Thursday, July 3, 2008

Meet the Girls!


Jakina, 17, a June 2008 graduate of Michele Clark High School, will attend the University of Chicago in the fall. She says:
“I am impressed with the objective of the program. I believe that this program gives us girls a chance for our voice to be heard. This gives us the opportunity to unite across the world. We can share our opinions and views on what we think is important. I want to build recreational and teen centers that will help the future generation. I do not want these centers to be only national but international. I feel that this program can give me the experience that I will need. It will give me a chance to learn about new cultures and international people. It will give me a learning experience that no book can give. I will learn hands-on, connecting with others who are just like me. This program is like the saying, United we stand, Divided we fall. I want to help unite the world so that we as one can never fall. I can offer dedication and teamwork to the program.”

Latrice, 19, has just completed her freshman year at Northern Illinois University. She believes that everyone has a purpose in life, and says:
“I believe mine is working with those infected with HIV/AIDS. Also I believe that my purpose is to spread the word about the disease to those who are ignorant about the situation. Each year African American women are infected in an increasingly higher rate that before. I want to let them, as well as other races, know that the disease is preventable. This trip will open my eyes to a whole new world and give me the inspiration and confidence I need to achieve my goals. I do not want to go through life just working a job that is only benefiting me; I want to work so that I can inspire and back those who are in need of that helping hand and encouragement.”

Yonetta, 18, graduated from St. Francis de Sales High School in June and will attend Lewis University in the fall. She says:
“Participating in the WE-ACTx Girls Exchange will be a huge experience for me. I will learn about another culture different from mine. I feel that there are people out there less fortunate than me, and I would love to give back to that. In joining this program, I will contribute my time and dedication to interact and get to know the girls of Kigali. The Kigali girls will learn how I as a teenager in America deal with our society and function in life. One thing I learned in life is that you need to give back to the community. My family always helped me do my best in everything I did. I also have a community that needs me to help as well. My mother is always telling me that it takes a village to raise a child. I would like to tell you that I have that village, and I do not ask for more support that that.”

Ketija, 18, was born in Latvia and came to Chicago only recently. She just completed her freshman year at the School of the Art Institute, and says:
“While learning about Africa in my global studies class in high school, I am more conscious of the circumstances in third world countries. Visiting Africa became one of my life’s goals. Because of my new knowledge about the situation in Africa, I was glad to find out about the Rwanda Doll project at Gallery 37. I helped sew dolls made by HIV-infected women in Rwanda that were later sold throughout the US. I spent a couple of hours every week sewing and contributing to a great cause. The experience made me feel much better about myself, knowing that I am able to help people less fortunate. I believe now taking the next step and actually going to Africa and seeing the setting myself would improve me as a person. I will definitely learn a lot, gain experience and attain creative spirit for working more toward helping other people. I think it will be a wonderful experience of collaborating with people of Rwanda in creating some amazing and creative art pieces. Collaboration between two different cultures is excitingly unpredictable. It is amazing to know that there are opportunities like the WE-ACTx Girls Exchange out there for regular people who are more worried about the current global issues and not just some teenage nonsense. I am sure that the journey to Africa will be a life-changing experience for anyone who has a chance to take part in it.”

Liz, 17, who starts her senior year at Evanston High School in fall 2008, says:
“By visiting the girls in Kigali, I will make new friends and so will they. We both will be given the opportunity to change peoples' opinions of Africa and the conditions there. We will be given the chance to draw attention to the current problems that they face. I personally will do all that I can to raise awareness of Rwanda. I believe that programs like this should happen more often. Teens, especially, are so unaware of the world around then and this will help them to see what is truly going on. Last summer the opportunity presented itself and I with several others raised almost $1000 dollars. We sold dolls at the Hyde Park Arts festival and talked with everyone about Rwanda. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it to help inform people about what was happening over in Rwanda. I have continued to volunteer with WE-ACTx and I jump at every chance to help. This trip to Kigali is one that I have always wanted to take. I have talked to several people who have gone to help at the clinics in Rwanda and finally getting to see them with my own eyes and meet the women and families who have been helped will forever change my life. After selling dolls, bags, and baskets and the other crafts that the women there make, it will be an honor for me to finally meet them. I feel that by making this trip, I will bring and open mind, a warm heart, a good attitude, and a giving spirit. This trip will show me a different perspective on life that I could not receive anywhere else and I intend to make the most of it.”

