After over 8000 miles and 26 hours of traveling, we arrived in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. It was more urbanized than I expected, but it was still nothing compared to towns in the U.S. In Rwanda, people are constantly moving either by car, motorcycle, bike, or walking. We rarely drove anywhere that was not filled with people, even in the rural areas. On our first full day we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial. It was so beautifully done and was an inspiring remembrance of the tragedy that occurred in 1994. We had talked about the genocide in class, but it was so much more meaningful to witness the genocide from the Rwandan perspective. The facts were astonishing and it made me really appreciate the safety I feel at home.
After our afternoon in Kigali, we headed to Akagera National Park for a two-day safari. On our ride to the park, we saw a lot more of what I expected to encounter in Rwanda: many houses without solid doors or windows, people waiting to fill yellow jugs of water, and children walking without shoes. Despite the lack of basic amenities, the people all appeared happy and content. It is amazing how satisfied a person can be when they do not know about unnecessary luxuries. Many of the people, especially the kids, waved to us as we drove by. Once we arrived at Akagera, we were out on the safari for eight hours and seen zebras, giraffes, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, antelope, warthogs, baboons, and various birds. It was unbelievable seeing all of the animals in their natural habitat.
After a week of traveling, we went to our house in Musanze, on the northwest side of the country. The town is the fourth largest city in the Rwanda, but it would be considered very small in the U.S. With about 80,000 people, there are only small shops and businesses, with few buildings taller than one story. Our house had five bedrooms, and plenty of space for everyone. We had the basic amenities of running water, electricity (most nights), and of course mosquito nets. We spent the nights playing games, singing, and getting to know each other, all of which are usually in the dark because we have power outages multiple times a day. I loved having so much time to read, journal, and talk with everyone without any distractions of technology.
We trained and created lesson plans for the classes that we taught at the Kabwende Primary School in Kinigi. We taught fourth and fifth graders for two weeks, and we also distributed books through Books & Beyond. There were four subjects: Practical English, Reader’s Theater, Writing, and Kinesthetics. I taught Practical English. We focused on the pronunciation of English sounds and words. We were exhausted at the end of each day, but the kids were so enthusiastic and eager to learn that it kept us energized. Some of the kids could form complete sentences, while other kids stared at us blankly. Sadly many of the kids had holes in their shirts, ripped shoes, and dirty feet. It broke my heart to see how underprivileged they were, but it only encouraged me more to do everything I could to help these kids improve their education.
On one of our days off we went on an eight-hour hike up Mount Bisoke, one of the active volcanoes that surrounds Musanze. It was one of the most challenging things that I have ever done. It is over 12,000ft up, and the majority of the climb is covered in muddy rocks and branches. Not only was the terrain difficult to manage, but it was also hard adjusting to the altitude. Though the last hour and half to the top was a struggle both physically and mentally, it felt amazing to finally reach the peak and see the Crater Lake that had formed in the volcano. It was such an accomplishment to have made it. Of the 26 in our group, only 14 made it to the top. We were able to sit on the peak and eat out packed lunches before heading back down. The hike down the mountain was a completely different kind of challenging. Everything was so muddy and steep that we were falling and sliding all over. We made it to the bus just before dark, and despite my exhaustion, I was beaming. It was absolutely amazing and invigorating.
When I left for this trip, I came into it looking for an amazing experience where I would get to discover a new country and gain teaching skills. As the bus drove away for the final time, I realized how much my mindset had changed. I wanted to do nothing but stay with these students, and teach them everything I possibly could. This experience reassured my decision to become a teacher, and I definitely want to teach abroad again. There are so many other places in the world like Kabwende Primary School, and I want to continue working with schools in desperate need. Overall, my trip to Rwanda was an unbelievably humbling experience. We were not simply travelers, but we became immersed in the culture and lifestyle of Rwanda. We learned the local language, visited schools around the country, ate the local food, and lived in a neighborhood. I now have a newfound eagerness to explore other parts of the world, and I cannot wait to see where in the world I will be able to teach next.