Sunday, May 11, 2014

Reflecting on the Job Search Process

Some Stats:
  • 17 Informational interviews (8 in person in DC, 9 on the phone)
  • 10 Physical business cards collected (I had no idea this practice from the 80s was still in use.)
  • 9 different online placement services registered for (This is a complete waste of time and never generated even one lead.)
  • 57 Cover letters written / resumes sent for posted positions
  • 9 Screening/ first interviews
  • 4 Lengthy exercises completed after screening interviews (3 of which led to offers)
  • 23 Total job interviews (13 in person, 10 on the phone/Skype)
  • 5 Job offers (3 Interview processes terminated after I accepted an offer.)
  • 86 Days of Job Search (27-Jan-14-wrote first cover letter to 23-Apr-14-accepted offer)
Ratio of First Interviews to Applications: (9/57) 16%
Ratio of Offers to Applications: (5/57) 9%
Ratio of Offers to First Interviews: (5/9) 55%

So from the 'stat shot' above my main conclusion is that I had a pretty low conversion rate for my applications, but once people met me, I had a solid conversion rate from interview to offer.  Maybe my cover letters were crap.  I tried hard.  I do not know.  (Part of the reason is that the app number is a bit inflated because in the beginning I was applying for some jobs I was not quite qualified for.  I now think that is a complete waste of time.  For every job posting they will get 1 zillion qualified applicants, why would they even look at an applicant missing one of the desired qualifications?)

Anecdotes:
  • Of the 5 offers I ultimately received, I had an introduction or some kind of connection for 3 and the other 2 were cold, unconnected applications.
  • In interviews people only asked me about my time at Accenture, even though I left there in 2009.  The work I did for a small agency was irrelevant, despite being essentially the same.  Big firm management consulting experience is viewed as some kind of talisman.
  • HR screening interviews are absurd, because the girl from HR (always a girl) does not understand the job you have applied for, and could not perform it, but attempts to assess your ability to fill the position.
  • HR/Recruiting personnel are the club bouncers of the job application process, irrelevant and drunk on their own power.
  • I still CAN NOT BELIEVE how many people were willing to meet me for informational interviews. It is shocking. It is a waste of their time.  And yet they agree.  Distant connections and friends of friends spent an hour with me on the phone or even in their office.  NO ONE I asked for an informational interview said no.  Not a single person! I met VPs, Directors and in one instance, a CEO.  My only rationale for this is that the HR/recruiting prices is so broken that meeting people and expanding your network is the only way to identify and hire quality resources. If I were billed for the 17 hours of informational interviews I got for free from senior resources, the value would be over $10K.  It is shocking to me that this is the natural course of events.
  • Some recruiting blogs will tell you that even when interviewing in this era of business casual, "Dress for Success" is still required.  That is complete BS.  I was always overdressed for my interviews in a dress and matching cardigan from Banana Republic with low heeled 9 West pumps. At least in the non profit space, casual clothing was the norm and I was a weirdo that escaped from a Talbots or Ann Taylor catalog. Dress young and hip if you can pull it off.
  • Devex are a bunch of jerks that wouldn't let me PAY to come to a job fair because I wasn't DEV enough.  Well, I got a job in the field anyway and you guys can GTH if you ever want anything at all from me.
  • Jobs posted on job boards like Idealist get 1 zillion applicants per position.  Identify 20 or so companies you want to work for and look at their online internal job posting page to find roles you qualify for.  Many of the postings on job boards have already been filled or are no longer current.  Check the company pages for new postings regularly and apply ASAP for roles you are 100% qualified for.
  • I was notified that my LinkedIn was viewed by almost everyone scheduled to interview me, so worth it to make sure that everything there is scrubbed and shiny.

Searching for a job is the worst, most soul crushing experience. Every single day of it I was sure I would never work again.  You can't even get a job bagging groceries any more (at least in DC the Giant is self-bagging).  I was sitting in my basement firing off cover letters that felt like messages in a bottle from a desert isle. It felt hopeless and impossible.  It was hard to see I was making progress.  I HATE asking for favors and sorting through my LinkedIn for friends of friends I hadn't talked to in years to ask if they would introduce me to someone at their company seemed soooooo transparent and self-serving.  I was ashamed.  I owe SO SO SO SO SO many favors now. If I can ever help anyone to get a job so help me I will do anything I can do.

Interviews are complete agony.  I struggled to find a balance to describe my accomplishments so I did not sound like a pompous ass and also so I did not sound like pathetic loser who has never achieved anything.  Confident but humble?  Principled but flexible? It is an exercise in contradictions. It is a hard tone for me to strike.

