With open eyes, beautiful moments are easy to find in Rwanda. That’s often a surprise to first-time visitors. Stories and images of the 1994 genocide from news reels and memoirs are many people’s only reference points. So, we’ve been moved by the distinctly different email updates that we’re receiving from Mothering Across Continents-supported volunteers who are in Rwanda right now. Beautiful flowers, a high school girl sitting under a tree reading, a stroll up a cobblestone pathway. All are reminders that nature’s artistry, opportunities to quietly reflect, and a sense of connection are available around the world. So are examples of aspiration and leadership. A visit to Gashora Girls Academy, not far from the capital of Kigali, inspired US Physics teacher Deb Semmler’s breathless end-of-day reflection: “WOW! . . . Gashora is 3.2 miles down a dirt road on the edge of a beautiful lake. The students run the school. They make decisions on how the school operates, and they have pride. The three girls that we talked and walked around the school with have big dreams and are high achievers . . . We talked about the summer leadership program they are part of. This summer, 123 girls from around the world (50 from the US and Canada) are spending three weeks learning about leadership and girl power.” As Deb has commented more than once on her experience in Rwanda, “A great day in Africa.”
It’s been awhile since we posted a blog on our website. Physics teacher Deb Semmler’s trip to Rwanda makes it worth starting up again. Through Mothering Across Continents, she is guest teaching and providing professional development training for physics, chemistry and biology teachers for nearly three weeks. It’s her first trip to Africa.
I’m at an all-girls high school that we call “Biyimana” for short. The school, managed by nuns, was founded in 1955 with the first class graduation in 1959. The school is very well-established and they raise cows to provide fresh milk for the students, as well as chickens for eggs, pigs, and rabbits to sell to provide beef for students. They have large gardens that provide fruits and vegetables for the students, including carrots, beets, and bananas. They seem fully self-supporting and have men who tend to the livestock and gardens. Nobody wants for food here, and there is no food desert as far as I can tell. I see fresh fruit and vegetable at every meal and available along the “road” as we drive to and from the school. I drank warm fresh milk for the first time ever at lunch (so far, so good, not sick).
The teachers use questioning and have students individually go to the board, do the work, and explain each step of a problem or question to the others. They use science note booking for taking notes and doing problems (two separate books). The students’ notebook are impeccable, using ink and rulers to draw. They don’t make mistakes and have perfect handwriting.
One morning, I did professional development training with 2 biology teachers, 2 chemistry teachers and one physics teacher. We started with the hydrophilic bead that I had left in water overnight . . . with the coin that is invisible when there is no excess water and visible with excess water due to light refraction in the air space.
I made a short presentation using the projector on the newest research on how people learn, not by reading and rereading but by testing themselves overtime. That led me to show them how we use “foldables” so students can take notes and test their knowledge over time. The teachers separated into subject groups and made their own. One bio teacher one a foldable of fungi. The other made one on the difference between DNA and RNA. The chemistry teachers made one on acids and bases. I worked with the physics teacher on some of the physics specific material (FCI and graphing diagnostic) and computer documents that I am sharing. I showed the chemistry teacher the acid/base pH PhEt interactive lab that shows the same thing as doing an actual lab. We did a pH lab with the NaOH and pH paper I brought and transmission of disease lab.
The chemistry teacher asked if I could make the electrolytic cell lab he had in his notes, using a battery and two conducting probes. We made it work with the conductivity tester I brought, and he used it in his classroom along with the pH paper test with salt (NaCl), pure water and a strong base (NaOH). The students did the tests and shared results. These are excellent teachers. They just need resources! Sometimes language is a barrier, so it’s been suggested that students write notes to our students at East Mecklenburg High, and our students write back. I also asked how we could bring 6 to 10 visiting teachers and students here, and transfer them from the hotel to the school along the rough road. transfer many. The answer is to rent a state operated bus and driver.
This is why I am here! These teachers, like most I know, love their students and work very hard to help them be successful. The headmistress watched the whole physics class and was very happy to see the students engaged.
“Trafficking,” including commercial sexual exploitation of children, is receiving widespread attention. But where does it occur and to what degree? Though data can be scarce and inconsistent, we’ve learned from Esther Rodriguez-Brown and the Center for Peace team in Las Vegas that 17 U.S. cities are generally identified as trafficking destinations.
