Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Day 8: Last Day at ASYV


Today was our last full day at ASYV. We started the day off with a short 9 mile "walk" that seemed more like a hike on the way in the hot sun. It was great to see the surrounding area and gave us a better idea of the people that live in this rural part of the country. After the hike, we got back to the village and had lunch with the students. As usual, we had rice and beans, a dish that we could not get enough of! We spent the afternoon relaxing and hanging out with our families. This evening was pretty sad as we shared our final family time together. After 10 days at ASYV, I think we are all surprised by the incredible love and acceptance we have received day after day from the students here. It was very hard to say goodbye, but I am confident that we will continue to build the friendships we have made here back in the US.


The last full day at ASYV was filled with a lot of goodbyes, fond memories, and hugs. I'm so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have come to ASYV and learn about the culture. Starting off with a long and rough trek through the mountains to a "lake" this morning, the day was long and grueling and filled with saying many goodbyes. At the final family time, we had a dance party where I was able to dance with my Mama and express the gratitude I have for the family and everyone that I have been fortunate enough to meet here. I have learned a lot here and am excited to bring back everything I learned to the states. This will always be something to remember! Peace and love and good fortune to trying to get back to the US. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Day 7: Market and Solar Field


This morning we went to the nearby open-air marketplace in Rubona where there were lots of fabrics for sale, but I mostly ate things. Miki was kind enough to show us a few of his favorite food places, and I got to eat potato samosas, a yoghurt drink, hot fresh milk, and cornbread - all without getting an upset stomach! I had to skip lunch because I ate too much in the morning, but supplemented my appetite with wonderful snacks from the canteen - a fanta, a chapati, and an amandazi (a local doughnut). Later in the day we went to East Africa's biggest solar field, which was right next door, and got to learn and see a lot of cool stuff. Dinner and family time were great as usual, with the former involving a killer beans, cabbage, onions, and carrots stew, and the latter involving games and dancing. The kindness and generosity shown by everyone here, whether it be locals in the marketplace, or students at the dining hall, or my brothers during family time, especially to an almost-stranger like me, has been so refreshing and inspiring and is something I hope to incorporate more into my every day interactions.


Today we went to the market in Rubona, the town next to ASYV. The market was a bustling community event in which many local vendors sold produce and clothing. I had a pair of pants made by a local tailor. I got to choose the fabric and the tailor measured my body for the best fit. Later that day, we visited the solar field next to the village, which is the largest of its kind in Eastern Africa. I was amazed by the rows and rows of panels as well as the stunning vista that spread out below the field. 

Tonight we had family time with our families in the village. At my family time, each girl said what her hopes and dreams were for the girl sitting to her left. The comments ranged from "I hope you do well on exams" to "I hope you become a woman of high morals." I really loved hearing young women speak so highly and compassionately of one another. They constantly strive to support each other, to find the best in their sisters. When I return to the states, I hope to carry that sense of community and love with me. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Day 6: Gardens for Health


Today, we had the privilege to visit Gardens for Health, an NGO based in Rwanda, wth an office in Cambridge.  Gardens for Health is particularly special to our group because one of our two wonderful leaders, Zoe, interned at the Cambridge office this past semester doing mainly communications work. The offices and farm at GHI were so beautiful, and I learned so much about the ways in which NGOs best function and provide help to international communities with cultural competency.

When we arrived at GHI, Taylor, a woman who is working in Rwanda with GHI for six months, gave us an overview of the organization.  She explained that the mission is to combat childhood malnutrition by empowering caretakers, particularly mothers, with the skills to provide proper nutrition for their families.  Participants in their program are recruited from 14 health centers around the country, with priority given to the most malnourished children.  Workshops that the caregivers participate in include, but are not limited to, an overview of malnutrition, communicating effectively with one's partner, how to plant the crops that GHI distributes to the program participants, and how to cook the recipes GHI suggests.

We were lucky to receive an incredible lunch of sweet potatoes, avocados, beans, kale, and other steamed greens, all grown on the farm.  It was certainly the best meal I've eaten in Rwanda.

