teaching, learning and living around the world
Last Thursday a huge storm hit Alexandria… there were trees down everywhere, homes destroyed, and our neighborhood was in a state of chaos for several days. Although it is destructive, I appreciate the reminders from Mother Nature that she is all-powerful. I also appreciate the luck that comes with randomness… and thankfully my mom’s house was spared- a gigantic oak tree missed her house by a few inches. My sister captures it well:
So in the midst of bowing down to Mother Nature, we decided that my Celebrating Congo Fundraiser must go on- electricity or not! We set up the Stitched by Sally Boutique in the dining room, had photographs and information displayed, and enjoyed a potluck of treats to eat from friends. And lucky for us… the power came back on about an hour before the party! For more details on the success of Stitched by Sally, visit my mom’s blog.
About half way through the event, we gathered everyone (about 125 people) on the side porch for a brief presentation. First, my dad Lonnie called everyone to order with minimal bellowing. He acknowledged the former and current elected officials there- Del Pepper, Sheryl Gorsuch and Bill Cleveland, in addition to our Congressman, Jim Moran.
Congressman Moran, a long time friend of my dad, introduced me. The remark that I was most flattered by, and that really made me think, was when he said, “What Sara is doing adds consequence to her life, and makes us question the consequence of our own lives.” I think it’s really important to feel like your life has worth, and that you have a responsibility to leave the world better than you found it. And I hope that I’ll always feel/think/act that way, and can get other people to feel/think/act that way too. Needless to say, it was a really nice introduction to step into.
When it was my turn, I read a speech entitled Dreams & Practicalities.
Back in May, a student reporter for our school paper interviewed me about my Goma project. This sharp 12th grader asked me so many great questions, I was so impressed. I found myself openly discussing all of my wildest hopes and dreams. Towards the end of the interview, he looked at his list of questions and said, “Now for the practicalities. So HONestly, Ms. Rich… aren’t you scared?! You’re going to a war zone!!!” I laughed.
Honestly, what keeps me up at night are all of these teacher dreams… ideas, just stewing and brewing in my head. I wonder: How might a school enhance student learning in a big way… without any additional costs or new materials? Could teacher collaboration lead to major student-centered progress? Ultimately I think this approach of collaboration is more effective, relevant and sustainable than donating pencils and school supplies. Teachers sharing ideas with other teachers just makes sense.
But why in Goma? Why am I going to a place that has been in a state of humanitarian crisis for decades? How is this the most practical choice? There are two organizations- Heal Africa and the Goma Student Fund- who have offered me an (unpaid) opportunity to explore these burning questions and ideas. Not only this, but for the past three years I’ve been teaching the most elite children of Kinshasa. Working through these projects in Goma gets me “in” with the local community. It’s an opportunity to work with people that have big struggles and challenges, which presents a greater margin for making an even bigger difference.
All of this came to fruition when I visited Goma last October.
I’ve been thinking a lot about all the possibilities. Maybe we could…
What have we done so far?
In March the Outreach Team visited Goma together on a basic fact finding mission. We visited a Women’s Transitional Home called Grounds for Hope. Victims of sexual violence who have been treated at the HEAL Africa Hospital live there as they transition back into village life… They envision developing a literacy program there because this might be the only opportunity these women ever have to learn to read and write. We visited the Mugunga School and found various visions- to create a secondary vocational school, to start an English program, to expand the primary school facilities. Lastly, at the Heal Africa Hospital School we found stakeholders wide open to various possibilities. These are the projects that, as of now, I think I’ll be working with in some capacity.
A lot of people have been asking, so what are you actually going to DO? What will your first few weeks be like? What do you hope to accomplish this year?
My answers to these questions are as follows:
I’m not really sure.
I have no idea.
and… I’m really not sure.
What I know for sure is this- First and foremost I need to charge ahead in what feels like a constant battle with Francais and on top of that learn Swahili. I need to really get to know the people of Goma. For the projects I’ll be working on I’ll need to know and understand who the teachers, students, families, administrators, and project directors are, how things work, and who wants what, how, when, why, and figure out how I can help.
There is a big difference, however, in having a plan and knowing what will actually happen. Outside of my language learning and my hopes and my dreams and my curiosities… lies reality. And the reality is- my current focus could change. Beyond education, there is an extensive list of issues that need to be addressed in Congo. In the initial months, more than anything I have to be open and flexible. I’ll need to think long and hard, every single day, about what things I will actually have the power to change. So be prepared to hear from me, and expect the unexpected. Life in Congo is unpredictable, and although I am passionate about all of these ideas, and my belief in them is what’s bringing me to Eastern Congo… I have to embrace the unexpected.
Lastly, thank you all so much for supporting me. All too often the practicalities are what stand between dreams and reality. Thanks so much to those of you who have already donated. And for those of you who haven’t donated yet… it is still not too late! Thank you all for showing up, for believing in me, encouraging me and for helping to fill in the gap of my financial practicalities. In the end, it is your support that gives me the best chance possible to make these teacher collaboration dreams a reality. Thank you.
This event raised over $8,000. This means that the total funds raised over the past six months will allow me to live and work in Goma for the whole school year. Woowee!
Also, thanks to the following folks for making this event possible:
Ruth Brannigan, Sarah Fulwiler (Two ACPS Teachers!! How cool is that!)
Siobhan & Nick Skizim
Various spreads with crackers/bread (Ruth)
Vegetable Platter (Colleen)
Fruit Platter (Sally)
Choc. Chip Walnut Cookies and Balloons (Alex & Shawn)
Brownies and Oatmeal Cookies (Rachel & Pat)
Scones (Stephie & Mike)
1 Case Wine (Jody Manor, Bittersweet)
Drinks (Lonnie & Marcia)
Megg- Video invitation, advertisement
Shawn- Logos on my card, letterhead, and Stitched by Sally
Stitched by Sally… I mean, wow! Amazing stuff mom!
Lastly, thanks to the following special guests:
Friends of the Congo Representative – Christian
Kabahita- Marcia’s Swahili instructor from Eastern Congo thirty years ago, Peace Corps