Jamillah, 17, who will be a junior at Lindblom High School in the fall, says:
“The trip to Rwanda will be an excellent experience. The question is not what experiences and contributions I will bring to the table while on the Rwanda trip. The question is what I will take from those life lessons, and how will I apply that to life beyond this summer. Of course I will share this enriching experience with the ones who live around me and who I feel will benefit from the experience.”
Jamillah goes on to say that she “will be a part of a documentary crew that will describe the epidemic and how Rwanda’s people are facing it and providing possible solutions. Hopefully the documentary will show people what roads need to be walked for change to come.”
Members of Lindblom Math and Academy’s Filmmaking and Documentary Colloquium expect to make the documentary. Jamillah explains, “It will be my third year being a part of a film crew, and this established crew will successfully create a Rwanda Documentary.”


Natasha, 18, lives with her mother in Kigali. She’s still in high school, where she studies informatics and founded an HIV anti-stigma group. She says,
“I like listening to music, watching movies and reading books. I also like discovering new things, and giving advice to my friends because I learn so much from other people.”

Josiane is 18. Both of her parents died from HIV, and she lives with a cousin. She is still in high school, and says,
“In everyday life I like praying, just like my parents trained me when I was young, and I also like being social. I am glad that there is a family who will host me in the United States.”

Claudette is 19. Her father was killed during the genocide and her mother suffered a great deal. She, too is a survivor. She’s very energetic and still in high school, where she studies informatics. Claudette says,
“I like traveling to make new friends and see how the world moves. I look forward to having a host family and I hope to learn much from them.”

Charlotte is 19 and is committed to doing good things. She is in her last year of high school, and says,
“I hope I will learn from my host family and that they will learn a lot of things from me and about my country, too.”

Marie Thérèse is 20. Both of her parents died of HIV. She lives with her grandmother, just finished high school with a focus in the field of human sciences, and will attend the university in 2009. She says,
“I like to meet new people and to make new friends. I really like children. I like to study and help others, and care about my friends and all people.”

Claudine was 19 when she perished along with another WE-ACTx worker in a tragic automobile accident in Kigali on July 4, on the eve of her participation in the WE-ACTx Girls Exchange Chicago↔Kigali. Her father was killed during the war. Claudine had just finished high school and was awaiting her exam scores to begin her studies at the university next January. She was a peer advocate for HIV+ young people at WE-ACTx, and also worked for WE-ACTx doing data entry. Her untimely death is a profound loss for her many friends and colleagues. Claudine had said, “I like to read all kinds of books, and I am a fan of all kinds of music. I like making new friends, exchanging ideas with all kinds of people. I want to live in peace with everybody.”
Each of the mosaic murals the girls will create will be dedicated to Claudine’s memory.

Group Leaders:

Linda, one of the group leaders accompanying the Chicago girls to Rwanda, is a retired social worker with the Chicago Public Schools. She is an active volunteer with the AFS (American Field Service) Exchange Program and was the group leader for 17 teenagers who traveled to China in 2005. Linda says,
“I am so excited about going on this trip and learning more about Rwanda, and visiting Africa for the first time. The WE-ACTx Girls Exchange is a unique initiative that will foster awareness of teens living with HIV, and engender a global awareness of the issues. This will surely be as much of a life-changing event for me as it will be for all of the girls. I look forward to seeing how the girls respond to this experience, and what each one of them decides to do in the future with regard to HIV/AIDS and other social issues.”

Henriette lived in Rwanda through the genocide. She is now a trauma counselor and is especially helpful addressing the problems that young women and girls face. She is married and has visited the United States once before to speak at meetings about HIV and trauma in Rwanda.

Felicité is married and has four children. She grew up in Uganda and moved to Rwanda in 1994. She started the Rwandan Women’s Soccer League several years ago and now works internationally to promote women’s empowerment through sports.

Mosaic Mural Designers

Jeanne is the artistic catalyst behind the mosaic murals the girls will create in Chicago and Kigali. She was Sonja’s teaching partner this past year at Gallery 37, teaching young artists an advanced contemporary sculpture class. Jeanne also teaches art at Orr Academy High on Chicago’s west side, and is a passionate advocate of Service Learning. She says,
“I plan to keenly observe how everyone works together to bring about change and personal and communal empowerment, a key component of what I teach through art classes. I hope to learn how I might do that more deeply and effectively as a result of this trip. I look forward to sharing this experience with my students and teaching colleagues as we try to make what is taught in the classroom relevant and meaningful.”

Sonja is an accomplished artist and art teacher. A painter and sculptor, she has worked at Gallery 37 with students on the Rwanda doll project, which is how she learned about the work of WE-ACTx. She says,
“I am inspired by so-called 'women’s work' around the world, and how we pass down skills and traditions like care-taking, healing and community-building from generation to generation. I am eager to feel Africa's embrace and learn all I can from the men, women and children in Rwanda. This will be a life-changing experience for me. I hope to come back to the States with a broader knowledge of our global community and how we can care, learn from and teach one another."

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