Monday, October 12, 2015

International Day of the Girl

Girls are important, but oftentimes, in Ethiopia, girls are important because it’s them who fetch the water, cook the meals, clean the house, and make the coffee. Many Ethiopian girls are given fewer opportunities than boys and both women and girls are discriminated against in many different and subtle ways. Ethiopia is not alone in this. Many other countries suffer from similar problems, and even in the US, women and men are not treated 100% equally.     

presenting at the morning flag ceremony
In Ethiopia, 60% of boys are literate, but only 40% of girls are. Half of Ethiopian children don’t finish their primary education and only 1 in 3 girls go to secondary school (high school). There are 9 million girls in Ethiopia, and if two thirds of them are not getting a high school education, that’s 6 million girls who have missed the opportunity for an education. Six million girls who are falling behind with little opportunity to make money for themselves and their family. Six million girls who are heading for a life of poverty.

If every girl finished school, they would add 4 billion dollars to the Ethiopian economy, which is more than Ethiopia receives in international aid each year. That is why I decided to celebrate the International Day of the Girl on October 11th. I want to support all my students, but especially the girls. They need encouragement and guidance and they need to know that they are worth something, and that something is not small or insignificant.

To commemorate the day, Spencer and I worked with my coworker, Kebede, and a group of 52 ninth and tenth grade girls to create a Wall Against Discrimination. First we showed them a video called Smart Economics, given to us by an NGO called Girl Effect. It talks about the importance of girls and gives examples of how girls’ lives could be better. It also talks about the $4,000,000,000. After the video, we gave each student colored paper to trace their hand and we wrote some sentence starters on the blackboard to give them ideas about what to write. We wrote things like: I wish to stop discrimination against women and girls because…, I wish all girls…, and Girls are important because… It was written in both English and Amharic to ensure the girls understood. A big thank you to Kebede for translating everything!

The next day at the morning flag ceremony I presented our Wall Against Discrimination to the school, while the school director (principle) translated what I said into Amharic. I put it up on the wall on the outside of the administration building, along with some statistics about girls and women in Ethiopia. It’s a central location where every person who walks into the school can see it.

students watching my presentation at the flag ceremony

It’s a small, grass roots project in just one school in a small town in rural Ethiopia, but for those 52 girls, it was great. Change will not happen overnight and it cannot happen with girls alone. Everyone needs to make an effort to create an equal society for all people. Our project might be small, but even if all we did is get people talking about the issues, we have done something worthwhile. 

All statistics are from Girl Effect. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Durame Leadership Camp

After arriving back in Ethiopia from Uganda, we jumped right in to planning, organizing, and running our big summer project: Durame Leadership Camp. 

We spent two weeks teaching students about leadership, life skills, and volunteering, all in English. We taught a range of topics from goal setting to managing stress to how to start a community service project. In the beginning the students didn't know what to expect or why they should learn about leadership, but it didn't take them long to realize that these solid life skills would help them in nearly every aspect of their lives. They also really enjoyed crafting and practicing English.

We wanted camp to be informative and to give our students skills that would help them in school, within their families/communities, and in life, but we also wanted them to have fun! So we did arts and crafts projects, played games, and had a glider tournament.

making friendship bracelets
glider tournament
fun with gliders
making a leadership quote poster to take home
leadership quotes
Overall, camp was a great success! It was fun to work with some of our best students and see how much they grew and gained confidence in just two weeks. We had a really great group of kids and I'm so proud of the work we accomplished together.

Total Bliss in Kisoro, Southwest Uganga

Peace Corps life can be rough. Even when vacationing and hanging out with my best friend, I felt torn about life and what to do with mine. Should I stay in the Peace Corps? Should I go to graduate school? Is it worth it to stay in Ethiopia if I'm unhappy? What about my community? My students? My commitment to stay in here for 27 months? What about my peace of mind?

There are a lot of options, but what do you do when nothing seems right? I've been struggling with these questions and decisions for the greater part of the summer. My mind is always buzzing with questions that have no clear or easy answers, but then Amanda led us on a short hike in Kisoro to watch the sunset and everything flew away.

For a short, golden-light filled time, everything was bliss. It was the most beautiful spot we visited in Uganda and it's moments like these that give me strength. I don't have all the answers to life, in fact right now I feel like I don't have any, but it's OK. It's OK to be struggling and confused. It's OK to try your best and fail every single day. It's OK. No matter what happens, everything is going to be OK.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Still Here...

Things have been busy this summer! I still have some stuff from Uganda to share with you, a post about our 2-week Durame Leadership Camp, and a couple of posts about traveling within Ethiopia. But that will have to wait a little bit because for the next week and a half, we’ll be Addis for our Mid-Service Conference (MSC). Yay!

MSC is a chance for our group and staff to all get together, talk about the previous year, and make plans for next year. It’s fun to get together with everyone and enjoy Addis while we eat all the foreign food we possibly can. We also go to the dentist for a cleaning/check-up and get a check-up from the Peace Corps doctors, as well. I just had my check-ups today and I’m healthy. Yay, again!

