Why did I go to Rwanda? I don’t really know for sure. I’ve always loved to travel. As a Spanish major in college, I had the opportunity to spend some time in Mexico and Costa Rica. My love for other cultures is the driving force behind my desire to travel and this trip was no exception. After taking a class in college that taught me about the beauty of Rwanda, it felt like a natural place to visit and explore. Looking back on it now, I realize that it was the first time I really manifested something in my life. I can’t remember the exact moment I decided to take the trip, but I can remember the ease I had as all of the details fell into place. I did not want this to be a mission trip focused on religion for various reasons, so I found a program that allowed me to volunteer in an orphanage. I would travel there alone and live in a house with other volunteers from around the world.
Gisenyi, Rwanda (top picture)
Our guide and the leader of the women’s group who made baskets (bottom picture – this was taken by my roommate)
Upon arriving in Kigali, I met several people in the house that were working in the orphanage. Everyone was leaving except one girl who was from Australia. We didn’t really want to get separated so they let me travel with her to Gisenyi where we would work with women who were living with HIV and were victims of gender based violence. Our assignment was to make jewelry with them that they sell for money. They made baskets as well, again, to sell and use the money for their medicine and their families. Gisenyi was rural, a place where we didn’t really have hot water. We would heat water in an electric tea kettle and wash ourselves in a bucket in a bathtub. We had a guide who took us everywhere and we had someone who lived with us and cooked our food. We would eat breakfast and head out to work with the ladies.
both pictures are of the women in Gisenyi
During the last few days, we spent time in an orphanage in Gisenyi. As you can imagine, it was in horrible shape and needed man power, supplies, and money. The only thing they had plenty of was crayons, markers, chalk, and notebooks from Westerners who traveled there to volunteer. The children were full of joy, though, and the time I spent at the orphanage was the most impactful. Seeing those beautiful children full of joy in the midst of horrible conditions made me yearn for children of my own. Those sweet babies cracked my heart wide open and that was all I needed to see the beauty of life through their eyes. As I write this, I realize that the lesson I learned then didn’t even hit me until now. The conditions surrounding us in life do not determine the purity and joy in our hearts. They didn’t have much but they did have love and what seemed a bad situation may have been a diamond in the rough. Could I remain that open in the midst of my own adversity?
This beautiful lady held a sign that said “blessings” in kinyarwandan (top)
Making basket (bottom)
Other Things We did
We did have some time to explore Rwanda and so, we decided to do two things that were absolutely amazing. One was trek Chimps in Nyungwe Forest National Park. The other was Gorilla trekking in the Virunga Mountains. We stayed very closed to the Democratic Republic of Congo so we walked to the border to see what it was like. And the last day, we spent some time in Kigali which was luxurious compared to our time in Gisenyi.
The ladies put this scarf on my head and I really wish I knew how to do it (top)
The DRC border (bottom)
- Sometimes our “help” isn’t very helpful. I have to remember that I can only experience the world through my own eyes and my own experiences. And I also have to remember that the information I receive from others is through their own eyes and their own experiences. Does Rwanda need more infrastructure? Yes. Did that orphanage need clean sheets, towels, clothes, and more people? Yes. Is it a good thing for medical personnel to travel to rural areas and serve? Yes. But how many of these trips are actually just westerners fulfilling some kind of ego driven quest to “save the world”, but only do so in a way that is convenient for our lives? Am I willing to take a trip for 2 weeks to “serve”? Yes. Am I willing to give up the comforts of my own home, my own country, to spend quality time improving areas of the world that have been exploited by others? Ehhhhh…. As I said before, I am so grateful for this trip and the opportunity to go. I am a bit embarrassed at my naivety in thinking that 1) they needed to be saved and 2) that I could be a part of that.
- Does Rwanda really need saving? The older I get, the more I realize the world I live in is so heavily influenced by the views that have been served to me over the years. We want our most basic needs met, yes. Medicine, clean water, clean clothing are all vital to living a fulfilled life. That being said, the people of Rwanda had a sense of community unrivaled by anything I have ever seen. The genocide made an impact on their lives in such a way that they are cautious to ever judge another again. They have learned to come together in support of one another and there is a kinship they have with their fellow Kinyarwandan. Maybe Americans need some volunteers from Rwanda to come here and and show us how to love.
- I can be of service in my home town. I am grateful I took this trip. It changed me forever. My heart cracked wide open by facing some fears, opening myself up to the lives of others, learning about a culture different than my own, and seeing some incredible places along the way. That being said, the idea that I was traveling there to help them was silly. I did absolutely nothing in the way of changing their lives. What did I learn though? I learned that I am supposed to be of service. I learned that being nice to others and valuing the lives of others goes a long way. And I don’t have to do that in Rwanda, I can do that in my daily life. What does it matter if I travel to help kids in a orphanage if I’m an asshole to the lady behind the counter at Target?
- Learning about other cultures is imperative in being a better human. The experiences in my life that have rocked me to the core and cracked open my heart have been the ones where I traveled to another place and learned about another culture. There is so much beauty in the world, especially countries that have such a strong, rich history and culture. The people of Rwanda are beautiful and I am almost in tears just writing about them now. The history, their traditional clothing, there acceptance of various religions, everything about them was so amazing and inspiring. It was humbling in so many ways and I can’t imagine where my life would be if I hadn’t have gone. I wasn’t sure if I wanted children before traveling to Rwanda, but seeing the joy in those little babies as they hung off me and laughed opened my heart so much that I knew I couldn’t live my life without that experience of my own.
- Animals are important. I wasn’t planning on trekking chimpanzees or gorillas, but I am so glad I did. To be that close to these amazing creatures was incredible. I am not sure I can even describe what it was like and what it meant. We have to care for the earth because animals are such an important key in understanding our role as humans.
- We never know what things are for so just go for it. I am writing this post, so I am supposed to be using words, but it’s so hard for me to describe what this trip did to me. I faced some major fears I had of the world and it made me stronger because of it. I’ve traveled alone before, but I’ve never traveled this alone. I had to trust my instincts many times as I navigated through two airports where English was not the first language. The airport in Kigali was easy but the airport in Brussels was confusing and I had to ask a lot of questions. I know people do that all the time, but for me, I was afraid and I had to overcome that. Following inspired action is important because our souls know what we need, even when we don’t. By getting quiet and trusting our wants and desires, we have opportunities to grow and become better.
A silverback gorilla that we saw close up (top)
This picture was taken by a child at the orphanage. His name was Emannuel and he was 10, I believe (bottom)
The one thing that I’d like to teach my children is that humans are beautiful and every single one of them has value. I want them to have a thirst for learning about other cultures. I want them to appreciate the beauty that each country and it’s people hold. I want them to recognize that every country is great, and that we cannot judge the world through our own experiences. More than anything, I want them to travel without fear and understand that we create our own experiences. I want them to believe in themselves and have a life full of love. As always, thanks for reading.