Gender and human rights

Do You

3 countries, 6 weeks, and one too many bumpy and dusty bus rides later, OG’s East Africa Gender and Human Rights program is quickly coming to a close. I’m currently writing this on our final overnight bus ride from the beautiful coastal town of Watamu back to the bustling city of Nairobi (12 hours being flung side to side in your seat? NBD, we got this!).

It’s hard to believe that six weeks have flown by already, but at the same time it feels like we’ve been here for an eternity. We’ve just done so much, felt so much, and seen so much that it’s almost impossible it all happened in such a relatively short period of time. But here we are…

We’ve been through Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and back. We’ve eaten beans and chapatti, ugali, sukuma, undengu, mandazi, and pilau more times than we’d like. We’ve been on our fair share of matatus, motos, and tuk tuks. We’ve squatted for long drops more times than we can count (what are toilets?!?!) We’ve biked through the savannah,  hiked through gorges, and rafted on the Nile River. We’ve met with local activists advocating for trans and intersex rights in Nairobi, engaged in discussions with sex workers in Kisumu who are educating their peers on sexual health, and exchanged insights at a Polytechnic University on what dating and sex is like in a Kenyan vs. North American context. Most importantly, we’ve connected and created what will be a long-term partnership with a youth-led community based organization called the Young County Change Makers.

But the best part about this journey? Sharing the entire experience with Alex, Ashley, Emily, Hailey, Jean, Josh, Leah, Meg, Morgan, Nicole, Steph, and Taylor — 12 unbelievably kind, strong, and beautiful people who have taught me more than I could have imagined. Each one has taught me some sort of lesson on patience, humility, generosity, and honesty. And collectively, we’ve all learned to just “do you”…to be unapologetic about who you are and what makes you happy. If you want to take some alone time, do you. If you want to explore a more specific issue or engage in a different aspect of our volunteer project, do you. If you want to wallow in frustration or spin around on the beach in happiness saying how beautiful you are (ahem, Tay), you go right ahead and do you! Whatever the case may be, just do you!

It’s been an exhilarating, challenging, frustrating, and just straight up amazing journey and I’m happy to have been able to “do me” the whole time…in all my beautiful, OCD, and hangry little self…without judgment or ridicule (ok, maybe a little ridicule!) And it’s been a gift to get to know each person on this trip, stripped of all make-up, attachments, and history…just as they are in the here and now.

So as we go our separate ways and board different planes to start new adventures, let’s never forget to stay true blue and always do you!

Sawa sawa.

Originally posted on the Operation Groundswell blog. 

Be here, be present: thoughts from Nairobi

Kewa hapo, kewa sasa, popote ulipo, kewa hapo

Be here, be present. wherever you are, be there.

Those are the words etched in the travel journals given to us by our trip leaders, Meg and Josh. And those are the words that opened up OG's first ever Gender and Human Rights program.

I've been with OG now for almost a year and as one of the very few staff who has never actually been on any of our programs, I'm filled with a sense of great anticipation, nervousness, and excitement. My journey with OG has been a constant unfolding throughout the year and I find myself with a number of questions: Will I be impacted in the same way our participants have been? What new things will I learn about development, travel and tourism, and ultimately, myself? How will this change my perspective of an organization I've come to love and admire so much? It's an odd position to be in: to know the inner workings of OG so well and to know what to expect from these programs and yet, to know nothing at all. You can't ever really predict what happens on the road anyway.

Three days in and I find myself viewing this experience from the point of view of a participant, a trip leader (from the bits of training I picked up during our trip leader retreat), and of course, as my usual OG role of Communications Coordinator. My mind is always on the go and it's going to be quite the ride to have all these perspectives floating around somewhere in the back on my head.

But as the lovely and always wise Jo Sorrentino emailed me this morning, "there are a million perspectives, but Justine is #1. Don't get caught in analysis paralysis".

After all...kewa hapo, kewa sasa, right? Be here, be present!