This post is part four of a series of student experiences in Rwanda from this summer. Here, Indiana University graduate Madelyn Kisel writes about her trip. Read more student perspectives here.
When I was packing for Rwanda I really had no idea what to expect. I was excited though and that is really all that counts.
I didn’t sleep the night before we left because we had to be at the airport so early that I figured I would not get much sleep anyway so why bother? We got through security okay and we were then able to start the first leg of the trip. We flew from Indy to New York to meet up with Ali, Jordyn and Kiara. From there we started the long trip that included a short stop in an Ethiopian airport. When we finally got to Kigali I was so happy to be off the plane! After we went through customs and picked up our luggage we were met by Abdoul, our driver, and Simon Peter, our translator. They recognized Caitlin immediately and ran over to meet us. They gave everyone a hug and helped us get everything to the bus. While we were loading everything I saw a few UN vehicles. It was very weird to realize that I was in a country where the UN had a strong presence. I thought of taking a picture but realized it might not have been the best idea as we were warned not to take pictures of any government official, building, vehicle, etc.
We went to the genocide memorial museum, which was very interesting. It was not like the museums I was used to in the US but it was very interesting to see how Rwanda described the genocide. We then went to the Nakumatt to load up on water bottles for the week. Here we also were able to exchange money. We stayed at the Chez Lando the first night and left early the next morning for Kabwende!=
The drive to Kinigi was longer than I thought but was also very eye-opening to how most Rwandans lived. Along the drive we saw fields of people working, small communities, many houses and lots of people walking on the side of the road. It also became apparent that there are not many traffic laws in Rwanda. In the afternoon we finally got to the Kinigi guesthouse where we were staying. After we got settled we went to Kabwende. This was probably one of the best parts of the entire trip. The walk to the school was very short and the kids saw us coming almost immediately. They all ran to greet us and a walk that should have only taken ten minutes took half an hour. They swarmed us and started asking all sorts of questions like what my name is, what did I have and others. The one question that I was not expecting was “where are the books?” They were all so excited to have books. This made me realize how much we take for granted having a book. There are bookstores all over that have hundreds of books, I have an e-reader that can hold thousands of books, and I have complained about having to read a book for school, and yet in Rwanda they are excited to get a single book. When we finally got to the school we were greeted by the headmaster Clement and we briefly talked about the coming year of the project. The school then had a huge welcoming ceremony for us where the kids sang, danced and preformed all kinds of acrobatic tricks. Throughout the ceremony kids started crowding closer and closer to us to the point that they were holding on to the back of our chairs.
The following days at Kabwende were AMAZING. We gave out the books to the students, held writing workshops, English conversation lessons and Caitlin held a community dialogue. Overall, I think things were pretty successful. The day that we handed out the books was the best. Kiara and I paired up to hand them out. Every class we went to, all the students were so excited to get a book they could barely contain themselves. Some would grab for a book before it was their turn and I could tell that they were trying so hard to stay under control. Some classes that we went into the students sang us a song and others the teacher welcomed us.
We also held various workshops with both the students and teachers and every day when we were there the students would sneak up to the windows of the classrooms to see what was going on. On the day that we held English conversations with the students we asked that only 10-15 students be present. It was very difficult to get only 10 students, as soon the classroom was so full of students it was almost difficult to get in. We held the English conversation in a circle where everyone asked a question and others would answer. Many of the questions we were asked were along the lines of how old we were, how many parents we have, what is our favorite food, how many siblings do you have, are you married, etc. They were very surprised when I said that I was an only child and that I did not have a brother.
We also held conversations with the teachers that were also very interesting. One of the most interesting conversations that I had was at the community dialogue. During this event Caitlin lead a discussion about the future of the project and asked the teachers, students and parents what Kabwende could do to become a more active participant. I was hoping to hear ideas about what the students could do; instead I was told about all the different ways that we could help more. The most popular idea was to send a few teachers and Students to the US. While I think that would be great, sadly we are not yet to a level of funding to achieve this goal. Other ideas included us sending board games, TV shows, movies and other things to help them learn English. While most of these are good ideas that we will take into consideration no one from my group had any ideas about what Kabwende could do. A couple individuals from other groups had some great ideas though, including the students selling crafts or other things to get some money.
The one training that was a failure was the only that Chelsea and I lead. We attempted to help teach the teachers about email, how you set up an account, how to send an email, etc. What we found though was that most teachers did not even know what a mouse was or how to write using the keyboard. The internet was also very difficult to get working and was very slow. While it was an overall failure at least we know what kind of trainings they need and we can now tailor this kind of workshop for the next trip.
Through out our stay in Kinigi, we also did other side activities such as visiting a preschool, meeting with a Peace Corp member, meeting with a vet from the Indianapolis zoo and visiting teachers’ homes.
Visiting teachers’ homes was my favorite part. It was definitely eye-opening as most of their houses only had one light per room. They were small and most had dirt or concrete floors. Every teacher we visited though was so happy to meet with us. Most shared more food that we could eat, offered more Fanta drinks then we could drink and invited more family and neighbors into their houses than I thought could fit. It was amazing though. I can’t really describe what I felt but it made me think about whether or not I really needed everything that I have.
Visiting the schools made me wonder if schools in the US really need everything that they offer. Does every classroom really need a new smart board? Kabwende had minimal resources; most rooms only had one light, and desks that the students had to share. Some classrooms didn’t even have desks. Somehow though the students learn. It made me realize that while it was really cool to have classrooms that were decorated, new computers and a smart board I really did NOT NEED it.
Leaving Kabwende was very sad and I am pretty sure that no one really wanted to leave but we had more things to see.
After leaving Kinigi we visited a national park. It was very pretty but I was not able to enjoy all of it, as I was sick with a sinus infection. What I did see was beautiful though. The one place I was able to visit while we were there was a tea factory. It was surprisingly clean and I never realized there were so many steps in making tea.
After leaving the park we went back up to Kigali to pick up Carmen. Carmen lived in the Global Village when I first moved in and was on her way to volunteer at the preschool that we visited in Kinigi. After we picked her up we went down to see the University and see some museums. The university was very interesting to see. They actually have monkeys on the campus and Simon Peter told us a story of them chasing him away from a study spot. There we were also able to eat at the only ice cream spot in the entire country. The museums were very interesting. My favorite was the art museum as most of the artists were local to the region. It didn’t hurt that the museum had an incredible view either!
The last day there was very bittersweet. No one was ready to go and you could even tell that Abdoul was sad to see us go. The trip back was uneventful. I will say though that I was very happy to eat food that I was used to.
Before I left for the trip and even after most people that I told I was going to Rwanda had the same questions. Why? Is it safe? Most people still think of the genocide when they think of Rwanda and I hope that I can help to change that. Most of Rwanda has moved on, how I not fully sure but they have. The country is rapidly changing and it has come so far from the mid 90’s. I hope that people realize that Rwanda is full of possibilities and that it has a lot to offer. The people are amazing and it deserves more attention.
I hope that the Books and Beyond Project can continue to spread the word that it is no longer 1994. Yes, the genocide happened but it is time to move on and educate ourselves about the current state of the country.
I am already missing everything about Rwanda and I hope to visit again sometime soon!