Changing the World
By Debra Redburn,Communications-College of EHHD
From the time she was a young girl, Genevieve (Walsh) Chabot has worn traveling shoes. Even as an adult, she never seems to stay in one place too long before her passion for travel calls her to take to the road or air again. Her shoes have taken her all around the United States, as well as many foreign countries.
“When I was growing up, my parents were somewhat nomadic and often moved around the country to try something new,” said Chabot.
When Chabot was in fourth grade, her mother decided they should embark on a year-long road trip, traveling the United States in a VW van. During this year, Genevieve and her two older siblings were home schooled as they traveled from Michigan to Montana to Oregon. Her mother even taught the children an hour of music daily, with Chabot playing a ukulele and her brother the drum. As a high school student, she attended schools in Oregon, Maryland, and Connecticut.
Chabot landed at Montana State University in 1997, when she moved to be near her father and step-mother, who had relocated to Montana. Before Chabot even began her studies, her dad moved to Colorado. But she decided to put down some roots and stay for awhile. “Was this home?” she wondered.
That question was answered when she enrolled at Montana State University and met Kathy Tanner, director for the Center of Community Involvement, who hired Chabot as a work-study student to help coordinate AmeriCorps. For the next two years, she coordinated AmeriCorps efforts and initiated the America Reads program in Bozeman schools. She decided to major in elementary education because she had always enjoyed working with children, yet she also wanted to travel the world.
“Being an elementary education major gave me a chance to do both,” Chabot said.
Through MSU’s study abroad program, she had the opportunity to travel her junior on a Hubert Humphrey cross culture scholarship to Utrecht, Holland, to intern at a Montessori school for a semester. During her time abroad, she volunteered at a Waldorf school and also was a nanny in Spain.
“It was exciting to see different approaches with family dynamics and their role in education,” said Chabot.
For her student teaching experience, Walsh traveled to New Zealand with education professor Bill Hall’s overseas program and taught middle school science in a rural Maori village.
“I chose a small village because I wanted to become immersed in the culture,” said Chabot. “Every day, I walked to the school along a beach. The class was mostly boys-adolescent males-who were beginning to identify themselves as Maori. For the first time, they were exposed to how the spiritual and tribal beliefs meshed with science. Every ancestor was connected to a part of nature-a stone, or a mountain.”
After graduating from Montana State in 2003 with a bachelor’s in elementary education, Chabot found herself once again putting on traveling shoes when she was hired by Gennifre Hartman, executive director and principal of the Traveling School. The Traveling School offers high school girls ages 15-18 a chance to journey overseas and experience outdoor adventures while they take rigorous academic classes. Chabot’s first overseas trip with the school took her to Africa. For the next four years, she continued to travel to Africa, South America, and New Zealand, but she also began taking master’s classes in science education online. Her goal was to improve the science curriculum for the Traveling School.
“I wanted to find ways to provide the scaffolding for instructional experiences,” Chabot said. “I also wanted to find out how we can understand the land or environment through the eyes and stories of people who live on the land, especially tribal peoples.”
She received her Master of Science in Science Education from MSU in 2006.
In 2007, Chabot’s life took a major turn when she met future husband Doug Chabot, director of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center based in Bozeman. Since Doug’s job with the avalanche center was seasonal, he spent the off-season climbing mountains. He climbed mountains in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is how he met Greg Mortenson of the Central Asia Institute (CAI). A two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Mortenson has become known around the world for building schools for girls in remote locations in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
One evening in 2007, Doug invited Genevieve to dinner with Greg and his wife, Tara Bishop, to plan a trip to Pakistan. Mortenson told Genevieve about building schools to provide opportunities for young women to receive an education. He believed if you can empower the women of a country, you can change the world.
“Greg asked me to do some things for him,” said Genevieve. “He said we have no women at the CAI to talk to the girls and women in rural villages. Someone needs to sit alone with them and get their stories and find out if their needs are being met.”
Genevieve works with a young Pakistani school girl.
Genevieve Chabot (center in pink) reads with students in Pakistan.
In the rural areas where the CAI works, men and women cannot speak to one another according to their cultural mores. Since CAI works on the ground with a grassroots emphasis in communities, communication with men and women is essential. It is a lengthy process to spend time and resources to find out what each community needs. Because of this model, Mortenson and the CAI have successfully worked in remote villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan to build 164 schools and have educated more than 68,000 students, including 54,000 girls.
Genevieve was captured by Mortenson’s passion. She agreed to go to Pakistan as a volunteer on Mortenson’s behalf. Doug would be accompanying her as a consultant, which he had done in the past.
Her first trip to Pakistan was soon after the devastating earthquake that had hit Kashmir, Pakistan, in October 2005. She and Doug traveled with local CAI staff members who were from various regions of Pakistan. They rode in unmarked vehicles to remote villages, sometimes driving four to five hours over bumpy, dirt roads. Genevieve wore traditional Pakistani clothing to fit in, as they sometimes encountered road blocks set up by the Taliban.
“I usually felt safe,” she said. “The staff of the CAI took good care of me.”
When she arrived in the village of Patika, she met with the principal of the school and also with one of the students, Ghosia. Ghosia’s school had collapsed during the earthquake, but she had survived because she had gone outside to get water. However, her mother was killed in the quake. Ghosia dreamed of getting a good education so she could become a doctor. She wanted to go to Rawalpindi to study, but was being held back by a prominent man in the village. Even though Ghosia was not allowed to study, other girls in the village were.
Chabot also met with teachers and discovered they wanted professional development opportunities.
“The girls were dreaming big, but they need funding,” said Chabot.
While Chabot was in Pakistan, Mortenson called her by satellite phone to ask her to stay in Pakistan.
“Can you stay and work for CAI? The staff is asking for you,” said Mortenson.
Mortenson also asked if she could head up a scholarship program and a teacher training program. Once again, she agreed and became CAI’s only Western female staff member on the ground in Central Asia. While in Pakistan, Chabot met Fozia Naseer, a young woman passionately interested in changing the way teachers were educated. A CAI scholarship allowed Fozia to attend Montana State University so she could learn to train teachers in her region to be better teachers.
As Chabot traveled back and forth from Montana to Central Asia over the next three years, she knew she was not yet done with her formal education. She wanted to better understand the opportunities, barriers, and needs of women and girls in Patika, Kashmir. So she began work on a Doctorate in Education, which she completed in December 2009.
For her dissertation, Chabot used the case study format to understand issues of poverty and education in Afghanistan and Pakistan. One of the issues she felt needed addressing was infant mortality.
“Once Fozia was trained to take over in Pakistan, I felt it was time to continue addressing issues of education and infant mortality in other countries,” said Chabot.
After forming a non-profit organization--Global Midwife Education Foundation-- with Dr. Genevieve Reid, a physician from Livingston, Montana, Chabot’s focus has now moved to identifying and training midwives and communities in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and southern Bolivia, South America.
“In developing countries when you educate girls and women, the infant mortality rate and the maternal mortality rate decrease,” Chabot explained. “In the tribal communities in the Atlas Mountains, one in twenty women dies in childbirth. Ninety percent have babies at home.”
In addition to teaching classes for the Master’s in Science in Science Education program and the Department of Education at MSU, Chabot will once again put on her traveling shoes this spring when she travels to Morocco in May.
“My dream,” said Chabot, “is to see international service learning opportunities between MSU and international aid organizations like the Global Midwife Education foundation. Students could travel to work with communities literacy programs, rural health care, midwifery, and adult education opportunities.”
Who knows where Chabot’s traveling shoes will take her next?