The Books & Beyond trip to Rwanda has been one of the most exhilarating, thought-provoking, experiences for me. From the moment I stepped into the Indianapolis airport, every moment seemed to be a new experience. I rode my first airplane (and then another….and another). I visited another country for the first time. I saw my first volcano. I taught my English class. Every day in Rwanda challenged my previous ideas and taught me more about the world and myself.
We spent the first week of our trip touring throughout Rwanda. During this week, we remained mostly observers of Rwandan life, watching the thousands of green hills, tea and coffee plantations, women carrying bags of grain on their heads and babies on their back, men riding bikes loaded with bunches of bananas from the windows of our coaster bus. We drove up and down the small country of Rwanda, seeing more of the country than most Rwandans every would. One of my favorite stops was our two hikes in Nygunwe National Forest in the south of Rwanda. During the first hike, we crossed a canopy bridge that was 100 meters in the air! And after the second exhausting hike, we were rewarded by the sight of a beautiful waterfall!
Canopy Walk in Nygunwe Forest
After the first week, we traveled to Musanze, in the northern province of Rwanda, to begin our Books & Beyond Kabwende Holiday camp. At the Kabwende Holiday Camp, 300 students from Kabwende Primary School, spend two weeks learning and practicing their English from the IU students. At first, I was very nervous about teaching. I worried that I would be a poor teacher and the students would gain no knowledge from me during their time at camp. I did not want to waste the students’ time and the Rwandan teachers’ time. However, I soon found that by keeping a hardworking attitude and a willingness to change plans, teaching went well and the students enjoyed class. By the end of camp, I wished that I had more days to spend with the classes.
Becoming a rabbit for Reader’s Theater
On the first day of camp, we passed out the Books & Beyond book, The World is Our Home, to all 2,000 students at Kabwende Primary School. For many students, this was the first book they had ever owned. As we passed out the books, we had to carefully watch to make sure some sneakier students were not trying to snag two books. Although I had learned about the shortage of books in Rwanda through my involvement with Books & Beyond throughout college, I had not fully grasped just how little access to books most Rwandans had. Throughout camp, the students cherished their books, protecting them with hand-made book covers and writing notes to practice their English. When I was a child, books were something I took for granted. I loved to read and my favorite part of the school year was when the book fair visited, but I never doubted my access to books. In Rwanda, a student who loves to read, struggles to find an adequate book.
When we asked the students why they went to school, they responded with “because I want to learn.” Most students could not afford funding past primary school and only a small percentage of Rwandans are able to attend university. For me, it made me realize what an opportunity attending IU has actually been. Sometimes I complain about starting school or having to do so much homework outside of class when I know that attending university is a privilege many people in the world, and even in the United States, cannot afford.
Throughout our trip, we had so many Rwandans helping us travel throughout the country. Now, as I am in back in the United States, I definitely miss everybody we met. Traveling to Rwanda showed me that it is really, really easy to become friends with someone who may not speak English well and grew up in completely different circumstances. These friendships helped me to adjust quickly to the new country and gave me a glimpse of what life in Rwanda consists of. Abdu and Simon-Pierre gave me a long list of their favorite singers to listen to and it was always interesting to have conversations about bacteria with Rashid.
Subyinyo, the volcano near Kabwende
Rwanda is a beautiful country, so much different than the United States. During my short month there, I saw and experienced the beautiful mountains and forests, a typical Rwandan home and the city of Musanze, among other things. I miss the beautiful mountains near Kabwende, the Rwandans I met, and the students yelling “I AM GOING TO EAT YOU” as the crocodile in our Reader’s Theater Story.
For over five years, the Books & Beyond Service-Learning Project has provided thousands of student-authored books for Kabwende Primary School students in order to address the book famine in Rwanda, Africa.
This month, as we continue to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, we want to also celebrate the work that our volunteers have done in this project.
The Batman films producer Michael Uslan (and friend of the B&B Project), will give a keynote address at the event. You won’t want to miss it!
Get your tickets from B&B Faculty Director Vera Marinova. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
$10 for students
$20 for non-students
Indiana University Cinema Presents: Remembering Rwanda Film Series
Starting April 1, 2014 @ 7 p.m.
IU Cinema 1213 E. 7th Street
Get your free tickets at the IU Auditorium Box Office or IU Cinema Box Office.
Click here for the Sometimes in April trailer
In April, 20 years ago, a genocide began in Rwanda. In just 100 days, nearly a million people died, and the country was changed forever.
Next month, the Books & Beyond Project is sponsoring a film series in remembrance of the lives and events that took place before, during and after the genocide that shook the world.
What is your favorite story and why? What makes a story special and unique?
“My favorite story is a story that I co-worked with my old writing partner Dakota. The story was about a princess who lived far away with her mother. The princess had been arranged to marry a prince of her parent’s choice, but the princess didn’t want that for herself. She meets a bird in a nearby tree who symbolizes who she is. Although the bird had wings and could go anywhere, it had never learned to fly so it never traveled. In the end, both the princess and the bird left the kingdom to follow their dreams.
A story is special and unique when it is relatable with a moral that teaches an important lesson.” – Nidrea, TEAM schools student
“My favorite story is Simba’s Mane. This is my favorite story because it shows how people, or better put, animals have role models. In Simba’s Mane, his dad was his role model. In my life my dad is my role model.
A story is special and unique when it has a theme that people can relate to. I think it is important for your reader to be able to connect to what they are reading about.” – Khafeeon, TEAM schools student
“My favorite story is The Pact by Jodi Picoult. It’s about a boy who is on trial for the death of his girlfriend. He did not kill her, but the only way people will believe him is if he proves his love for her. The characteristics of a good story are a solid plot and an interesting storyline. A story that leaves the reader in suspense are always the most interesting.” - Inayah, TEAM schools student