Exploring Rwanda – Abigail Hamilton

The Books & Beyond trip to Rwanda has been one of the most exhilarating, thought-provoking, experiences for me. From the moment I stepped into the Indianapolis airport, every moment seemed to be a new experience. I rode my first airplane (and then another….and another). I visited another country for the first time. I saw my first volcano. I taught my English class. Every day in Rwanda challenged my previous ideas and taught me more about the world and myself.

We spent the first week of our trip touring throughout Rwanda. During this week, we remained mostly observers of Rwandan life, watching the thousands of green hills, tea and coffee plantations, women carrying bags of grain on their heads and babies on their back, men riding bikes loaded with bunches of bananas from the windows of our coaster bus. We drove up and down the small country of Rwanda, seeing more of the country than most Rwandans every would. One of my favorite stops was our two hikes in Nygunwe National Forest in the south of Rwanda. During the first hike, we crossed a canopy bridge that was 100 meters in the air! And after the second exhausting hike, we were rewarded by the sight of a beautiful waterfall!

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Canopy Walk in Nygunwe Forest

After the first week, we traveled to Musanze, in the northern province of Rwanda, to begin our Books & Beyond Kabwende Holiday camp. At the Kabwende Holiday Camp, 300 students from Kabwende Primary School, spend two weeks learning and practicing their English from the IU students. At first, I was very nervous about teaching. I worried that I would be a poor teacher and the students would gain no knowledge from me during their time at camp. I did not want to waste the students’ time and the Rwandan teachers’ time. However, I soon found that by keeping a hardworking attitude and a willingness to change plans, teaching went well and the students enjoyed class. By the end of camp, I wished that I had more days to spend with the classes.

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Becoming a rabbit for Reader’s Theater

On the first day of camp, we passed out the Books & Beyond book, The World is Our Home, to all 2,000 students at Kabwende Primary School. For many students, this was the first book they had ever owned. As we passed out the books, we had to carefully watch to make sure some sneakier students were not trying to snag two books. Although I had learned about the shortage of books in Rwanda through my involvement with Books & Beyond throughout college, I had not fully grasped just how little access to books most Rwandans had. Throughout camp, the students cherished their books, protecting them with hand-made book covers and writing notes to practice their English. When I was a child, books were something I took for granted. I loved to read and my favorite part of the school year was when the book fair visited, but I never doubted my access to books. In Rwanda, a student who loves to read, struggles to find an adequate book.

When we asked the students why they went to school, they responded with “because I want to learn.” Most students could not afford funding past primary school and only a small percentage of Rwandans are able to attend university. For me, it made me realize what an opportunity attending IU has actually been. Sometimes I complain about starting school or having to do so much homework outside of class when I know that attending university is a privilege many people in the world, and even in the United States, cannot afford.

Throughout our trip, we had so many Rwandans helping us travel throughout the country. Now, as I am in back in the United States, I definitely miss everybody we met. Traveling to Rwanda showed me that it is really, really easy to become friends with someone who may not speak English well and grew up in completely different circumstances. These friendships helped me to adjust quickly to the new country and gave me a glimpse of what life in Rwanda consists of. Abdu and Simon-Pierre gave me a long list of their favorite singers to listen to and it was always interesting to have conversations about bacteria with Rashid.

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Subyinyo, the volcano near Kabwende

            Rwanda is a beautiful country, so much different than the United States. During my short month there, I saw and experienced the beautiful mountains and forests, a typical Rwandan home and the city of Musanze, among other things. I miss the beautiful mountains near Kabwende, the Rwandans I met, and the students yelling “I AM GOING TO EAT YOU” as the crocodile in our Reader’s Theater Story.

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