, I was pretty quiet myself. I earned good grades but getting me to participate in class was like pulling teeth. Part of this had to do with the fact that I’m not an especially talkative person. But the other part, and the far more serious one, was that I didn’t want to risk making a mistake. Even in America, I felt that my reputation as being intelligent was more fragile because I was a girl. The best I could do was to protect that reputation by never taking chances in the classroom.
Now, as a teacher, I want my students to take the chances I didn't. Especially when studying a foreign language, refusing to participate is incredibly detrimental to your learning. I want my students to speak up! Some PCVs don't like to speak ikinyarwanda around their students, because, after all, we’re here in order to bring our native English speaking to the villages. This strategy is a good one and I understand its benefits. But I use another one- I regularly speak ikinyarwanda to my colleagues, headmaster, and students (outside of the classroom) with the hope that by allowing people to see me trying my best at their language (read: making a fool of myself), they’ll let their guard down and try speaking English.
I don’t know if this actually works but I do know that I REALLY try to make my students comfortable with making mistakes in front of me. But that won’t help the students who don’t have the courage to take risks. Because being a girl in a classroom does take courage, both in Rwanda and in the U.S. It’s not just about knowing the answer, it’s also about believing that people care about what you have to say, and that when you inevitably make a mistake, that you will still be respected by the people around you. Development workers, teachers, and society as a whole must support the voices and opinions of the girls and women in our world. We have to teach them that not only their “good” ideas are important to hear, but also their mistakes. That’s an awful lot for me to think about – I might not get around to cleaning my jerry cans after all.