Friday, December 12, 2014

A Detour...

In Burundi there are many detours. There are detours to avoid traffic, to avoid the president's road when he blocks traffic to go play football (soccer) on Fridays, detours to see someone in the hospital before going home, detours that lead you on a 3 hour adventure through Bujumbura when you thought you where just going to grab a coke, detours that lead you to what seems like a million other places that leave no time for what you had originally set out to do, car problem detours, detours to buy a truck worth of fruit and vegetables on the way back to town, detours that lead to ice cream, detours that lead to new friends...

Many detours.

 Yesterday I decided to take another detour. Instead of traveling to Rwanda this week like I had planned (I should know better than to make plans) I will be leaving for the United States on Monday to take care of some health problems.

Turkey Carving!
 No, I don't have Ebola. I have been having Crohn's problems for the last few weeks and can't get treatment for it in Burundi. After two weeks I will go back to Burundi (and then head immediately for a previously planned trip to South Africa). I am not terminating my position, just need to get my health together in order to serve better.

The Crew
 I am sad to be leaving Burundi, but know I will return and know that I am so lucky to be able to travel to the US to get the treatment I need. An unintended consequence is spending Christmas with my family, which I am also thankful for, though I will miss all of my friends and family of Burundi on this holiday.

Brand new bikes help support the church's ministry!
The last few weeks I've been taking more Kirundi lessons, going to weddings, celebrating the 16 Days of awareness for SGBV, and writing a report with other provincial staff on masculinities and SGBV in Makamba (I feel like I'm writing my ISP from study abroad all over again).


The garden starting to grow that Emily and I built! 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

One Single Body?

I wanted to write a more positive blog post about Thanksgiving and the things I am thankful for. I truly have a lot to be thankful for this year and every year. I know that.

But I’m also angry.

I’m angry at my country and my city. I’m angry at people of my race who are not bothered by the system that is set in place in the US and the consequences it has on so many lives – on family, friends, classmates, and moreover other human beings. I’m also angry at the country I’m currently in. At the inequalities that exist here. But also at the violence that is present and increasing as a result of both of these systems of inequality.

Either here or in the US, this violence hits closer to home every day. And I feel like I am surrounded by it.

But I know that in either situation I am privileged. I’m privileged because of the color of my skin. Because of the neighborhood I live in in Bujumbura. Because I have health insurance. Because if it comes down to it, I will be evacuated. And others won't. Because I can go home at the end of the day in the US and not worry about the color of my skin affecting my safety when interacting with police. 

I know that I'm privileged. But I'm still angry. How can we say we are all part of the same body, if we are all acting like many individual parts? 

There are many things that I want to share that I am thankful for though. 

I am thankful for those who are fighting a system that has been in place for too long in the United States. I'm thankful for those who are angered by inequality. I'm thankful for my family here in Bujumbura, and the opportunity to gather together today and eat some amazing food. I'm thankful for babies gaining weight who were born too small. I'm thankful for the internet which will (God willing) allow me to see and talk to my family in the US today. 

I'm sorry this post maybe isn't a complete thought. But here is a classic quote for the day: 

"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. 
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
- Lila Watson

Monday, November 17, 2014

Between the Lines: More to Read!

While you're waiting for updates from me, here are some other blogs you might want to check out!

These two are from fellow Americans living in Burundi! : 

Emily Ambrose works for the Province of the Anglican Church in Burundi as well! She is here doing projects with the development office related to agriculture and nutrition. She's here on part of her program from Cornell University with Episcopal Relief & Development. I've been lucky enough to work alongside her during her time here. 

Amy Marsico is working for the Friends Women's Association in Burundi as a Conflict and Peace-Building Practitioner. She does amazing work with this organization in the areas of providing health-care particularly to vulnerable women and people who are HIV+, empowering women, and peace-building initiatives. 

I also want to share the blogs of my fellow YASCers! They are working all over the world in service! 

Willie Lutes is in South Africa! He's working in communications for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa Environmental Network and Anglican Communion Environmental Network in Cape Town. Basically he is working hard and saving the planet from environmental destruction! He's helping to create a movement from within the Anglican Communion to address these issues. 

Kirsten Lowell is an amazing young woman working in Uruguay! She inspires me everyday to deepen my faith and to allow myself to define, question, and be confident in my beliefs. In the Diocese of Uruguay she is working as an Administrative Assistant for Special Projects.

