Dear world, I leave for Rwanda this month!
Barring some miraculous sign, I’m going to be booking my flight to Rwanda this Saturday morning, first thing. I would be departing on April fool’s day.
Right now I’m in Modesto, where I’m staying with my friends and bosses, Brian and Heather, and their adorable five year old, Onyx. It’s a lot of work and a lot of fun, and it’s really nice to get to spend so much time with them before I take off again for the Land of a Thousand Hills. They are hoping to come visit me while I am there, too!
The final week of March I’ll be headed back to the bay area to see my parents and sweet baby sister for a few days, as well as to pack my bags and take care of any last-minute business. I’m hoping that I will have another draft of my thesis proposal submitted by then, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Recently I’ve been having dreams where I am back in Rwanda, and I wake with a big smile on my face. I am so ready to return, and really excited to see my family there again!
Life has been busy, but there’s actually quite a few things to report!
I’ve been putting off this post for a couple of weeks. I received an email from a Peace Corps placement officer about three weeks ago. She informed me that unfortunately, my application had been withdrawn from consideration– I am not going to be serving in the Peace Corps in the immediate future.
I sent an email to the placement office, asking if I could ask a few questions about my situation, and we set up a phone call for the next week. When we spoke, I expressed how at every stage of the application process I had been told I was a competitive candidate, and now I had suddenly been rejected without any requests for further information about me. What had changed?
The Placement Officer gently explained that while I was a competitive candidate, a combination of factors were not in my favor. For one thing, priority is given to new applicants; but most significantly, due to the way in which my first service ended, Peace Corps couldn’t overlook those concerns. My heart sank. Did this mean I would never be considered again?
Mercifully, the placement officer was encouraging. She told me that what Peace Corps wants to see is another, major cross-cultural experience (obviously, one that ends on happier terms). Once I’ve completed that goal, I can come back and reapply. She also noted that by that time I’m likely to have earned my master’s degree, which would help me stand out during the application process.
It’s disappointing that I’m not going to be serving in the near future, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen again. For now, though, Peace Corps isn’t in the cards. Stay tuned for news about my next project.
After emailing the education placement desk, I received an automated reply telling me to expect a response within the next four to five days. With weekends factored in, this meant that I was to expect a call the following Tuesday… sadly this ended up also being the day that the government initiated the partial shutdown. Not surprisingly, this meant that Peace Corps domestic staff were not going to be available to return my call because they were furloughed. I would have to wait this out, though I’m still not sure how people working hard to promote world peace and friendship through their behind-the-scenes work at Peace Corps could be described as “non-essential”.
Is world peace considered to be a luxury? Or worse yet– is it considered to be unattainable by the lawmakers of our country? I can’t accept that. If that is true, how could decades of quagmired warfare be essential expenditures; is the military after an outcome other than peace? Where is the disconnect?
I want to give a shout out to the amazing Peace Corps staff, and thank them for their hard work which makes it possible for us to move through the application process and eventually become PCVs with the toughest job we’ll ever love! Thank you so much for your assistance in times of need, your words of encouragement as we wait for news, and for everything that you do for us. You are very essential. Welcome back, you were dearly missed!
by ALLISTER STANTON
Christina Aguilera’s June 25 trip to Rwanda with the World Food Programme was her third hunger relief mission as an Ambassador Against Hunger. Continuing the work that she has done in both Guatemala and Haiti, her recent visit took her to the land of a thousand hills, where she visited a school that feeds students with the assistance of the WFP. A public service announcement released by WFP shows Ms. Aguilera interacting with school children, helping to prepare traditional Rwandan cuisine, and getting to dance and sing with the community. During her trip she additionally got to tour the Kigeme refugee camp which also receives food rations from the WFP, reportedly stating that it was, “one of the most difficult moments” of her visit.
Unfortunately, you wouldn’t know much of this from reading People Magazine’s article on Ms. Aguilera’s time in the field– West Coast Bureau Chief Elizabeth Leonard’s take on the story was superficial at best and profoundly hateful at worst. Commenters on People Magazine’s website initially took issue with Leonard’s depiction of the country– which has been a shining example of peace and development in Africa in recent years– as “war-torn”, asking which wars the journalist might be referring to. War-torn refers to devastation and ruin, but Rwanda’s civil war ended twenty years ago– might Leonard be referring to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide? If so, her language is surprisingly offensive; depicting the genocide as a war was part of the excuse that foreign governments hid behind in order to avoid getting involved while it transpired– more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed while the international community sat watching.