After lunch, one of the program directors answered questions we had about the recruitment process, trainings that the caretakers attend, and the program structure as a whole.  She emphasized the fact that all of the field workers who do the home visits to families hail from that particular region of Rwanda.  She explained that things are much easily communicated and problems are more easily solved when the field worker and participant have that level of common ground.  I think that the intention placed behind that working relationship is one of the most important aspects of this incredible organization and a manifestation of cultural competency in an international NGO.


Today the group spent most of our time just outside of Kigali in the town of Ndera. After navigating Ndera’s dusty roads and narrowly avoiding collisions with the morning dump trucks, we finally arrived at the NGO, Gardens for Health, International. GHI is an international group that operates throughout Rwanda with a focus on preventing malnutrition of young children. The group combats this phenomenon by granting seeds/trees/livestock to families in need, educating women about nutrition and sustainable farming practices, and cultivating strong communities of women that can support each other. GHI introduced us to some of their methods around the farm as well as discussed the roles of NGO’s in Rwanda’s present and future. NGO’s in developing countries can often be problematic, but it was fascinating to see a seemingly thriving organization operate. Upon our return to the village we were welcomed with yet another dinner of rice and beans, a reminder that we were lucky to have been fed avocado, kale, and cooked greens for lunch. Over dinner I was extensively questioned about organic chemistry from an S5 ASYV student (HS junior equivalent). The students here are beyond brilliant; many are trilingual and all already have a sense of purpose and direction for their lives. The chemistry student at dinner (in addition to bringing up memories of a terrible class) reminded me that students anywhere with the right education can have bright futures.

Today was another breathtakingly beautiful day in Rwanda! I had expected that by Day 6, I would have grown accustomed to the rolling mountains covered by patchwork quilts of crops, the frequent outcroppings of bright flowers, and the warm smoky breeze, but I definitely find these hallmarks of the country equally as exciting as I did on the first day!
As is my custom, I was the last to saunter out of my room to board the bus, but today apparently I was so much the last that I had been left behind! Not terribly concerned, I jogged after the vehicle, knowing that within a couple lines of our role call song “Call Me Maybe” (a pop sensation circa my high school glory years), the group would notice that the voice assigned to the word “number” (namely Julia Fasse) was missing. Or perhaps they caught a glimpse of me 100 feet behind, left in the literal dust, trotting with chicken arms bent backwards to secure the sloshing contents of my food-filled backpack. Either way, I was allowed on the bus and all was well.

Another exciting experience of the day was the chance to observe my Rwandan sisters slay in a casual debate on the topic “Rwanda’s government should stop accepting foreign aid”. The members of the debate club presented their arguments with such poise and eloquence that I was super intimidated when “the visitors” were called to step forward. We each tried our best with our limited information and hopefully sounded at least half intelligent!     

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Day 5: Murambi


I can't believe we've been in Rwanda almost a week. We wake up extremely early so that we can make the most out of our time here (usually between 5am and 6:30am). Today we travelled five hours to the Murambi Genocide Memorial, the site of one of the most unforgettable horrors of the genocide. Refugees fled to Murambi, the location of a school built in the midst of beautiful rolling hills, after being told that it was a safe place to hide from the surrounding violence. It was merely a trick, though, and almost 50,000 people were killed. This memorial allows one to see bodies of people killed, tangible proof of the horror that happened on that day. Before we got to the memorial, one of our group leaders told the group that we should mentally prepare ourselves for what we were going to see. I don't think any words could have prepared me for what was to come, just like those people were not prepared to be betrayed and then brutally killed. As we walked past the bodies of victims preserved with powdered lime, I could not help but look at the positioning of the bodies. The toes and fingers curled in pain and many of the arms and legs were outstretched as if they were reaching for any ounce of humanity that was left. I will never forget this day, and I hope that more people are able to visit this memorial to learn about this massive atrocity. It is a poignant reminder to us all of what came to pass here, and why it must never be allowed to happen again.

