Thursday, September 29, 2011

Miami Beach, California

Today was washing day for the younger boys in P2 and P3. I had never seen this process, and they boys wanted me to take pictures of them, so I decided to follow along for the adventure. Usually, the boys get water from the pump right at the center. However, today there was no water (a usual occurrence, according to Claire), so the boys had to use an alternative source of water. So, I walked with them across fields of cabbage and cassava to get to what they boys call Miami Beach, California.

On our way to Miami Beach, California

Now, I have no idea where this name came from. Perhaps it was influenced by a TV show or song lyrics. The hilarity of the matter only increased when I saw what they were talking about. Miami Beach is a small stream that runs on the edge of the EDD property. The boys use a bar of soap to wash their clothes right in the water. After the clothes are washed, they let them dry by hanging them on nearby trees.

Arnold at Miami Beach

It seems that even when the boys are doing chores, they are having fun. It was a sunny afternoon at Miami Beach, California. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chalk Dust and Smiles

Reflections from: 9/27/11

Today was my first day of teaching, and it was a perfect day. My first class was a group of student who are in P2 and P3. Most of them are about 12-14 years old, and I have never seen a more respectful and engaged group of preteen boys in my life. Since I did not know their English abilities, I thought I would start with a simple activity dealing with food. As the class ended, I told them their homework was to write sentences with the vocabulary we had learned that day. I thought they would rush out of the classroom when I dismissed them because they had a free period after. Instead, every single one of them stayed to finish their homework. Some boys stayed even longer to ask me questions about other homework or to define words.  

Earnest and I

A few hours later, I had class with some of the staff at EDD. This group has a decent working knowledge of basic English. I decided to start teaching them descriptions so if they were having difficulty remembering an English word, they would have the tools to describe what they are talking about. I had not expected to teach a class like this and felt it might be awkward teaching people who were older than myself. However, it was like teaching a group of friends I had known forever. Each of them asked great questions and some were using the words we had learned in context during our lunch break.

Claire with Eric

At the end of the day, my hands were covered in chalk, but I couldn’t help but smile as I played cards with some of the boys and chatted with them in English. In the 20 years I have been alive, today was the best first day of school ever.

The Center

*Since I did not have internet at the beginning of the week, I could not post this online. Here are my reflections from: 9/26/11

Today was my first day of work at the center. I met many of the staff and found out which classes I will be teaching. Students are placed in classes based upon their English-speaking abilities, not their ages. Every day I will have students from Primary 2/3 and Primary 4/5. Students in P2 and P3 know some vocabulary and they are able to read simple sentence structures but they are just beginning to speak in full sentences. Students in P4 and P5 have a much broader range of vocabulary and they have are able to communicate effectively already. I will also be giving the staff at EDD English lessons. I wasn’t expecting to do so, but why not?

Josieanne (education coordinator) told me that all the classes need work on speaking English. EDD does have two permanent teachers who teach the boys year-round, but they are still learning English. I can’t even imagine trying to teach students a language I can’t fluently speak.

Kinyarwanda-English dictionary and English textbooks for Rwandan students

After I received my class placements, I spent some time with the boys, which made my day. We all just hung out in the shade of one of the buildings and talked about our likes and dislikes. The topic of music dominated the conversation. The boys love hip-hop music. Actually, they are OBSESSED with it. They have a radio and CD player that is constantly playing music. They also have T.V. that plays Rwandan music videos (which I find quite hilarious). One of the boys named Sam had me listen to a song he wrote and recorded about his life before EDD living on the streets. It was amazing and he was so proud. One day, he hopes to be famous in Rwanda.

Tomorrow is my first day teaching. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Muraho! Welcome to Rwanda

After many hours of travelling and a few problems, I finally made it to Rwanda. I ended up sitting in the Burlington airport for 7 hours while they attempted to fix a mechanical problem. No one told me the airlines were on African time too! This caused me to miss my connecting flight in DC with Ethiopian Airlines. I was rebooked onto Brussels Airlines and flew through Belgium instead of Addis Ababa. And of course, all of my luggage was lost in the process. BUT, despite all of this, Rafiki (the project manager at Les Enfants de Dieu or EED) was there waiting for me at the airport to welcome me to Rwanda. It was great to see his smiling face. He pulled a few strings with his friend at the airport and my bags were back the next day. I have quickly learned that everyone knows Rafiki and he can make anything happen.

My first two days in Rwanda have been very busy. I will not start work until Monday so I have a few days to move in, unpack, and prepare. Last night Claire (the other volunteer working at EDD) and I moved into our new guesthouse, which is amazing.

Yesterday and today we went to town, which is mumugi (moo-moo-gee) in Kinyarwanda. We took mini-buses to town and rode motor-taxis on the way back. Both were an interesting experience. Mini-buses are vans that are packed full of people and they will take you all around Rwanda for about 25 cents (USD). Motor-taxis (a guy on a motorcycle) are a bit more expensive, but they are faster (don’t worry mom, I wore a helmet). You also have to make sure they don’t overcharge you. Muzungus (moo-zung-goo), which means white people, are easy targets to take advantage of. I’m slowly learning what is a fair price and my haggling skills are improving. I bought a phone and attempted to get my modem to work so I could get internet, but the system was down. Hopefully I will get that fixed soon. I am borrowing Claire’s right now.

At the moment, we don’t have power so I will wait to post pictures until tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Burlington, Vermont...the black hole.

A typical way to start the day out of BVT is with a delay! Wahoo! Here's what I'm currently staring at:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Umuganda: Vermonter-Style

Three weeks ago, the little state of Vermont faced one of the largest natural disasters in its history: tropical storm Irene. My town of Waterbury was one of the hardest hit; homes, businesses, and roads faced severe flooding. Despite this, the outpour of kindness and generosity from the community has been amazing. Waterbury residents and others all around Vermonter have been working tirelessly to help those affected by loaning tools, cooking meals, and helping to clean up the mess.

Dac Rowe field completely flooded

Randall Street, Waterbury

Last week, Gyslaine, a Rwandan native who works with the Harwood program, arrived in Vermont for the first time. As we chatted about the disaster the Waterbury community faced, Gyslaine noted that the clean up efforts were one large umuganda. The word “umuganda” is the Rwandan word for contribution. It is used to describe a day reserved each month for the local community to come together and work on a particular project. When I was in Rwanda, we participated in umuganda and helped to build a road. Our group worked with the locals to cut down trees, dig up stumps, and create a clear path.

I retrospect, as I worked alongside my neighbors pumping water out of basements and throwing furniture in dumpsters a few weeks ago, I was a part of one large umuganda again. The only difference was this was my community thousands of miles away, which only solidified that the power of kindness is a universal. Cleveland Amory put it best when he said, “What this world needs is a new kind of army - the army of the kind.” I’m ready to enlist and deploy in that army.