A Monumental Day Ahead

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The class of 2013 getting ready for a photo before the rain comes.

It’s 5am and the girls in my dorm are getting ready to see their peers accept diplomas: The first ever graduation of the Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology here in Rwanda istoday. To understand why I feel like a balloon floating on euphoria you have to hear a little bit about how far these Gashora Academy girls have come.

Anocciat

Anocciat is highly appreciated by her teachers now, but it wasn’t always that way. After fleeing the genocide in Rwanda, Annociat’s mother gave birth to her in Uganda where they lived in a refugee camp. Just like food and water, education was a rarity. Very few were able to go to school but Anocciat was one of the few who attended. It took her 3 hours to walk to school and 3 hours back but she made the journey everyday. She soaked in what education she could but her teachers were keen on making things hard for her just because she was Rwandan. They beat her in front of her classmates, crossed out her right answers on exams and put in wrong ones, all the while saying things like “go back to Rwanda”. Through all of these difficulties, Annociat says “I still held on, worked hard because of true love and passion I had for education and learning.

Enatha

In Enatha’s village, no girls ever go to school. Why? Because people assume girls just get pregnant at school. When Enatha was 7, she asked her father if she could go to school. He told her “Go ahead and try.” So she did. Everyday, she would walk the far distance to school in bare feet since her family could not afford shoes. She would get to school with bloody feet and the children would tease her and break her down but she continued to go because, in her words, “I went there having in mind that I have to do what others have failed.” In an attempt to stop her studies the villagers burnt down her family’s coffee plants, “which were our source of everything.” Her father was traumatized and her mother thought about committing suicide, not knowing how they were going to survive. “After this situation, everyone was telling me to go and practice prostitute in order to get the materials to go to school and I said no that is not my dream.  I struggled, but still working hard was my goal in order to get what I want to be.” Enatha says the experience has pushed her to attain good grades so that her parents will not give up. Although her village is still not happy with her going to school, Enatha says she still attends school because “I have to make a difference and support my community so that they can move from the darkness. Living in the dark, always push me to strive reaching in the light, and I will reach there. This I believe.”

Enatha is striving towards a career as a doctor.

To be a part, however small, of helping these inspirational young women achieve greatness is something I am grateful for. I can’t believe my luck in being able to volunteer for this school that has allowed girls like Enatha and Anocciat to flourish and pursue their goals. This is the school that has sent girls to the prestigious African Leadership Academy: the school that has had girls flourish from being non-English speakers, to receiving high marks on the English SAT section. This is the school that teaches 270 girls how to become physicists, biologists and doctors in a country where only a small percentage of women occupy these positions currently. The Gashora Girls Academy is an epicenter for positive change in Africa. Being a small part of the accomplishments here at this Academy is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Seeing these incredible girls accept their diplomas today will be like watching a new and refreshing history unfold and the beginning of something beautiful.

Daily Life Tidbits

Term three is in full swing: I’m teaching sports and yoga to 50 girls in one class, twice a week, and 70 girls at once another two times a week and also running with 90 students through the village at 5:30 in the morning. One of the funniest parts so far is doing attendance because A; it takes quite a while. And B; I’m terrible at pronouncing their last names so they get a good giggle out of that. This week we’ll be doing kickball and yoga with music. Soon to come: self-defense and dancing.

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Playing Taboo with these lovely ladies

Last night for my Spanish Club we finished up watching Spider Man 3 in Spanish with English subtitles but some girls came in late and I’m sure they were like “Whaaa? Why is this guy in a weird suite and why is that guy made of sand… and what the hell is going on?”

Today my friend and I walked into Gashora. On the way, this kid who goes by the name of Big Dog around the village waved to us and said “Hello!” He’s a nice kid who speaks some English and often translates for my friend Jennie when she’s at the market. We waved to him and said hello back. And when I saw what he had with him in his hand, I stopped dead in my tracks. He was holding a pool cue! And just behind him, sure enough, was a small pool table. If you know me, you know I love playing pool. So naturally, I immediately thought how awesome it’d be to play some pool. I didn’t realize how much I’d been missing it until I caught a glimpse of that pool table in that little room. But we don’t speak Kinyrwanda and we weren’t sure what the cultural implications would be so we continued on our way.

We popped by the market to pick up some greens and avocados (the avocados are INCREDIBLE here!) and had a soda at this little restaurant. But on the way back we ran into our friend who speaks Kinyrwanda and she said, “Sure, let’s go over there.” So she talked with the guys at the pool table and they set up a game for me to play against one of them. The pool tables here are much smaller and there are no numbers on the balls, only red and yellow ones, and the cue ball is the size of a big walnut. So it is slightly different than playing pool in the States but the rules are just about the same. So we started to play and I took an immediate lead (which I was glad to see they seemed impressed about rather than pissed off) and a small crowd of kids and people gathered around to watch. But then he started catching up and soon we were tied: it was neck and neck and only the eight ball remained, everyone watching with curious smiles. I nearly made the winning shot by banking it off two different walls, but alas, no win… Yet. His turn. He hit it too hard and missed. My turn. I set up my shot, taking my time absorbing the suspense and then glided the ball into the corner pocket. My friends cheered and the small group of people clapped. Luckily he was not a sore loser; he was very nice about it.  It was a pretty cool game of pool.