Day 4: Mucaka Mucaka and More


Words can't explain how amazing it has been here at Agahozo-Shalom. I'm doing things that I never thought I would ever do, and it's all so exhilarating. I mean, just a few hours ago I ate goat!! Today, I actually managed to wake up at 5:30 to go for a 2 mile run. But it wasn't just any run. Every Saturday morning at 5:45 AM, the students at ASYV take part in Mukaca Mukaca, which entails going for a morning run down the road outside of the village. What made it so amazing was that the whole time, the kids were chant and singing, and just really living in the moment. I've never seen a group of kids so energized this early in the morning! People in the surrounding village would watch with the biggest of smiles on their faces as we ran past them on the road chanting and having a good ole time. This was by far the best run I have gone on and will ever go on. What I love most about this trip is that everyone makes you feel so welcome. They make you feel right at home rather than making us feel like foreigners. I love the feeling of experiencing the day to day lives of these students and really get a sense of this amazing culture. And I absolutely LOVE the girls in my family. Each and everyone one of them are so intelligent and have the most beautiful hearts. I know the friendships I make here will continue when I return home. I can't wait for future adventures while here at ASYV and to share them with all of you. Until then, stay tuned!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Day 3: Village Days


Yesterday was a pretty relaxed day for me and working in the kitchen was fun because that is something I generally enjoy. The experiences and conversations I had with the students at ASYV was the more awakening part of my day.

I spoke to a girl at length about her life and how she got here. She had lost her birth parents at a young age, and her adopted mother very recently, and went through a really hard time dealing with being orphaned the second time around. Yet she had a smile on her face and spoke about her new family here with the same amount of love and affection. A lot of girls around had similar stories, some worse than the others, but what was so amazing to see was the utmost gratitude they had for all their privileges in their current situation here at ASYV. They really instilled the idea that however hard life knocks you down, you get back up smiling.

Interestingly, during our 'Tufts Time' conversations that evening, we did an activity that led us to answer a series of questions for ourselves regarding our ideas of class, religion, race, gender and sexuality. It made me explore my own privileges in greater depth, and understand that though we all had set backs in life, these girls stories helped me see my problems in a more hopeful way. Everyone is going through their own relative struggles, but it's how they deal with it with so much grace, hope and happiness that is inspiring to me. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Day 2: Kigali and More Family Time

Today we had some time away from ASYV when we drove to to the capital of Rwanda, Kigali. In Kigali we had the chance to visit the Rwandan genocide memorial and museum. The outdoor section of the memorial houses the graves of over 200,000 victims of the genocide. The indoor section was the museum and included exhibits explaining the situation leading up the genocide and how Rwanda has recovered and rebuilt. For me, the most difficult part of the museum was looking at the personal belongings of victims found in mass graves after the genocide. It really caused me to develop a personal connection to the tragedy. While it was difficult to transition to another activity after the memorial, we all took some time to reflect on the bus and continued to lunch in Kigali. When we returned to the ASYV we got to spend more time with out families. For family time in my house, some of the brothers presented reports on a topic of their choice to practice their english. It was really cool to see all of them practicing their english even after school and I really felt they were passionate about what they were talking about. I cannot wait for tomorrow to get to spend time on the farm!


Yesterday we ventured into Kigali for the first time since landing in Rwanda, finally able to see the city in the daylight. Our second stop, after picking up Sanya's long lost baggage from the airport, was the city's genocide memorial. It was a beautiful garden and museum dedicated to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis and served as an educational establishment and a burial site for victim's families to visit for comfort. To me, the visit to the memorial was the first time since arriving that I started to feel some of my goals for the visit were being accomplished. In this specific case, it was the desire to change my perception of the genocide from an academic and distant historical event to a tangible reality. Even though I was well aware the genocide had been real and many had suffered, it wasn't until I saw the room of skulls and the room of pictures that I really felt the magnitude of Rwanda's history. The bones were a shocking symbol of real tragedy. The thousands of faces hung in the room of pictures replaced the statistics in academic history with the humanity of real life. It was a difficult transition, and wildly moving, but it was also a beautiful one; I am finally feeling that the reason I came here is being legitimized. I look forward to the rest of the week with my village family and to our future adventures outside of ASYV.