Involvement of youth 12 to 18 is a grim reality in every one. And four states and their urban centers (California, Texas, New York and Nevada) account for the highest trafficking volume. The problem, apparently, is neither lack of awareness nor concern. The core issue is that involvement in “the life” for youth coerced or forced into under-age prostitution becomes the norm due to un-addressed histories of upheaval, treatment of girls as criminals not victims, and voids in social services.
What to do? We’re intrigued by a balance of compassion and logic that Esther and the Center’s inter-disciplinary team of social services and juvenile justice providers seem to bring to this societal wound. They refer to thorough studies that show the potential to get youth back on track with interventions that begin at detention centers, continue with customized case management, and include mental health counseling. They’ve looked at “return on investment” analyses of dollars invested in reform and restoration programs. At the same time, they seem to never lose sight of the intangible and unpredictable impact on an individual’s life when you know someone really cares. Better yet, they model these behaviors themselves.
Patricia Shafer writes…
I sometimes think “seeking sponsors” is the hardest phrase in the English language to write. Our volunteer catalysts and I have visited projects where children are in such extreme need of educational support – Rwanda, South Sudan, Liberia . . . – there’s no doubt that scholarships make a huge difference. But what if you haven’t been there? How do I convey to you that there’s something special, unique and useful about scholarship support in faraway places? Then, I get over myself, just share what I know, and hope for the best. For example:
In Rwanda, the 1994 genocide left behind a population that’s 70 percent female. When the bloodshed stopped, women picked up the pieces to rebuild. Today, there are still more women than men. A Rwandan saying is that a woman is the heart of the house. There are more women in Rwanda’s parliament than any other country in the world. The scholarships that we directly ask people to support in Rwanda go only to girls. At Mwiko Primary School, where our efforts in Rwanda began, 6th grade girls in the Top Ten of their class would not be able to go to secondary schools without scholarships. Their families are too poor. We send every girl who is sponsored to the Institute for Women’s (IWE) Excellence, the only all-girls’ private school in Rwanda that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. We’re also beginning to collaborate with nonprofits Seeds of Hope and ALARM to help make sure that girls who graduate from IWE will be guaranteed access to a specially-designed year-long institute to prepare them for lives as influencers. Today, there are more women in Rwanda’s parliament than any other country in the world.
Okay, writing the above, my angst is gone. If you’ve ever thought for even a moment about becoming a scholarship supporter, let us know. Indeed, write me directly and I’ll personally identify candidates for you. firstname.lastname@example.org
The UN recognizes October 11th as International Day of the Girl. This day is set aside to recognize the unique challenges girls face around the world.
While it’s true that in many parts of the world BOTH boys and girls don’t have access to education and literacy, girls are disproportionately disadvantaged in many communities. For instance, in the villages where we build schools in South Sudan, only 2 percent of boys traditionally graduate from primary school. Hard to imagine it could be worse for girls, but it is. Historically, only 1 percent of girls with finish the sixth grade.
Absent change, the long-term negative impact on communities can be devastating. Dreams and a sense of empowerment and self-reliance never develop.
That’s why several of our projects focus on providing a stable learning environment for girls and young women. We think it’s a moral imperative and a natural part of a “hand up” vs. “hand out” development strategy. There is also overwhelming evidence that girls’ education, especially at the secondary school level, reduces numbers of early pregnancies, HIV/AIDS infection rates, and infant mortality. Data from the World Bank and IMF suggest that literacy and access to vocational education for girls can improve the overall GDP of a community. As a tool for transformation, educated girls help fuel democratization and income equality – societal qualities that help achieve stability and sustainability.
High Hopes Haiti is a flagship example of efforts by Mothering Across Continents project catalysts like Courtney Jackson to empower high school girls and young women. In a community of rural northern Haiti, four workshops have been delivered to help participants dream about the future, imagine careers, and identify skills they need, specifically English, computer literacy and small business management. In August 2013, a record 30 participants completed a three-week institute as a foundation for a year-long program of English, computer and small business training. Find out how you can be a part of our GlobalGiving campaign and positively impact the life of a girl at: http://goto.gg/14935.
Join us in celebrating International Day of the Girl!