Monday, November 23, 2009

My Rwanda Wish List

I'm still accepting donations and trying to compile educational materials to take with me to Rwanda. On the top of my "wish list" are microscopes and slides/coverslips, ball and stick molecule model kits, and anatomical posters and models. If you have any of these items that you would like to donate, please contact me at so that I can arrange pick-up. If you would like to donate money towards the purchase of these items, you may donate online through WorldTeach, or you may mail donations to my home address below. WorldTeach is a non-profit, non-governmental organization sponsored by Harvard's Center for International Development, so your donation is 100% tax-deductible. If you choose to donate money through WorldTeach, please specify Emma Eck as the recipient of your donation.

I would like to thank those who took the time to donate money and materials to this cause. If you DO NOT want me to thank you by name on my blog, please let me know! Please know that I may not always receive specific donor information for those who choose to donate through WorldTeach.

Many thanks to all who have supported this WorldTeach teaching initiative thus far!

Emma Eck
349 North West End Ave.
Lancaster, PA 17603

Friday, November 13, 2009

Literacy Council ESL Teaching

By now I've fulfilled my 25 hour TESL requirement in preparation for teaching in Rwanda. I've been teaching ~9 hours of ESL each week at the Literacy Council of Lancaster and I've discovered that I really enjoy it, so I'll probably continue teaching until a week or two before I leave for Rwanda.

My class of ~25 students is comprised of adult learners from Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, many of whom are refugees. The group is very diverse in terms of both culture and ability. While some are literate in their native language, others are not, which poses an even greater challenge for the students as well as the teacher! The main point of these mixed classes is to equip refugees with basic life skills so that they can live and work and function in American society.

I've been having reading and discussion periods with some of the more advanced students, and next week I'll be reviewing basic math concepts, which I'm very excited about (hopefully the students will be as well).

Anyone who might be interested in teaching ESL and Life Skills classes or tutoring one-on-one should contact the Literacy Council. Funding has been cut to many of these programs, so volunteer support is needed more now than ever!

AIDS is leading cause of Death in Women Worldwide

The World Health Organization just came out with new data showing that the AIDS virus is the leading cause of death among women aged 15-44.

"Throughout the world, one in five deaths among women in this age group is linked to unsafe sex, according to the U.N. agency." Women often lack access to contraceptives or simply do not know how to protect themselves from infection.

The report goes on to discuss the disparity between the health treatment received by women vs. that received by men. "In many parts of the world [women] suffer serious disadvantages because of poverty, poorer access to health care and cultural norms that put a priority on the well-being of men...the discrimination extends throughout a women's life, from girlhood diseases that aren't identified because they are not sicknesses affecting boys, to clinical trials and medicines developed on the basis of curing adult males."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Countdown to Rwanda: Less than 2 Months to Go!

In less than two months, I will leave virtually everything I know behind to live and teach high school math and science in Rwanda for an entire year! I am beyond thrilled!

This sure-to-be-epic journey will be coordinated through WorldTeach, a non-profit organization sponsored by Harvard's Center for International Development. I will be employed as a volunteer teacher through WorldTeach and Rwanda's Ministry of Education. Although some of the WorldTeach programs are paying positions, the year-long Rwanda program is not. I am currently fundraising to pay my $6000 program fee, which includes the cost of round-trip airfare, health insurance, a monthly stipend comparable to a typical Rwandan teacher’s salary, and field support. It is my hope that I will be able to fundraise additional money so that I may take along educational supplies and equipment (there is a good chance that I can get donated microscopes, but I must still pay to ship them)!

The recent history of Rwanda is a dark one. It’s been fifteen years since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, during which 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered by the Hutu Power regime over a 100 day period. In researching for my trip to Rwanda, the genocide’s legacy seems to be all-pervasive. I’ve recently been reading studies on post-traumatic stress disorder and the use of various forms of therapy in the aftermath of the genocide.

One of the most promising therapies is narrative exposure therapy (NET), through which survivors detail the events of their traumas, essentially reliving their nightmares and reexperiencing all of the emotions associated with them. Studies have shown that this intense therapy results in habituation of the emotional response associated with the trauma, thus mitigating PTSD symptoms. Many studies have shown that short-term NET is more effective than traditional psychotherapy in treating PTSD, while at the same time being cost-effective and relatively simple to use, even by laymen. Any kind of administration of therapy is certainly outside of my job description, but considering that many of the students I will be teaching are surviving orphans of the genocide, it might be a good idea for me to have an understanding of mental health issues that I am likely to encounter. How does one return to normalcy after living through hell on earth? Will these children, who are most certainly haunted by this country’s ugly past, be able to thrive in the classroom and in the community?

As if these children haven’t been faced with enough challenges in their lives, many deal with the day-to-day reality of being infected with HIV. Superstitions and misinformation regarding HIV abound; therefore, proper education is imperative! The lives of these children literally depend upon the quality of HIV/AIDS education that they receive, if any. The opportunity to be involved in the formation of an HIV/AIDS education class is one of the most significant reasons that I applied to this program. My greatest passions are the study of emerging infectious diseases, vector-transmitted diseases (malaria), virology (HIV/AIDS, yellow fever), and parasitology (elephantiasis, river blindness). I’m hoping that I will be able to both learn and educate about disease prevention, pathology, and epidemiology during my stay.

Since I will be living in relative cultural and geographical isolation without friends or family or my usual distractions of television and easy internet access, I have decided to use much of my downtime in Rwanda to study for my MCATs, so that I may apply to Penn State Hershey’s MD/PhD program upon my return.

I am very passionate about math and science (biology in particular) and I am so excited by the opportunity to teach in a country that is in such great need of English-speaking teachers as it switches its national language over to English. If you would like to support this teaching initiative by contributing funds toward my $6000 program fee, you may donate through (please specify that your donations are in support of Emma Eck), or you may donate directly to my home address: 349 N. West End Avenue, Lancaster, PA 17603.

I encourage everyone to follow along with me on my journey as I continue to blog about the joys and challenges of teaching in Rwanda!