I owe so many people thanks for help with informational interviews but also advice and help with the agonizing self-loathing and indecision the job search brings. "Should I use a colon or a comma here?" with the implication that the right answer gets me the job and the wrong answer loses it.  Maybe the course of my life hinges on if I save this file in .docx or .pdf? So many of you listened to me complain about the job search, advised on clothing, helped with wording choices (managed or led?), discussed job options and supported me in one way or another.  THANK YOU!!

86 days seems like a terribly long time, but actually now I think that part of it is just a long recruiting cycle.  Just the other day (in May) I got an email asking to schedule a screening interview for a job I applied for in February.  It takes HR a while to pull all the resumes and sort through them.  The bigger the company, the slower they move. 

During those 86 days I worked pretty hard on the job search.  I was either researching job boards, writing cover letters, tuning my resume, completing exercises, emailing to ask for a connection to an informational interview and attending interviews (informational or aspirational). I did not do a whole lot of anything else, though I did take 3 days off and visit family in Raleigh at one point. I would say I spent over 60 hours per week on job search activities.

In the end, for the offer I accepted, I never actually wrote a cover letter.  I went in for an informational interview, mentioned a job that was posted on their website to ask if I was the type of applicant they were seeking, and was referred to a screening interview from that and went on from there. They met me before I was an applicant.  My second option though, and one I considered very seriously, was a complete cold call online application.  I sent them a PowerPoint in addition to my cover letter and resume addressing each qualification and function listed in the job posting and explaining how specifically I had already succeeded at that task. Maybe that is nerdy overkill, but it worked in that instance.

So, if you are thinking about changing jobs, my opinion based on this process is that you should get a new one before you leave your old one.  If you're between jobs, hang in there.  You are not alone and the situation is not as dark as it seems. Aim to connect directly at the peers and supervisors you would have at your ideal employers and avoid HR and recruiting as much as possible.  (Unless you were also in a sorority, then go nuts). 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

THE BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT OF MY ENTIRE LIFE: PART 2 - 4 Scholarships!!!

I have great news.
Maybe the best news of my life.
Okay, maybe not my achievement, but I was right there.  I am so excited. I am over the moon.

You remember Application Boot Camp.  20 of the top kids from ASYV in their final year spent an extra two weeks in the village working on university applications after the end of the year.  It was hard, and we had no way of knowing at the time if it would work out.  I have recently learned that 4 of those students will receive full MasterCard Scholarships!!! 

They are the ones who worked so hard, overcoming incredible backstories, getting impressive grades, studying for the TOEFL English exam and the National Exam. They are the ones who wrote the essays and filled out the applications. But I was right there, and I helped. I helped with getting the TOEFL test paid for and scheduled.  I helped with looking up all the forms, editing the applications, explaining terms like 'address' (no one has one in Rwanda), First Name, Family Name, Surname (they just do it different there) and about 1000 other application fields.  I helped to organize the camp and research the different processes for each school.  I've never been more proud of a work output in my life.

Here's the news:

  • Libia Niyode will attend the University of British Columbia in Vancouver
  • Innocent Nzayisenga will attend McGill University in Montreal.
  • Jeaninne Ingabire will attend Arizona State University.
  • Immaculee Mugwaneza will attend Arizona State University.

Deepest of thanks to the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program who is providing total scholarships including airfare, stipends, books and all expenses for these four great kids to the partner schools ASU, McGill and UBC. I may never use Visa again.

Here's a quick hall of heroes. Rwanda, rest of world, get to know your future leaders:
Libia is seated in the center, smiling
Libia Niyode studied History, Economics and Geography in high school.  He was the school valedictorian, with excellent grades all 4 years.  He scored a perfect 73 (yes the scale is out of 73) on the national exam! He is an extraordinarily dedicated kid, always studying. He loves to play and watch football (soccer) and I know he will love UBC. (Somehow I don't have a good photo of Libia. That is CRAZY.  I will have to take one when I go to visit him in Vancouver.)  Libia was also received a full scholarship to McGill University, but chose UBC. Libia wants to study economics at University.

Jeaninne wearing a cute bow at s fashion show in the dining hall with her buddy Julien.
Jeaninne Ingabire was third in her class by GPA, which is an amazing feat given that she studied the dreaded Math, Physics and Computers combination, and no one in the school is ever awarded good grades in Math. She was the point guard on the basketball team.  She is so independent and needed very little help with her applications.  (She was also accepted to MSU, but didn't get a scholarship there.  That is a miss for Sparty.)  She will be kicking ass at ASU.  Jeaninne may pursue Women's Studies at university.

