Obamamania, Cecil, (B)oys (E)xcelling Camp, and Swear-in!

Recent moods:

Obamamania

As many of you probably know, our very own Mr. President visited East Africa last month to discuss development, entrepreneurship, and human rights. For the first time since taking his oath, Obama was able to visit Kenya, his ancestral home.

As a Caucasian American, I will never be able to fully understand a visit “home” like that. My heritage has been painted on a (presumably) all white, European background. If and when I travel to Europe, I won’t feel the strong, emotional motherland ties that someone who is first generation/second generation/knows his or her family tree/etc. may feel. Growing up, I was never confronted with my lack of background knowledge. Tracing my great-great-grandparents back leads me to some Southern states and that’s about as far as I can confirm my lineage. Being in Rwanda, race and nationality are front and center every day. I’ve seen so many interactions between volunteers of color and Rwandans that go a little something like:

Well-meaning Rwandan: “Are you Rwandan?”

Peace Corps Volunteer: “No.”

Rwandan: “Yes you are.”

PCV: “No, I am American.”

Rwandan: “But where are you from?!”

PCV: “I’m from America.”

Rwandan: “But where were you born? Where were your parents born?”

Often, the conversation continues to a point of exhaustion when both parties just stare at one another. Some volunteers of color are able to answer the last question…they know where their family hails from. For others, it’s such a complicated question to answer, especially when it’s being asked daily. The conversation can be had…but it’s difficult. Some volunteers of color may have families who’ve been in the States longer than my own, but for a citizen of Rwanda…who is taught little to nothing about immigration and slavery…I am looked at as more of an American than my fellow volunteers, simply because of skin color.

For many East Africans, Obama’s trip to Kenya meant as much to them as it undoubtedly did to him. “Obamamania”, as it was dubbed, swept East Africa and was all some people could talk about. As I boarded buses, sellers showed me magazines and tee shirts with Obama’s face on it. As I passed traffic circles, I noticed posters with the word “CHANGE” haphazardly stenciled on it. It made me proud to be an American. But here’s what really got me (and what prompted this long rant)…

My counterpart/community liaison/best friend/whatever Peace Corps will label him tomorrow…Maurice!…and I had a great conversation about Obamamania. After a few minutes about joking about all the outfits we were going to buy with Obama’s face on it, he said something that really struck me. He said, “Obama gives me hope. He is God’s proof that anyone can be anything and go anywhere.” As I’d become majorly choked up, I couldn’t really respond right away, but I told him how right he was…and how I’d never really looked at it that way before.

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Obama in Nairobi

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Obama swag in Kenya

All politics aside and whatever your opinions about Barrack Obama…he is inspiring change around the world. My friend Maurice, 9,000+ miles away from America, is hopeful for a better future because he sees that America has a black president, y’all. He has dreams and desires and plans that have always been well within his grasp…but now they’re in his heart and head as well.

Cecil the Lion

So, since I’ve already posted this NY Times article on Facebook, I’ll just say this:

What kind of world are we living in that we value the life of a single lion over the lives of more than ELEVEN THOUSAND people who lost their lives to Ebola in the past year? Living in Rwanda has made me appreciate a number of things…one of which is the sense of community. So, part of me values Facebook and the ability it has to unite peoples from all different backgrounds. But…and this is a big but…it says so much about our culture that we can come together to share images of Cecil and dentist-man and post thousands of statuses about our disgust and yet…in low-income countries, 76 newborns are dying for every 1,000 births…and we remain silent (especially on social media).

I say “we” because I’m including myself in this. I am not a perfect being…far from it. I have and probably will continue to marginalize and clash cultures, without even realizing it. I can only hope that in traveling, I can open my eyes (and perhaps the eyes of some others) to the world beyond that we see on the internet. Cecil’s death was a tragedy. I truly believe that hunting for sport is despicable. But the developing world sees tragedy on a huge scale every day and somehow finds the will to move forward, laugh, and smile despite everything.

BE Camp/My Favorite Time of Year

Now let’s move on to something a whole lot happier: (B)oys (E)xcelling Camp!

Every year, each region holds a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) and BE Camp. Volunteers invite students to attend the week-long camps which focus on teaching all aspects of leadership to Rwanda’s youth. This year, due to some medical issues, I had to skip out on GLOW Camp. Fortunately, I was able to attend BE Camp in its entirety and  taught lessons on HIV/AIDS, peer pressure, and resume-writing. My family group (seventeen boys in total) named themselves the Talent Boys and did not fail to live up to the name.

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The Talent Boys!

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Learning about HIV/AIDS is easier when there’s a soccer ball involved…

This year, I had a particularly good time thanks to my Junior Facilitators, Ivan and Emmanuel. Emmanuel was a returning camper from last year and Ivan was entirely new to the camp thing, but by the end of the week, both boys were experts in the classroom. Every day, I’d teach the morning lesson and the boys would teach the next two. During my lesson, they’d furiously write down notes and repeat nearly everything I mentioned that wasn’t in the teaching manual. They were wonderful! (And made my job so much easier.)

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One of the things we Health volunteers miss out on is forming strong bonds with students; camp allows me time to form those bonds and watch as each camper grows over the week.

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Camp BE 2015

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A bit hard to see, but one of the boys, Emmanuel, made three posters about the lessons he’d learned at camp. They were inspiring and quite impressive!

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Action shot; don’t I look busy?

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Work hard, play harder.

The last day of camp was especially bittersweet since it’s likely the last camp I’ll be at. Since camps usually happen during the big breaks (August and November), I’ll be COS-ed at that point. The first of many “lasts” to come, I suppose. Now that Health 6 is under the year-to-go mark…things are going quite quickly.

Welcome to the Fam, Health 7

Speaking of under a year to go…the newest Health group swore in on August 18th. (And 11 TEFL Response Volunteers who will be finishing up the school term where needed.) Proud that we have twenty-seven new Volunteers in the Health family.

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Look at these beautiful people!

It’s a bit odd to think that Health 5 has left and now we’re the most senior Health group in country. Where did the last year go?

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Grace and me, celebrating our seniority

This new group is helping Peace Corps launch the new initiative, First 1000 Days, which means they’ll be focusing on maternal and child health (MCH) in the first thousand days of a child’s life. The Director of Peace Corps herself, Carrie Hessler-Radelet, came to the swear-in to usher in the new initiative and we were fortunate enough to meet with her. In fact, because we (a few Health 6ers) wandered off to find a table in the shade, a few of us got to have lunch with her.

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The Director of Peace Corps doing the “cow dance” alongside Health 7

Having lunch with the Director reaffirmed that, when the time is right (read: when I’m done serving Rwanda), I’ll be headed back to school for a Master’s in Public Health. After that – well – I told Carrie I was headed for her job…so anything’s possible, really.

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Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet and me…Do I look starstruck?

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5/6 of Health 6! ❤

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