GUEST BLOG: Mom & Dad’s “Top Ten Things We Were Grateful For During Our Trip in Rwanda!”

Hi there. It’s been a while, huh? During my parents’ recent visit to Rwanda, they convinced me to attempt to resuscitate the blog effort. So I figured who better to kick it off than my greatest fans and cheerleaders, who can now give a little glimpse of my life here from their perspective. So here are some of their thoughts and impressions during their two-week stay in Rwanda… Enjoy!

We just returned from visiting Sarah in Rwanda for a couple of weeks! We spent three days in her village with her and then we all traveled around doing some sightseeing. We had an amazing experience on our journey! We met so many nice, interesting people and saw so many incredible things that it is hard to put everything we experienced into words. We were trying to think about a way to organize our post and thought back to how, as we traveled around the country, we kept thinking how GRATEFUL and APPRECIATIVE we were for various things that happened along the way. So, the “theme” of our blog post is going to be “Ten Things We Are Grateful and Appreciative For on Our Trip to Visit Sarah in Rwanda!”

#1 – The Opportunity to Spend Time With Sarah! – Since Sarah left for Rwanda in September, communication with her has been a little challenging because she is in a remote location and the internet and phone signal there is not very strong. Leaving the country and going 7500 miles away to live for a couple of years is a big deal, so it was wonderful to see her and talk with her and know with certainty that she is doing fine!

#2 – “Sarah’s School is Cool” – Sarah is extremely fortunate to be working in a very good school where the students are focused and hard workers. When we got to her village, Jean Bosco the Academic Master made a point of coming to visit us and welcome us to the school. Later, we met Father Alphonse, Sarah’s Headmaster, and he was great! He has been very kind and supportive of Sarah and told us she is doing a commendable job! We had the opportunity to meet all of Sarah’s classes as they received their final exam scores, and they are really nice kids–kind, respectful, and sweet. They like Sarah and appreciate the help she is giving them with their English lessons.

We were even able to do a little teaching while we were there, too. Sarah sponsors both boys and girls leadership clubs at the school which are called BE (Boys Excelling) and GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). We taught the girls how to make woven rubber band bracelets and Alan brought 3 basketballs and 2 nets to teach a basketball clinic for the boys. The girls had a BLAST making the bracelets. They wove bracelets until there were no rubber bands left (and we brought 4,000 rubber bands)! The basketball clinic was equally successful, as Alan had over 50 kids show up (and some girls, too). We really had a lot of fun with the kids and found the students to be very patient and appreciative whenever they needed help. The bottom line is that kids are kids no matter where you are in the world, and if you are a teacher and you enjoy working with kids, there is nothing better than working with a group of kids who want to learn what you want to teach.

#3 – Sarah has Made Some Nice Friendships With People in Her Community! – We had the opportunity to meet many people Sarah interacts with in her community on a daily basis and they are very nice and supportive. From the lovely young couple who own her house and have an adorable two-year-old daughter to the group of nuns who run the primary school/boarding school in the village, Sarah has definitely made some good friends. She is working with some people in the village on the Community Finance Initiative in partnership with an entrepreneurship teacher at her school named Sylvere and three groups of people from the community who are learning how to start small income generating projects through the program. She is also working with the Sector Education Officer, Theophile, and a committee of teachers and people from the village to create a public library for the village. When we were walking through the village with her, even the little lady selling vegetables gave Sarah a hug. Sarah also told us a story about how a while ago, she needed to buy some charcoal for cooking but she couldn’t find any in the shops. When she was in the village she mentioned it to a few people, and a few days later a bag of charcoal magically appeared at her door! That makes us feel good that the community is looking out for her.

It is also such a fun thing to hear Sarah chatting with people in Kinyarwanda, the language that is used around the country. It’s interesting because when were were out and about, people are always genuinely surprised and amused that she can “talk the talk.” (It comes in really handy at the market!). We think they also really respect that she is working to learn their native language.

