My favorite part of the day is the last few hours of daylight before the sun goes down to rest, when everything seems to glow and I can have some final moments with the sun before night. Dusk is the time I feel most contemplative and at peace during the day. Yet recently, I have begun to adore the very first moments of the day as well. I wake up at 6 a.m. most days when the birds first awake, when the sun brightens up the clouds, and when the day is still crisp and dewy before the hot African sun begins to make an appearance. I find comfort in the familiarity of dawn and dusk no matter where in the world I am. The end of the day means that the next day there can be new beginnings.
On the top of Mount Kigali^
These past few weeks in Rwanda, I have been focusing on my roles at RLS, furthering my research and traveling back and forth from Kigali. Life seems very normal and natural. At school, I have settled into my roles and have begun to come up with ideas on how to improve certain programs and contribute to others. I tutor 4 students: Jeanette in English-speaking and confidence-building skills, Kennedy in mathematics, Kevin in English, and Margaret in English and helping her to create useful study habits. I alternate from having them read books and write short little essays about things they love to having them just speak to me so that they can practice speaking and thinking critically out loud. I also seek to be someone that they can come to when they need to talk about something challenging or whenever they need a resource. In Brene Brown’s book, “Braving the Wilderness,” she discusses the importance of vulnerability in creating relationships and focusing on building trust in order to have candid and powerful moments. I seek to accomplish such intentions with my students. She also discusses that we as humans should live from a wild heart and not a weary one. That we should have a…
Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.
Living with purpose and curiosity, seeking to making meaningful connections and to continue learning every day, is in my opinion the purpose of life. While I want the students I tutor to learn and grow their minds, I more importantly want to make sure that they know the power of relying on another person through friendship and how to practice trust, empathy and vulnerability. Only after making valuable connections and relationships, can we begin to shape communities and seek to create solutions to cyclic problems in society.
I really look forward to tutoring Jeanette each week, as I get to work with her on building her own confidence in herself, her speaking skills and her English. So far I have had her practice speaking loudly by having her repeat loud and soft voices in order to differentiate volume levels and feel more comfortable speaking in a loud voice. In Rwanda, women are discouraged from having a loud voice and are instead expected to be reserved, quiet and un-vocal. With Jeanette, I am trying to break this social expectation and have her feel comfortable having and more importantly OWNING her individual voice. For example, I have her repeat sounds that I make along with the movements of traditional Rwandan dance moves; Jeanette is in fact a magnificent dancer, which is why I wanted her to connect something she loves with something new and unfamiliar. I have also had her read a storybook aloud like she was presenting to a classroom. I can already tell some major improvements in her attitude towards speaking English and her desire to build up her confidence.
My other role at the school is leading music class with Dan. I surprised myself by how naturally I fell into the role of teaching and commanding a classroom. In the class I led by myself, I opened by having them say their name, their favorite animal and performing their favorite dance move. Then we stretched and vocally warmed up. I taught them the song “Hosanna” by Hillsong United, and then we played singing tag (which is basically tag but the person that is “it” sings whatever song they like until they tag someone else.) To my surprise when I taught my youngest class the week after teaching them the song “Hosanna,” they remembered the whole song! To explain, it’s not like I gave them sheet music or anything, I just had them repeat a line of the song after I sang it. So the fact that they retained the melody, rhythm and lyrics was very impressive. I believe that this ability stems from their culture that puts such an emphasis on storytelling and oral tradition, hence allowing them to retain oral sounds and messages more adeptly and accurately. I wonder too if this ability is ingrained in genetics as well as culture. Just something to ponder.
Some other roles I have assumed at RLS are: managing social media, researching potential grants for our school, and helping with random projects that pop up. I am hoping to organize a discussion during one of our clubs to discuss gender equality and to help the students think critically about their communities. Additionally, at the next staff meeting, Dan and I will be presenting what we learning at the MAP workshop which will be incredibly helpful for some extracurricular grounds and for CREW (their class focused on developing critical thinking through activity-based applications.)
On the side, I have been furthering my research! This past friday I went to the Women’s Bakery in the Remera district in Kigali. I spoke with my friend Hilary, an expat, who works as the Project Manager at WB, and I interviewed Ruth, the Cafe Operations Manager. Our discussions were extremely fruitful and they have lead me to many more connections and new ideas to pursue. This upcoming week I will be attending a weekly meeting at Nyambinga, a project of Girl Effect that seeks to advocate for the health, creativity and agency of Rwandan girls in the Eastern district. I will also be visiting my friend Kurtis at Mashrika, the organization that organized the workshop I attended two weeks ago. Lastly, I will be taking a basket-weaving class at the Nyamiramba Women’s Center in Kigali this weekend. My goal is to visit as many organizations that empower women as I can, so that I can begin to make connections with other people involved in similar work. Additionally, I want to accumulate as much research as possible as I can over the next month, so that I can begin writing and connecting my previous research with the observations and interviews that I make during my time here.
For the interviews, my goals are to ask women to share their stories and explain how their choices have lead them to where they are today. I want to understand what barriers they have encountered and how they have faced these challenges. I also want to understand individual understandings of feminism and opinions on gender equality in Rwanda.
My overall goals for my research are:
-To study the differences between Western and African feminism.
-To understand more fully what African feminism means.
-To define Rwandan feminism.
-To understand how there are still so many obstacles for the women in Rwanda, and yet they are ranked as the fifth-most gender equal nation out of 143 nations.
-To analyze the accuracy and relevance of rankings/data research.
-To see what roles Rwandan women play in society – public and private.
-To learn how the women I interview have led and impacted their communities.
It has been affirming and energizing to get back into my research, as my thesis-writing was such a big part of life this past year. Also, writing has given me an outlet to explore new ideas and share the incredible testimonies of resilience and leadership here in Rwanda. Amen for that. Sawa Sawa.
At the annual Rwandan Cultural Fashion Show with my friend, Shema^