If someone were to ask me a year ago if I wanted to go abroad in Africa I would probably hesitate and think, why Africa, which is exactly what I did when the email was sent to me in late February. However, if someone were to ask me now I would say yes immediately. When I was told about the Books and Beyond program I thought it sounded pretty neat and the service that was being done was a good one but the thought of going to Africa, let alone Rwanda really bothered me and my family as well. When people first hear of Rwanda they automatically think about the Genocide that happened over 20 years ago. They think it’s a country that has fallen apart and has many problems that have yet to be fixed. They get scared to even consider the possibility that everything in a country where something so horrific happened could pull itself back together. Well, here I am to shatter the illusion, to correct all the assumptions, to stop the rumors.
When I left for Rwanda in July, my assumptions were the same as everyone else’s. I was somewhat scared. The only thing that I knew about Africa was from what I saw in movies, and that wasn’t it at all. My fears melted away as we arrived in the city of Kigali. It looked normal. It looked like a regular city, nothing too different about it. Granted the air was a little musky due to the fact that they burn coal in Rwanda, but it honestly took me awhile to realize that I was in Africa. The first night we stayed at hotel and surprisingly enough I slept well, even though there was a mosquito net above me. The following day we went to a Genocide museum. That museum left me troubled inside because of the horrible things that the people had to go through. As we left and drove around, I began to look at the people and kept thinking that they were alive during this, especially the older ones. They survived it.
The next few days were hiking days, which were my favorite things we did. The second hike was the best because we got to see an amazing waterfall. I have never in my life seen a waterfall before and it was incredible. It was peaceful. We also visited the university in Kigali as well.
After a fun but long week of adventures we made our way to Musaze, which was where we were going to be living for the remainder of the month. This is when the assumptions became somewhat real. People lived in small, tiny huts and the town had dirt roads. I like the way the town was set up. I liked the buildings, the roads, the atmosphere and most of all I liked the people. For some reason I could see myself moving there, I could see myself living there.
The house itself was nice. It has beds and running water; all we needed. I was a little upset when I found out that we were not going to have hot water for our entire stay but then I thought to myself at least I get to take a shower. At this point in the trip I was pretty comfortable in the place I was staying. I knew things were going to be different and that I just had to accept it.
The next week we worked on our lesson plans. We went over what we were going to teach and how we would do so. This part was tough because you really didn’t know how it was going to go. The kids that we were teaching speak very little to no English at all so being able to communicate with them was something I knew was going to be tough. I wanted to feel like the teacher in the classroom not just someone who was giving the translator some good ideas and then have them go ahead and teach. I wanted to make myself known. The lesson plans that we had for the kids seemed pretty neat and I was excited to start teaching the little ones right away.
The day before camp we had a little break, somewhat a day to ourselves. Early in the morning we went to Prefer Preschool. That was one of the best days of the trip because those kids were amazing. Granted, I had no idea what they were saying half the time, but they were still all so cute! After that I crashed for a good two hours. But I did take the rest of the day to explore the town and found that the more I let myself out of my comfort zone, the more I found myself like this place. Even though I could only communicate with the people on very little bases, it was still nice to talk to them and get to know some of them. I was scared at first that people would treat me different because I am white and I did get a lot of stares, but that quickly went away once I talked to the people and got to know them. Soon, it didn’t even bother me. I saw myself as a person and not as a color, and I think that’s what a lot of people in America do. They look at you as a color first, not a person. I think it was that day I realized that I had fallen in love with Musanze.
The camp was amazing, by far the greatest part of the trip. Like a mentioned before, I was afraid to teach because of the language problem but the kids knew more English than I thought. Yes, some did struggle throughout the camp but one thing I noticed is that when we asked the kids why they went to school, they said because they wanted to gain knowledge whereas in America, if you ask that same question many people would say because I’m supposed to. The kids in these schools don’t have to go to school. They want to and I think that makes the kids who do go want to actually learn. They don’t look at is as a burden but as a chance to better their life. To make something of themselves, and that’s why it really hurts me to know that some kids, most kids don’t go to school because they can’t afford it. Imagine not being able to go to school because you can’t afford it. And it’s not just college but early education that these kids cannot afford. I know how hard it is to pay for college so I know where these kids are coming from. Wanting to get an education and knowing that you can’t is just a horrible feeling. The camp was perfect. The kids did such a good job with their stories and reading. I don’t know about them but I enjoyed the games part of camp. That was definitely one of my favorite parts! The kids are really smart and funny. They were my favorite part! All of them were great and I honestly miss every single one of them. Going back to Rwanda is definitely something that is number one on my list.
How did this trip change my life and me as a person? I feel that this trip really did change me as a person. I never really saw my life as privileged. I thought that I was someone who was barely getting by in life. I’m struggling to pay for college and other bills but after this trip, I learned to look at my life in a positive way. Yes, I am struggling but it’s my life. I should do things that make me happy, not things that will impress other people. Yes, I may not have a lot of things but the things I have could be things that other people wish for. Some people have it worse, everybody has a different story, and nobody is the same. I learned to love the life I have and stop wishing for a different one because the one you have is special and is truly yours. It’s not finished, you can make it whatever you want. I began to think about Rwanda and how it’s classified as a Third World country, but in my eyes, I don’t see it. I see something much more beautiful than that. I see something that could possibly be better than America. I see a place where things aren’t done the wrong way, they are just done a different way and the people of Rwanda like to live it that way. They see nothing wrong with it and they are truly happy. That makes them a First world country in my book.
This trip was one that I will remember for a life time. I am so very blessed that I was able to teach the kids there. They have changed my life forever and even though it hurts to do so, I’m going to think about them every day. My goal is to come back to Rwanda and visit the school. Hopefully to see the kids still continuing there education. I recommend everyone to get involved with the Books and Beyond Project because it truly is an amazing! Rwanda will always be my second home!