#4 – “The Land of a Thousand Hills” is Really Pretty ! – After we left Sarah’s village, we traveled to Volcanoes National Park and went gorilla trekking. That was truly an AMAZING experience to be quite literally hanging out (literally, we were on the side of a mountain) with the “Agashya” family of gorillas. Believe it or not, they are so accustomed to visitors that they really didn’t seem to care at all that we were there. Then we went to Lake Kivu for three days, which is this massive lake that runs along the western border of the country. Then it was off to an incredible rainforest called Nyungwe National Park. We were constantly treated to some spectacular scenery while driving and walking through the countryside!

#5 – Sarah’s Peace Corps Co-Workers Are a Great Bunch of Kids! We had the opportunity to spend some time with several of Sarah’s Peace Corps friends as we traveled, and it was very nice meeting them and seeing them interacting together. They are a real support and help to each other and it was obvious when we were with them that they REALLY enjoy being together. Even though they are not in close proximity with each other, they communicate a lot via phone and whenever the Peace Corps has trainings and meetings. We are sure they are a great source of companionship and fun for each other!

#6 – Furthermore, The Adaptability of These PC Workers – Rwanda is a great place with a lot of potential, but the daily life for most people in the rural areas is MUCH harder than our life here in the States. Think about getting through the day without things like stoves, microwaves, running water in your home, flushing toilets, dishwashers, refrigerators, washing machines, electricity, etc. We are so impressed how the volunteers learn to live the same way as the people they are serving and can adapt to these changes quickly and for long periods of time. Flexibility and adaptability are SUCH essential life skills, and we are so appreciative of everything they are learning to do differently and for everything they are doing to help people and make a great representation of the United States!

#7 – The Resiliency of the People – As I mentioned in #6, everyday life is Rwanda is much, much harder than it is at home and people don’t have a lot of “stuff.” But, the people just seem to go with it, and they get done what needs to be done with whatever is on hand. Rwandan people seem to be very creative and innovative with the materials they find around them. The people we met also had a very strong faith, and they really value education and hard work. I can also see this resiliency in how the country has come so far after the genocide, which was now over 20 years ago. The people continue to try to forgive, reconcile, and move forward—truly amazing and humbling!

#8 – We Made It There and Made It Back and We Are Fine! – We never traveled this far away from home, and there was a lot of prep work we had to do to be able to get there, and to help things run smoothly once we were there. We are so grateful and relieved that we got there, had a great time, and got back home safe and sound.

#9 – The Prayers and Support of All Our Friends and Family! – We are SO SO grateful (truly beyond words!) to everyone who had remembered Sarah and us in their prayers, and sent positive energy and good thoughts our way. We know it is helping Sarah and us, and that it has had a huge positive impact on our lives! Please keep Sarah especially in your thoughts as she continues on her journey!

#10 – Sarah –We are so grateful for Sarah and so appreciative of the wonderful person she is! We love more than anything and we are so proud of her. We love you with all our hearts, tootsie! : ) .

So, there you have it!

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Back to School Buhoro Buhoro

I’ve always loved the start of a new school year, but after surviving two months at site without anything in particular to keep me occupied, I don’t know if I’ve ever looked forward to the first day of school as much as I did this year. As is typical with the Rwandan way of life, the school year started very slowly and lackadaisically (or buhoro, buhoro as Rwandans like to say). No one taught formal lessons the first week (I was teased by the other teachers for even attempting), and students continued to slowly trickle in for the first two weeks.

Finally, last week, I received official rosters for my classes and solidified my schedule. I teach four sections of Senior 4 (equivalent of about 10th grade), and each class for two hours a week. I’ve been working hard to get to know my students—or, at the very least, some of their names—but with class sizes of up to fifty and only two periods a week with each section, learning their names has proven to be just as difficult as actually attempting to pronounce them. In Rwanda, many students change schools between Senior 3 and Senior 4, so for most of my students it is their first year at St. Jerome. Although all of their classes are taught in English at this point, the vast majority of my kids cannot give an example of an adjective, they have never been introduced to the concept of a paragraph, and their writing is rampant with comma splices and run-on sentences. Fortunately, for the most part, they have already proven themselves to be hard workers and eager learners.

