stand by me

Ben E. King authored (brilliantly) “Stand by Me” in 1960. It’s one of my favorite songs – ever. Always has been. At least since I started listening to music as a young girl. The lyrics are hauntingly stunning and poetic. So simple – and yet they say so much.

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

I stumbled across the Tracy Chapman cover this week and it’s been on replay for the last few days. I love her humble renditions; something about her voice brings me to tears frequently.

Always, it seems, I hold tightly to “Stand by Me” when big change and transition presents itself in life.

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Three years ago, I remember sitting underneath the expansive, starry, deep blue sky at Maisara’s home in our village. I still had 6 months left in my Peace Corps service, but we were talking about the pending change – and what would come after.

“We don’t always know what is ahead of us, Maisara,” I began, “but, you can be sure that no matter the distance between us, I will always stand by you. I will support you, love you, and encourage you – no matter where I go. I want to hold onto these times forever, but don’t worry, even better is going to come. Just you wait and see.”

She chuckled, almost in disbelief, “Yego sha! Turi kumwe.” (Yes my dear, we are together).

I didn’t have to say anything. I knew I would remain true to my word. In turn, I knew she – and her sister – would continue to impact my life in unimaginable ways. They have. They do. They will.

They, along with 4 other girls, are a part of a group of women that have already changed their country. They hail from deep village pockets; from places many Rwandans have never heard of. They went to a tired, resource-lacking public school. Be it sickness, death, poverty, divorce, or hunger, they struggle.

Still. That is only one side of their story. They are writing the next part. They write with their excellent marks; with their leadership positions; with their shifting attitudes; and with their dreams. Always, with their dreams.

We talk monthly, and though they don’t realize it, those conversations are often what propel me to keep going too, to keep my head up and remain open to all that life has for us.  They inspired me when we lived together so many years ago – and even now they have the ability to do so. It’s incredible. They’ve taught me so much about life. They are the great storytellers in my life.

Three of these girls will FINISH their secondary school this year.
Three of these girls will FINISH their secondary school next year.

When I left Rwanda, that was my dream. That our lives would remain connected; forging together with gusto; and helping pave the way for greater access to education. It’s happening – and we’re almost there. If you want to help the girls finish the sprint to the finish you can contribute to the fund here

I set out to raise $4,000 to make this happen about two years ago, and now, with only a couple terms to go, we’re only in need of $625! Let’s do this. Murakoze cyane. Thank you very much.

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Peace Corps Passport: Featured Blog

Follow the link below to read a story I published for Peace Corps Passport, the national blog for the US Peace Corps.

Corps to Career: how this RPCV found her way back to her host country

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“Imagine…”

I’m writing this from my small mobile device while on the bike at the gym. I feel that compelled and urged to share.

I just got off the phone with Divine (yes, I am also that annoying girl who talks on the phone while exercising. Yes, I know it’s annoying. Add it to my list of “things to work on“.

Our morning conversation went something like this:

Divine: “ehhhhhbabaweeeeeee! You saw Susanna in that city, New York?! Wow! How is your family now Christmas has finished?”

Me: (after musing on NYC’s massive amounts of people), “Divine, they are great. Brother is doing well. But we have finished eating so much food that somehow we can become fat!”

Divine: “Imagine! That’s so wonderful!”

Because really, this is the best kind of news you can give when it comes to families.

This led to a conversation about school and family. First, one of the children Divine’s mother has taken in as her own temporarily (the father is Divine’s half-brother who has been busy searching for work in a bigger Eastern city) has lost it’s birth mother to illness. This means another mouth to feed on a more permanent basis. Which also means Divine’s priority on school holiday has not been gathering information on transferring to another school with a more stable environment (even at her boarding school this year they would sometimes be out of water). Luckily, we may have found one, but more funds will be needed over time.

Sometimes I IMAGINE if things were different. And it breaks my heart. But, it also encourages me too.

If you are at all able, please consider donating even just $5. That pays for a part of a uniform. Seriously. Eventually I hope to achieve an ability to provide tax receipts. Wihangane as they say in Rwanda: sorry, but please take patience.

The link below does not only serve to support Divine’s school. It’s for Yazina, Eugenie, Zahara, and Maisara. My girls. Our girls. With all my heart, thank you.

CLICK HERE – DONATE TODAY!

 

Girls’ Education Interviews

Friends,

While working in Rwanda this summer for my internship at a Kigali bank, I was also able to catch up with 4 of my girls who are being assisted stateside to continue their education. To those who have helped, THANK YOU, your contribution is incredible – as you can see from the comments in the video compilation.

