This is Our Dream

Patricia Shafer, November 3, 2017

Mwiko Scholars

The first large group of donor-sponsored Mothering Across Continents scholars in Rwanda is finishing high school! Ten of 30 “Mentoring Mwiko” scholars are studying for national exams and anticipating graduation later this month.Mentoring Mwiko Scholars at Byimana_with Patricia

These three incredible young women are completing studies at the school of excellence Groupe Scolaire Notre Dame de Lourdes, an amazing environment with 800 students; a dedication to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); and a working farm to meet student meal and nutrition needs.

ScholarsIt was only eight years ago that a student-inspired mural called “This is Our Dream” was painted on Mwiko Primary School, the place from which nearly all of our current scholars came. This rural school of 592 students near enormous volcanoes and lots of tourism in the northern province of Rwanda has extremely limited resources. It had previously never had a merit-based scholarship program. This is Our DreamContinuing an education after 6th grade (P6) typically means attending what’s called a “9-years Basic school” by walking 50 minutes one way and 50 minutes back each day.Students use tablets Pivot Academy

Instead, the 6th through 12th grade (S1-S6) “journey” for these scholars has included clean, comfortable boarding schools; mentoring for both students and parents/guardians; and participation in Pivot Academy, an innovative STEM-based program using Tablets that we piloted with high schools.

The journey’s not over by any means – they’re just approaching a monumental milestone. Guided by our Country Director Jackson Vugayabago, all of the soon-to-graduate students toured campuses in capital city Kigali, including Kepler University and Akilah Institute. After they finish exams at the end of November, the new high school graduates return to home village Mwiko, await exam results, and work toward college applications or other life and career options.

We’re holding our collective breath and crossing fingers. This first big class of merit scholar graduates will set a tone for brothers and sisters of what’s possible when you dream big and work hard.

Women Helping Women – From North Carolina to South Sudan

Patricia Shafer, October 30, 2017

Working together to clean out the Women's Center

Ann Evans and Days for GirlsMore than 70 teachers from schools in Old Fangak, South Sudan, will soon be in annual training that spans a three-month break. A challenge for women teachers is training days lost if menstrual hygiene products are not available . . . Dr. Ann Evans, Ellene Place, and volunteers in North Carolina are helping.

In the years we’ve provided education support to schools in East Africa, we’ve become acutely aware of difficulties women and girls have finding and purchasing menstrual hygiene products. We’ve researched a number of options and had informative conversations with DaysforGirls, RUMPS, and social enterprises.

We see a sustainable strategy emerging for 2018, but sometimes immediate needs just have to be addressed. When Sr. Barbara Paleczny of Solidarity with South Sudan emailed, “Please, is there any way to provide menstrual hygiene products for women teachers during upcoming training in Old Fangak?” the answer was “yes.” After all, Dr. Ann Evans started what’s become a Mothering Across Continents project under the theme “Women at the Center,” and she’ll be back in South Sudan in November.

Woman repairs mudhut homesOf course, Ann being the Ann we know and love found a creative, relationship-focused way to obtain the needed products. She arranged to meet Ellene Place, a former quilter in Pinehurst, NC, who switched to making #DaysforGirls menstrual hygiene kits. A small group of volunteers gathers in her home and sews together. Over lunch, Ann showed Ellene photos of Old Fangak village, its residents and women teachers who will benefit.

Let’s Meet at Charlotte International Airport

Patricia Shafer, October 26, 2017CLT International_Karen Kendall, Alishia Sullivan, Patricia Shafer_Oct. 2017

“Let’s meet at Charlotte International Airport”. . . so said Australian Karen Kendall of Shamida Ethiopia, Alishia Sullivan from the Abu Dhabi office of Squire Patton Boggs, and Patricia Shafer of Mothering Across Continents (MAC) returning to the US from Argentina. Of the three, I’m the latter – Patricia Shafer.

It’s not entirely unusual for me to have meetings in airports. I’m on the road or in the air a lot. For instance, I spent much of the month of October in Virginia expanding our NewGen Peacebuilders program with high schools and universities across much of the state. In November, I’ll visit school projects in Rwanda and South Sudan. I once met a potential partner from Colorado in the Nairobi International airport.