Immaculee looking like herself...
...and here, a bit more dolled up.
You remember Immaculee Mugwaneza, who wrote the essay that was Part I in this series.  She is my inspiration.  In high school she studied Math, Chemistry and Biology.  She wants to study modern agricultural techniques to take back to Rwanda. Macky, as her friends call, her has overcome a lot and I am so proud of her.

The one and only Blameless, (Innocent Nzayisenga)
Innocent Nzayisenga studied English, French and Kinyarwanda for his combination and also had a great score on his national exam and 4 years of excellent grades.  Innocent is a singer, songwriter and a music producer.  He also got in to ASU, but chose McGill.  He wants to study journalism, but may have to put that on hold while he tours with his album. Do you know anyone who knows Pharrell? I am pretty sure Pharrell and Blameyface will be besties if I can just make the introduction.

 You remember when I blogged about my top 6 students:
6 scholarly young men
As it stands now, Innocent, in the top right, is headed to McGill.  Claude (top left) and Pacifique (bottom center) have been accepted into Bridge2Rwanda.  B2R is a one year prep program that helps promising students improve their TOEFL and SAT scores and apply to many universities.  They have a great placement ratio and I am really hopeful that those two will end up with scholarships as well, so three out of six with very exciting futures indeed.  My other three sons (Maurice, Serge and Jean Claude Du) will go to university in Rwanda.  They didn't quite achieve their dreams yet, and there has been some disappointment, but I hope that striving for these scholarships taught them some lessons and this was just one step on the way to their own success.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Search is Over: GlobalGiving!

I spent the last 3 months looking for a job. (More on that process and what I learned from it soon.)

I'm thrilled to announce I've accepted a new position at GlobalGiving.  GlobalGiving is a charity fundraising website that gives social entrepreneurs and non-profits from anywhere in the world a chance to raise the money that they need to improve their communities.  

Check it out: 

I'll be a Senior Development Manager there, contributing to a team that is working towards significant expansion of the already successful platform.  I'm excited to continue working in the online industry, and to join an organization with a mission I am passionate about: To catalyze a global market for ideas, information, and money that democratizes aid and philanthropy.

I was fortunate to have some great choices and thanks so much to those of you who listened to me whine on ad nauseam about them while I tried to make a choice.  In the end this role and organization was the place I felt most comfortable.

The position is in DC, so I'll be staying in town. 


I am grateful to have received so much help and advice in this quest to change careers.  Tons of friends (and friends-of-friends) sent me links, job postings or suggestions of people who I might be able to speak with. Thanks! It worked.

I start May 12 and I can't wait.  I'll let you know how it goes.

(File under 'well, obviously': After a hiatus for the job search I'm back to blogging periodically here at 'Spondence.  I have some things to share but I doubt I'll be writing as much as I did last year.  We'll see.  I just got a cable package with NBATV so I may be posting a bit about the #Playoffs.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

is that me?




Tag cloud of my resume from the kind folks at http://tagcrowd.com/ .

The job search is a strange exercise.  I want to be choosy, but open-minded; Principled but flexible; Working soon, but not at the expense of working wrong.

Friday, December 20, 2013

When They Meet with an Obstacle, Mount to the Sky;

Happy Holidays!

Welcome to my 2013 holiday letter, a throwback to when we communicated in more than 140 character bursts. How quaint! 2013 was an amazing, incredible year.  I spent the year living in Rwanda and working for the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village

I lived inside the village, near Rwamagana about an hour east of Kigali.  I ate my meals in a dining hall with 500 high school students.  I was a 'cousin' to a family of 15 orphaned and vulnerable girls who live together in the village, in the Eleanor Roosevelt Family.  With them, I worked on the farm, helped with homework, played games, taught English and tried to serve as an adult role model living the values of the village.  It was amazing to see a group of teenage girls learn to treat each other as family and blossom in the safety and opportunity of the village. 

It is a rare thing indeed to be given a whole additional family and I feel so lucky.  I traveled around Rwanda to visit each of the girls in their home outside of the village and those were rich and memorable trips.  It is not often that just showing up matters, but in some cases the presence of a foreign visitor for a girl that doesn't have much social status in her village can be a big deal.

