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May 2, 2008

Project Unity - Achieving Gender Equality in the Central African Republic

Women have, throughout history, been considered all too frequently as second-class citizens. I found it very interesting that of the 37 charitable organizations helping out in the Central African Republic, only one of them dealt with women's issues. I highly agreed with the fact that education is the only way to change these women's situations, since we are dealing with age-old values as the core of the problem.

The only way to make women a more presentable force in a society is to literally change the connotations and opinions of the citizens. Giving women power or money or rights doesn't help them if their fellow townspeople don't feel that they deserve it. They wouldn't respect them and therefore, when shaded from the law, wouldn't respect any rules we could put in place about their treatment. This is why domestic violence is still so prevalent. It isn't that men are more allowed to beat their wives (at least not in our society,) it's that the age-old idea that men are superior beings that perpetuates these activities below the eyes of even the most "civilized" societies.

I think the approach this group recommended really would help these women in the best way possible. Taking them out of their homes or preventing them from participating in the activities they have always traditionally been responsible for, such as child-rearing or domestic duties, would not help them, it would only strip them of their culture and cause tension and hostility with anyone who still held their beliefs of inferiority. This method gives them a sense of accomplishment, a sense of duty, a sense of importance, and an education, and it's quite feasible from what I can tell.

By giving the women teaching jobs, you raise their importance level within the community. They then become not just the raisers of their own children, but responsible for the well-being of everyone's children. They become a valuable asset to the community at large instead of just to their own households, if it even was felt that they were that before. By giving them this importance, they can gain a little more respect, and sense of self-worth.

By educating them, they are gaining opportunities they wouldn't have had before, which I won't get into because the importance of education in general would be another paper entirely.

The kicker here, I think, is in the education of the children. By teaching the women of the community how to teach, they become knowledge-bearers in the children's eyes. They become the source of education to the children, so in those important years of developing values and priorities, these children can have a chance to learn to respect women instead of just thinking of them as, again, child bearers and cooks. This in itself is the key. We can't swoop in and change the connotations and beliefs in adult minds overnight. We can't do anything to make the adults in this society stop thinking of women as lesser beings unless they want to. But giving the women this knowledge and showing that to the children, and having the women have a say in what the kids are learning, that could be all the difference in changing the ideals that hold women down. Once again, education is key.

How do I feel about my experience with Study Buddies? Meh.

My study buddy was an adorable 6 year old boy named Mohamed. His smile will make anyone's heart melt, he cleans up after himself, and he is very smart when he puts his mind to something. I worked with him all year, and although he can be frustrating sometimes, as any 6 year old can, I usually leave with a sense of accomplishment and that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you feel like you've done something good. Two days ago, on the last day I would ever help Mohamed with his homework. he told me he hated me and didn't want me to come back next year.

I had been nervous about our last meeting, wondering if he was going to be sad that we wouldn't be seeing each other anymore. It was one of those bittersweet selfish thoughts; I didn't want him to be sad... but I kinda did. So when I told him I was signing up to come back next year and his reply was "Nooo!" you'd think it would have hit me pretty hard. But I knew then and I know now that it wasn't personal. I know that I did the best with him that I could have. I know that it's hard to sit and listen to a stranger tell you what to do, especially when you're a six year old Muslim boy and that stranger is a college age woman. I also know, from working with Mohamed all year, that he is a particularly headstrong, proud, and easily distracted boy. These qualities are especially deterring when sitting in a room fun of games and toys in front of a big window with the whole world outside, and the situation placed me in the role of disciplinarian. I had to be the one to tell him he couldn't run around the room reenacting his favorite Bad Boys 2 moments, that told him he needed to stop coloring a picture of gangsters and do his homework, that told him he couldn't go to the water fountain alone, or to the staff-only equipment room. I was just another voice of "no," and as that was the only impression he ever got of me, I understand his feelings.

This experience was very enlightening for me. We are spoon-fed the glamorous image of tutoring that little underprivileged kid who only wants to learn against all odds, that they will fall hopelessly in love with us and we'll keep in touch for the rest of our lives. I saw some groups there who looked like they were connecting, that they were friends who were having a great starry-eyed journey through the winding road of knowledge. But I also saw some very tired looking volunteer faces of students like myself, doing it for class credit, in whose eyes I saw little but "alright, here I am again." I also heard some mentees complain loudly about their homework assignments and the way the service was being run. Mainly I was so busy trying to raise my voice as little as possible while still commanding polite authority over my six-year-old rebel, trying to explain to him why he couldn't do whatever he wanted after his homework was done, and letting him win at board games because he threw a fit if he ever wasn't in a commanding lead with the ability to constantly gloat.

When I signed up for next year and Mohamed protested, I asked him if he didn't want me to come back next year. When he said no, I was slightly offended, but cheerfully replied "OK, well then I'll come back and work with someone else." All in all it was a rewarding experience even though I don't necessarily think I had too much of an impact on his impressionable little life. I mean, really, he knew how to do 85% of his homework without me saying a thing. Half the time he told me he didn't want me to help (unless he was asking me for the answers). But the times he did need my help, and I could help him, really was that warm fuzzy feeling. It was sparse and tough to get to, and sometimes I wanted to tear my hair out, but it was worth it. And if I can fit it into my schedule, I will try and come back next semester. Who knows, maybe I'll get that fairy tale bonding experience we see in the movies. Maybe not. There's only one way to find out.

February 29, 2008

I'm broke...

College has been the bane of my existence and the love of my life.

for the last 5 years i have been expected to know what i want to do. The only problem is, people expect there to be one answer. I, unfortunately, want to do everything. kahlo49_jpg.jpg
I have had 9 different majors since I started school, and although I loved each one at the beginning, I have had a major fear of commitment a little while in and stopped. I can't bear the idea of doing one thing for the rest of my life when there are so many wonderful and beautiful things out there to do. Here's a short list of some things I would like to do at some point for some time -

I'd sing to orphans. I'd sing to anyone who'd listen. shut-up-and-sing-8.jpg
I'd paint. I 'd make music videos just for fun. I'd design cost effective yet intellectually and socially stimulating elementary schools and rehabilitation centers. I'd council teenagers through their angst. I'd revolutionize sustainable building practices and recycling methods. I'd create completely vegan food that tastes so good no one will ever want to eat meat again. vegan.jpg
I'd design and build vegan restaurants everywhere, educate children on animal cruelty, and come down hard on factory farms everywhere. I'd travel the world and take photographs of joy and sadness, and post them on billboards, churches, highway signs, schools, television. I would raise children. I would exercise. I would sleep a lot.

I want to make a difference in the world. I'm not jaded yet, and I still think I could have a chance, if I didn't have to waste so much time taking mandatory 2 years of foreign language and a specific number of electives. I wish I could just take classes and then use that knowledge to get a job, any job that strikes my fancy. But I have to get the degree to get the job to make the money to pay for the classes. And that puts a large wrench in my plans.

I want people to see what's out there. I want high schoolers to know that they don't have to get in and out of school in 4 years. That they don't have to know what they want at 18. That school can be about actually learning, and that learning can be about exploring all the wonderful knowledge that exists in the world. I wish more people could enjoy their classes, take classes they want to take, learn what they want to learn. I wish I could. I've done a lot of that and now I'm so far in debt I don't know what my future looks like without scrimping every penny. I now have to restrict the number of classes I want to take so that I can afford to take the ones I need. It's a vicious, vicious cycle that puts a dark cloud over what should be the beautiful gift of education.

Honestly, if I were released from the constraints of school I'd stay in school the rest of my life.