The First Few Days in Rwanda

By Year Course participant, Hannah Solomon

After two tiring plane rides, and a five hour layover in Ethiopia, our group finally landed in Rwanda. We were all exhausted, but ready to dive headfirst into the three weeks that lay ahead. Stepping out of the airport, we were immediately greeted by the overwhelmingly beautiful scene of the green landscape filling Rwanda. It was extremely refreshing compared to the arid Middle Eastern climate we were all used to, but the blaring heat was just as bad. A small day trip through Kigali opened our eyes up to a completely new and exciting culture (we sampled a “Rwandan Chipotle”). The streets are busy, and buildings fill the skyline, showing glimpses of the rolling hills just beyond the horizon. Kigali bustles with a strong variety of people. Motorbike taxis zoom past, children walk to and from school pushing through the groups of adults, and some women carry themselves tall, while balancing belongings on their heads. Even the local shopping center was packed with souvenirs special to Rwandan culture. We all piled into our minibus, and settled in for the hour long journey to the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. As we drove, the scenery gradually changed from metropolitan men and women in their city, to children walking along the dirt road, with large mountain cliffs showcasing the countryside. Small clay houses stood at the ends of dirt paths, with families waving to us muzungus. We arrived at the village on Monday afternoon, and were warmly greeted by many smiling faces, handshakes and conversation.
The overwhelming day past quickly, and on Tuesday we were thrown right into volunteering, following a 6AM breakfast consisting of maize porridge, Rwandan tea, and one sweet roll. The 11 of us joined the Senior-4 class for their tikkun olam project, taking place in the neighboring village of Rubona. We left the village and walked along a dirt road, not really knowing what to expect. The kids walked in one large group, together in a general mix of excitement. I began a conversation with a few kids, and they told me what “tikkun olam” truly was. They educated me as if I had never heard of the Hebrew phrase before, and were so passionate about every word. These kids are filled with positive attitude, intelligence, and motivation aimed towards themselves and the world that is so strong and unique. I learned about how, in order to achieve tikkun olam, you must first do tikkun ha’alev. Repairing and mending your broken heart is the first step to repairing the world. I was very inspired by their words, but was still not entirely sure what we were doing…
We arrived to a small mud house, and walked far behind it, down a hill to a small clearing. The kids started overturning the dirt and laughing at each other in Kinyarwandan. They brought down jerry-cans full of water and poured it onto the dirt. Five barefoot girls sprung up and began stomping on the water, making mud. Wanting to get in on the action, we all quickly unlaced our shoes and took off our socks, diving feet-first into the mud piles. After making all that mud, we saw the boys and girls taking chunks of mud back up to the house. I
grabbed a pile of mud and made my way to the top of the hill, following in step with our bare and muddy feet. I walked into a scene filled with goats, chickens, and the kids throwing mud at the walls of this house! The project was re-surfacing this small house with a new layer. An assembly line began to form, and I took my position by the house, throwing small chunks of mud against the house, and smoothing it out. We all joined together, singing, laughing, dancing and occasionally hitting each other in the face with mud. Mud was splattering everywhere, and I was definitely the target of more than one mud-pie. We worked for an hour, and the progress was visible. Almost the entirety of the house was covered. The owner was a thin old man, sporting a cane, who had been watching us work the whole time. On my way out, I shook his hand and said, “nishimiye kuba menya,” (nice to meet you) showcasing my newly-learned Kinyarwandan skills, which had taken me almost the whole hour of working to learn. Even though it took me so long to learn, the kids never stopped trying to teach me. “Try and fail, but never fail to try” was the motto that almost ten different kids told me that day– on separate occasions. It was so eye-opening to be able to see the kids of the village use their resources to help anyone they can. I’m glad I got to be a part of it.
The tiring walk back to the village, caked in mud at the end of the day was definitely worth it.