Karen and little boy Shamida EthiopiaBut this meeting – with Karen and Alishia was beyond special and full of serendipity. How is it the stars align such that three women hailing from, living in, and or working on four different continents can find themselves having coffee this way? A simple answer is that we are all involved in programs and efforts to support vulnerable children. A better answer, I believe, is that a force greater than all of us wanted me and other people to hear about Karen Kendall, who established Shamida Ethiopia. Through her daily management of Shamida Ethiopia Karen cares for orphans and vulnerable children, reunites street children with families and guardians, and empowers single mothers to care for their babies. Karen does all of this as the mother of Ruby, the daughter she adopted in Ethiopia in 2012.

Two boys Shamida EthiopiaOver the two hours the three of us spent together, I learned that Karen and Shamida Ethiopia includes clean, comfortable housing but also a spirit of helping where the most need arises. I am moved by Karen’s collaboration with nonprofit Hamlin Fistula Hospital which provides comprehensive care for women who suffer from physical impairments related to pregnancy and delivery. As Hamlin Fistula USA notes, “In the United States, serious maternal injuries during childbirth are rare, but in Ethiopia . . . problems such as obstructed birth mean that labor can last for several days, with life-altering consequences. Stillbirths are common and grieving mothers are often left with debilitating physical injuries such as obstetric fistula, a condition that renders women unable to control leakage of urine and feces . . . isolating and depressing.”

I am thankful to Alishia for setting up this meeting. I had just come off a long international flight and there they were, waiting in a tiny coffee shop at a busy airport. They opened my eyes and made my heart bloom.

Women at the Center

Dr. Ann Evans, September 6, 2017Women celebrate gift of hand grain grinders from Dr. Ann

For several years, I’ve been traveling to Old Fangak, South Sudan, a community once known as a sleepy little riverside village that has grown dramatically. My trips began to support the medical work of a truly amazing woman, Dr. Jill Seaman. She would never say it, but her work in humanitarian healthcare is legendary. Unexpectedly, my involvement in Old Fangak greatly expanded after I gave a modest gift of grinders to a group of local women.

Their gratitude was overwhelming, and we were soon working side by side, grinding grain and clearing weeds from a half-finished, abandoned cement block building. The women cut thigh-high brush with their “pangas” and I finished construction by adding a roof. The building became the anchor for the “Women at the Center – South Sudan” project in Old Fangak.

Two classes of women studentsEducation for All
Each time I met with the women, it was clear that lack of education is a heartbreaking gap for them and their children. At a first informal literacy/numeracy class, 400 women showed up. We also spoke about the lack of even one functioning primary school for the children. More construction ensued with metal buildings for classrooms. Today, there are 1,300 children attending with textbooks aligned to the national curriculum. Girls are 50% of new students. It was an honor when South Sudan’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology nominated the work for a UNESCO prize. Click here to watch a video.

Porridge Servings_Old Fangak Community School_2017Hunger is an Enemy
Last year, was particularly hard for these women and their community. One brutal reality of South Sudan is the impact of hunger. In 2016, women and children we serve had to literally forage for food. We are eternally grateful that this year, with support from nonprofit Rise Against Hunger, the Women at the Center project includes a daily serving of porridge to all children at the Old Fangak primary school and a sustainable agriculture pilot with fast-growing crops. By the end of this year, an even more substantial meals program should be in place for older children who have longer school days. The agriculture pilot is also being expanded to include a greater variety of grains and vegetables.

Old_Fangak_South_Sudan_Patricia_Shafer_and_Ann_Evans_600Collaborations Matter
On this challenging but rewarding journey, I’ve met incredible, like-minded people. Canadian Sister Barbara Paleczny has become a lifelong friend while bringing teacher training to the community through nonprofit South Sudan. And it was a welcome surprise to meet Patricia Shafer, Executive Director of Mothering Across Continents, and learn of MAC’s similar work in a totally different part of South Sudan. We spent a year establishing a relationship, and 10 months ago Women at the Center became a MAC flagship project. This management support and nonprofit status accelerated and increased Women at the Center – South Sudan’s impact.

Students with Personal Chalkboards_Old Fangak School_May 2017On My Next Trip
This November, the first thing I’ll do when I return to Old Fangak is meet with the women to discuss how things are going with them and children attending primary school. The project’s recent addition of an Early Childhood Development program is unique to much of Africa and previously unknown in Old Fangak. There will be a planning session ways to keep expanding classes for adults, especially women who have never had the most basic education.

