On the afternoon of Monday, July 9, I arrived at the Indianapolis airport feeling quite anxious about my upcoming journey. I have been fortunate enough to travel to many different places before, but this was my first time to an African country and given Rwanda’s history, I had no idea what to expect. I was very much looking forward to meeting the kids at the camp, as well as seeing my awesome writing partner, Khafeeon, again. We flew from Indy to Chicago to Belgium to Kigali. The moment we stepped off the plane in Kigali, I was first grateful to have the chance to stretch my legs and then I took a good look around. I was very tired so it still hadn’t really hit me that I was actually in Rwanda. After going through customs and baggage claim, we met Simon Peter and Abdul and then along with some hot chappati, made our way to our hotel for the evening. As we drove through Kigali, I was struck by how similar it was to Bombay, India which I have been to many times. I wasn’t expecting that at all and it made it a little more difficult to experience the awe of being in Rwanda for the first time. But I was reunited with Khafeeon which was a lot of fun.
For our first day in Kigali, we went to visit the Genocide Memorial Museum. There was a very nice fountain with a flame out front. I thought that the museum was very well done and quite powerful. I liked how they had pictures and videos dispersed throughout the museum. After the museum, we started the 2 ½ hour drive to Musanze. We had some excitement along the way when we got a flat tire! I was surprised when a young man who was walking along the road just stopped and helped Abdul change the tire without even being asked. I realized that that kind of thing would never happen in the U.S., or it would be a very rare occurrence. Once the tire was fixed, we finished the very scenic ride to the house I would call home for the next two weeks.
The next day, we walked up to the school to pass out the books. I didn’t really have a definite picture of what the school would look like in my mind, but it definitely wasn’t what I expected. First, there is a dirt road leading up to the school and then a bridge made out of logs. The school itself is made up of a few buildings spread out on this hill. The P6 kids were taking an exam on the front lawn when we first arrived so we did some lesson planning while we waited. After we passed out the books to them, Khafeeon, Aaricka, A’Kayla, Caleb and I read two stories from the book to them. One was the story that Khaf and I wrote and the other was a story that was written by one of the P6 kids. I enjoyed that part because we got to meet the kid who wrote the story and we had him stand up and everything. Passing out the books to the younger kids in the afternoon was the complete opposite. Those kids were very energetic. They kept swarming us and asking for a book. Khafeeon and I went into a couple different classrooms to pass out books and we read a story to each one. There was one class with 110 kids in it; it was crazy. A lot of kids kept trying to hide the book they originally got and asked for a new one. Knowing that these books are they only ones they own made me kind of sad that we couldn’t give them a second one, but it also would make no sense to give them the exact same book.
One day, we also stopped off at Prefer Preschool and got to play with the kids for a little while. That was a lot of fun. They were very eager to play with us. I ended up sitting in a circle with four kids building with blocks. I felt a little awkward since I couldn’t really communicate with them besides asking their names and how they were doing. One girl was fascinated with the hair bands on my wrist and kept trying to take them off. I wish we could have gotten to spend some more time with them, but I’m sure they would have tired us out fairly quickly.
The next few days were spent preparing for teaching by coming up with our lesson plans for each week in our groups. It was a little difficult to lesson plan since we didn’t really know the skill level of the kids and we didn’t know what would or wouldn’t work, but there were outlines in our binder that helped us to at least come up with rough drafts. Lesson planning, although a little tedious, got me really excited for teaching because I couldn’t wait to implement them in the classroom and see how the kids responded to them. Of the three weeks, I was most excited for Reader’s Theater and Writer’s Workshop. I thought that having the kids perform one of the stories would be a lot of fun and I was really interested in seeing the process of the kids writing their stories. Practicing other groups’ kinesthetic activities was really fun as well. One day after lesson planning, Simon Peter and Nadine showed us Rwandan dancing which was fun to watch.
For our first weekend in Rwanda, we went to an island on Lake Kivu and went to a coffee plantation. The boat ride there was quite the experience with water continuously filling the bottom of the boat and how much rocking it did on the way back, but the coffee plantation itself was pretty cool. I never realized how intense of a process it really was to make coffee and the plantation was quite large. We got to try some of the coffee afterwards. I’m not a big coffee fan so I didn’t really care for it that much.
The first day of camp went by very fast. The opening ceremony in the morning was really nice. All the students gathered on the front lawn and sang while a few students danced. Then they had all of us dance with them while the other students kept singing. It was a lot of fun and a great way to start the camp. I was doing Reader’s Theater that week with Laura and Brie and since it was a shortened day, we only had 20 minutes per class period. We had the class split up into groups and read the story with them. Unfortunately, we found out that the kids’ English skills weren’t quite as high as we anticipated, but we were able to revise our lesson plans throughout the week and I think the week went really well. We had Isaac help us one day and the teachers were always there to translate. By the middle of the week, I had the story we were working on (The Caterpillar That Wanted to Change) thoroughly memorized and by the end of the week, the kids seemed to understand the story which was a big accomplishment. I’m quite proud of what the three of us did for that first week.
Unfortunately, I was unable to stay for the last half of the trip, but I am very grateful to have had those two weeks in Rwanda. It was a very valuable experience and definitely a highlight in my life. Since I plan on pursuing a career in teaching, having experience with lesson planning and teaching is very valuable. In addition, this whole experience was eye opening. The kids at the holiday camp have faced many more hardships than we could imagine and yet they still are able to look past it. All of them were genuinely excited about being at the camp and learning English. They really know how to have fun and I loved taking part in the games they would play before school started.
In addition, I feel like I have now been able to experience all parts of the Books and Beyond project. I have been actively involved in it for the past two years, but that was different because we were so removed from the final product of the project: the books helping the kids here. Being able to come to Kabwende Primary School, pass out the books, and actually use them to help the students learn makes me feel like I have come full circle in the project. I have loved being a part of this project and I hope the students at Kabwende had as much fun as I did.