Ryan Zavacky is living, praying, working, and teaching at Holy Cross School and Monastery in Grahmstown, South Africa. He is assisting teachers at the school and running an after-school program. He's also having quite the experience living and worshiping with the Brothers!

Dearest Kayla Massey is serving in the Philippines this year! She is also working very closely with Episcopal Relief & Development at the E-Care Center in Halsema. She's doing a lot of work getting her hands dirty with agriculture and food security programs!

Justin Davis III is "visiting ships and chillin' with Bishops"! He's working with the Mission to Seafarers in Hong Kong! He's really connecting with people and seeing some amazing things.

Rachel McDaniel is oh so patiently awaiting departure to Santa Maria, Brazil where she will be working with women's and youth ministries.  She is waiting for her visa before starting this wonderful work that she will be so great at.

Joey Anderson is working on a farm in Japan! Asian Rural Institute is his host for the year along with many chickens, ducks, pigs, goats, and gardens!

David Holton is another volunteer serving in the Philippines.  He's working as a teacher in an Episcopal secondary-school, using his many musical talents to enrich the lives of his students!

Elie Echeverry is another member of Team Africa for YASC! She is faithfully serving her community in Kenya this year!

Delaney Ozmun was a YASCer in Eldoret, Kenya that unfortunately had to end her year of service early. Her blog still offers some great insights into life as a YASCer in Africa in particular! And she is a great friend.

Judy Crosby is an honorary YASCer! She is a missionary for the Episcopal Church this year in Dodoma, Tanzania with Carpenter's Kids!

Another honorary YASCer, Bob Canter is serving in Honduras, building houses and whipping volunteers into shape!

Other Servers in Africa! 

These three don't serve in Burundi and aren't a part of YASC but they are doing amazing work, and I can certainly relate to a lot of their posts and reflections from life in Africa. 

Samantha McNelly has just started her service with the Peace Corps in Cameroon! She will be working in agribusiness after her training finishes in Ebolowa. I went to college with Sam!

Devin Johns is a volunteer for Young Adult Volunteers (YAV) which is the Presbyterian version of YASC! She's working this year in Zambia as a teacher for primary school children. Her blog is particularly insightful I think! Devin and I went to college together and attended Westminster Presbyterian Church in Wooster together! 

Lookman Mojeed is a poet, activist, photographer, and friend working for the Peace Corps in Cameroon as well! He's working in the health field and making a big impact on the community he is serving. We studied abroad and bonded together in Cameroon in 2012. 

Thank you all for reading!

The new 5th baby of Louis! (our helper at the house)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Life in Abundance

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

Life in abundance, in a world run by power.

I try not to talk about my spiritual life or thoughts much through directly using the word "God" or the Bible, because of the perception of Christians and Christianity in the US (and because I already have enough of your bugging me about seminary and the priesthood) but I think given the context I'm living and working in right now I might make an exception in this blog post. We'll see.

Recently I went with a team to Makamba, a province at the southern tip of Burundi bordering Tanzania, to do research and talk to people about their perceptions and beliefs about masculinity and SGBV. What we discovered will be used to help the Provincial  Office of the Anglican Church to design programming for the future.

The context: People in Burundi are generally very religious. Church is an all day affair. A simple prayer after a meeting can take 5-15 minutes. The phrase "only God can know" is used so often. Additionally, because people are so drawn to their faith and churches, churches and pastors have the power to have a very big impact on the lives, mentalities and support of their parishioners. They have another advantage too that churches are everywhere. They reach where NGOs cannot reach. They're everywhere, and everyone goes to church. I think this is one of the big advantages of the church here. It can be a great tool to do amazing work.

This network and the possibilities I see in the church gives me so much hope for the opportunity for the coming programs to make a huge impact on the lives of many people.

But some of the beliefs that I heard from pastors is really what shocked me while doing this research.

A lot of the people we talked to -- not just the pastors -- gave us answers that we wanted to hear. But sometimes they were honest. One of these times was often when talking about the Bible.

We asked everyone if God created men and women equal. A great deal of pastors -- and others -- told us that God created men superior to women. This was often explained by the verse in the Bible that states that the woman was made from a bone in Adam's side, and if God wanted them to be equal he would have taken the bone from the head.

Of all of the Bible verses to rationalize this thought process, it surprised me that they used this one. Had I not been trying to be an unbiased researcher/observer I would have retorted asking them what it meant then that men were created from the dirt on the ground.