Not a lot to say here, I just realized I hadn’t posted in a while and thought I should check in with all my lovely readers. I hope you all had a great summer and you are looking forward to the cooler days of fall ahead! 

Also, we just celebrated Ethiopian New Year, so I wish you all a very Happy New Year! It's now 2008 in Ethiopia!!  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Omwani Training Cafe in Kyambura

The Omwani Training Café is on the outskirts of the mountain village Kyambura, next to Queen Elizabeth Park. Amanda and Matt had been there before, having heard of it because it was the site of a former Peace Corps volunteer. Omwani trains people on how to work at resorts and hotels. Since it’s so near the park and tourism in Uganda is doing pretty well, there are lots of hotels and resorts around.

It was such a treat for us to stay there because we were the only guests, and Peace Corps volunteers get a generous discount: 50% off everything! They have a big, beautiful compound filled with big trees, flowers, and lots of green grass.

We stayed in the house, but you can also camp if you have the gear. They have a compost toilet, solar hot water outdoor shower, basketball court, wood fire pizza oven, and the best coffee in Uganda. It was really great to sit outside in the shade drinking iced coffee (they have ice!) and chatting with friends, while a flock of tiny chicks peeped by with their mother. It’s a peaceful place. 

At dinner time, they brought out the pizza menus for us to choose our toppings. The pizza was delicious, and I was so happy to eat their homemade sun dried tomatoes—yum! The staff there is really great; they made everything special and comfortable for us. They have the perfect mix of giving you space and getting you what you need. After dinner, I took a hot shower under the stars. I didn’t even need the flashlight because the moon was nearly full. 

We could only stay a couple nights, but I would’ve been happy staying for a week, drinking coffee every morning and eating pizza every night, showering under the stars and falling asleep to the sounds of the crickets. It’s a simple, peaceful, and magical place. Looking back on it now, I’m so grateful we got to stay there. I wish we had something like Omwani close to us in Ethiopia. 

Boat Cruise in Queen Elizabeth Park

The journey to the boat cruise from lunch was FULL of elephants! I wanted to stop and take photos and to watch the elephants along the way for so long that the driver was getting worried we’d miss the boat.

Thankfully, we didn’t miss it and were on our way to seeing many animals. There were hippos, water buffalo, elephants, Nile crocodiles, a little, shy bush buck, a stoic pair of eagles, and many other birds. The tour guide was really knowledgeable and good natured, answering questions from even the smallest children on board. One little boy asked, “What’s male?” which I thought was great.

Enough chatter, let’s let the photos speak for themselves.

After the cruise was over, we met back up with our driver to take us back to Omwani. “Did you see elephants?” he asked me. “Yes! You were right!” I answered with a big, happy smile. 

Safari in Queen Elizabeth Park

We chose to do a safari in Queen Elizabeth Park because it was on our way from Fort Portal—and the epic Fourth of July BBQ—to the city where Amanda is living while serving in the Peace Corps.

We stayed at a lovely place in Kyambura, called the Omwani Training Café. A Peace Corps volunteer lived there in the past and it is set up as a place to help train people to work in resorts and hotels. I’ll make another post about it, because it’s a beautiful compound run by very kind people. Plus, they have excellent coffee, which is hard to find in Uganda.

The lady who runs the place set Spencer and me up with a driver to go on a game drive. He came by the night before to work out the details, and the next day we woke up before the sun to go see some wild animals in the bush. After paying the entrance fees at the park’s office, we were off on our safari. I recently learned that safari means “journey” in Swahili, which I think is lovely. Anytime we go somewhere, I want to call it a safari, just for fun.  

Right in the beginning, I spotted some lions overlooking the plain below. We were the first car there and had them all to ourselves. It was a group of females; I think we spotted 4 of them. They were incredible and almost seemed to glow in the early morning light. Soon other cars of early morning safari goers showed up to see them and we were off in search of other animals.

We saw male impalas battling with their horns, baby impala leaping through the grass after their mothers, and warthogs down on their front knees eating away. We saw massive water buffalo with their dopey looks and drooping horns. There was a short glimpse of a water buck as it disappeared in to the bush, and too many birds to count. I noticed some of the birds were the same or close cousins to, some we’d seen in Ethiopia.

The van we had hired for the day had a sun roof so we could stand up and see all the animals without having to look through windows. It was a beautiful morning, but we still hadn’t seen elephants and I really wanted to see elephants.

While at the office paying the park’s entrance fees, we bought tickets for a boat cruise that evening. All the people we’d talked to who had been to Queen Elizabeth Park had recommended it. The driver kept saying, don’t worry, you’ll see lots of elephants in the afternoon on the boat cruise. I was skeptical, but thought he probably knows best since he lives there, so he dropped us off at a resort for lunch where we had made plans to meet up with Amanda and Matt, her boyfriend.

The resort is called Kingfisher LODGE and it is so beautiful. They have sweeping views of the park, a pool, gorgeous landscaping, and the price to go with it! We definitely couldn’t afford to stay the night there, but lunch was doable. We had some food and hung out by the pool for an hour or so, before it was time to get back in the safari van to go to the boat cruise.

Next up from Uganda: the Queen Elizabeth Park boat cruise.