This is our SEGL in Rwanda Student Blog, where you can read reflective messages and view photos directly from our students and teachers taking part in this amazing journey. (Make sure you click on each photo thumbnail to see the whole picture.) The posts will be presented in a stream-of-consciousness style, with the newest posts at the top. Each post is marked by date and with the author’s name – you can search on the page (Ctrl+F for PCs and Command+F on Macs) for your student’s name to highlight their posts. Be sure to check back frequently for updates!
“Not Our Culture”, a video essay produced by Winson L., Spring 2010
“A Glimpse into our Last Day together in Rwanda” by J.D., July 18, 2012
A Link to Chelsea M.’s Rwanda Blog, World Outside My Shoes
“At the end of our time together, I gave her a bracelet I had around my wrist when coming to Rwanda and she was so grateful and showed it to all her friends. It definitely showed me that even the smallest things can impact someone’s life.”
Last Blog Post from Jenny K., July 15, 2012
So the other day we met with government officials, drove past Congolese refugee camps, were within 1 km of the democratic republic of Congo, ate lunch at a beautiful restaurant at the edge of lake Kivu, and visited a prison. A prison made up predominately of the genocidairs… The perpetrators. The ones who we had all grown to detest and blame for all wrongs in Rwanda… But at the prison, we experienced something different. The prisoners were nice, not creepy and evil, they wove baskets and made shoes to sell so they could support their children and wives and grandchildren, and there was not a lot of security. The prison was open- there weren’t cells and chains and barbed wire everywhere. It was a small, well functioning, compound in the hills, with people who seemed completely normal. No one expected it at all. After speaking with a few prisoners and asking questions, we realized that the perpetrators of the genocide were not bullies and murderers; they were teachers, dads, sons, mayors, mechanics, etc. It was an odd, but important realization that we all made. Judging by the discussion and the end of trip reflections, I think the jail was the most impactful place we visited in Rwanda.
After a dinner at an Indian restaurant where I ran into a group of Scandinavians (specifically a girl from Norway who knew lots about UWC), we packed up our things and went to bed.
In the morning we put final touches on our policy documents and did 5 minute reflections in a group. Noah said at the beginning he wanted us to find “a part of truth”- a pretty open interpretation which we all created a small credo around. Some people found forgiveness, some found that we all have the potential for evil but we also all have humanity, some found heart, some found/ lost their faith and belief in god. It was the most powerful sharing experience I’ve ever witnessed. Everyone let themselves be vulnerable this trip, everyone got along perfectly, everyone supported each other… It was the most amazing trip I’ve ever taken with a group, and probably the most impactful one in the majority of our lives. I’ll never forget this group or the lessons I’ve learned.
Now onto the airport. After a few tearful goodbyes to Emmanuel and Johnson (who were two survivors that we all became close with), we went through security, boarded the plane, and headed to Ethiopia… On the same plane as his excellency, the vice president of Burundi (where I want to work when I join the foreign service). It was so cool. And he was in coach… Props to that. No wasting money in Burundi!
While we walked through the airport, we all decided we’d call Noah dad- which got some interesting looks but not enough for us to continue doing it. It was still fun though.
At our gate in Ethiopia, there were a ton of Americans… Most of whom were on mission trips. I, of course, happened to find all of the southerners. I talked with a few girls from Alabama who were in Malawi- this was our legit conversation…
Alabama girl: “so how was it in Rwanda… With you know… everything.”
me: oh it’s great: western and clean and rebuilt and everyone seems pretty happy and the reintegration and rebuilding process seems to be pretty solid.”
Her: “so… like how’s the genocide in Rwanda?”
me: “well i mean it ended in 1994, so it’s all good now.”
her: “wait so where’s the Rwandan genocide?”
… At this point I just about died and gave some basic answer like “the Rwandan genocide was in Rwanda…” and then I went to Noah and basically died crying/laughing. Oh the amount of pride I have in the south…!
The next group of americans i found were also missionaries, but this time in burkina faso. They were from Winston Salem, North Carolina. They talked about some of the great things they did, impacts they made, and lives they saved… But then they followed it up with showing me, Hutton, and Emily , a video they took of their pastor holding a live chicken on a stick and feeding it to a waiting crocodile… An act that they all “had the once in a lifetime chance to do.” I don’t really get the whole being a missionary and saving lives, when you find pleasure in killing other things. You could even hear the chicken squawking. I almost threw up- it was disgusting and made me mad. Emily Hutton and I just looked at eachother in shock.
