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Waking up to the melliflous sounds of birds singing and the beauty of the sun shining over surrounding mountains, one would have a hard time remembering the genocide that brutalized this country 20 years ago. Rwanda, the size of Massachusetts, lost one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the span of 100 days in the most brutal government run killings known to history.
But the scars are so deep now that they can barely be seen, sitting here looking out at the banana fields and hearing the laughter of children in the street. It is hard to believe that a few hundred kilometers away ,war rages in the conflict mining zones of The Democratic Republic of Congo and many seemingly peaceful countries contribute to that violence. My week here with SIT will be to remember the loss and learn about work Rwanda has done to heal, reconcile and rebuild. I also hope to gain a better understanding of the conflicts in neighboring countries that could affect the future here.
“The dead of Rwanda accumulated in nearly three times the rate of the Jewish dead during the Holocaust. It was the most efficient mass killings since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki” US journalist Philip Gourevitch, author of We wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda”
Now a stable country with a growing economy, Rwanda feels at the moment like a tropical vacation sitting here in my friends Cory and Matt Melaugh screened in home in the beautiful village of Rwinkavu. Cory, a nurse at Mass General Hospital in Boston, MA, has a one year position as a nurse in the local hospital here and Matt is the supervisor in a library built under by Ready for Reading, anorganizationunder Partners in Health started by Betsy Dicky of Greenwich, CT
I was not sure If I could believe Cory’s advice that I did not need to travel with the same full pharmacy in my suitcase and survival gear as our trip deep into South Sudan last year. This, she said, will be a much different experience. I arrived to the paved roads and lit up city of Kigali and the drive to Rwinkavu was smooth and comfortable. Hey, I might even be able to return the nausea bands and other remedies I rushed to get before taking off!
Before leaving for Rwanda Betsy and I loaded a suitcase with over 80 pounds of donations for the library. Printer cartridges, dry erase markers and dress clothes. I prayed the whole way here that the small photo printer I packed would make the journey. Matt and I planned a project to help the children have a better undertstanding of their own importance in the world through learning about their image. We hoped to take photos of the children in the library so they could see themselves and make their own portraits.
The library staff occupied the children as we prepared for the exuberant participants.
Six hours, ten groups and 220 photos later……
everyone had gone home with a self portrait, photo and a smile!
A huge thank you to Matt’s brother, Brad for orchestrating the photos of the children and printing all of them at the slow pace of 50 seconds a photo!
Every trip starts with one adventure. Ours was Cory almost missing the flight from DC to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was prepared to go it alone and meet her there but she arrived last minute….exasperated…… and we boarded!
The Streets of Kampala Uganda are hot and crowded. Add in the smell of the gasoline and the bumpy roads and you’d wonder why anyone would choose to come. But watching the people lumbering by with incredible loads on their heads, whizzing past on either side with 4 to a motorcylce or seeing the piles of bananas, mangos and pineapples being wheeled down the streets makes the senses come alive.
Look up into a tree on the highway and vulture sized birds sit in their nests above your head and you know you have entered an entirely different world.
We came to Kampala for the purpose of bringing Aluel, Akook, Adual and Deng to boarding school. We spent the first day visiting, learning Dinka and of course, some art lessons.
When we arrived to pick the kids up the next day they were excited to show us how they had filled their sketch pads. Each small painting was more colorful then the next with subjects from the New President of South Sudan to the US flag, fashion and flowers. They loved their watercolor gift!
Next we were off to get them ready for school. Checking the packing list, shopping, and lugging… no different from taking my own kids to school. The only difference was they fit everything required, and I emphasize “REQUIRED”, in a small metal trunk and carried everything up three flights of stairs on their own. One trunk broke so we pulled over to a street vendor, bought a new one, threw it in the van and continued on.
I might also add that these four Sudanese children, who were brought to Uganda for primary education in 2009, live alone in a small apartment to cook, clean and take care of themselves during their one month break. It was humbling to see how much they could do and how little they needed in their lives.
Gabriel left me at the boarding school to “check them in” while he and Cory went to find a lost bag at the airport. I chose that assignment to be with the kids and also avoid smelling fuel for 2 more hours. It took hours to get their supplies checked in, uniforms ordered, bed selected, and money in the cantene. It was hard seeing their dorm room beds stacked 3 high with barely a mattress and side by side for rows; but observing their smiling faces and embraces with friends I new they were happy to be there and excited to be back at school.
Unfortunately many friends from Sudan did not return from break probably due to inflation and the food crisis at home. Aluel, Adual, Deng and Akook know education will change their lives and they will do anything to stay in school. They also have to stay on top of the class to impress their Uncle Bol who they know is the reason they have this opportunity. It would make a huge difference in America if every child knew what it is like in a developing country with out opportunity for education. We are soon to get a real taste of it in the village.
After a long, hot, day of errands we retired to the hotel where I crashed hard under the mosquito net and quite necessary breeze from the fan. Wake up call for 5AM, for our flight to Juba, South Sudan.