A few weeks ago I was at a middle school during their after school program and two girls were interested enough to ask the nearest CM (Americorp Volunteer) who I was. He said that I worked with City Year, that I’m nice and that they could ask me questions themselves. They were, like 6th grade girls are, shy and giggly. The CM told me these girls wanted to ask me a few questions so I went over. After the first what do you do question, the next was a compliment. One of the girls told me I was pretty. I said thank you. She said that she was not pretty. I asked, “What do you think that means?” We then got into a discussion about boys and boyfriends. She told me that boys don’t like her. I said that’s because they are stupid when it comes to girls and that you may feel that way longer than you think should be normal. Then the girls said, “Ooo, you said a bad word.”
This 11 year old’s second response to me was about what she thought I looked like. She also thinks that somehow being pretty is linked to having a boyfriend. This compelled me to share with her that I, like her, don’t have a boyfriend and that somehow was reassuring. It made me a bit sad to think about how the feeling of not being liked hurt this 6th grader and I couldn’t say that it would get better, because it doesn’t. The more I’m in schools with kids, the more I am afraid we are not doing an adequate job of raising and building up good people who respect themselves and others. No kid should think that pretty means enough to tell a stranger, judge themselves on it or think pretty is how you measure how anyone likes you- particularly the subset of boys. What happened to liking who you are, being a good friend, having fun learning (because learning is fun, promise) and playing?
Another CM shared that one of her students, who is nice, has decided that next year when she gets to middle school she will have to be mean. According to her, it’s how it works in middle school, you can’t be nice because you will get picked on or be un-cool. Nice girls don’t have friends. This is a nightmare mindset for me. As someone who has been systematically betrayed or screwed over without provocation pretty much yearly, twice a year if I was lucky, from 5th grade through my junior year of college, I am not a fan of mean girls. Girls who are insecure and compete in a contest that only exists in their head and never tell you about it. Girls who thought that I should never have anything that they want and sometimes it would be things that they didn’t really want, just didn’t want me to have it. Another CM responded that at the middle school he works at the nice kids are the kids that no one really bothers. It’s the mean kids that are mean to each other regularly and the nice kids get picked on every once in a while, so nice is a good way. With a sigh, a pang in my heart and a bolt of anger I just said maybe she could ask her student which matters more, other people liking you or you liking you?
Do you like you? How do your actions reflect what matters to you?
May we be good to each other, simply because it is possible.
Naw, just replacing it with Ameri and making it one word. After all, I do live in America now.
Now that I have returned from the “hardest job I’ll ever love” aka Peace Corps, I will be blogging about my current position working to build the capacity of Americorps Volunteers working with students in some of the most challenging schools in LA. I’m happy to be working under a similar model as Peace Corps, where a very unique type of individual would dedicate a significant chunk of time to volunteer to meet a critical need in our schools. God knows that I get a bit of the ride that comes with being a bit idealistic, having a heart for social justice, and sweating everyday in the hopes for minute change with little appreciation and no pay.
City Year has been working with youth since ’88 and recently shifted their focus to our nation’s drop out crisis by providing additional human capital (Americorps Volunteers) in the schools that disproportionately produce the highest percentage of drop outs. My position is new and was created to support, train, and build up the volunteers in their academic intervention with students so that we can be even more strategic and effective in our efforts.
My hope for the work that I am doing with City Year is to make it absolutely clear that it’s not about smart/stupid, ethnicity or money, it’s about having the right resources at the right time. We can’t expect excellence if we never teach how to be excellent. Most people are not born with the ability to dream beyond what they see, that also may need to be taught. I’d like us as a society to make a true investment in our youth and I believe it can be done through education. I can’t imagine that anyone wouldn’t want to give a child a genuine opportunity to learn, grow and succeed. A child doesn’t get to choose his/her parents, the neighborhood they grow up in, or whether they learn English as their first language. Can we at least provide a safe school where teachers are given the right supports to meet the needs of their students? I hope so, I hope policy is reformed in a practical and radical way. Let’s not ignore the shortcomings of our country, of the school that is close by that you would never send your child to, let’s make more conscious decisions.
After several months of medical complications, the medical unit in headquarters decided that it was in the best interest of my health to leave Ethiopia. Nothing monumental or life-threatening and I am and will continue to be fine, so don’t be alarmed. I have been back in California now for a few months, spending time with my family and going to several followup doctor visits, and now I am trying to get into the swing of life in America.
No, I haven’t had much reverse culture shock. Things feel pretty normal, mostly because I separated my life and expectations between America and Ethiopia. I do enjoy that there is always toilet paper in bathrooms. I love being able to drive again when I want. I am very comfortable with eating anything with my hands since utensils were never for eating in Ethiopia. I am a bit more tolerant with waiting and service. Most of all, I am appreciative of the choice and freedom I have in America. As much as we need to improve our systems and how we treat each other, we do have opportunities in the US. We can learn and study, we can quit our jobs and find something else, we can oppose our government policies, and most of us have basic necessities. We can do better, we can always do better and I hope that we do.
Now I am currently in the process of deciding how I want to live my life and what it should look like. I am seeking work that I care about in the areas of social justice and education. After observing how uninformed top-down policy decisions and lack of resources can impede the success of an entire community in Ethiopia, I am interested in being more impactful than a direct classroom teacher. I want to be part of a movement or at the very least part of something that shows that if we take care of each other the right way we can eliminate the factors that prevent people and communities from thriving. I think about policy and believe that is the arena for systematic change. Though at this point I don’t feel like educators and community leaders are being heard. Maybe it is by working with organizations that are providing the intense resources and achieving results through those tailored measures that we can demonstrate how money and human resources can make measurable changes. Then, by this demonstration can we drive the policy reforms that are necessary for our communities. It’s a hope.
So, after a year and a half of busting my butt in Ethiopia with my community with teacher trainings and focused mentorship and assessing the Peace Corps flagship Education Program to drive growth in it’s systems of support, volunteer training curriculum, and achieving the goals outlined by USAID, I want to find a place to bust my butt in California.
I finally updated ‘my “work”‘ page, so if you are interested in learning about what I’ve done the last year, then give it a read.
I am currently trying to plan a vacation for myself, so suggestions for places in Europe where a female can travel safely on her own at a reasonable price are very welcome.
I will be in Assela, where I had my training, for 3 weeks to participate in the training of the 70 new education volunteers. I plan to visit my Ethiopian family, take lots of pictures, and not go stir crazy from being in a small town living in a sub-par hotel. I packed 15 kilos of clothes, electronics and books for 3 weeks in hopes that I could keep myself busy.
Serious wishlist item: moleskin sketchbooks or other durable bound sketchbook (spiral bound will not survive me or Ethiopia)
Missing the beach. Go for me.