That was the end of my speaking with Americans. I like Rwandans better.
We’re now in Rome, and all stretching/ dancing. Noah and I are dancing and singing “oldies” to Abri- which include my second favorite singer- Billy Joel. (My first favorite is James Taylor) But anyways, we’ll be taking off in a few minutes! On to Uhmurica!
Photos from Jenny K. and Noah B., July 13, 2012
Blog post from Jenny k., july 12, 2012
Today was pretty solid. We started out by going to a theater troupe and experiencing the way that arts can help people move forward. This specific troupe has worked with child soldiers, victims of genocide, and people all over the world who want to let go of burdens. We got to do some pretty interesting exercises and sing/act a bit– which was fun, especially for those of us who are challenged in those categories.
After the theater, we went to a buffet lunch and then a cow ceremony. The cow ceremony is through a non profit that Carl’s friend started. Basically the idea is that people give donations for Rwandan family to attain a cow. From this cow, families are able to send their kids to school and feed themselves. And once the cow has a calf, then the family keeps the calf and passes on the cow to another family. The cycle continues- and eventually every family will have a cow. (ideally)
That ceremony was great because we got to see it all in action and watch people’s lives change around in just a few short moments as they drew their numbers to get a cow.
Next we went to the market which was a blast. We each spent a lot of money, but are bringing home some pretty awesome gifts for family and friends… And ourselves 😉 besides the fact that the power went out for a bit (where I freaked out, grabbed Robbie’s arm, the lights went back on, and all the market vendors laughed at me), it was a really nice break from all of the strong emotions we’d been feeling.
For dinner we met with 2 government press secretaries for Kigame (one was an intern) and we got some pretty valuable information for our policy documents.
Although some of our group members have unfortunately met “the travelers sickness,” everyone had a pretty wonderful day!
One more day. It’s going by way too fast!!
A full blog post from tony i.!, July 11, 2012
Tony’s Favorite Quotation From Carl Wilkens
“If I hate evil more than I love beauty than I am surrounded.”
Surrounded by what you might ask? Carl was referring to all the darkness in the world that had the possibility to consume each and every one of us.
Carl said this to us after we drove 4 hours to tour the most graphic memorial in all of Rwanda where approximately 50,000 Tutsis were slaughtered.
In my opinion, I believe this quotation speaks wonders. As a child, I always struggled with the concept that the world was such a beautiful place when all I heard on the news were stories of bombings, suicides, and killings.
But despite how cruel and dark the world can be at times, there is never a second in the day that goes by where a good deed isn’t taking place.
After visiting the memorial, we were the recipients of a very kind deed deed. We were treated and honored to watch a group of 20 women take the time out of their schedule to perform for us on the drums in the Rwandan National University Theater.
To say that our jaws dropped to the floor (especially the jaw of our dear friend Mr. Robert Jay Ross) would not be the slightest of an exaggeration. We were taken in by the roar of the drums, the synchronization of all the women, and especially the smiles on each and every one of their faces.
If you are currently wondering why you have only heard of men’s drumming teams in Rwanda or the greater part of Africa before, I couldn’t blame you. Actually, women and drumming in the same sentence was blasphemy until a little while ago.
A quick history note:
Since the birth of Rwanda, women were never allowed to play the drums. They were not allowed to even touch a drum, let alone look at one. Drumming was for men and that was that.
After the genocide ended, many traditions in Rwanda began to change. One of which was the unspoken law that forbid women to drum. The dream women had of becoming independent, able bodied, equivalents to men was forever real and tangible.
Slowly but surely, women’s drumming teams started to sprout in Rwanda and in many other place across the continent.
What we all witnessed today was the culmination of talent, skill, determination, and perseverance. By the way, this team has competed with some of the best male drumming teams in the nation and won so I must give credit where credit is due.
Anyways, today was arguably the most emotional day of the entire trip. Whether it was tears of sadness in the morning, or tears of joy in the afternoon, tears were definitely present throughout the day.
Carl continues to amaze us with his firm understanding of the conflict as well as the country and Noah continues to push us to our ethical boundaries (in debate that is) to challenge our beliefs and ideologies.
Only a few more days until we will all be home soon with our beloved friends and family.