But as much as has been accomplished, I’m just one woman. Being a flagship project of MAC sustains the vision. The project can always use more desks, education scholarships for women, uniforms, teacher training . . . I welcome support for these women and children with open arms.

Click Here to Donate

Thumbs Up, Eyes on the Sky . . . for Peace

Patricia Shafer, August 25, 20172 NewGen 2 IYLEP thumbs up

At NewGen Peacebuilders, our mission is: “to make learning to be a peacebuilder a rite of passage (for everyone).” Typically, this involves facilitating intense, locally-specific training and peace project mentoring for high school and university students in multiple states and countries.

But we didn’t hesitate when invited to host a customized session that brought together Iraqi and US high school students at International House in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Iraqi students were visiting through the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) sponsored by the US Embassy in Baghdad and US State Department, and administered by World Learning. The US students are outstanding NewGen Peacebuilders alumni certified during a Spring 2017 cohort in Charlotte made possible with funds from District 7680 of Rotary International.

Ayah and Qaisy-NametagsAppreciation & Role Models
Imagine 25 Iraqi and US high school students sharing ideas about citizen diplomacy and peacebuilding. Before walking in, they knew nothing about one another. To break the ice, students shared favorite songs; practiced greeting each other in English, Arabic and Kurdish; and listed people they admire as peace role models. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., resonates across borders and cultures.

Group eclipse tightBonding Over an Eclipse
This NewGen Peacebuilders session occurred on August 21, a day highly anticipated for the “Great American Eclipse.” We leveraged the eclipse as a shoulder-to-shoulder, elbow-to-elbow opportunity to build bonds. Students learned that a famous eclipse occurred in 763 BCE during the Assyrian Empire, what is now modern-day Iraq. Some records indicate that insurrection in the city of Ashur was interpreted as a consequence of the 5-minute total eclipse. Notes from Greek historian Herodotus record that a solar eclipse in 585 BCE prompted an end to war between the Lydians and Medes who saw dark skies as a sign to make peace.

Simon and Bug handshake tighterTheir Story, Our Story
A multi-step exercise involved shifting from perceptions of one another (“they”) to a unified story of how to shape peace projects at home in both countries (“we”). First, Iraqi and US students separately listed notions of “the other” that are reinforced by the media. Then, in pairs, each Iraqi and US student expressed who he/she REALLY is and practiced Active Listening. Last, Iraqi and US students worked in groups to imagine solutions to three common problems: 1) educational barriers; 2) racial and ethnic conflicts; and 3) political violence.

Cross Cultural Peacebuilder Workshop IYLEP 2017What Next – Projects
Good talk should lead to action. The IYLEP program requires Iraqi students to pursue change projects when they return home. Many of the US students called the session “one of the most exciting things we’ve ever done.” Several said they are inspired to build on peace projects they technically completed earlier in 2017. One project involves being cross-cultural mentors to refugees and immigrants. Another project focuses on training voters how to be open to differing political viewpoints.

Want to know more about NewGen Peacebuilders? Click here to watch a short video.

Do Umbrellas Make Good Teachers?

Patricia Shafer, August 18, 2017

Teachers with UmbrellasWhen people first hear about our Raising South Sudan education project they often say, “Do you build schools?” Answer: “Yes.”

For example, there’s the Nyarweng Primary School inspired by former Lost Boys of Sudan James Lubo Mijak and Ngor Kur Mayol and their friends Phillips Bragg and Karen Puckett. And we’re improving the facilities of the Gumriak Primary School established by former Lost Boy James Manyror.

But sustainable education also depends on teachers being paid, appreciated, and provided with resources – from classroom materials to coats, boots and umbrellas during the rainy season.

MealsLunch, Tea, Agriculture
Hunger is one big barrier to learning. In 2017, two agencies of the United Nations declared famine in certain parts of the country. At Raising South Sudan project schools, meals are provided to all students. Lunch and tea breaks are a daily treat and motivator for teachers. And through a collaboration with nonprofit Rise Against Hunger, we’ve been expanding gardens and farms to improve nutrition and create cash crops that help sustain schools.

BooksBooks, Materials, Training
South Sudan has an approved national curriculum, but most schools don’t have materials. With donations from US schools participating in our Walk for Wisdom service learning fundraisers, we bought teacher guides and student workbooks for all subjects across all grades. Grants from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Foundation and the Peeler/Casey Foundation funded an illustrated series of folktales and continuous training on lesson plan development for 30+ teachers and staff.

