Today began early for a few of us who decided to wake at 5 am to see the sunrise. Ivan, Bob, Ashley and I alternated between walking and running up to the high school behind the dining hall to get the best view before it rose. We thought for certain that we would be the first ones up in the Village but the girls volleyball team was already practicing as we began our trek (presumably to beat the heat). Nonetheless, the grounds were incredibly serene with hardly any noises save for the frogs and crickets.
Once we reached our lookout point at the top of the hill we waited anxiously for the orb of the Sun to break through the layer of quickly lightening clouds. When it finally did we were awestruck by its size and brilliant orange color.
After we stood for a while, drinking in the beauty of the sloping Rwandan hills and the sun’s reflection off of nearby Lake Mugasera, we headed to the Village farm where we worked from 7-10. As I may have mentioned before, the Village grows everything that it serves in its dining hall besides rice – a remarkable feat considering there are 250 kids, and about 50 staffers. This week the farm also had to account for 14 hungry Yalies used to american-sized portions and unaccustomed with laboring in the hot sun for 5 hours.
In any case, on the farm we split into groups with some of us planting coffee trees, some of us weeding fully grown coffee trees, some of us weeding mango trees, and some of us removing the kernels from dried ears of corn to make animal feed. I was assigned to kernel removing where I sat next to the Village Director’s fifteen year old daughter. She just started attending a private school in Kigali and I was interested to hear her insights about the differences between attending school in the village and attending school in Kigali. She attested that the kids in the Village were much more self-motivated when it came to their studies – tutoring each other and seeking out their teachers for extra help. In my eyes, this disparity speaks to the gratitude of the Village children that has become so apparent during our stay. At one point or another, the lives of all of the kids in the village were probably imperiled. They realize how lucky they are simply to be alive, but moreover to be in such a nourishing place where they can truly feel loved and at home. This combination seems to motivate many of the kids to make the most of the lives that were nearly stolen from them.
It being our last day, today we reflected a lot as a group on what we had learned during our time in the village. We collectively decided that the most inspiring think we had observed was the Village childrens’ capacities to love and be loved even after having seen humans do unthinkable things to their families. They could be bitter, should be bitter even, but they are not. They are are strong, but certainly not hardened – a fact reflected by the sincerity of the smiles, and the warmness of the embraces we have received during our time here. Today while walking to dinner one little girl whose family i had been visiting, took my hand and looking up at me said “I love you so much, please don’t forget me.”
After dinner tonight our group had an extensive talk about how we could bring our experiences at Agahozo Shalom Youth Village home with us. I think that we came up with a fantastic list of ideas that hopefully we’ll be able to implement on arrival home in the states. Regardless of anything, we will certainly never forget.
Tomorrow at around 9 am we will depart the Village and commence the traveling part of our journey. I am not sure when we will have internet connection but i may try to make short updates on my blackberry. In case I can’t here is the basic rundown of our next week.
Sunday March 14th – Visit to Nyamata Genocide Memorial, Kigali City Tour
Monday March 15th – All day Safari drive in Akagera National Park. Dinner at Heaven, a restaurant in Kigali owned by Yale grad Josh Ruxin who is the founder and director of the Access Project in Rwanda, an initiative of the Center for Global Health and Economic Development at Columbia University in New York City. He is a frequent contributor to such national publications as the New York Times and the Huffington Post, and has been featured in the Washington Post, Forbes, Time, Seed magazine, CNN and CNN International’s Inside Africa, among many others.
Tuesday March 16th – Drive to Ruhengheri, Visit to a Pygmy Village
Wednesday March 17th – Gorilla Trekking, Visit to and dinner at the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project
Thursday March 18th – Drive to Gisenyi, Possible visit to the Braliwa brewery, Lounging on the banks of Lake Kivu and fishing with Rwandan fishermen
Friday March 19th – Visit to Gardens for Health – an organization co-founded by a Yale Grad dedicated to enabling people living with HIV/AIDS to improve their nutrition, health and treatment adherence through sustainable agriculture. Gardens for Health was founded on the belief that a comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment plan requires access to adequate, nutritious food.
Saturday March 20th – Lunch at Ambassador Symington’s house before a night flight out of Kigali
Sunday March 21st – Back in the USA!
Once again it has gotten late and I need to rest up for what promises to be a big week. Thanks for following and hopefully ill be updating soon!
Murabeho (goodbye) for now!