Blog Post from Jenny k., July 10, 2012
Well today was a wonderful day- just like the others have been. We woke up at a decent hour and headed off to one of Rwanda’s thousand hills. It was probably about a 45 minute drive, and it was gorgeous the whole way. We passed hills and hills of farm land where locals were hard at work, valleys with small primary schools and children running around, herds of cattle, and small painted concrete towns(the norm here).
We had quite an interesting conversation with Carl on the way to our hiking hill which regarded the idea of freedom of the press. We were arguing whether or not freedom of the press was a basic human right (it’s declared as one by the UN), because in the genocide, the main supporter and I guess initiator of the genocide was the RTLM radio. We ended up arriving at the hill still split pretty much in half, but of course Noah’s devils advocate arguments made people switch sides constantly. Even Carl joked, “please introduce yourself before you speak- are you Noah or the devil?” (not exact words, but something along those lines!)
Anyways, we reached the hill and the whole community- which has basically been transformed from poverty to an extremely successful and sustainable business. Families are loaned cows for milk, given land to farm, work on building roads for money, etc. and are able to sell their crops and milk at the town at the bottom of the hill. There is also a juice factory, zoo thing, and ginormous bakery on the land. Basically the entire community can now afford to send their kids to school and feed their families.
Well we hiked up the hill/drove up it in different groups, and eventually all reached the top. From there we visited some research gardens, children’s schools, and just took in the sheer beauty of the entire hill and surrounding area. It was amazing.
Next we visited the zoo, juice factory, and bakery and saw how everything worked down in that part of the town. My favorite part was Robbie introducing himself to the animals in French and saying (for example- to the chickens) “bonjour madam, je ne mange pas pollet” etc. made me and our Rwandan guides die laughing.
After eating lunch we headed to Gisimba orphanage and played with the kids/ got a tour of the orphanage from Carl (who saved hundreds of orphaned children during the genocide). I met a little girl named Jen, and we walked all around the orphanage and played games outside for a bit- then we had to leave for dinner.
We went to this African buffet place where we worked on our policy document sections- the weather here is beautiful all the time, so being outside eating at night is always great.
Well it’s bed time now and the hotel has gone quiet, because we’re all getting on the bus at 630 to a children’s memorial at an old school 4 hours away. We’ve heard it’s extremely powerful and hard to comprehend, but we will see.
Photos from Noah B., July 10, 2012
Blog Post, Tony I., July 9, 2012
Tony’s favorite quotations from Carl Wilkens:
“You are not defined by what you don’t have. You are defined by what you do with what you have.”
“Exclusive problem solving is temporary at best and genocide at worst”
“Governments are often not convenient to work with.”
For the record, Carl Wilkens is a fountain of wisdom continuously spewing with information to help shape the future leaders of America.
Blog Post from Jenny K., July 8, 2012
Well what did we do yesterday onthe safari? We listened to Lion king music/ Emmanuel Jal (shout out to fall 2011 & Kathleen!) during an amazing savanah ride. Here’s what we saw: baboons, zebras, gazelles, wild boar, water buffalo, antelope, giraffes, crocodiles, hippos, many different kids of birds, cows, and absolutely breathtaking landscapes. It was also cool because we came at a time where there were baby animals all around- which was adorable!
The road was incredibly bumpy- literally straight off-roading for 5 hours; but we had a blast none the less (unless you were one of the unfortunate ones who had to pee). Noah was also incredibly wonderful with his constant safety reminders of “buckle your seat belts please!” 🙂
It was a fantastic day and we had a blast seeing so many wild animals. One of my favorite parts though was the ride home. Everyone in my car except for the driver was asleep. I had a decent conversation with our driver in French, but then I just looked out the window and appreciated the towns we were going through. One thing I love about Rwanda are the store names- like Style Rwanda Good, Be at Home Restaurant, Drink Nice Bar, etc.
We woke up Sunday and went to an amazing church service. People of all nationalities were there, the sermon was universal for all religions, and there was a rocking band that sang a ton. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and met some amazing people. I love the culture that comes with the churches here- I think it’s pretty incredible! I wonder what going to a temple would be like in Africa.
After the service we went back to the hotel and ate lunch, had a group conversation/ reflection period, and then headed to the market/fitting shop. All of the girls picked out fabric and then got dresses made, and the guys did the same thing but got jackets made. I ended up getting matching pants with Winson though, because I think pants will be more useful in Norway. We’re picking it all up Wednesday- so that’ll be fun! I can’t believe they’re only like the equivalent of 6 dollars though. it’s great!
