At 5 years of age I traveled for the first time on an airplane. The experience was definitely amazing. Unfortunately I was quite preoccupied by the box of candies and stuffed toys the stewardess would bring out to realize that I was 35,000 ft above ground level. Traveling places and moving to new countries (and different houses within the county) became something natural for me in the past. Change became a constant. This didn’t particularly bother me as I have always been a curious child so seeing and living in a new environment would always excite me. I suppose this is probably one of the key reasons why I wasn’t too nervous about the idea of traveling to Rwanda. Two key reasons that motivated me to do a study abroad program just second semester down in IU were:
- Personally interact with the students and teachers in Kabwende Primary School
- Break the stereotype people around me had around Africa
I had already worked with the Books & Beyond project for a year before leaving for Rwanda and that was enough time for me to be wholeheartedly invested in it. Needless to say it has been very resourceful and an excellent learning experience overall. The only thing I felt missing from my experience was actually traveling to Rwanda and meeting those for whom and with whom I worked, miles away. I felt that the interaction would help me know the workings of the organization better since we are not based just at IU but New Jersey and Rwanda too.
A lot of people around me are hesitant of ever even traveling to any place in all of Africa based on certain events or baseless stories they hear word of mouth. I found that to be a very unfair judgement as they hadn’t even seen any of the continent and its culture. I wanted to show them Rwanda and a part of Africa through my eyes and experience.
Rwanda turned out to be not just a site where the B&B project worked but a walk down memory lane. I was surprised as I did not seem to feel any kind of culture shock that was mentioned and talked about at length in our class back at IU. Rwanda to me was what India had been when I was five years old. The buildings, houses, farms, way of interaction between people and even certain moral values reflected the old cultural ideas of India which are celebrated even today. I suppose if I really had to think of an instance that gave me a “culture shock”, it would have to be how much Rwanda was like home. Interestingly my nationality also helped me in a way to make friends in Rwanda. I had an hour-half conversation with a cashier at Tigo (a mobile network company) about Bollywood and his favorite actor Salman Khan. Bollywood really has gone places.
The most memorable parts of my trip would certainly be visiting John (a teacher at Kabwende school) and his family and taking up the challenge of teaching for the first time. I clearly remember how I embarrassed myself at John’s by crying 4 times in total. The sincerity and genuine warmth that his family gave me will remain as one of my most precious memories. Also the fact that he opened up to us and answered our questions with such eagerness made me feel even closer to them.
I never thought I’d get to teach let alone teach writing to children. I think my team-mate and now a great friend, Chris and I probably learned more from the children in our workshop than the other way round. We got down to their level and heard their stories (both in and outside of their notebook) and found creativity and talent in everything they did. Even their doodles were hilarious masterpieces! Seeing the Rwandan culture through the eyes and stories of these children was a refreshing and beautiful experience.
Amongst the crowd of locals meeting and hearing the foreigners’ take on Rwanda and personally getting to experience their amazing community-service projects in Rwanda was an honour in itself. To mention one of the many projects I had the opportunity to visit, Uboshubozi was a complete joy. Jeanne who runs the project aims at empowering girls who have economic or family related issues. The most heartwarming objective of the project for me personally, was how it provides skills to these women to make their own produce (various sizes and styles of bags, traditional Rwandan clothes and much more) and then independent from the project prepare to run their own cooperative. Not only do they learn skills to make their produce but also valuable marketing, management and budgeting skills.
Rwanda in my opinion is a land of opportunities for foreigners but also a country that has talented and hardworking individuals. I could spend only one month there but my desire to go back is strong and I hope to accomplish it soon. I would highly encourage students of IU and anyone else who gets the chance, to go and experience this beautiful country.