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We started our last day of the CONTACT program in Rwanda with a very interactive visit at Radio LaBene-Valencija where we met with writers, support staff and administrators of the station. The station uses soap opera programming as a tool for learning and to promote positive change in Rwanda today. Radio Valencia was founded by CEO George Weiss and also has stations in Burundi, DRC and the Nertherlands with furture plans for South Sudan.
Eighty five percent of Rwanda’s population follows the soap opera that sensitizes people towards the origins of violence and how to resolve conflict peacefully. In addition to the radio program, the project sends grassroots coordinators from districts to the smallest villages for dialogue to identify the messages that the soap opera should convey. The scripts are reviewed by an academic team (including our SIT coordinator, Adin Thayer). There are a few cycles of changes and then the program is recorded, edited and aired.
The soap opera is so popular that when the fictional couple from the two conflicted villages in the story are to be married, the nation wanted to attend the wedding. The station could not find a stadium big enough to hold the wedding for the public, so in lieu of actually creating a wedding day, the programmers asked Rwandans to dress up for the day and confront a person with whom they have conflict and resolve!
Next we visited The Rebecca Davis Dance Company, an organization under UNESCO, that offers therapy through dance to orphaned, street children in Kigali. Rebeccca was a Carl Wilkens Fellow and I had met her doing my work with that program.
She was not in Rwanda at the time but arranged for us to meet with the program director, Eugene Dushime, and we watched the kids rehearse their leaping, spinning and sliding to the fun beat of African music.
This was one of the most emotional moments of the entire week for me and I could see my classmates cheering with teary eyes as well.
There is nothing like seeing healing through art in action! We then joined the kids in dance, shared chocolate and high fives. What a fantastic way to end the week!
After a wonderful party and closing at Eduard’s home in Kigali, I met up with Cory again and we left to catch the flight to Uganda. Here we met Gabriel Bol Deng and had the chance, after a year, to see his nieces and nephews again in Kampala.
It was incredible to see their progress since last year. They shared their grades with us and we could see their pride and appreciation for their education.
Akook, the oldest, had just graduated from Primary school and went back to the village in South Sudan for 3 months. We were there for his return to Uganda and we talked about his time in the village.
We stopped by my friend Garang’s home to meet his wife and new child, Wol. This child of 10 months has the longest legs and hugest smile I have ever seen!
Then we took everyone out for a visit to the zoo, Lake Victoria and shopping for school clothes to get them ready for the next semester.
Heading home to the US, I am exhausted but so fulfilled.
I have learned so much from the people of Rwanda and my classmates from around the world. I thank my family at home for understanding and supporting my coursework, my trip, these kids and my desire to see them and learn about the history of African countries. I know they also would be inspired by seeing how the children have advanced here in Uganda. The kids sent letters back to the rest of my family, hoping and praying to meet all of them next time!
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.