I have also been asked to help with Senior 6 (12th grade) classes from time to time to help hone their communication skills. On my first day with them, when I asked if they had any questions for me, they absolutely blew me away. They wanted to know the real story about Ferguson and race relations in the U.S., requested that I sing a chorus of a Beyonce song, asked me to compare economic development in Rwanda and America, and hoped that I would reveal any insider knowledge I have about Area 51 as an American (I reassured that them that they probably know just as much as I do). Here’s hoping my current Senior 4 students rise to their level in the next two years! Generally, although lesson planning can be tedious, actually being in a classroom and teaching is probably the happiest and most fulfilled I’ve been since moving to my site in December. Finally, after living in Rwanda for five months, I am actually doing what I came here to do!

When I’m not in the classroom teaching, I spend a lot of time in the teachers’ room at my school planning lessons and getting to know the other teachers. In general, the other teachers have been pretty friendly and interested in conversing with me in English. I’ve found that sports has been one of the best way to bond with them. I play volleyball with a group of teachers a few times a week and act as an assistant coach for the girls’ soccer team.

There’s plenty going on outside of teaching, too. I’ve been putting a lot of time into becoming part of the Community Finance Initiative, which is a partnership between Peace Corps Rwanda and an NGO called Global Communities designed to bring household finance and entrepreneurship skills to remote villages like mine that have difficulty accessing the formal financial sector. However, in order to participate, I need to raise $800 in less than three weeks, which will be quite a feat. If you would like to contribute or learn more about the project, please check out my fundraising page here: http://www.gofundme.com/mjukl8. This income-generating program could have a huge impact in my village, and I would appreciate any and all assistance you are able to give!

I have recently been appointed a regional representative for the STOMP Out Malaria committee, a project that unites Peace Corps Volunteers throughout Africa in our goals of improving treatment and reducing the spread of malaria. I’m responsible for doing an anti-malaria project once every three months at least and helping people in the Northern province do the same. We are planning a Malaria Expo in April open to all PCVs to kick off Malaria Month at the end of April.

At my school, I am working to charter two new clubs, one for girls called GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) and one for boys called BE (Boys Excelling). Later this year, the PCVs in the North will organise week-long GLOW and BE camps to encourage leadership, gender equality, and healthy living amongst Rwandan youth. I also plan to apply for a grant later this year to improve our library resources for students.

Over the past few weeks, I have developed a friendship with the nuns and friars who run a primary school down the street from me. They also offer schooling specifically for children with disabilities, which is virtually unheard of in Rwanda. Part of my job here is to encourage the development of a reading culture, so I plan to start reading to the children at this school once a week.

The first term ends at the beginning of April, so my friends and I are planning a trip to Uganda! We’ll explore the craziness of Kampala, raft the Nile, and do some much-needed relaxing on the shore of Lake Victoria.

So once again, my life has changed pretty drastically, from nothing to do to, well, everything to do. I think the question now is not what I should do, but what I should do first.