Here's me with Eleanor Roosevelt:
The whole fam

My 'day job' was working in the Student Resource Center, like a high school guidance counselor's office, helping the oldest kids with resumes, studying for the TOEFL and scholarship applications. Having spent my professional life in consulting, I approached this role as if I had 500 clients.  Without fail, these were the best clients I ever had.  So appreciative.  So eager.  No less demanding.  There were always more requests from students than hours in the day and I was always busy and frequently exhausted, but the days were interesting and felt like they mattered.

Here's me at work in the resource center:
"Copy/paste from Wikipedia is frowned upon."


Really the best part of the work was making friends with the kids and getting to know them.  I had a blast and now I am really missing some of my buddies.
Ferdinand and me at his house in Kigali

Yvonne and me on a bus before a big adventure

Maxime, future ruler of the world.  Bow down now.

Me and Serge/O2: Rapper, class valedictorian and Ethanol Entrepreneur, to name just a few

Maurice and Miki discuss the documentation for Science Extravaganza day

Maurice is my new little brother and taught me all kinds of things.  He worked hard to take care of me all year. A real highlight of the year was him making me spaghetti dinner.  He is one of the students I worked closely with in Application Boot Camp for the last couple months. Give me a call if you know any admissions officers with clout.

It's hard to sum up an experience like this without leaning on trite cliches.  What I can say is that I've been inspired by children who have overcome more than you can imagine and still have wonderful positive outlooks and take charge attitudes.  I hope that I can stay mindful of them while dealing with things that qualify as annoying or 'problems' now that I'm back home.  It was also very nice to be reminded that we 'need' a lot less than we think we do, and that possessions can be a real drag.

Now that I'm used to being surrounded by 500 students all the time, being away from them feels quiet and strange.  

Aside from working with the kids, I really enjoyed running in Rwanda, with beautiful, hilly trails at elevation.  Now that I'm home safe, I can tell you without my mom having a heart attack that I also liked taking zippy little motos everywhere to get around.  They are just so convenient and the trip is always exciting.

While there, I took a couple of great side trips.  In April, I went Gorilla trekking in Rwanda.  It was a beautiful, memorable experience. 
This baby gorilla was about 2 meters from me, taking a nap


I also went on a visually stunning safari in Tanzania seeing the Serengeti and all manner of wildlife.  Highlights for me were watching the giraffes and the hyenas.
'Phants and 'Phants


In August, I went to Zanzibar for a beach vacation.  All the cliches about that place are totally true.  It blew away my expectations and was the most beautiful place I have ever vacationed.  The ocean views were straight out of a Corona commercial.  It's a pity it is not that easy to get to, because I heartily recommend it.

This beautiful view from my front porch of  cheap, cute rental

Me on the Beach in a state of total appreciation


I'd be remiss if I didn't take a chance to thank everyone who helped and supported me this year.  I received care packages, donations for the village, letters, and even simple emails checking in to keep me connected to home and my spirits up.  I always felt lucky and loved and thanks to everyone for being a part of that.
Thanks to folks from Scripps and others who donated dictionaries to the village

As for 2014, I truly have no idea.  Place your bets. Send your suggestions.  My short term goals are getting over jet lag, getting my winter coats out of storage and catching up on the NBA.  I'll be in North Carolina for the holidays visiting my mom, my sister and her two girls, Kate and Lindy, who in just one year grew up into complete, fully functioning adults.  I am hoping they will give me an internship or at least agree to mentor me.  I may try to be in Philly on March 1st when the 76ers retire Allen Iverson's number (Dorko, make a note). What can I say, it's a time of transition for me and my heroes.

As always, I hope you enjoy the holiday letter and don't find it too obnoxious.  You can 'opt out' by sending an email asking to be removed from this distribution list.  For those of you looking for more frequent updates, you can find me online at http://courtneyspondence.blogspot.com/ and @CourtneyMFK on Twitter.

Happy New Year!  May your 2014 be peaceful and fun.


Love,

Courtney

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sweet Baby Kate

I go to Rwanda for one year and this happens:


Here is Kate, on the left, heading out to a school dance with a friend.