Sarah TeachingWomen, Girls, ECD Innovations
Most women in South Sudan haven’t finished primary school, so teaching staffs are generally male. So, we’re emphasizing education for girls. Thanks to proactive recruiting, girls make up 30+% of students at Raising South Sudan project schools and 50+% in Early Childhood Development classes. We were honored when South Sudan nominated this work for a UNESCO prize for girls’ and women’s literacy.

Gerald and Principal with computerSerious About Testing
Eighth graders (last year of primary school in South Sudan) recently completed mock national exams. The Gumriak school ranked #1 in Ruweng State, and Nyarweng ranked #3. But aspirations are even higher. Teachers must develop “schemes of work” and lesson plans, but professional development is rare. So, in September, our education facilitators are reviewing exam results and helping teachers set personal improvement goals for 2017 final exams and next year.

Will you help us continue this progress? Support the Teachers, Embrace Our Kids.
http://tinyurl.com/RSS-SupportTeachers

Letters of Thanks

Patricia Shafer, February 5, 2016

Piet age 13_ZambiaIt’s always heartwarming to open letters from a young man or woman expressing gratitude. We just received a Thank You from Piet Ng’andu in Zambia and Monykong Mijak Dau in South Sudan.

Piet, in his second year at Zambia’s Copperbelt University, wishes everyone a successful 2016. He received his first annual scholarship from a donor connected with Mothering Across Continents at age 13. His update includes: “I love all my courses. Calculus has been interesting as it has a lot of applications in engineering . . . I have enjoyed principles of Statics and Dynamics, as well as Surveying and Engineering Ngor in South SudanDesign. I thank you for your support without which I would not have managed to achieve what I have so far. Faithfully, Piet.“

Monykong – a nephew of our Raising South Sudan project catalyst and former Lost Boy of Sudan Ngor Kur Mayol – finished high school, Nov. 14, 2015, at a boarding school in Uganda. Over the years, he received scholarship support from his uncle Ngor and a friend, supplemented by a foundation in Salisbury, NC, and several Mothering Across Continents catalysts and supporters. In his letter, he writes of God bringing sponsors into Monykong Dau 2016his life and feeling loved. Reflecting, Monykong writes: “Here in Africa . . . I have discovered the significant role education plays in building character, unearthing and developing human potential, for the collective benefit of both a particular nation and the world at large.”

The thanks from Monykong and Piet remind us, in turn, to appreciate everyone who invests in another person’s development – especially a child’s. Education opens eyes and reveals a world otherwise unknown.

My Story, Our Story, Their Story

Patricia Shafer, February 1, 2016

We’re finding that “My Story, Our Story, Their Story” is a great way to facilitate conversations about conflict and peace. Introducing it to a Global Leadership Academy (GLA) that we’re facilitating at Vance High School in Charlotte, NC, added a new layer of insight and meaning.
 
NewGen Peacebuilders Mini Workshop GLA at Vance HS_Stories Excercise (2)_Jan 2016Consultant and collaborator Jim Ruberg first introduced us to the “Stories” exercise when we were looking for an activity to include in the NewGen Peacebuilders program. Our goal was to engage participating students in the notion that we all have many stories about conflict and peace in common. But everyone has unique personal experiences that are important to share, too. We captured this idea in an interactive poster exercise with “My” in the center for the individual, “Our” representing community stories, and “Their” in reference to global events. Thanks to the generosity of an individual donor and Foundation funding, we’ve been able to adapt and transfer the materials from NewGen Peacebuilders into the Vance global leadership learning journey.
 
NewGen Peacebuilders Mini Workshop GLA at Vance HS (3)_Stories Exercise_Jan 2016As often happens at Vance, creativity shone through. Even though the poster title reads “Stories of Peace,” several students decided that you can’t talk about peace without recognizing the presence of conflict, and the two are diametrically opposed. So, they took a marker and drew a big, heavy line down the middle. They added a level of intense artistry to the poster that we had never seen before. The laminated poster is washable, so we could clean it and use it again. But we won’t. Instead, we’ll frame it as an example for everyone of an all-out, fully-engaged conversation about what it takes to be a peacebuilder.  
 
Thank you, Vance, for allowing us to support you, and in the process helping us have more fun.