Swearing In to Settling In

Since my last post, my life has changed pretty drastically…  Last time I wrote, I was living in a major town with a host family and a packed schedule that enabled seeing fellow Americans on a daily basis. Now, I live in a remote mountaintop village where the most exciting thing that has happened (besides my sudden and strange arrival, I suppose) was the birth of a baby cow. But let me back up a bit. The last week of training was a blur—lots of goodbye parties, dancing, celebrating, eating, and speeches. Once we arrived in Kigali, I had one slightly manic afternoon to go shopping for items for my house at site, and then the next morning was swear-in! The ceremony was at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Kigali, and it drew quite a crowd. Our headmasters, host families, language teachers, training staff, and current volunteers were all in attendance, laughing appreciatively during the speeches (in English, French, and Kinyarwanda) and clapping along to our attempt at Rwandan dance. We all wore igitenge (African print fabric), took tons of pictures, and indulged in mini pizzas and brownies to celebrate. During the oath I must admit that I got a little misty-eyed. I feel so unbelievably honored to be a part of Peace Corps’s work in Rwanda and can’t wait to discover what the next two years bring for me and all of my fellow PCVs. The celebration continued until late in the evening, and then I left at 8am the very next morning to move to my site. The school year doesn’t begin until the end of January, so for the first eight weeks in our villages, we have one solitary task: integration. This is a classic Peace Corps buzzword that’s thrown around an awful lot during training. It’s supposed to indicate the process by which a PCV gradually becomes a part of his or her host community. In practice, however, I’ve found that this idea of “integration” is much more abstract. Integration means channeling that borderline aggressively friendly and outgoing part of myself that probably hasn’t surfaced since the first week of Freshman year at college. It means taking a deep breath and entering the village market with the full knowledge that, within seconds, I will accumulate a shadow of 30-50 children who will follow my every move. It’s the satisfied grin that I can’t quite contain every time that someone in my community mutters, completely astounded, “Azi Kinyarwanda!” (She knows Kinyarwanda!). It’s forcing myself to politely decline requests for money and maintaining a smile even when I think I will combust if I hear another person yell “muzungu” (white person) instead of my name. It’s all of this and more, and so incredibly exhausting and challenging and lonely… but equally rewarding. The other day, an old man I haven’t met before approached me to tell me (in a mix of Kinyarwanda and French) that he has noticed that I try very hard to speak Kinyarwanda, dress nicely, and be friendly and kind to everyone, and that he is very happy that I am here. Even after the toughest days, moments like that make it all worth it. Already, during these first few weeks at site, I’ve learned a lot. I can now—finally, after three and a half months of feeble attempts—successfully light a charcoal stove (and, therefore, feed myself). I’ve discovered that priests, in addition to having excellent English, can also empathize very closely with what I’m going through, as many of them had to flee Rwanda after the genocide to complete their seminary abroad. They know what it’s like to be thrown into an unfamiliar culture and the effort it takes to gain one’s footing in a strange new place. I also now know that being in a more remote site has its perks. In order to access the main road, I have to take an hour and a half motorcycle taxi ride through the mountains. Although kind of tedious and expensive, I really cannot over-exaggerate how breathtaking the scenery is during these rides. One day I even spotted a rainbow arching over the volcanoes in the distance. As I’ve just returned from visiting some of my best friends here for Christmas, I am also full of a renewed appreciation for my fellow PCVs. I’m increasingly realizing that the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer is pretty unique and wacky and somewhat bizarre, so it is so incredibly helpful to have people here who can say, “YES, I completely understand, I’ve been there.” But still, it’s only been a few weeks here in Janja and there is still a lot to figure out. For example, I am still on the lookout for a “mama,” a Rwandan woman to kind of take me in and act as my host mama here in Janja. I am also working on deciphering Rwandan visiting culture. Almost everyone I meet asks when I will visit them, but never gives me a specific time or day or even explains the location of their house… I’m also working on bridging the transition from housemates to real friends with the two girls I’m living with. Furthermore, what’s the best way to conserve battery on electronics when I only have electricity for a few hours a night? How can I stream the new season of The Mindy Project when my internet can’t even load photos on Facebook? How do I get rid of the giant preying mantis/grasshopper hybrids that have infiltrated my house? Oh, and also… how does one even begin to plan a year’s worth of English curriculum? The answers to these thrilling questions and more,

coming up next time… IMG_0112

Model School & A Very Peace Corps Thanksgiving

Pre-Service Training culminates in what we call Model School. For two weeks we held morning classes for local kids who are currently on break from school. Rumor has it that we usually bribe them with the promise of a chicken, but I am pretty sure the main draw was to get an up close and personal look at the abazungu (foreigners). The purpose is to give us a chance to practice teaching in a Rwandan classroom and try out some lesson plans before we get to site. However, there are a few things that made model school especially daunting…

  • Lack of resources: To put this in perspective, think back to your own education in America. How often did your teachers distribute handouts, worksheets, study guides, packets, and notes? Class sets of textbooks, novels, and workbooks? Did your teachers often use posters, overhead projectors, or even smart boards? None of those are possible here. In Rwanda, our options are limited to chalk and chalkboard and our students have just a notebook. If you want students to practice reading a paragraph or longer passage, you must either spend fifteen minutes writing it on the board while the kids go wild or write it ahead of time on a rice sack and then post that in the classroom.
  • Class Sizes: Since this is the first time PC has organised a Model School in Rwamagana, it was difficult to predict exactly how many students would attend. My school happened to have less Peace Corps Trainees and many, many more students, leaving us with class sizes between 50-75 students. This drastically changed a lot of the activities and lessons that we planned, as a lot of things that would work with 25-30 kids would be absolute chaos in a class that large. Making sure all of the students were engaged was pretty much a constant challenge.
  • Observations: This, more than anything, was what we were freaking out about before Model School began. One of the key components of Model School is that you are observed by peers, current volunteers, and training staff and then given feedback.

