Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Twese Hamwe: How 15 Students Became One

At the end of the spring semester, advertisements for a summer seminar in Rwanda began showing up all over campus. For the next few weeks Dr. Carter Crockett, head of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) and the trip advisor, gave information sessions and Chapel announcements promoting the trip. The entire experience seemed unbelievable, so the night before the applications were due I sat on the floor of Bromley 105 coming up with three adjectives to describe myself. After a week Carter held interviews for the applicants. Although the two of us connected through a love of the developing world, I received an e-mail informing me that I was wait listed for the trip.

With a mission to make Summer 2014 worth every second, I began looking at an internship in Arlington, VA. A few nights later, while I was working on another summer application, I received another email from Carter, this time with more positive news. Someone had dropped out of the trip and he offered me the open position in the cohort. Now, the internship paid $15 an hour and I would be paying $5,000 for this trip, so obviously the choice was simple: I was going to Africa.

Prior to leaving the U.S. most of us met to discuss the culture and economics of Rwanda, and what we should expect. Walking into the room I knew two people closely and another three through the grapevine, but the rest were strangers and would probably have otherwise stayed that way to me.

A month later we met at Logan Airport, where Carter handed us course readers larger than my anatomy textbook. After our bags were checked we headed through security and began a 24-hour journey. After a grueling layover in Amsterdam and countless inflight movies, we landed in Kigali, Rwanda, and met Noella Shankuru, our program assistant. We piled our luggage into the bus and met our driver, Gaga (little did we know he would turn out to be the coolest guy in the country), and headed out for pizza.

The first week was spent getting our feet wet, which was overwhelming to say the least. As we got used to the moto-taxis and cold showers we also started settling into certain roles. Some of us were debaters while others were careful listeners, but one thing we began to notice was that we were all critical thinkers. When we would visit cooperatives, like a group of artisans working with Kate Spade, we asked the hard questions: how do you keep the culture preserved? how does this project empower rather than just support?

Usually, when people think about development they focus on its genuinely positive, beneficial actions. When we thought about development, we questioned the organization’s ethics and how they treat their local workers. Questions about how Americans made it to Rwanda surfaced, but not until we figured out the companies’ intentions. “We were constantly shown examples of Westerners who worked in Rwanda without understanding the culture and ended up hurting the Rwandese instead of helping,” said Natalie Assaad ’17.

As we became aware of how much each student in the group cared for the Rwandese, we began growing together, in class and during free time. Our first weekend was spent out west at Lake Kivu, the largest lake in Rwanda, or according to Josh Hill ’16, “about seven size units.” The trip was straightforward and had one rule: no homework, all play. And after a surprise hike through Bat Island (appropriately named) we had a pick-up game of futbol, with a ball made of contraband plastic bags, and made friends with a local primate.
Rwanda, the Land of a Thousand Hills
Upon returning to our hotel, we dove right back into articles on development theory and visits to hardworking organizations. We spent a day at a coffee farm and saw it processed from berry to beverage. The rest of the week was spent visiting tilapia farmers and groups building location apps for smartphones. But even though the days began to feel consuming, the nights were relaxing, because that’s when the group would be all together, not to mention we’d get a short nap in. We would all find some time to be together, whether it was during a FIFA game or over a 200,000 Rwf meal (divide by 690 and you’ll get a price estimate). While we might have gotten annoyed at times, we made up in a matter of minutes (see: Second Week Debacle between Anna Hadorn ’16 and Jesse Steele ’15).

After Dr. Ruth Melkonian joined us for morning ice cream we headed back to Kigali for our final week. Most of us (everyone except myself) were placed inside one of the organization we visited to get a better picture of how it worked. While Sarah Goss ’15 was able to do an accounting project for the company Acacia, some (Clint Broderick,’15, Nick Colleran,’16, Kara Fuller ’15 and Jamie Shore, ’17) weren’t as utilized, but did get the same experience as the normal interns.

Our last trip together took us west for a safari in Akagera Park, where the hotel came with an omelet bar, and a guard to keep away baboons. But even with the immmersion and course reading behind us, there was still one more assignment to be done before we left. During the second week Carter had introduced a project: create and pitch a business idea for Rwanda. To up the stakes he even invited some of the people from the companies we visited. No surprise: the teams that came together did incredible jobs, and, with 60 minutes before takeoff, the team made it to the airport to head back to the states.

To say we all took something away from this trip doesn’t adequately express what our time in Rwanda meant to us. Each member of the group has learned something new about development, about another culture, and about how they view international aid. Oh, we also got some new friends out of it. Watch out for the Fellowship of Twese Hamwe, coming to a campus near you!

Jesse Steele ’15 is a communication arts major focusing on journalism with a minor in kinesiology. After attending this seminar, he remained in Rwanda to intern for the rest of the summer with the International Justice Mission. 