After the market, we gathered back at the hotel and heard from a man named Emmanuel and a man named Johnson- both survivors of the genocide. They had incredible stories and were amazing to talk to. We talked with them throughout dinner and even on our way to the Kigali music festival (which we ended up getting lost and never making it to… But that’s another story:))
Well overall it’s been an amazing few days and everyone is having a blast! Tomorrow we’re meeting with government officials- should be interesting!
Blog Post from Jenny K., July 6, 2012
Today we traveled a lot. The first bus trip started at nine and I sat with Robbie and Hutton. We arrived around 10 at the Gashora Girls school. It was literally everything I love. Empowering young women, education, stability, and a beautiful campus area. It was wonderful. The campus reminded me of my campus in norway minus the snow and plus a few hippos and crocodiles. There were 180 girls I think, and we ate lunch with them and got to go to classes. I traded bracelets with the 5 girls that i became really close with./ I got their emails and facebooks. I’m really looking forward to staying connected with them. One thing that struck me though, was that there was one girl who I talked to a ton, and she was basically me as a Rwandan. I felt like we were the same person except that her opportunities ended after high school because her family couldn’t afford to pay for college, or even get her a plane ticket to college if she was lucky enough to get a scholarship. I guess it just made me realize how lucky I am and how much opportunity to help there still is. Overall though visiting the girls has been my favorite part of the trip!
We went to the church memorial next- a tiny church which 2000 Tutsis had taken refuge in during the genocide. The soldiers basically killed them all by throwing in grenades, and following up with machetes. In the memorial, all of their clothes were piled on the broken pews… It was quite a sight… There were more clothes than I’ve ever seen, stacked up to my waist on about 20 pews. It was incomprehensible. After spending time reflecting, we went outside the memorial gates and ran into kindergarten students getting out of school- Noah rushed in with kids and started a soccer game with an empty water bottle. Pretty soon probably around 20 kids were chasing Noah around and kicking the soccer water bottle- they looked so happy and excited and some of the locals even took out their phones to film it.
Afterwards we went up on a hill and reflected on the day, then traveled back into Kigali to do some grocery shopping for tomorrow. We all split into groups of 3 and had 20000 to get breakfast and lunch for our group. My group (me Henry and Gabe) spent 14000 and got bread, spread, chips, cookies, and drinks. However there were much more fun groups like Santiago, rosa, and tony who got like 9 sodas and junk food- and Emily Chelsea and Abri who bought like 22000 worth of Cadbury and local chocolate. My group was boring in the grand scheme of things, but we were happy with our choices.
Afterwards we went to dinner at a bowling/ night bar/ clubish place- it was quite interesting. We spent a lot of time being taught traditional Rwandan dance, and showing some of our own dance styles… It was a great form of bonding for us to connect with Rwandan culture. However, we also learned “African time” which is a concept that has been eluded to throughout the trip by Robbie and Carl… An example is that it took 2 and a half hours to bring our food to us after we ordered it, and the time span between when the first dish was brought out and the last dish was brought out was about 30 minutes… So as you can imagine we were all a bit starving and some people were done before others even got their plates. It was an interesting experience! But we got back to our hotel by 10:30ish and we’re now taking showers and getting ready for our 5am wake up time tomorrow. Yes, 5am. It’s safari time!!
Pictures from Noah B., July 6, 2012
Quick thoughts from Tony I., July 5, 2012
Fun Fact about Hutu and Tutsi distinctions!
In 1932, identification cards were implemented by Belgium (the colonial power at the time) and the divide between Rwandan clans began.
Anyone with 10 cows or more was Tutsi and Anyone with less than 10 cows was Hutu.
Who would have thought that this would be the start of a very dark and tragic road for Rwanda…
Photos from Emily B., July 5, 2012
Photos from Noah B., July 5, 2012
Blog post from Jenny K., July 4, 2012
Day one travel write up:
Well where should I start? The legitimate start of the day (at 12:00am) consisted of my room (Hebah, Emily, Rosa, and I) rapping in Spanish and beat boxing- not going to lie, we’re pretty awesome;)! The early morning continued fairly similarly for each room- the boys were up until 2ish talking and both girls rooms were up until 3ish. We decided the night before that we were all going to stay up as late as we could, so that we could sleep on the plane and reduce jetlag when we finally arrived… Ha…
At around 5 the “fancy hostel” (as JD referred to it as) started to awake. Everyone was packing last minute things, putting on money belts, taking showers, and trying as hard as they could to wipe the exhaustion from their faces. At 6:15 we congregated downstairs with all of our stuff and had a short morning meeting led by Gabe. This is when I’d say our adventure officially began- we divided into two super shuttles to get to the airport. I happen to be in the first shuttle who’s responsibility it was to pick up Carl and Teresa from Laura lane’s house (so Hutton, Emily, Gabe, Henry, Tony, Robbie and I headed off a bit earlier than the other shuttle). But we arrived before the other shuttle- why you might ask? Well the other shuttle had a flat tire. Adventure one!