When I left she looked like this, I promise:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Visiting Eleanor Roosevelt at 'Home'

     So I've done some 'home' visits before.  This can be confusing.  "Wait, aren't they orphans?" some friends ask. Yes, or selected for extreme vulnerability, (remaining parent is sick or unable to give care, extreme poverty, abuse in the home.)  Also Rwanda's social system is very different than the US.  Everyone has some guardian, assigned by the government. It might be an uncle you hardly know, some distant cousin, a stepmother.  This guardian might be pretty unhappy you've been assigned to them.  Or not.  Maybe they care for the student the best the can.  Regardless of the situation everyone has to leave the village during school vacations, so they maintain some connection with where they came from, and so they have somewhere to go when the time is up. This stresses me out, seeing them going back to vulnerable situations they were selected out of, However, for some of the kids just being in the village and having other people call to check up on them can improve how their guardians treat them, or how they are perceived for the future.  If you think your house boy is going to turn into a well educated earner you might be a bit nicer to him.  So it's possible the situation they are returning to isn't quite as dire as the one they left.
     Some of my girls live entirely alone, or only with other siblings.  Some live in homes with a surviving parent who has remarried.  (In Rwanda its pretty common for this new spouse to be openly hostile to the previous union's children.  This of course seems crazy to me, but is cultural.)  Some live with Grandparents or 'Granduncles'.  Many live with aunts or uncles that have plenty of their own children to care for.  Many work as house girls / domestic servants for their guardians during the break. 

After the *end* (brief break? halftime?) of Application Boot Camp, I went to see everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt I hadn't been to see yet. 9 more girls.  Every visit was wonderful.  All the girls were glad to see me and I was always shown Rwandan hospitality and treated like royalty.  Below are a few photos and a few notes from the visits.  For some of the longer visits, I was afraid I would get lost and took Yvonne with me as my tour guide.  She was amazing and is the best travel companion one could ever hope for.

Agnes, Me, Her Mom
Visiting Agnes was nuts! We took a bus two hours south to Nyanze.  Then a 1 hour moto ride to Busoro city.  Then asked around for her at the local government because she does not have a phone and her mom doesn't have a phone.  We finally found someone who knew where she lives and took us to a bike taxi to take us, for another 1 hour ride.  When we got there she was so surprised. She said she didn't think we could ever find her. It was great to see her.

Travel team starting a journey in Nyambugogo Bus Park

Friend and Ornella
Improbably, on the way to visit Josiane, we bumped in to Ornella in Remera bus park with a friend.  Doesn't she look all grown up with braids in?

Josiane's family and Me

Josiane lives in Muthenderi, in the East, not too far from Kibungo.  I met her mom at the baptism recently at ASYV. She has two younger brothers and a younger sister. It was a long journey to find her and there was no mobile phone service, so Yvonne had to work extra hard to track down where to go by asking anyone nearby.  When we finally arrived it was great to meet the whole family.

Brother, Cow, Me, Adelphine

Ancient Granny, Aunt, Me, Adelphine, Brother

Adelphine lives with her aunt, 2 brothers and an ancient Grandmother who insisted on walking me up the steep train back to the dirt road they live off.  Her family was super nice and super generous.  Her brother had set up a solar panel so the family could charge their cell phones.

Solar set up in Rugobabgoba

Violette and her Family
 That same day in the afternoon I visited Violette. Her aunt had a little baby girl named Chance that cried a lot.  This photo is Violette's aunt, self, Aunt, cousin and laughing Grandmother. Violette showed me around her village.  She took me to a community animal share where these pigs are starving.  The photos are terrible, they were moving constantly and the light and angles were all wrong, but trust me starving pigs look weird:

This is a pig,  In Runda.

Yvonne and Josiane sample the fresh cassava root 
Yvonne and I travelled to Butare to visit Josiane, who lives alone mostly or sometimes with her half-brother when he is around.  I met her neighbors and saw the fields she cultivates.  She harvested some cassava root for me right there and we ate some fresh from the ground. Yes, she is wearing a Plaisir shirt, one of two competing condom brands here in Rwanda.  Okay, this didn't delight me, but I do support condom use.

Chantal, her Brother and some kids who live nearby
Chantal lives in the Western Province, in a house alone with her brother who is 1 year older than her, Placide. They do have some aunts and uncles nearby.  After a 2 hour bus ride to Ngororero, a 30 minute moto ridge to Gatumba, she met us near a market.  Then we hiked 1 hour straight up to the house where they live.  Mountain goat style.  The house is adorably decorated and impeccably kept.  It's hard to imagine what this house would be like with two American teens living there on their own.


Chantal, Yvonne, Placide and a friend, about halfway up to their house

Noeline, Her Aunt, Uncle, and 4 boy cousins

Noeline and 2 cousins in front of her house

I visisted Noeline in Cuminagatanu (15) about 20 minutes outside of Kigali town center.  She lives with her uncle, aunt and their 4 sons.  Her uncle is an interesting guy who told me Anne Heyman could not really be a woman because she was so intelligent. Thanks.  Noeline was so glad to see me and made me a special card.