There were also positive connections however that I was able to make in the Bible in relation to gender equity and relations during this trip. In Genesis 3 God places burdens on Adam and Eve for the sin they had committed. These burdens also create the first difference we see between men and women. Eve must bear the burden of childbirth and her husband will rule over her and Adam too will suffer. These burdens, I realized, in relation to this work, are also the burdens placed on women who suffer from SGBV.

But what does that mean for us when we read Paul's letter to the Galatians: Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (6:2)? If these are the burdens given to use in the beginning, then what does 'bearing one another's burden's' look like? What does living life abundantly look like? And how can we expect women to "live life in abundance" when they are living lives that reflect a Bible teaching that tells them that they're inferior to men?

While I know that given the context of pastors reaching and influencing so many people is horrifying with these kinds of teachings, there is a great opportunity to change this mentality and create a new theology with these pastors and the people they are serving.

While in conversation with people at the beginning of my time in Burundi someone said, "The church has to be counter cultural if it wants to succeed". I think that is really true here and speaks a lot of truths about this work. Get ready pastors and churches!

Shout out to Prabu for being an amazing facilitator, mentor and friend. 

Freshly transplanted kitchen garden greens not living life in abundance...

Cute sad monkey friend

So happy to be creating a new water point to supply clean drinking water to many hills

Joyful work

Umugenzi (friend)

Rice workers weeding away!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Zucchini, Lizards, and Farmers: oh my!

Along with some updates on the work I have been doing the last few weeks, I thought I would share some unexpected events that have come up while I have been here. Some of the small things that explain the big things. 

Unexpected Occurrences

The Zucchini 

This story probably doesn't actually explain anything bigger than it is but it was scarring and needs to be shared. One weekend I decided to make "zucchini pancakes" for myself for lunch with a zucchini I bought in the market. These we essentially going to be latkes but with zucchini instead of potatoes. I of course thought I was brilliant for coming up with this idea. 

So I start shredding the zucchini. I notice something small and yellow in with the zucchini. Figuring maybe someone didn't wash the shredder so well last time they used it, I flicked this yellow speck away and continued to shred. After a few seconds of shredding I think, 'wow, someone really needs to learn how to wash dishes who cleaned this last?' because more yellow pieces show up in my zucchini. 

I look closer at these yellow infiltrators and see that one is moving. 

One is moving on its own. 

Turns out the shredder wasn't dirty. 

Some little worms/maggots found a home in my zucchini and I was left scarred for life. The only thing I think this story explains is that I do need Jean-Baptiste (the cook who makes food for us during the week) and am not ready to attempt zucchini pancakes again anytime soon.

The Shower 

So in our house we pretty consistently have water. Not only that we have HOT water, and good water pressure. We are really lucky and pretty spoiled (if that wasn't already determined by the fact that we have a cook during the week). Secretly, I was looking forward to bucket showers again. But I'm not going to complain. 

One weekend I went on a hike up the mountain behind my house with my new best friend Emily. The view is gorgeous.  Every few feet you have to stop and turn around because the view changes and just gets prettier! Its not because I'm out of breath because its so steep I swear. Okay, it's both. For a good while its steeper than stairs going up. But the climb is so worth it for these views. 

Anyways, so we went round trip about 20km that day! After I was ready to take a shower to cool off and wash all of the dust and dirt and sweat away. I turned the faucet more towards the cold side than usual, got in, and waited. I turned it colder. Still not cold enough. I turned it all the way to the cold side. Still didn't feel like I was getting the cold I needed to cool off. 

While I showered, I realized (for the hundredth time) how ridiculous my life is that my shower "isn't cold enough". This experience explains something bigger, which is my feeling that I'm really spoiled in the living situation that I am in right now. We have a huge yard. People who take care of us. A flower and vegetable garden. A gardener to tend to those gardens. Someone who cleans up our messes and clothes. We don't have to do anything for ourselves really. We have consistent and strong internet and electricity. We never get power cuts. 

I know that I should not feel guilty for these things (or at least people tell me this) but the fact is that I do. I feel like it is kind of ridiculous actually how nice the life I am living is. That's all the thoughts I have on this right now. 

The Baby Farmer 

While in the field "up-country" working with farmers I met this little girl working hard to make a hole. 

She is small but mighty. Children act like grown-ups a lot without realizing how funny it is. At least to me. Do you realize how adorable and silly you are? When children act or talk like adults it’s funny because they really are just small adults sometimes. I am always amazing by the amount of responsibility they can handle. From walking to school to taking care of siblings to hoeing to finding lunch in mango trees or cassava roots.

