Tag Archives: empowerment

When It’s Hard

19 Jun

The past few weeks have been hard. Yes, no water and electricity hard. Yes, harassment hard. Yes, procrastinating on my thesis hard. But those are normal. I’m talking one of my best friends going home hard. Two of my other best friends encountering one of the scariest moments of their service hard. And having moments where all you do is count the months, days, and even minutes down hard.

It’s hard because these things aren’t happening to me. If I actually sit and think about my past few months, some amazing things have happened: friends from America visited, my sitemate got engaged!, I was in India for chrissakes. But coming home to a lot of uncertainty, melancholy, and old fashioned frustration brought me down fast. And now I feel guilty for feeling blue, which also makes it hard.

It’s hard because I can’t talk about it here. Events that have unfolded that caused some of our best volunteers to choose to go home were out of their control. They were political, and violent, and scary. And because they are political, and violent, and scary they are secret and we are told to keep it so. I had grown used to daily life, and I forgot how close to the edge this country can be. And then we go back to daily life- so quickly, nothing happened, don’t talk about it.

My town was “unaffected” by some of the larger issues. That’s why I’m still here. But protests still happened, bullets still flew, and people still died. Over a housing issue. Had those other events not happened, would the police in my town have been so quick to pull triggers? Had a student not been killed last winter, would our town’s university joined in? Is there a point to asking hypothetical questions? Not really, so we go back to daily life – so quickly, nothing happened, don’t talk about it.

When I lived in Jordan, I worked at the Center for Defending the Freedoms of Journalists. A mouthful, I know. But it was about giving people the right to mouthfuls. We worked to defend freedom of speech. Remind politicians what international laws they had signed. Represent journalists in court. And encourage good journalism, reporting on the issues. I personally worked on putting a grant together for election coverage training. But, y’know, that’s the Middle East. There’s an election coming up here next year. But I’m told I probably shouldn’t mention my former job.

One of the projects I’m most proud of has been setting up a student newspaper at the university. It’s really more of a literary magazine, with student and administration submissions. It is nowhere near objective or free, the administration must approve each and every copy, but at least it’s one space where students can submit at least fiction and basic events coverage and start to think about how powerful information can be.

As volunteers we love the communities we are in. We have created friendships and working partnerships that only living somewhere for two years could forge. Clearly we want our towns to be stable. But being American, you get caught in a philosophical hard place. One of the Peace Corps goals is to share American culture – what is more American than free speech?

But it is hard. And the more it goes on, it makes it hard to care. I wasn’t born here. These aren’t my issues. Keep your head down, your job is health and behavior change. Stick to hand washing. Stick to HIV testing. Stick to girls empowerment? Stick to leadership skills? You see how this could grow sticky.

So I stick to two years. What I can do, I’ve tried to do. What I can’t do, I’ve tried a little to do. But then I can leave. My neighbors can’t. So I get it, change is slow. It’s hard. But when it’s hard, we go back to basics. Work with young girls, work with health, work with education. If these things grow, so will the number of people willing to engage the tough issues.

 

 

 

 

 

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Video

Gondar Camp GLOW Video

7 Sep

After battles with incompatible video, computer crashes, and awful editing software, I finally scraped together the 2013 Camp GLOW video. Sometimes simple is best. And putting the video together made me smile more over the past few days than anything else. Big thanks go to our partners the University of Gondar and Addis Ababa CCL Girls. And we wouldn’t be anywhere without funding from Peace Corps and PEPFAR. Last Camp GLOW post I promise! (until next year!)

Women First – 5K Down Bole

29 Mar

While everyone back home has been talking about marriage equality, here in Ethiopia us Peace Corps women lended our voices to a call for gender equality. While I’m feeling a little like I’m missing out on some big news and change back home, I feel priviledged to be part of the movement for women’s health and education out here in sub-Saharan Africa. Though it makes me sad that these are still issues here. Poverty can be blamed for many things: no access to a health center, no time or incentive to get an education, malnutrition. But it can’t be blamed for those times when women are not seen as “worth it.”

"No woman should die while giving life"

“No woman should die while giving life”

When people say gender equality in America they usually mean equal pay for equal work. When we say gender equality here, it means that, but it also means equal worth of life. A daughter should be educated because she is worth as much as son. A mother should be taken to the health center to give birth because she is worth more than her ability to give birth. A sister should not have to be harrassed on the street because she is more than a walking sex object. Changing minds is harder than changing laws. The laws exist here already.

But one of the ways to change minds, is to show the world that women care. They will stand up for themselves. And when they do, they can be a pretty powerful force.

Nearing the finish line together

Nearing the finish line together

A sea of solidarity

A sea of solidarity

So in mid March, around International Women’s Day, the women of Peace Corps joined in with the women of Addis Ababa and ran a 5K through the city to show that women can, and will come out in droves for themselves.

Representing Peace Corps Ethiopia

Representing Peace Corps Ethiopia

Pumping everyone up as we went.

Pumping everyone up as we went.

Staying stylish as we ran

Staying stylish as we ran

It was one of the best days in country so far. To see that many women come together and know that we were able to cheer them on as they fight for gender equality in their own country was a really inspiring experience.

Making a spirit tunnel near the finish line!!

Making a spirit tunnel near the finish line!!

Ethiopian colours!

Ethiopian colours!

The Peace Corps Ethiopia group!

The Peace Corps Ethiopia group!

But it wasn’t just about the women. The Peace Corps men came out to cheer us on too (and brought beer- good on them!). It was great to see support from our menfolk too.

Empowering Women

Empowering Women

 We are hoping to lobby Peace Corps to sponsor us to bring girls from our towns to Addis next year to run in the race, maybe tour Addis Ababa university, and speak with some inspirational women. Fingers crossed! Because let’s be honest, it isn’t about the race (I barely ran it), it’s about the movement and the solidarity and being surrounded by women who want change. For a young girl, that can be powerful.

The sponsors who do races all over the country.

The sponsors who do races all over the country.