The visits were all bitter sweet because it was so good to see the girls, and also for most of them this will be my last time seeing them, at least until I come back for their graduation in 2016.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

ABC: Application Boot Camp - Sleep Deprivation Training

I am so exhausted.  And drained.  And spent.  

Raissa, Esther, Poet, Du and Jeaninne working on Applications

Immaculee, Francine and Jean Bosco - yes there's an app for that

Tonto Eric visits to lend support and one zillion recommendation letters

There's no way these photos can display the complete chaos of the past few weeks.  After exams finished in the village twenty senior 6 (seniors) students were allowed to stay in the village for two weeks to work on university applications. They were selected based in their grades and a mid-year college essay writing exercise.  These are some of the top students in the village.  The thinking is that these are the students that will have the best chance of being accepted and receiving a scholarship to a university.

They had really not started working on college applications at all before their national leaving exam.  Everyone is laser focused on studying for this exam, basically all year, but especially third term and it's hard to get them to think about anything else.  Now, with exams finished, they're all supposed to go home, but the catch is home probably does not have electricity, let alone a computer, and in the age of online university applications this is a real barrier.

So we hosted this program where the students could stay after school and work on applications.  There were actually 21, 1 student from last year.  They were working on applications primarily for MasterCard Foundation Scholarships like UBC, McGill, University of Toronto, Arizona State University and Michigan State University and some other possible scholarship opportunities.

I had thought it would be a fun couple of weeks, answering few questions.  Reading a few essays.  It was fun, but it was insane.

I had 10 'counselees'.  So many of the form application questions make no sense if you're Rwandan.  Address? No one in Rwanda has an address (we use the school's).  First Name and Last Name (given name / family name) are even a big discussion.  Rwandan's (like Imaculee Mugwaneza) have two names, a western and a Rwandan, but neither follow from your family and they think of Mugwaneza as first.  Don't even get me started on 'What is the value of your home?"  The kids had never filled out any forms like these.

And the applications are complicated.  For just one, first you apply to the school, request an application fee waiver, send transcripts, letters of recommendation, letters of financial validation AND then you apply for the scholarship, with the same biographical data forms again, then tons of financial information and then lots and lots of essays. For just one student, and just one school it is a lengthy complicated process.

Add 20 students, all hoping to apply to many schools. Mix in regular power outages that caused kids to lose their work (Save! Save! Save frequently please!) Documents need to be completed, printed, signed by people all over the village, scanned, the PDF file size needs to be shrunk and then, then you can submit part of an application.

The students would be at my house asking questions at 6 AM.  Serge showed up while I was taking a shower.  "I'm in the shower, Serge!  Can I have a few minutes?"  He replied "No Problem" and started shouting his questions at me.  KIds stayed in the computer lab working until 2 or 3 AM.

I had real trouble setting limits.  "No I don't have time to answer this question that is simple for me but a complete unknown for you and blocks you from applying to follow your life dream." So there were ten baby birds, loudly chirping, and one very tired robin flying to get a worm, grab a cup of coffee on the way back, give the worm to one baby bird who is unsatisfied and see 9 others squawking their heads off.

Camp was scheduled to run from November 11 through the 22nd.  But on the 23rd none of them left.  "We're not finished.  We have more questions."  To be fair the power had been out for long stretches ever single day of ABC.  Finally, on Tuesday Nov 26, I left, as an escape plan and because I needed to start visiting the remainder of the girls from Eleanor Roosevelt (more on that soon). They are still calling and showing up in Kigali with questions.  My guess now is that this will 'end' when all the applications are due.

It's a very difficult process.  I'm not sure if any of them will succeed.  However, we will have tried.  I think maybe the practice of applying, and paying attention to every detail on the application will be good for everyone who made the effort.

I would like to go to sleep for a week, but I need to visit the rest of my girls from Eleanor Roosevelt and start getting ready to come home.

Breaking: I'll be back in the US in December.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

6 Futures



Yesterday these 6 kids took the TOEFL test.  I have been working with them all year tutoring English.  These are the top English speakers in the village and it was a privilege to work with them.  Needless to say, I love them all to pieces and I wish the best for them.  

They wanted to take the TOEFL to use the scores to apply for American universities that offer the MasterCard Scholars program, Arizona State University and Michigan State University (but don't require the SAT).  The MasterCard program is an amazing soup-to-nuts scholarship that provides plane fare and a small living stipend and is one of the only realistic ways these students can study abroad.  Lots of universities offer tuition reduction, or even free but our kids cannot afford to get there in the first place, or pay for room and board, so they really need a complete scholarship if they are going to attend.

