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.


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.


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.

Real Love

This video pretty much sums up the year.

Special attention to Violette at 0:53, Yvonne at 1:15, Chantal at 1:31, Alice at 3:38, and Adelphine at 3:40.

Credit: Jerrod Popham, Thumbtacks and Parachutes productions, a fellow long term volunteer with me this year.

Blog spot is all kinds of messed up, maybe due to filesize, but you can try to watch the video here if you want:

Thanks Jerrod for letting me post this video.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Catching up on some Photos

Hi there.  Just checking in with a few photos from the phone.  

Crystal Cola is popular in Rwanda and you can buy it for take away in most of the tiny shops around:
IMHO, Our friends at Crystal may have some copyright and trademark discussions around their choice of font.
They are real, check them out here.

This sign is at a sports club in Kigali.  I was terrified for a while, but now I think it is a typo for a 'cap'.

Eleanor Roosevelt lives two houses away from my house, but right next to the boy cousin's house.  About 10 feet apart. All my girls are in love with the boy cousins, in a cute way.  (Mostly Avi & Miki.)  It's possible someone in the photo below has a little crush:
Adelphine and Avi

Remember the first day of school?  Here's some of Eleanor Roosevelt on the last day of school, getting their report cards.  
Yvonne, Josiane, Violette, Grace and Samila
They were also assigned combinations (like Math, Chemistry and Physics) or (History, Economics and Geography) and these are the only subjects they'll study for the next three years of high school. I'll be honest, there were some tears.

Doing laundry during grading week after exams:
Yvonne, Josiane, Josiane and Adelphine
After you wash your clothing you can just spread them on the ground to dry.  It works just fine.  It really does.  Also, as I assume I've mentioned before, you can wash your shoes after every wearing just like clothing.

Remember Immaculee?  She's finished with secondary school now, and she is glad:
Immaculee after her last National Exam
So, the kids are done with exams and leaving or left and I am working in the village for a few more weeks with a select group of Sr. 6 kids on TOEFL prep and university scholarship applications.  It's crazy and stressful and pretty amazing.  More on ER soon.  

I played pick up in Kigali the other day.  The girls are amazing. Like really aggressive on D and can put it.  It was awesome.  Also, I am old and out of shape.

Hope you are doing well.  I guess the global warming scientist can say I told you so now about the super storms for the Nth time (Sandy, Katrina, Hayian).  I wish that were worth a dern.