After four years of working with Books & Beyond, it was surreal to finally stand in front of Kabwende Primary School with the volcano Sabyinyo towering in the background. After exploring Kigali and Huye and hiking in the rainforest in Nyungwe National Park, we had arrived in Kinigi.
I was a little apprehensive about the first day of teaching because I was not sure if the lesson plans we had made a few days before would work in a classroom full of students I had never met in a country where I had only been for a week. Luckily, I think we were privileged to work with amazing teachers and translators that made everything function smoothly.
However, language was still a limiting factor in the classroom. I was sometimes frustrated by my limited Kinyarwanda which I felt sometimes prevented me from being able to interact with students on a personal level. The most difficult section of the camp to teach was writing because students did most of their brainstorming and sharing of ideas for story writing in Kinyarwanda. Reading and kinesthetic were a little easier to lead because I could interact with students by stomping around with them like an angry elephant from the Reader’s Theatre script or by trying to outsmart each other in a game of Simon Says. Overall, I was happy with how we were able to both teach and learn from the students despite the language barrier.
I went to Rwanda expecting to deal with difficult questions including my own reservations about doing international service in a community that was not my own and teaching English in a place that already has a flourishing national language. I’m not sure that I have any more answers than when I left, but I think that’s ok. In the U.S., I am vaguely aware of the legacy of colonialism in Africa or the pressure on African nations to conform to western conceptions of development, but it’s not something I think about on a daily basis. In Rwanda, I came face to face with questions concerning language policy, the education system, development, and my own role in Rwanda including how I perceived myself compared to the way others perceived me.
I did become acutely aware of certain aspects of my own privilege while in Rwanda. As a student, I do not think of myself as particularly wealthy. However, I do have access to endless resources and opportunities that a large research institution like IU provides, including the ability to travel to Rwanda with Books & Beyond.
In the fall, I will be moving to Gaudeloupe to work as an English teaching assistant. Working with Books & Beyond has made me more excited and prepared for teaching there. I have more confidence in my ability to navigate my way in the classroom, even in a foreign country.
From waking up next to Lake Kivu, to hiking in a tropical rainforest, to teaching at a rural school, my time in Rwanda made the world a little smaller and a little less daunting. No matter how much I am impressed by the natural beauty of a place (the forests, volcanoes, hills, and lakes of Rwanda were outstanding), it is always the people that really define it. Even though we were only there for four weeks, I can say without exaggeration that I met people that will have a lasting impact on my life. A big thank you goes out to everyone with which I had the privilege of sharing this experience.