Friday, September 5, 2014

Introducing our Student Writers

Photo credit: Mark Spooner

Reporting from inside Frost Hall and as far away as Rwanda, four student writers contribute a large portion of material to Notes Along the Way. John Buckley ’15 (left), Mary Hierholzer ’16 (right), Marina Lavender ’15 (center) and Jesse Steele ’15 (not pictured) offer perspectives on the ins and outs of Gordon, covering the stories of students, alumni, professors and the College community.

John, a business administration and communication arts double major, draws insight from his 2013–14 experience as a former Presidential Fellow mentored by Rick Sweeney, Vice President for Marketing and Strategic Communications. This fall Marina is Sweeney’s teaching assistant in his marketing class, as she looks toward graduation with a double major in business administration plus an individualized Pike major.

Mary, a history major who wrote for College Communications over the summer, is serving as The Tartan’s editor-in-chief during her junior year, and as an apprentice for the Center for Faith and Inquiry. Jesse, who is studying communication arts, reported for the College from afar in the summer of 2014 as he travelled and worked in Rwanda.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

On the Front Lines of Capitol Hill

A few months ago Amnoni Myers ’14 stood before her classmates, friends and family for her college graduation. Just a few weeks later, she took the stage for another significant moment, but before a rather different audience: Congress.

Myers was one of 12 students from across the country to spend the summer on Capitol Hill in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute's Foster Youth Internship program. Drawing upon their experiences as former or current foster youth, the interns worked alongside members of Congress to influence policies. Myers worked in the office of Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, focusing on child welfare issues.

 “It was an opportunity to work alongside Congress and to be on the front lines,” Myers said. “Being in the foster care system I wasn't always able to see that the state or government was working for me. But now to be on the other end, knowing that there are senators and representatives fighting for these issues, has been important to see. In a way, it's been a healing process.”

When she was born, Myers became a ward of the state. Since her parents were unable to provide for her, she became especially concerned with advocating for the needs of children and at-risk populations.

“As I reflect back on my time in the foster care system I think about how I could have easily been another statistic,” she said. “My time in care was not the most positive, but I am now able to see how those experiences are shaping my path. This gives me passion to want to help those who are experiencing some of the similar things I have.”

But Myers did not just observe from the sidelines. The internship allowed participants to hone in on an issue impacting children in foster care, that they want to see changed in the system, by writing up a policy report. At the end of the summer, the interns presented their reports to Congress in a briefing session. According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, past years' reports have generated both local and national attention to the critical issues facing over 400,000 children currently in the United States foster care system.

In her report, Myers advocates for implementing a state-standardized trauma-informed childcare curriculum for foster parents. She says that foster parents, without realizing it, sometimes perpetuate trauma from the youth's past.

“There are currently no federal guidelines for training for foster parents,” Myers said. “Nine out of ten foster youth have experienced traumatic circumstances, so foster parents need to know how to properly care for these children. My project is a push for Congress to recognize the importance of equipping the parents.”

Through the internship, Myers connected with some notable figures, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Trinity Forum president Cherie Harder, a Gordon trustee. But the most remarkable encounter, Myers said, was with Victoria Rowell, author of The Women Who Raised Me.

“I met her at luncheon and she gave me her card, and I gasped when I read it,” Myers said. “On the card she listed a book that my mentor urged me to read during a difficult time in my life. I was flabbergasted. I never thought I'd meet the author.”

Without hesitation, she credits Gordon with the preparatory education in her majors, sociology and social work. Her Gordon years also led to many resources. When she attended the 2012 Urbana conference on the urging of a mentor, Laurie Truschel (now the director of the College’s Student Discovery Initiative), another of Myers’ mentors, Ivette Diaz, connected her with the programs that made this summer’s internship possible.

“Gordon provided the experience of being able to grow intellectually and personally,” she said. “It prepared me for graduating and being on Capitol Hill. I feel adequately prepared and confident. Even in secular spaces you don't have to compromise your faith or values. That's been really important to know.”

Myers took advantage of her time at Gordon, serving as a resident advisor, an orientation leader and a Gordon in Lynn intern and leader. She was a Gordon delegate to the 2013 National Conference for College Student Leaders in D.C., and her college experience took her as far as Swaziland and South Africa. Her final semester was spent in San Francisco through the Westmont Urban Studies program  for her social work practicum.

Her internship immersed Myers in the world of Washington D.C., meeting politicians and visiting the FBI Headquarters—and she recently became the proud owner of boating license. Every morning, the walk to Capitol Hill was surreal, she says. The nation’s capital was a significant location for a crucial point in Myers' life, as she sought insight to determine career options for the future.

“Something I've been trying to figure out is if I want to work on a micro level with individuals, or on a macro level working on policy issues,” she said. “It's given me a good instruction for what I'd be doing if I wanted to come back. It's a really good starting place.”

Photo courtesy CCA: Amnoni Myers on Capitol Hill.

Mary Hierholzer ’16 was a summer intern. She is a history major and Editor-in-Chief of the Tartan. Mary hopes to study history and political science in graduate school, and to pursue a career in writing for intellectual publications. In the rare moments when she is not writing or conducting an interview, she enjoys good conversations, drinking coffee, exploring great literature, admiring art and discovering music.