Children are amazing. They can take care of themselves almost like adults at times, but at the same time when we see pictures from Humans of New York’s photo series “Little Humans” we see the juxtaposition of how grown they are and how silly it is to think they are grown. I don’t know how to explain it, but it is that feeling that these pictures create. 

These 'Microfasion' statement are from Humans of New York.

The Wedding 

One weekend this month I went to a wedding! It was for the brother of one of the people I work with. It was a great experience. The day of the wedding begins with the Civil Ceremony at the Police Station. There is then a religious ceremony at church and then a reception where some of the traditional things are done. (Giving gifts, drinks, traditional dances, and a lot of speeches.) 

The surprise was that I found myself as not just a guest but the wedding photographer? Not qualified for this job but whats new. I'm glad I could have captured this day for them though. Here are a few pictures. My friend Guy and I will edit them and then make them into a book. 

So with the swords here, each pair of soldiers with swords across from each other blocks them from going past unless/until she is smiling. It is really cute. 

The Work

Last week I went on a field visit to two diocese in Burundi where the Provincial Development Office has implemented “kitchen gardens” in some of the rural and high need areas.

These kitchen gardens consist of two different styles of raised circular beds with compost areas generally in the center. Some of the challenges that these gardens face is a lack of turning the soil, a lack of equal water dispersal and drainage, poor spacing of plants, and a lack of diversity in vegetables.

These gardens, however, are doing well to serve the families who use them! I was able to hear stories from mothers who said that now they are able to feed their families and their children are no longer malnourished because of this new food source. They don’t have to go to the market to buy vegetables because they have their own, and that is a big deal for them. It is also empowering for these women because they are able now to provide for their families on their own. This project is a really important one and I look forward to going into the field with more with them.

My job was mostly photos (of course) and translation. There is a student from Cornell who was sent by Episcopal Relief and Development to help move the kitchen garden project to the next phase of diet diversification and cooking in ways that enhance the nutritional value of foods. She is also working to help fix some of the challenges that the gardens are facing. She does not speak French so I was there to help translate for her!

Next week I am traveling into the field again. This time instead to train more trainers for the literacy and savings and loan program and to do a baseline survey on masculinities in order to gain a perspective on the ideas that are out there about manhood and SGBV. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mother's Union Conference

I'm sorry waiting so long without a real update! Things have been very busy the last few weeks and on top of it I got a bad flu and fever I am still getting over and then also got a bad stomach bug. Today I finally feel like I have a real minute to update you all (and catch up a little on sleep).

This week I was lucky enough to spend my week with these crazy ladies:

These are the trainers for the Anglican Church of Burundi's savings and loans programs throughout the country. They are in charge of training facilitators of savings and loans groups in different parishes and monitoring and evaluating these programs and their facilitators. These groups are found throughout each of the 7 diocese that make up the Anglican Church of Burundi. 

These beautiful ladies were here for a week discussing the impact of their programs, the successes and challenges, and their hopes for the future of this program.

I'm so glad that I got to be a part of the conversation with them in this exciting time of growth in their programs. They are doing amazing work that is really making a difference in the communities they are serving, not just in terms of economic development but also in spiritual growth, women's empowerment, community organizing, promoting healthy family dynamics, and increased church membership and participation. They are all wonderful examples of people who are working as the hands and feet. (And their sass and sense of humor made the week not only productive and meaningful but very fun.)

I learned this through conversations with trainers as I helped them develop PowerPoint reports on there programs and impact as well as large group conversations. I also had the opportunity last week to go on a couple field visits up country to see these savings and loans groups in action and to hear testimonies from some of the people whose lives have been impacted through these programs. Here are a few pictures from the savings and loans group meetings I visited: 

In order to be a part of these groups, members must participate in literacy programs run by the parishes. Once they have completed the literacy program they join the savings and loans groups and learn how to create small business plans (such as growing and selling tomatoes). Each week members bring their savings to the group and it is recorded. They also bring money for an "emergency fund" which is used to give out as loans to members when needed. For example, one mother in a group that I observed received a loan from the emergency fund in order to buy school uniforms for her children. A lot of the women I heard from in these groups were widows and were left with nothing to support their families. These programs enabled them to create sustainable livelihoods for their families. Some of the men I heard from learned the advantages of saving their money each week instead of drinking it away. The stories that I heard were really powerful and speak to the influence and blessings that the trainers bring to their diocese.

I am so grateful for the chance to have heard these stories and to have shared a week, many meals, and so many good laughs with these wonderful women who are really making an impact in their communities.