I completed the interviews with permission from them and their families and informed them that they would be posted for people to understand the impact that the education contributions were having on their lives. They happily agreed to answer questions on camera.

The 4 interviews were compiled and edited for a video totaling just over 16 minutes.

I hope you enjoy watching and let me know if you have any questions.

If you are interested in contributing to the project please go to the link here: GIRLS EDUCATION FUND

Peace and Love,

Heather

women’s day revisited

my GLOW girls at camp last summer.

my GLOW girls at camp last summer.

Last weekend was International Women’s Day.

It’s a cool day because it’s a celebration, a call to action, a recognition, and honestly, a pretty big party all over the globe. People call out great women who have done incredible things – and many women also gather together to discuss what can be done further into the future.

Here’s one of my favorite videos of a girl who’s out there doing a wonderful thing on her own accord: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NT_O5xtEhsw

If nothing else, it’s a day for personal reflection, thinking about what it means to be a woman, and being proud of that.

Last year, right around this time, my girls were working closely with GirlHub Rwanda, a program sponsored by the Nike Foundation, to complete “consultations”. Their representatives came to our school, ran some activities, and interviewed the girls about their experiences and stories.

To celebrate Women’s Day last year, the Nike representatives had come for the first time, and filmed me teaching the girls lyrics to Alicia Key’s “Superwoman” song. You can be sure that for the rest of the school year, our club meetings were full of adolescent girls screaming “teacher! I am a superwoman!” I’m not kidding.

The Girl Hub team would came later and interview them about having a safe space at school for our GLOW club.

They would come again and ask them to declare what needed to be done to help girls’ in poverty. They wanted their ideas to put them on the agenda for the 2015 Millennium Development Goals. I couldn’t stress it enough to the girls: y’all are a BIG deal!

And yet again, they would come another time and film them for the video they created to present to representatives of the United Nations.

In making decisions for my “next step” I try to close my eyes and imagine those girls in the room around me. It’s important for me to do that because I think it helps me stay anchored in finding exactly what I’ll be doing with my life. I imagine they are there, singing, sharing their ideas like they always did – and I ask myself, what continues to be their most pressing need?

If I’m guided by that question, then I am confident in any kind of decision I will make.

My women’s day celebration was quiet this year – work, running, dinner – but those girls, and many others, were on my mind. I keep them close in my heart and am proud of the work they have done – and will continue to do. International Women’s Day, like I noted, is certainly a time to appreciate the accomplishments of women. However, it’s an important time to also consider what’s left to be done and the many things that not only should be addressed but need to be addressed.

I’m still in constant contact with several of my girls and they are doing quite well. I really believe that a lot of our discussions in GLOW shifted their worldview just enough to see their own possibilities. And that’s amazing.

But perhaps what has been most difficult in coming back is knowing the reach of GLOW and our discussions, and yet realizing that ultimately, a lot of my girls are still “stuck” in an economically stagnant situation. That’s why I have been an avid supporter and advocate for their education. I believe it’s their chance – their access – to a life where all of their basic needs are met. I’m not looking to be their savior or be the one that rescues them. I’m really not. But, if I’m able to link them with opportunities – where it will be them having to make a case for themselves – then I’m happy to be that door.

Take Divine. Last we spoke, she was ranked #2 in her class, was chosen to represent her school when the bishop came to visit, and has started to take part in the school’s debate club. She’s pulling her weight, and she’s getting results.

Poverty is cruel and unfair and wrong. And unfortunately, women tend to take a huge brunt of that problem. I’ve been doing a lot of reading however, and there is reason to hope. In the world of microfinance, women are huge targets when it comes to finding reliable and strong borrowers; when you give a woman a loan she uses it well. She invests in her family, in food, and in outcomes that can provide sustainability to her family in the long run. Women tend to use their money to benefit a wide-range of people in the world of small-scale loans – and I think that’s where you can find a lot of hope and promise in consideration of many attempts to alleviate poverty. No answer is perfect, but some are better than others.

Below are a couple links related to Women’s Day; the first is a video that was released last year regarding the global development goals for women which Divine appears in, the second is how this video was made in which a lot of my girls show up in, and the last link is the findings report after the entire process of gathering girls’ ideas from more than 14 different countries and 500 different girls.

The Girl Declaration

Launching the Girl Declaration

Insights Report from the Girl Declaration

Nike Girl Hub Consultation

Nike Girl Hub Consultation

Nike Girl Hub Consultation

Nike Girl Hub Consultation