However, despite these challenges, I’ve got to say, Model School was a blast. We’ve spent so long sitting in the training center learning about how to teach that it was so rewarding and exciting to finally get out there and do what I came here to do. The students were wonderful (for the most part) and I got some great ideas for what I want to do when I start teaching at my site in January. The days were exhausting but truly so much fun.

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The last day of Model School coincided with the beginning of our Thanksgiving celebration. This was absolutely the longest day here but still one of my favorites so far. We had planned a field day at our school and were feeling pretty good about how we had organized everything beforehand. Things were going pretty smoothly until, at 9am, a group of 150 new students suddenly appeared at our school with no announcement or explanation. At that point, I knew that things were about to get crazy so I prepared myself to laugh through the general chaos that then ensued. To give you an idea, the day ended with a rousing round of a game that could only be called “chase the muzungu.” Picture a handful of Peace Corps trainees being chased by around the school grounds by stampedes of hundreds of Rwandan children… Before leaving the school I was required to give possibly thousands of high-fives and fist bumps to the students. We were sweaty, dirty, hoarse, and exhausted, but we had survived Model School!

That afternoon, our Thanksgiving celebration was kicked off with the killing of six turkeys. As you probably know, I am a vegetarian, so this was not exactly my favorite part of the celebration, but I couldn’t really look away either… The turkeys alone were a 24-hour process so we got permission to sleep over at our training center to prep for the next day’s feast. I chose to be on the pie committee rather than spending the evening gutting the turkeys, wrapping them in foil, and covering them in a pit with hot charcoal… Instead, my friends and I cooked 15 pies. Peace Corps went all out with the American ingredients, so we had a lot of things that are nearly impossible to find in Rwanda like apples, cinnamon, and nutmeg. We stayed up past 3am to finish the pies (charcoal stoves are not the most efficient baking method).

The next morning, we cooked breakfast and plenty of coffee and cooked the rest of the dishes, which was quite a process with the charcoal stoves. In the end we had a pretty remarkable spread of turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, pumpkin soup, fluffy rolls, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, deviled eggs, hot apple cider, and, of course, the pies. We shared the meal with our Language & Cultural Facilitators (Kinyarwanda teachers), the training staff, and some of the Peace Corps staff from Kigali. I was worried that my first big holiday away from home would feel nostalgic and kind of depressing, but these fears were allayed by an amazing feast and even more amazing people whom I’ve been so fortunate to have shared my Peace Corps experience with. I am bracing for my final week of training feeling incredibly thankful for everything thus far and so excited (ok, and a little nervous) for what’s to come when I move to my site next weekend!

 

 

 

Two Months Down, Two to Go!

Crazy as it sounds, in one month, I will be in Kigali for the official Peace Corps Swear-In Ceremony! The training days have started to meld together, which is why this post is so belated. Recently, we’ve had a lot of sessions on the methodology of teaching English as a foreign language to prepare us for our “model school” practicum coming up next week. We had our midpoint language evaluation a week and a half ago, which is basically a 30 minute oral exam. Things turned out shockingly well, and I surprised myself by placing into Intermediate Low, which is the minimum level we’re expected to get by the end of training. Not bad for a language that has 16 different ways to say good! I’ve also started getting a lot closer with the other trainees in my group. We’ve had great discussions on everything from theories of foreign aid and Rwandan history to bodily functions…

As much as I’ve enjoyed many parts of training, sometimes it gets a little claustrophobic, so I am really looking forward to gaining some independence once I move to my site. Speaking of which, let’s rewind a bit to my site visit three weeks ago…

The journey to my site way up in the amajyaruguru (north) with my headmaster was quite an adventure. Not long after I remarked to Father Alphonse that I was really impressed Rwanda’s highway infrastructure, we abruptly turned off the main road onto a narrow dirt pathway just barely clinging to the side of a mountain. The remaining two-thirds of the journey passed in this manner, with Father Alphonse’s loyal steed of a RAV-4 sputturing in fits and starts up and down mountains, the rosary on the rearview window swinging violently, with the breathtakingly beautiful and serene vistas in the backdrop.

