Thursday, December 10, 2009

16 Days Until Launch-Off

There are only 17 more days until I leave for Rwanda and my emotions are so mixed that I really can’t tell what I’m feeling!

Of course it will be sad to leave friends and family behind for an entire year, but right now those feelings are eclipsed by the ocean of excitement and uncertainty about the year ahead of me. So many details are still up in the air! My exact placement has not yet been determined, so I could end up living in a city, village, or rural area. To fully immerse myself in the culture and language of Rwanda, I requested that I live with a family in a village or rural location, so I will most likely be living in a relatively remote area without running water or electricity. In preparation, I have purchased a Steripen water purification kit and a 10 gallon shower bag. My ESL students have been asking a lot of questions about my likely living conditions and they were blown away when I told them that some people in Rwanda must walk several miles each day to fill jugs full of water for drinking and bathing. They were especially concerned when we discussed the possibility of me shaving my head, if daily showers become impossible! But I say, when in Rome…

Thus far, I have obtained 6 of my 9 vaccines for various diseases such as yellow fever, polio, cholera, typhoid fever, etc. I’ve been getting 3 shots at a time, which is not at all a pleasant feeling when I can’t move my throbbing arm the next day! To prevent contracting malaria, I’ll be taking daily doxycycline tablets. There is a weekly malaria pill, but I’ve been told that one of its possible side effects is psychosis, so NO THANKS!!!

I fervently hope that when my teaching placement is finalized I will have manageable class sizes of students who speak and understand at least some English. As I’ve learned with my ESL students at the Literacy Council, it can be quite a formidable challenge to communicate even the simplest concepts (such as how to use an American toilet) when a language barrier is present. I am truly passionate about science and HIV/AIDS education because I believe that these subjects are so fundamentally important to the health and well-being of people everywhere; therefore, I want to be able to teach these subjects effectively!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rwanda 1st Landmine-Free Country

According to a recent BBC article, Rwanda is the first country to be declared landmine-free by the Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World. Prior to this designation, hundreds of people had been killed or injured in Rwanda by landmines laid between 1990 and 1994. Specially trained Rwandan soldiers have destroyed more than 9,000 mines in the past three years.

Since land is at a premium in Rwanda, the most densely populated African country, this is an especially significant accomplishment. Farmers, who comprise 80% of the population, are now able to farm their land without fear of death or injury. Wow, what a relief---I can't imagine having to balance a fear of starving with a fear of having limbs blown off in the process of trying to feed one's family!

For Rwanda to be declared landmine-free according to the Ottawa Treaty, it had to not only ensure that its land was free of mines, but destroy any landmine stockpiles it may have had. The U.S. is not deemed a mine-free country because, along with China, Russia, India, and about 3 dozen other countries, the U.S. has declined to sign the Ottawa Treaty banning the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel mines.

In news story after news story, I have read nothing but great things about the advances that Rwanda has made politically, technologically, medically, educationally, etc. Every new tidbit of information makes me even more excited to begin living and teaching in Rwanda. And although I hadn't given any previous thought to the danger I might encounter in Rwanda due to land mines, I've gotta say that I'm liking the news that landmines are no longer an issue! I can't wait to do some serious hiking once I get there!!!