Q&A With Kama Money: A Canadian Teacher's Visit To Rwanda

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Kate, the Because I am a Girl blogger, interviewed Canadian teacher Kama Money about her trip with Plan to Rwanda last year as one of the winners of the smartgirl contest. 

KJ: Last year you traveled with Because I am a Girl to Rwanda through the smartgirl contest.Can you tell me a little bit about that?

I had the honour of being one of three Canadian women to travel to Rwanda with Because I am a Girl Ambassador, Jenn Heil though the smartgirls contest sponsored by smartwater. We were warmly welcomed in each community we visited, and I observed a strong sense of pride and hope for a positive future despite the tremendous poverty and history of genocide. We visited Plan's programs in rural areas, implemented with constant consultation with the communities themselves. What particularly struck me was the fact that foreigners were quite alien to many of the people we visited; the social, economic, and educational programs were implemented by trained locals, for their own communities. It was capacity building in action.

KJ: What are some of the differences between your classroom here in Canada and the ones you visited in Rwanda?

The schools in rural Rwanda are severely lacking in resources and infrastructure, but not in hope. Schools lacked electricity, running water, and toilets. Latrines are literally holes in the ground, often with only half-walls around, with no toilet paper or a place to wash your hands. Teachers have to teach with just a blackboard and rely on memorization and rote learning because textbooks, pencils and paper are scarce, and school libraries are all but unheard of in many cases. My own Canadian classroom has wi-fi, a computer, projector, phone, a well-stocked library, electricity, flush toilets and drinkable water. Having these amenities allows me to use a variety teaching strategies to engage my students in creative ways. Still, Rwandan teachers told me that their students valued education highly.

KJ: How are the challenges girls face here connected with the ones girls face in Rwanda?

Despite the striking differences in classrooms, culture and opportunity, every single girl I met in Rwanda somehow reminded me of one of my own Canadian students whether it was her confident way of speaking, her sense of fashion, or her dreams for the future. We met with a girls' leadership group and listened to them talk about their dreams of being teachers, police officers, politicians, and athletes. They do have a plethora of strong female role models to inspire them. For example, Rwanda's parliament includes 56% women compared to Canada's 22%. Girls shared similar concerns about fitting in socially, competing academically, and excelling athletically as many of my female Canadian students. Like most teenaged girls, they were doing their best to negotiate their place in the world to determine who they want to become. I couldn't help but wonder how many of their dreams would be dashed from the limitations that poverty creates. It's at a different scale, but many of my Canadian students deal with hunger, unsafe homes, early pregnancy, low self-esteem and bullying. The resiliency and strength of both sets of girls continues to resonate with me the ability to overcome adversity to find success.

KJ: Many girls these days don't consider themselves feminists and it can sometimes be considered a dirty word. What's your take on this?

Ahh the word: Feminism. The word has received decades of stigma, ever since Suffragettes fought for the (white) woman's vote in the late 1800s. I think because they challenge the status quo, feminists have gotten a bad rap - stereotypes of hairy, bra-burning man-haters abound. But the movement has evolved to be more inclusive of all women, not just the wealthy white upper middle class. As bell hooks said: "Feminism is for EVERYBODY" I'm a proud feminist because I'm a big supporter of human rights: we can't just ignore the needs of 50% of our population. I care about having access to birth control and being able to choose to have an abortion if that decision is right for me. I care about being paid fairly. I care about being represented in the media in a realistic way. I care about women who want to improve their access to education, health care, healthy food, clean water, and economic sustainability. I care about being represented in our countries' leadership. I care about having my voice heard.

Check out a video from Kama's trip!

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