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Finally we arrived to the village of Janja and headed to the top of the mountain, where my school is perched. The first stop on my whirlwind tour was my future home, a charming brick house with five bedrooms, three tenants (including me), a common room, a kitchen, and—perhaps most importantly—a flushing toilet (!!!!). I will share this house with two Rwandan inhumi (adult but unmarried females) who also work at the school, Laetitia and Florence.

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During my tour of the school grounds, I quickly realized that my school is pretty much a complete anomaly for rural Rwanda. In fact, it’s almost as if a wealthy benefactor made an error in accidentally depositing this school with wifi, satellite dishes, a computer lab, and science labs in this remote and isolated location. One of the most hilarious parts of my site visit came after the tour, when I was instructed to change into “sporting clothes” (which I definitely did not bring) and prepare for “common sports.” As usual in Rwanda, when I have no idea what’s going on, I pretend that I do and follow along as best as I can…It turns out that “common sports” refers to St. Jerome’s weekly tradition of a 3-4 mile run… up and down a mountain… with the entire school. Just as I began to wrap my head around this fact, the school gates slowly opened and the 700 person stampede up and down the mountain began, with me thrown somewhere in the middle alternating between wheezing and laughing up at the ridiculousness of it all. Members of the village appeared to be eagerly awaiting this weekly spectacle and were lined up on the sides of the dirt road yelling encouragement—“Komera, umuzungu!” (stay strong, white person!)—at every turn.

the computer lab at my school

the computer lab at my school

Compared to that instance, the rest of my visit was pretty uneventful. I played a game of volleyball with the teachers, ironed out my schedule for next year (I’ll be teaching English Language Communication Skills to Senior 4 and Senior 5, the equivalent of 10th and 11th grade), helped proctor a few exams, and took a walk down into the teeny village of Janja. “Janja center” includes a vocational school, a primary school, a Catholic church, one small shop, and a genocide memorial. That’s it. I’ll have to travel an hour on a mototaxi to my regional town just to buy food at the market or stop at the post office. However, I can say with full certainty that the all-around stunning beauty that is Janja makes up for its remoteness. Don’t ya think?

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Afterward, I went to Musanze, my regional town to meet up with the other volunteers in the Northern province. It’s a nice little town surrounded by the Virunga mountains and volcanoes and has an Italian restaurant, a French bakery, and the most delicious pizza in Rwanda (so I’ve heard).

Other than my site visit, there have been a few other big events, including a visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a Peace Corps Halloween party, and a trip to the National Museum in Butare… But I think I’ll leave those for the next post. Thanks for reading!

Drumroll, please…

This past Friday, I received my permanent site placement for the school that I will work at beginning in December! This was a HUGE, momentous day for all of us trainees, and was met with a great deal of anxiety and excitement. The ceremony was carried out in Harry Potter fashion, using a “sorting hat” to divide us based on region: Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western Provinces. I will be teaching at….

G.S. St Jerome Janja, a Catholic boarding school in Janja village, Gakenke district, and the Northern Province!

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The school itself is definitely not what I expected when I envisioned my life as a Peace Corps volunteer. It received the award for #1 school in all of Rwanda in 2009 and 2010 and is still among the top secondary schools in the country. In Rwanda, students take three National Exams during their schooling, and these exams essentially determine the fate of their educational career. The first exam takes place after 6th grade and determines which secondary schools students are eligible to attend. Therefore, only students who do exceptionally well on this exam and who are able to pay the school fees can come to my school. My school is focused on science and technology and is very large: 780 students between 6th-12th grades. Unlike most of my fellow trainees, I probably won’t have major problems with insanely large class sizes, access to materials, and students not being properly nourished. However, I have no doubt that my school will present its own unique challenges…