Natacha Nsabimana, a PhD candidate at Columbia University, wrote her own rebuttal to Leonard’s piece from a Rwandan perspective, and also attacked the PSA featuring Ms. Aguilera. In the video, Rwandan children sing a song in Kinyarwanda which contains the word tuzarwubaka, which refers to collective work; Nsabimana points out the irony of the song being used to promote charity that treats the symptom rather than empowering the Rwandan people to help themselves. She wishes to know “…what kinds of superpower do Aguilera and the WPF have to make them think they alone could change such situation?” Departing from the WFP’s request for donations that will enable continued food provision, Nsabimana shifts focus to larger structural inequalities, noting that they are part of larger historical and political circumstances. Food for thought.
Many of Nsabimana’s criticisms are directed at the WFP’s practices and not Leonard’s piece directly. But an important question she raises is where exactly are the refugee camps that Ms. Aguilera is supposed to have visited? On the WFP’s website, they mention a single refugee camp– Kigeme, and most of the other articles covering this mission refer to visiting a single camp. That doesn’t mean that People Magazine got this wrong– perhaps WFP only focused on one particular camp in their summary– still, that camp is not located in Kigali, where Leonard asserts Ms. Aguilera visited several. Kigali is Rwanda’s beautiful capital, far removed from the rural villages– one must question how good a view Ms. Aguilera got of “the severe poverty firsthand…”
Why did Elizabeth Leonard write such a thoughtless piece about charity work in Rwanda? A slew of other similar publications ran their own versions of the story, and seem to have done a credible job; though their stories also focus on Ms. Aguilera rather than the work, many seem to have stuck to the script from the press release, and mention “…a recent charity trip to a refugee camp”. Arguably, celebrity magazines provide their own form of charity work when they cover such service. Major news sources seem to have for the most part let Ms. Aguilera’s trip go unreported, and by mentioning her work at all, news outlets such as People Magazine play a valuable role in raising awareness. But isn’t that even more of a reason to get the facts straight?
The low quality of reporting that this mission received was not the norm. People Magazine covered Ms. Aguilera’s trip to Haiti with WFP professionally, just as they did when reporting on some of Angelina Jolie’s work as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. Most notably, People Magazine’s Kyle Smith wrote a very tasteful human piece on Paul Rusesabagina of Hotel Rwanda fame. Smith’s article opts to focus on Rusesabagina the man, rather than merely discuss the film itself. He reports with grace, presenting to his readers slivers of frightening accounts from Rusesabagina’s experience during the genocide– which he refers to as such. Smith also impressively blends a profound message into the story of the man, as he includes a quote noting, “[w]hat happened in Rwanda is now happening in Darfur, in the Congo, in all these places they are butchering innocent civilians… It is high time we know that a human life in Africa is as important as a human life in the West.”
Rwanda is more than a background for a cause, and Rwandans are more than props to be used to highlight a celebrity’s charitable works. Though the country was ravaged and decimated by genocide, Rwanda has emerged strong; a testament both to the potential for positive aid implementation and the resiliency and strength of the Rwandan people. While a survey conducted in 2013 acknowledges that Rwanda has made great strides in addressing food security in the past seven years, chronic malnutrition is still a reality. Hunger persists, and WFP is doing their part to address this concern– both in Rwanda and elsewhere. It is nice that People Magazine decided to donate a few column inches to this mission, but Leonard squandered the opportunity to write a purposeful, thought-provoking article when she perpetuated stereotypes and misrepresented the country. Reflecting on her mission, Ms. Aguilera expressed that, “…when you go into the field, you really see that and feel that we’re all one in the same, it’s just we’re born under different circumstances”. People Magazine needs to remember that Rwandans are people, too.
I emailed my recruiter on Thursday, September 19th, asking if there were any updates he could share with me, as we are getting very close to October (the four month mark from January, meaning if my nomination remains the same, I would need to receive my invitation soon). He replied today, passing me off to the placement desk, informing me that they were currently reviewing my file. While that in itself isn’t news, this next part is: the email address was for the education desk. Is it possible that my nomination has changed?
Just got a tattoo in honor of my Peace Corps service! The sun with the blue ring is from the Rwandan flag- the sun and its rays represent unity, transparency and enlightenment from ignorance.
Proud to be an RPCV! Ndagukunda, Rwanda!
Here is a tribute to African Peace Corps Volunteers.