Sunday, October 22, 2017

What does Gretchen do?

Over our four years in Tanzania, I had many people ask me, "So what do you actually do?" The term missionary can be so vague, and while Marc had a very defined role at HOPAC, my role was a bit less concrete. I figured some of you might be wondering the same thing now that we've moved to Rwanda - "What does Gretchen actually DO?" 

First, let me step back to last year in Tanzania and tell you what my time was spent doing there, just so you can get a feel for how different life is for me now! 

Things I was involved in last year in TZ:
* led worship 3 times a week for the primary school chapels
* worked 10-15 hours a week for Karama ( - last school year, this included traveling to Kenya 3 times, Ethiopia 2 times, and Uganda 1 time. 
* was one of four coordinators for the largest bi-annual artisan market in Tanzania 
* led a monthly online health/fitness challenge group called "Commit To Be Fit"
* started a pre-school for staff children at HOPAC - spent several hours 3 days a week there
* partnered with a friend to develop her sewing business 
* attended weekly bible study 
* classroom mom for Isaac's class 
* normal life stuff - groceries, helping with homework, church, writing newsletters, etc 

Things I am involved in now in Rwanda:
* Teach Pre-K part time (Monday-Friday, 8am -1pm)
* work 15 hours a week with Karama 
* Kinyarwanda language lessons 2 hours/week
* Marriage bible study for 7 weeks
* Body and Soul exercise class 
* normal life stuff 

It looks like my list is much smaller now, and to some extent, it is. Marc and I have made a point to take this first semester to focus on transitioning our family and settle into our roles at KICS. First of all, we feel our call is transformational education through teaching at KICS. That is our primary reason for being here and we want to give our roles at KICS 100%.  This has NOT been super easy for us - we've had to hold ourselves back from jumping into areas where we could serve outside of school. In fact, this morning at church they made an announcement about needing extra help with the worship team - the whole time I was looking at Marc with eager eyes. I probably will talk to the guy currently in charge, but will say I need to wait until January to really dive into anything....which will be hard for me! In our first month of being here, we realized how much we had allowed our family time to move to the back burner as we packed up/left TZ, had a whirlwind of a summer in the USA and then arrived in RW and two days later started work. It's been hectic. Our kids need us & we have decided that outside of school, that's our focus for now.

The KICS Pre-K is held in a house a few minutes down the road from the main campus. There is one full time teacher that I work with and two para's who assist us. We have 20 students in our class and they are incredible. There are 7 (I think) different nationalities in the class, but several of the students have barely lived in their passport country. For example, Geneva is American, but of her almost 5 years of life, she's lived less than a year in her passport country. She's not the only student like that - many of our students are TCK's or Third Culture Kids.

My co-teacher and I have split the curriculum so that she teaches Math & Science and I teach Bible and Language Arts. Social Studies gets incorporated across both of our subject areas in a variety of ways. Our team - my co-teacher, our paras and I - work amazingly well together. We are all learning a lot from one another and enjoying our students immensely! 

I'm continuing my work with Karama that I've been doing for over 1 1/2 years. I am the product coordinator and work directly with the artisan groups in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia (thus my travels over the last year). Mostly, this means I'm in communication between the artisan groups and our executive directors in the USA through email, whatsapp, viber and sometimes traveling to meet them in person. 

The vision of Karama is:

To live in a world where poverty is overcome through dignified work, so families and communities can thrive.

The mission of Karama is: 

Karama alleviates poverty by restoring dignity through creative, purposeful work for artisans, beginning in Africa.

I entered into this position in February 2016 knowing that the goal was to eventually hire national leaders to do my job. That's been the vision all along, and it's finally happening!! Karama has hired an amazing woman in Ethiopia to take over the work I do there, and is in process of hiring in Kenya. I'll spend the next few months training these new leaders and then will hand off this role completely. That means, around the end of December I will conclude this work with Karama. It's been an honor to work with this social enterprise as long as I have and while it will be sad to hand it off, I am so proud that it's being handed off to national leadership and excited to watch the impact to grow! 

Please visit the website to learn more about it, or to shop! 

Ugh. That's how I feel about learning another new language. Though I am conversational in Kiswahili,  I never became fluent, so that's hanging over my head a bit. And now I'm attempting Kinyarwanda, which I hear is much harder than Kiswahili. Great. I'm starting out with just 2 hours a week and I'm doing it with another TeachBeyond teammate, so it'll be fun to get to know her as well as the culture/language. Our kids are taking Kinyarwanda AND French in school, so they'll certainly surpass me in their language studies. We'll see how this goes. 

Marriage Bible Study
Our church is offering a 7 week marriage course, which we decided to join. It's in our neighborhood each Sunday evening for a few hours. While we are breaking our own rule of not getting involved in too much, we felt like it fit in with focusing on family right now and it is only 7 weeks, so it's got and end date. Our first study is tonight and I'm looking forward to meeting a few other couples in our church. 

Body & Soul 
There is a church about 4 minutes from our house that offers a few fitness classes each week. Due to my work schedule, I can only go Monday evenings and Saturday mornings, but I've been loving the accountability and challenge of these exercise classes! It's been good for me to be intentional about taking care of my mental and physical state and I've enjoyed meeting people outside of the KICS community. 

Normal Life Stuff 
Normal life stuff right now is helping kids with homework, making lunches, baking bread, taking the dog for walks, arranging playdates for our kids to build friendships, trying to find cheese somewhere, church, trying to make the house more our home, lots of coffee, newsletters & communication with supporters, etc. We don't have a car, so going shopping or running errands is a bit more difficult. We either get a taxi, or we check out a car from KICS if it's available. We're still trying to figure out where to buy things, how much things cost, how to get around (hilly/curvy roads EVERYWHERE!) and what to do for fun/relaxation. 

So that's my life in a nutshell. It's full, it's fulfilling, it's new and sometimes overwhelming. Overall though, we're setting in and trying to give ourselves grace as we remember we've been here less than 3 months. While it's still East Africa and some things feel familiar, it's a new country with a difficult history, new language, new school, new friends and new routines. Somedays we miss Tanzania terribly, other days we're ready to take on all the new challenges of cultural adjustment. 

This week, we only have school on Monday. Tuesday & Wednesday we have full days of conferences and then we have Thursday and Friday off. We're REALLY looking forward to the break! 

Thanks for reading along!