There were some shenanigans.  I, for one, should never be left in charge of 'a' child.  (Ask my beautiful, narrowly still surviving niece Kate what it is like to be under my 'care').  Now these kids are all over 18, and can pretty much take care of themselves, but have not been in places like supermarkets (where I took them to by breakfast food) and restaurants, where I took them to feed them dinner.  Being under my 'care' in the big city of Kigali is maybe not the most relaxing way to prepare for a big test.  I felt a lot of responsibility to make sure all of their needs were met. They were articulating needs 6 at a time at high volume, causing me some anxiety.  One particular lowlight was me forgetting to tell one of the kids, Innocent, that the bathroom door in the Kigali apartment is broken and cannot be shut all the way or can't be reopened.  Innocent pretty naturally closed the bathroom door to take a shower at 5 AM on test day and found himself trapped.  He was in there for a while as I mostly wrung my hands and said "everything is going to be fine" in increasingly shrill tones until one of the other boys freed him using a kitchen knife on the lock mechanism.  They their best tried to take good care of me, but it is a tough job.

I'm not sure how they did on the TOEFL.  The test is difficult and the day was stressful for them.  I tried to make them go to bed early the night before but they wanted to stay up and cram.  The day of the test was crazy.  They needed some passport photos that we didn't have and this caused some stress. (We got them later, see above.)The actual test seemed much harder to them than the practice tests we had been taking. They left the test feeling pretty down.

In turn, this made me feel pretty down.  Maybe I didn't prepare them well enough.  Maybe we shouldn't have gone down this path anyway if it is so difficult.  A planned 'celebration' lunch after the test was late (due to some transport issues) and glum.  They stared morosely at pizza they didn't like and asked to be taken home.  It was so hard for me to see these 6 feel so down.  They really are amazing kids and so talented in so many ways. I hate that I played a part in making them feel less confident, or question their abilities.

I came home and cried.  They went home and went straight to bed. For something I have been working on all year, it felt like a setback.  I don't know if any of them did well enough on the test to be admitted to ASU or MSU.

What I am sure about is no matter how this test went, they *will* be successful in the future.  These kids are so resilient and have already overcome so much.  When I see their work ethic and their commitment, I know they can't help but succeed. I look forward to seeing their progress as the years unfold.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Eleanor Roosevelt: The End of the First Year

Eleanor Roosevelt went home on November 7.  It was heartbreaking hugging the girls as the got on the busses that will carry them across Rwanda. They won't come back to Agahozo until January 4, so this is a long time for them to be in the vulnerable homes they were rescued from.  I understand the need for these girls to maintain relationships with their community, and to have place to go in 4 years when their time at Agahozo ends.  On the other hand, this is such a dangerous time for them, knowing some of them with be without adequate food and shelter, some will be without medications they need, some will be with guardians who don't love or care for them.   Hopefully what they have learned in this year will make this time more bearable.  Since I won't be here when they get back, this was excruciating for me.  I will be visiting a lot more of the girls in the coming weeks, so it wasn't goodbye for everyone, but it was still very hard.

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After a year in the village, Josiane is healthier, but still has her persistent, hacking cough at times. She enjoys singing with the choir and will continue this next year.  She was placed in the most remedial of the academic classes this year, but she made the biggest progress in her entire grade and got the highest grades in her entire class.  



Violette drastically improved her English this year.  She has found her niche with the student led, 'Genesis of Creativity' a fashion and modeling collective.  You saw her vamping on the runway in a recent post . She's excited about coming back for next year.


Ornella started and finished the year strong.  She did well in school and performed in debates, village quiz, basketball, science day, the school-wide chess competition and pretty much every opportunity that came her way.  I have challenged her to keep pushing her English outside of class with a current events discussion group made up of mostly Sr. 4 & Sr. 5 students.  She is a leader for her entire grade.  She already has a job tutoring English over the vacation, which should keep her busy.


Honorine worked hard at every opportunity she had.  She seeks attention at every turn and will continue to perform poems at Village Time.  She learned a lot socially this year and I expect that development to continue over the next years.


Adelphine is always a joy.  She still has her trademark broad smile and ready laugh for anyone. Still, she was sadder than most of the girls about the other cousins leaving. She is taking the separation pretty hard. I am looking forward to visiting her at her home in Kamonyi.


