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YOUR PRESENCE MATTERS.
Michelle Goldstein is a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines where she teaches English at an elementary school. "I am extremely passionate about human rights and since International Women’s Month is just around the corner I am going to teach my children about Women’s Rights and Women’s Empowerment."
Throughout her service, Michelle has encountered extremely negative conceptions of American Women due to how women are portrayed in the media. The local men and women have commented that she is not like a typical 'American' because she holds conservative values when it comes to dating, where a typical 'American' is very 'liberal' and 'easy going' with her body. "This astonished me, especially because women thought this as well."
She wants to teach her students how this type of generalizing is continuing the cycle of gender inequality and that women are strong, smart, virtuous, and amazing. She wants her students to learn about positive representations of women.
To give her students a better understanding of why it is important to be aware of what it means to be a woman who is still fighting for equal rights all over the world, she included them in a program on International Women's Day. She gave a lecture to all the 3rd-6th graders. She also had her students prepare a song, dance, poem, and/or artwork all centered around the theme “Women’s Empowerment.”
Michelle's activities in recent weeks have centered around Women's Empowerment. In February, she participated with her elementary school in One Billion Rising, a world wide movement against violence towards women, where she ran a marathon, joined a flash mob, and viewed the Vagina Monologues all in hopes of creating awareness that will somehow make a difference. Dumaguete’s regional One Billion Rising representative came to film the school dancing for awareness. (We hope to be able to share the video soon.)
"I am thrilled that my school is so supportive of this work and is helping these ideas become a reality. I hope these projects shed light on the impact of negative thinking and empower my community to take actions that break the cycle of women's inequality. My goal is to motivate students to not only believe in women's empowerment but also self-empowerment."
Did your experience at SMC influence your decision to join the peace corps?
When I was an SMC student I went to South Africa for study abroad with Professor Nancy Grass Hemmert and Professor Frank Dawson. There were a lot of volunteer opportunities during the trip. The fellow students and myself helped build a recreational area for some orphans, spent a day taking care of children at a day care/orphanage, and visited locals who were HIV positive with an organization who donated medicine. I loved every second being with the children and locals in the townships and it reconfirmed my dream to become a PCV. A handful of days were not enough for me and it proved that two years of benefiting a community's life would be worth it. Now two years seems hardly enough.
Has working in the Peace Corps changed any previous notions you may have had about what success looks like?
If anything, my experience has taught me to appreciate even minor successes in life and in the work I do. Before I thought there was only one degree of success. Now I believe there are many variations of success that can occur daily. An example of a small success is walking home from school with my students, especially after a day where I was maybe a bit too strict or too challenging.
Tell us all at SMC what your day-to-day life looks like.
Walking to and from school everyday reminds me of being in a Disney movie. From all over I hear “Maayong Buntang, Ma’am Michelle!” (“Good Morning, Ma’am Michelle!”) from both students and neighbors. There’s no better way to start a day than hear a dozen people shouting your name with huge smiles. Snack breaks (known locally as merienda) are quite important here and everyone takes 10-15 minutes to eat something delicious. Bread and a rice dessert called “budbud” are the most common snacks. During this time I like to visit my fellow teachers and practice my Visayan (second most spoken language in the Philippines following Tagalog). Unlike in the states, it is very common for teachers and students to go home for lunch and come back an hour later for afternoon classes. I often walk home with students who run out of nowhere to be by my side. In the evening I spend time with my sitemate (another Peace Corps Volunteer who lives in the same city), exercise in my home (I have plenty of work out videos or I just practice yoga stretches), read, study for the GRE or Visaya, and spend time with my host family.
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