Sunday, May 7, 2017

Umuganda & Challenge

The last Saturday of every month is a mandatory day of service in Rwanda called Umuganda.  We do service every Saturday here in the Village, but because of Umuganda last month, some of our students went out into the local community for service.  We partnered with an organization called Earth Enable that makes sustainable flooring.  They donated 4 floors to genocide survivors.  Some of the students helped with the flooring and others did landscaping throughout the neighborhood.

I went along because I wanted to see how Umuganda takes place in the community and not just within ASYV.  At first I felt a little awkward; I wandered around checking out the new floors and seeing the neighborhood.  Then, one of the students asked me if I had ever used a machete to trim hedges.  I said no and asked him to teach me.  I then had way too much fun with it and proceeded to trim the hedges around the house for the rest of the morning.  Some locals found the sight of the white lady swinging a machete mildly entertaining and took pictures of me.  The woman whose house it was started talking to the student who taught me how to swing the machete.  He later translated for me that she was surprised/impressed that I could do it well.  I have him to thank for making Umuganda so much fun.

I truly enjoyed this Umuganda experience.  It’s neat to live in such a little country and see what can happen with a smaller and more homogenous population.  I wish something like this could happen at home!  I guess I can just go help my Padre with the yard since I have him to thank for teaching me to work outside as a kid J Padre, since I’m not strong enough to hold the hedge trimmer at least I can help with a machete now! 
M-C wielding a machete

At ASYV, we live by our seven Core Values.  One of those is Learning Community: seek and maximize opportunity for growth and development.  To embody this value, the whole staff, from Finance to Family Mamas, gets together for an hour and a half every Wednesday morning to learn together.  Topics range from learning about adolescent trauma to better understand our students to learning to tango.

Since the start of the year I have wanted to lead a Challenge Course Learning Community.  Last week I finally got my chance!  I got to use the skills I worked on at the FSU Reservation to run a few team building activities for everyone.  Adapting these activities to a bilingual community proved quite fun.  Everyone got competitive playing tag and then we practiced silent communication and working together in different teams towards a common goal.  Overall, it seemed like those who participated enjoyed the experience and learning a little something.  I definitely remembered how much I love the Rez and everything I learned there.  Now to look forward to a Cousin Learning Community coming up – Jewish Cooking! 
Challenge Course!

Monday, April 24, 2017


Before we knew it, the first term, aka the first THIRD of our time at the Village, came to a close.  Three other cousins and I headed immediately to Uganda for a safari.  It was absolutely incredible!  Here is a brief breakdown of what we did:

First stop: Lake Bunyoni
Lake Bunyoni has 29 different islands.  We stayed in a geodome at an eco-friendly hostel powered entirely by solar electricity.  It also had compost toilets aka glorified outhouses.  But the outdoor showers were pretty cool.

Next stop: Queen Elizabeth Park
After leaving Bunyoni we headed to a National Park to settle into a Bush Lodge.  We went on our first drive where we saw plenty of bush and waterbucks and cobs and water buffalo and also elephants!!!  The next day was exceptionally exciting as we went chimpanzee trekking.  Our guide had us follow the sounds of the chimps as we literally sprinted through the jungle with him, climbing across trees and rivers with hippos and stumbling through the brush.  We were rewarded with seeing at least half of the chimp clan.  I felt right at home.  The last day we ended by seeing two lions – one male and one female.  Lions are hard to come by in the wild so we felt quite lucky!

Last stop: Back to Bunyoni
We returned to our beloved island where we spent time relaxing and canoeing.  I enjoyed the cool water and the rope swing! 

After returning from our Ugandan Safari, we headed to the southern coast of Kenya to chill by the beach.  It was absolutely beautiful.  Below are some of the random notes I wrote on my phone while I was there:

