Why I Went to Rwanda

by Sydney Solomon, Year Course Participant

Today I had the rare opportunity to sleep in. Since most of the children are at religious services until twelve, my day started late and not in the usual busy fashion. I woke up, ate breakfast and attempted to do my laundry. Here in the village laundry is done by hand. So I turned up my music, sat in the sun and proceeded to wash my clothes in a basin filled with water and detergent. I cannot promise that my clothes are really clean, but at least I tried.

Today we did not have a formal schedule, giving me the opportunity to simply sit down and talk with the children. I was having a pleasant conversation with Funny, one of the girls from the village, about fun things such as favorite styles and music. During a pause in our conversation, she asked me a sudden but not unexpected question, “Do you have both parents?”

I have been asked this question several times before in the village and it has always made me feel uncomfortable. While I have the good fortune to answer yes to this question, I know that the majority of the children in the village are not that privileged. When I answer yes to her question, silence follows. I realize then that maybe she is not even asking me a question but instead making a statement. Perhaps hidden behind her question are experiences that I cannot understand.

I later asked Coralie, a friend I made in the village, why I am always asked this difficult and personal question. She responded simply “It is just a topic of conversation.” During my childhood I could safely assume that most of my classmates had parents and asking this question would not bring about a weighty conversation. However, the children in this village have experienced a much different and harsher reality. Most of the children in the village do not have both parents and this question is the beginning of a long and challenging conversation.

I do not know exactly why I decided to hop on a plane and come to Rwanda and volunteer at Agohozo Shalom Youth Village. Perhaps it was a sudden surge of curiosity about a country I had learned about but never seen coupled with an altruistic urge to help people. However, I now have a sharper perspective of why I am here. I am not only here to see Rwanda and help the children, but also to learn and grow from my experiences here and with the children. In these three weeks, I do hope to help the village as much as I can, even if it is in a small However, it is the children that have taught me an important value that sometimes in the ease of my upbringing I forget: Tikkun Olam. Repairing the world should be a value ingrained in our society so that this startling question –  “Do you have both parents?” –  does not become an easy conversation starter.