I am St. Jerome’s third Peace Corps Volunteer, so most of the students and teachers have a pretty good understanding of what Peace Corps is all about. However, I am the first female volunteer that they have had and also the first volunteer who will focus on English Education rather than science and technology. I am hoping that this will offer some opportunities for me to chart my own course as a volunteer and undertake projects and initiatives that are different from my predecessors’ but equally helpful for my community. I will be one of only a few female teachers, from my understanding, and there are twice as many boys at my school as there are girls, so I am sure there will be many opportunities to explore topics of gender equality, one of Peace Corps Rwanda’s focus areas. Peace Corps has started two programs under this umbrella, G.L.O.W. (Girls Leading Our World) for girls, and B.E. (Boys Excel) for boys. My school already has GLOW and BE clubs and even hosted a GLOW conference this year to support girls’ involvement in the fields of information and communication technology (ICT).

I met my school’s headmaster, Father Alphonse, yesterday at a Peace Corps conference, and he seems absolutely wonderful. Along with being the school’s Director, he is also a priest and religion teacher. His English is excellent and he seems to be pretty progressive and accustomed to working with Americans, so I’m very lucky. He told me that I will probably be living on the school’s campus in a large house shared with a female school administrator. I still don’t know much about the surrounding community except that it’s very small, rural, and remote. I am pretty far from other volunteers and up in the mountains, which will probably make transportation difficult. However, I’ve heard that the north is absolutely beautiful. I’ll be close to Volcanoes National Park, which is where the famous mountain gorillas are. I’m about equally close to the borders of Uganda and the Congo and a few hours from Kigali.

That’s about all I know for now, but I’ll find out a LOT more in the net few days because I actually get to visit my site! Tomorrow I’ll head up north with Father Alphonse. I’ll get to see my living quarters and the school, sit in on a class, meet the other teachers, and explore my future community. On Friday I will travel to Musanze (aka Ruhengeri—many towns in Rwanda have been officially renamed by the government but are still known to many by their old names) for the regional meeting of all Peace Corps Volunteers in the Northern province. I can’t wait to meet some of the experienced volunteers and get to hear about some of the programming that they’re doing in the region! I’ve also heard that Musanze has really excellent pizza and ice cream…

Alive & Well

As you might guess, a lot has happened in the past two weeks since my Peace Corps Staging in Philadelphia. I, along with a ragtag group of 35 other TEFL & Teacher Support Volunteers have since undergone the introduction to Peace Corps service, made the lengthy trek to Kigali, met our program staff, received our malaria medications and other assorted necessities (mosquito net, water filter, medical kit, jerry can, etc.), traveled to our training site, and immediately moved in with our host families.

We live in Rwamagana, which is the capital of the Eastern province, so a pretty large town by Rwandan standards. This creates an interesting mix of relative wealth—indicated by some larger houses, paved main roads, plenty of shops, and pretty widespread access to electricity—as well as other reminders that Rwanda is very much a developing country. For instance, we are slowly adjusting to living with a vastly different standard of hygiene (think pit latrines + no soap), a lack of running water, and charcoal stoves as pretty much the only cooking method. We are only the second group of PCVs that Rwamagana has hosted, so we are quite the novelty to the locals, to say the very least.Volunteers are scattered throughout the area and come together for training sessions from 8am-5pm pretty much every day except Sundays at either the central PC “hub” site or in small groups of three for Kinyarwanda classes. So far, these have covered topics from personal security to the Rwandan education system to the role of Peace Corps in International Development.