Chantal spent a lot of the year worrying about her brother who was home alone without a guardian.  The joy of being here can turn to guilt if someone you love is hungry and alone.  She was so excited to leave the village to go and see him and care for him.  She was very strong in her language classes and the school tagged her a 'language leader'.  She is planning to teach her new English skills to her brother when she gets home.  She will always be my attitudinal north star.  She was so positive with every challenge and such a delight to be around.


Noeline's transformation this year was quite substantial, though it might not show in the photos.  She got to be a kid at least a little bit, and this was something totally new for her.  She also got to have a few possessions for the first time, so started doing girly things like fretting about her outfit and accessorizing.  It was great to see her laugh and joke and dance.  Noeline was an absolute star all year on ASYV news, reporting regularly on the news around the village.  I think she'll continue to write and take steps to pursue her dream of being a journalist.


Alice has much better English than she lets on.  She made a lot of friends this year and is a very social girl.  Maybe she's not taking school that seriously, but everyone can't be valedictorian and I'm not that worried about it.  She's a confident girl and I think she's going to be just fine.




Adelaide really struggled to balance her interest in sports and dancing with some pressure she got from female Rwandan staff to stay at home and do fewer activities.  I tried hard to counterbalance this that she should do everything in the village and take advantage of as many opportunities as possible.  She's a very thoughtful girl and we'll see how this turns out of the coming years.  I really hope she sticks with the basketball team because she enjoys it and it's a great way for her to build confidence.


Agnes' self confidence grew by leaps and sounds this year.  She started to think about her opinions of things and to challenge things instead of accepting everything.  It was amazing to see her presenting a book report on Malaysia in English in front of her entire class when she had been too shy to speak many words even in Kinyarwanda at home when the year started.  She is well-liked by the other girls and is serious in her studies.  


Samila did well in school all year. She started the year a little more sophisticated and maybe a bit standoffish from her sisters but by the end she was a well-integrated part of the family.  She wants to continue pursuing drama and sketches and likes to watch movies.  At her behest, after everyone finished their exams we watched Twilight 1, which I had heard so much about of course, but never seen.  While I can't recommend it, the girls enjoyed it and we all had a good time.



Yvonne is a shining light.  She is so direct, and so positive at the same time.  "Cousin, you are dirty! (me coming back from running).  Go and wash!"  Said with a laugh and huge grin that makes it seem like a nice suggestion not a criticism.  Thanks, Yvonne. She had some back aches and headaches this year that are usually a sign more of stress than anything, but I think she'll be okay.  She is going to accompany me on some of my travels to visit the other girls and keep and eye on me.  I'm in good hands. She was very excited to go home and see her grandmother and her younger sister. She works hard at school and enjoys dancing with the other kids.



Grace found her voice this year in the theatre productions and sketches.  She learned to be loud and confident to express herself.  It was a lot of fun to see her on stage. Being an Adventists separates her a bit from the family.  She never does farm or muchaka with us, instead she goes to church on Saturdays with about 20 other kids and then does these activities by herself on Sunday.  She was a serious student who did well on her report cards, and I can't see any reason she won't continue to thrive in and out of the classroom next year.

Josiane was written up in the Village Times (a newsletter for friers and donors at ASYV) for her transformation this year.  She really benefitted from being in a safe place where she didn't have to fear physical harm or punishment.  When she started out the year I didn't think the muscles in her face could form a smile, but by the end she was laughing and teasing me with all the other girls. She improved so much in school. (It's a lot easier to learn things when you're not having a panic attack, apparently.)  She enjoys hanging out with her sisters so much.  She wants to study languages and maybe be a translator one day. 



Happiness became a 'Village Super Star' this year.  She is an amazing singer and it was clear she has one of the top voices in the entire village.  She worked with other singers and musicians to write and record her own song here in the village recording studio. There is an elaborate video with backup dancers and about 15 costume changes. She did all this on top of her choreography for the dance group.  It's clear she'll continue to be active in the performing arts and be a regular at Village Time.  She's classically shy offstage, but in her element and confident on stage.


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I'll miss them all so much, and it' so hard to think about family time next year without my being there.  They'll be fine, they have each other, but I'll be a mess without them back in the US. I think the village gives them so much, from basic needs like food and clothing to mental health care and arts enrichment, to a top quality education, but I think the most important thing the village gives them is each other. They are told and taught to behave like a family and for their whole lives they'll have 14 other girls who love them and can help them find shelter and work and care and between them there isn't a problem they won't be able to solve.  It's hard to go home and accept that I won't be with them any more, but I know they have so many other caring adults in their lives at Agahozo.  They are in good hands and they are being given every opportunity to succeed.