Alumni Snapshot from Year Course’s First Week in Rwanda
by Stephanie Blitzer, Year Course Participant
On Sunday, day one of our 3-week journey in Rwanda had finally arrived. Our group of 11 left our apartments at 8p.m. and got to Ben Gurion airport ready and excited to board the first of two flights to take us to Rwanda. I had been waiting since March 2013 to go to Rwanda, however my dream of volunteering in Africa has been a four-year-old wish, finally coming true on Year Course.
When we arrived in Rwanda, the sights around me were overwhelming. There were women wearing colorful outfits, beautiful trees and red rooftops everywhere. There were people singing and staring at us. I felt uncomfortable, perhaps a bit like a tourist attraction, but I took it as a growing experience. For the first time in my life, I was in the minority.
After being at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village for barely even 24 hours, I knew this would be the experience I have been waiting to have. I am excited about the coming weeks and can’t wait to see how I grow from this experience. Will I ever learn how to dress to fit in? What native vocabulary will I have learned by the end of this trip? Is this going to be a dream come true?
On our second day, I could see that my decision to come to Rwanda was the right one. We woke up early and ate breakfast at 6:30a.m. before meeting the staff members with whom we’d be working on an almost daily basis, as well as taking a tour of the village. We learned more about what our days would look like, and how we would be helping. In the morning we’ll work on our service project, farm and landscape and do kitchen duty, as well as help to build a road. In the afternoons we are involved in enrichment programs and tikkun olam – the social action projects in which the kids will also participate.
Today, I went to help build a house for a woman who has at least four children. Only two of the kids live with her in a small mud hut that is empty except for a fire pit and a canteen. The woman was 13 years old during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, and sadly some of her family members committed criminal activity. The house and her children are all she has, and it was up to us, as the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village community, to help this woman by building her a new home.
I have helped build houses in the past, specifically in New Orleans, but building houses in Rwanda was something completely different. We began by making the very foundation of the structure, which meant that we needed to make the mud bricks. This was a difficult task that included using our feet to mix dirt and water and then using our hands and wooden molds to shape the bricks. It was an amazing experience as community members came to help make these bricks. The young children that stood by to watch smiled and looked shocked every time they were shown a photograph we had taken of the work.
Looking back on the past 48 hours, I can say that I am proud and thankful for the multitude of opportunities I have been handed. Home is where the heart is, A house is more than a structure to shelter you from the elements – indeed, ‘home is where the heart is.’ I feel fortunate that after these three weeks, I can go back to my house and home in Bat Yam and after Year Course ends, back to my home in the US.
I am happy to breathe fresh air, see nature, and learn firsthand about a culture that I have never before experienced. I already feel very much at home here in Rwanda, even though the feeling of being an outsider lingers in my mind. I am feeling positive and excited about the weeks ahead!