I live with my host mom (“Mama Shema”), two host brothers (Shema is 4 and Shyaka is 1), and two umukozis named Nsenga and Denyse. (A common practice for Rwandans of middle class and higher income is having umukozis, or live-in staff, to help clean the house and watch the children.) I have not yet met Papa Shema, who is on a business trip in Tanzania for an unspecified amount of time… I am fortunate in that my host mom is not only more outgoing than the average Rwandan, but also speaks pretty decent English, which has enabled daily hilarious exchanges between us. Here is an abbreviated list of some of the things that I’ve done or said thus far that have caused Mama Shema the most amusement…

  1. The fact that I’m an only child. Family planning is a new concept in Rwanda, and the average woman in Rwamagana has about five children.
  2. Watching me jump on my bed for a good 20 minutes attempting to hang my mosquito net from the ceiling.
  3. That I only put one spoonful of sugar in my tea, instead of her usual 4-5 heaping scoops. Tea, or icayi, is huge in Rwanda, and is served with just about every meal. Most Rwandans seem to prefer their tea heavy on the sugar and milk, with minimum actual tea.
  4. My freckles. This conversation started with my host brother attempting to rub them off of me because he thought they were specks of dirt, and ended with me trying to explain to Mama Shema that, no, I am not suffering from a horrible skin disease.
  5. Exchanging words that might be outside the normal classroom vocabulary for both of us. As a result of these conversations, I now know the Kinyarwanda terms for both “to fart” and “sugar daddy.” Here’s hoping I don’t need to recall either of those anytime soon…

My schedule will remain pretty much the same in the near future. The next exciting event that I’m sure will merit a blog post will be next Friday, when our future site placements are announced! This is a HUGE deal in Peace Corps, as until then we will have absolutely no idea which school or even which part of the country we will spend our two years of service. The next week, I will have the opportunity to visit my future site, meet with my supervisors and fellow teachers, and see my school and living arrangements.

This is the road that our Peace Corps hub site is on

This is the road that our Peace Corps hub site is on

Until then… thanks infinitely for all of your encouraging words and support. I am finally figuring out my internet situation, so please send any and all updates my way! Miss you all!

A Leap of Faith

When I inform friends, family, and acquaintances of my somewhat non-traditional postgraduate plans, I am undoubtedly met with a series of questions. (If you’re wondering where exactly Rwanda is, you’re not alone. See this page for the answer to this question and much, much more.) Many of you have also been curious about the specifics of what my life in Rwanda will be like–where I’ll teach, what exactly my living situation will be like, etc. Unfortunately, my knowledge at this point is still fairly limited, as is the nature of the Peace Corps, and I will have to wait until orientation–or later–to discover the answers to many of these questions. So for now, this being my first post and all, let’s stick with what I DO know (It’s much more reassuring for everyone that way).

Here goes:

From September 2014 until December 2016, I will serve as a English Education Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda.

On Tuesday the 9th, I will meet my fellow trainees and Peace Corps staff in Philadelphia for Staging, which is basically a series of orientation sessions, paperwork, icebreakers, etc. Then, the next morning, we’ll drive to New York and take off for Kigali!

During my first twelve weeks in-country, I will undergo an intensive training with a group of about 35-40 other Education volunteers. I will spend the first two days in the capital city, Kigali, for orientation. From there, we will travel to Rwamagana district, a region about an hour east of the capital city, Kigali. During our 12 weeks in Rwamagana, we will be living with host families, an aspect of training I’m especially looking forward to.

My fellow trainees and I will be scattered throughout the region in groups of two to three volunteers per village. Much of my training will be conducted in these small groups of three for language and cultural training, which is designed to give us a solid foundation in Kinyarwanda and Rwandan culture. For the rest of the time, I will take part in technical training with my entire training class to learn how exactly one goes about teaching English in a rural Rwandan village, as well as other sessions on health, safety, etc.

About halfway through training, I will receive my site placement. I will be able to spend several days in the community I will teach in so that I can meet with administrators, see my living arrangements, and get a feel for my long-term site. Then I will return to Rwamagana to finish training, the second half of which will include a “model school” practicum to get us actually in the classroom teaching. Then, on December 5th, I will (hopefully) travel to Kigali to swear in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer.

My primary role will be as an English teacher in a Rwandan secondary school. The rest of my time will be spent in designing and implementing secondary projects which could cover anything from a camp designed to empower girls to a a series of workshops on HIV/AIDS. Most Education posts in Rwanda are very rural, so I may or may not have electricity or running water.

There you go–that’s about everything. So for now, wish me luck in appeasing my compulsive need to plan by reminding myself that the best adventures usually involve a healthy dose of uncertainty, surprise, serendipity, spontaneity, and a leap of faith into the unknown.