So in love with Kenya! Brasilian bracelet left me in Uganda – side note, that was quite sad as that bracelet lived on my wrist for almost a decade.  I guess I just need to return to Brasil now!
Day 1: beach and then lunch with blue ball monkeys. Delicious fish. Then chill. Nakumatt ice cream fell on the ground. Met cool Japanese couple that has been traveling for 3 years and has seen 90 countries. Went out with crazy Kenyan men and danced a lot. I want to learn to dance better! They were so fun.
Day 2: awoke to our roommate almost pooping in the laundry basket. Decided we needed to leave hostel.  Moved into a resort for 2 nights. Best pool ever. Post pool went to the beach for a bit. Octopus is chewy. Coconuts taste bad here. Then the most incredible sushi dinner. We heart fish. 
Day 3: pool morning. Then to Galu beach. Most incredible fish lunch courtesy of tattooed Swiss lady. Went on a sailboat with 3 Kenyan men to attempt snorkeling. Tiny jellyfish stung us. I will never stop being entertained by water. 
Day 4: drive to Kilifi. Late lunch, volleyball, and happy hour at the new eco lodge. It's pretty and people tend to stay here. 
Day 5: take a tuktuk to a beach with absolutely no one! Seems like volcanic rock is all over the sand and makes for all these cool tiny eco systems. Peter and I explored. Then the Jews wandered in the desert. Attempted lunch and shopping in town. Finished Americanah. Afternoon yoga and then full moon dhow sailing! People were very interesting. 
Day 6: my Chaco tan is officially gone. We went snorkeling on the show with captain Issa. Saw so many fish and coral!! 
Day 7: chilled by the pool and drank a Peter drink. Twas quite lovely. More volleyball. Wonderful butter rich dinner courtesy of David. 
Day 8: more pool! Pizza party and beer pong night at the hostel. Stay up til sunrise then on our plane!

A few other things about vacation:
-       I feel happy and rejewvenated. 
-       I’m bad at taking pictures but luckily my friends rock at it so most of these photos are courtesy of them (mostly the very skilled Peter Lee).  Special shout out to Peter for capturing many moments without us noticing.
We missed Passover but when we returned to the Village we did a sort of Seder and it was super cute and fun.

Tea Plantation

Getting ready for Chimp Trekking!

Hi Mom!

Hi Dad!



Steering the Dhow

Monday, March 27, 2017


It’s funny how new settings can make you rethink the same old things always swirling around your brain.  When I lived with the most wonderful German family all I could think about was how I wanted to live like them when I have a family of my own – surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, children, friends, everyone.  I loved the constant stream of visitors and how 24 of their closest friends and family went skiing together every winter for a week.  

Now I’m a part of a different kind of family.  A family not tied together biologically but with a set of values.  When youth come to live at ASYV they become a part of a family.  It’s a very important part of how these children heal from their troubled pasts.  Each family lives in a home with a Rwandan Mama.  The Mama signs a four-year contract and very much becomes a mother to her 20 teenagers.  In addition, for the first year of school, each family has a Big Brother or Sister (an ASYV graduate) and a Cousin (a foreigner to help with English – that’s me!)  Each family creates its own set of guidelines, but we all live by our Core Values: respect, commitment, support, integrity, learning community, role model, and interest of the child.  It’s that last value, interest of the child, at the heart of it all.  Everything we do, we do in the interest of our youth.  I love having these values as daily reminders of why it is we do what we do.  Seeing my family members take on these values as their own is also incredibly humbling.  Though I’m only a physical presence in this family for one year, I hope we all continue to learn from each other for a long time to come. 

Something else I learned last year that I am re-learning right now is having a family, while incredibly rewarding, is also incredibly difficult.  Balancing the wants and needs of a big group of people while also keeping everyone’s best interests at heart definitely poses a challenge: whether it’s making sure I gave enough attention to each of the three wonderful German children or engaging equal amounts with each of my 20 Rwandan teenagers and not just the better English speakers. 

Another thing about families is that sometimes they don’t work out.  My Rwandan Mama is currently in the US visiting her daughter and won’t be back until next term.  My Big Sister has left the Village and won’t be back except to visit.  That happened in the middle of exam week and in the middle of a service group.  Needless to say, taking on both of their roles has been a bit tiring.  But I’m here for the students, and what an incredible group of young women they are.  Even though our family feels a little lacking right now, we still stick together.

I’m incredibly grateful for all of the families I’ve become a part of over the years – whether they be Brasilian, German, or Rwandan.  I’m also quite lucky that my family of origin happens to be pretty rocking.  I miss your crass commentary, our dumb diatribes, and of course your jokes and your love.  Shout out to all the families around ☺  

The day we became a family!

The day we received our name - Gandhi!