Connecting Children to Self, One Another, and the World

Patricia Shafer, December 18, 2015

Lynda-Boozer-in-La-PazStepping Stones – Mexico catalyst Lynda Boozer is getting ready to lead a third youth arts and creativity camp at La Ciudad de Los Niños y Niñas (Boys and Girls Town) orphanage in La Paz, Baja, Mexico. What’s becoming an annual event gets us excited every December when we anticipate Lynda’s mid-January trip with supporting volunteers.

Lynda launched Stepping Stones – Mexico via Mothering Across Continents after I bumped into her while I was on a whale watching trip. We met briefly one morning in the hotel.  A few days later, volunteer Jane Tanner took me to visit the children and staff at the orphanage. We all met again in
Charlotte, NC, after our respective returns.

Kids-paintingOn the January 2016 trip, Lynda and volunteers will again bring thoughtful creative activities and lots of joy as they work with 50 youth living at La Ciudad orphanage. The focus is always on using the arts, interactively, to build character and a sense of connection between the youth, the earth, and the local environment. The “padre” of the orphanage has said, “Even the energy you bring is a gift; it empowers our small staff and the children.”

Photo_Escuela Nueva_Girl with OrangesLynda and the Stepping Stones – Mexico project have inspired creation of sustainable food gardens and the dream of a large park space to (hopefully) be developed on an adjacent empty lot. For the past year, the project has also included daily lunch for 80 schoolchildren at Escuela Nueva Creación primary school on the edge of La Paz. (Just $50 sponsors one child’s lunch for a whole year.)

None of this would be possible without friends and strangers. Donations of all sizes are essential. This past year, a donation of more than $2,000 from students at East Mecklenburg High School under the guidance of the school’s Global Immersion Steering Team co-chair Martha Deiss was a real boost to the project. In the past few days, a Girl Scout troop leader inquired about directing a portion of profits from cookie sales.

We often think: how appropriate that Lynda named this project Stepping Stones . . . in January, there she will go again . . . putting in place a few more elements of this lovely act of relationship building between 130 children in Mexico and kind supporters in the US.

Want to help? Click here

Amazing Women: Grâce Françoise Nibizi

Patricia Shafer, November 16, 2015

Photo_Sacode_Grace Francoise NbiziOne of the beautiful surprise benefits of our work is the amazing women we meet, like Grâce Françoise Nibizi, from Burundi. Her story is so inspiring. We met her at the annual Opportunity Collaboration social impact conference in October. In follow-up, we are exploring a relationship with Grâce Françoise and the organization she leads – SaCoDe, which stands for Sante Communaute Developpement (“Promotion of Health for Community Development”).
 
Grâce Françoise was born the third of 10 children. At age 4, she was sent to live in an all-girls boarding school. Over the years, Grâce Françoise remained very close to and cared for her sick grandmother. She cared for her hospitalized grandmother while studying nursing. Later, while working as a young nurse in a public hospital, Grâce Françoise moved in with her single mother to help raise younger brothers and sisters.
 
Grâce Françoise married and gave birth to two sons. In 1993, the family moved to Kenya and while raising her sons, Grâce Françoise completed university degrees in International Business Management and Administration and International Business Communication. She also volunteered in Kenyan refugee camps.  
 
In 1997, Grâce Françoise returned to Burundi and held positions with Catholic Relief Services, United Nations organizations, and the European Union. In 2010, she created SaCoDe with a passionate commitment to help disadvantaged women raise their children in dignity.
 
Burundi_ Sacode-Cell phonesToday, Grâce Françoise oversees programs that use mobile phone SMS for reproductive health education; provide counseling in youth centers and public schools; and produce education and information videos, many of which focus on the needs of girls. Women in the ISUKU (“hygiene”) project learn to clean homes and offices in ways that prevent transfer of bacteria and promote wellness. Outstanding alumni are hired into hotels, cafes and offices in Burundi’s capital of Burundi_ Sacode-Hotel workersBujumbura. Through the TERINTAMBWE (“move forward”) project, rural women receive business management and financial tips via mobile phone SMS messages disseminated by representatives of village women’s associations.
 
Projects that blend humanitarian work with an entrepreneurial business sensibility is right in line with our philosophy at Mothering Across Continents. The world needs thoughtful women social innovators. We look forward to a continuing connection with Grâce Françoise.