When we arrived at the airport we checked into the airline, said goodbye to our checked luggage (hopefully not the last goodbye), and Noah kept us (and everyone around us) entertained by doing imitations on a banana phone in his lulu lemon getup.
We arrived at gate 41B with time to kill, so a huge group of us went to get bagels for breakfast. The group was Santi, Henry, Rob, Heba, Rosa, me, Tony, Winson, and Abri- a very diverse group… yet, because Noah was paying for us, the ladies behind the counter asked if he was our father… Which as you can imagine started some interesting and entertaining discussions.
Skipping forward, we loaded onto the yellow and green seated plane and took our respective seats. I’m currently sitting between Tony and Hutton in row 41 out of 42. (we’re all spread between 40-42)
Well, remember our awesome plan to sleep the whole plane ride? That failed… Miserably. 🙂 Henry is listening to glee, Emily is reading Cosmo, Noah is downloading apps based on Emily and Henry’s suggestions (follow him on instagram everyone!), Winson is reading, Hebah and Abri are watching movies, Rosa is taking pictures, Rob and Santi are playing Tony in a checker-like game through the seat TVs, JD looks deep in thought, Gabe is chatting with Chelsea about traveling I think… Or maybe terrible plane food… (I can’t tell), Hutton is reading a book on her iPad, and me- well I’m awkwardly standing up in my seat every couple seconds so that in can write all of this up on my Itouch. Oh and I forgot Robbie.. Well Robbie is in row 16… I guess he drew the short stick… Though when I snuck up to the front to say hello he seemed deep in conversation with a nice man next to him- so I bet he’s having fun. Only a few more hours until Addis!
We’ve touched down in Addis! Right on schedule. Most people fell asleep eventually; though as a whole we look like the walking dead. Noah made a really sweet friend who was probably about 2? She was adorable and sitting right in front of us. Noah taught her to fist bump and explode it, and she taught him how to play hide and seek with a blanket and how to throw your arms in the air and go crazy! I have a couple of great pictures/ videos which will be up later maybe! But she adored him- it was cute. We’ve all decided to adopt a SEGL child for Noah. Also- it’s the fourth of July- which is not only America’s independence day, but Rwanda’s liberation day as well! What a party!
Layover time! It’s definitely different from US airports, but it’s nice to be immersed in the culture around us. After a usual SEGL discussion (this one was the Israeli Palestinian conflict), we settled down and ate snacks galore. Abri and I also met a really cool woman who was a survivor of the genocide and now lives in Finland (right near me!). It was her first time back and she was at our gate with her son. It was fun to speak french with someone, even if it was just briefly! Well anyways, Ethiopia great, but we’re all looking forward to Rwanda!
The Rwandan plane flight was anything but nice- the flight attendant woke Hutton and me up (by poking us really hard a million times) to ask if we wanted plane food- which of course we didn’t. Then she woke us up again to tell us to prepare for landing… Which was literally 30 minutes away. After about 15 minutes though, the plane started dropping- literally. It felt like the tower of terror mini version. All of the kids on the plane were screaming “weee!” and the grown ups were tense or holding their stomachs. We dropped 20 feet then settled out again and then dropped 20 feet etc. but we landed safely! We arrived in Rwanda and breezed our way past customs only to find out that Santiago’s bag didn’t make it through- boo! But it all ended up okay and he got it back later.
We spent the rest of the day driving to our hotel, and walking around Kigali a little bit… I only say little because we got majorly side tracked by a group of about 50 young kids playing soccer and ended up spending an hour with them talking, playing soccer, taking pictures, and just laughing and smiling on the field. It was incredible. Everyone here has beautiful smiles… Ones that have seen pain, but have gotten passed it and are now shining a brighter future ahead. Ahh it was just an amazing first day! It’s currently 10 o’clock and I think I’m the only one still awake- but everyone has arrived safely, is happy, and the trip is amazing!!!