Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 4 - > Safari in Akagera National Park (a Tufts Daily style news report!)

Tufts Students Enter the Wild
By Laina Piera
Sunday, May 29, 2011

On Sunday, the nineteen Tufts students on a ten-day service and learning trip to the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) in Rwanda went on a safari in Akagera National Park.

Akagera National Park, located in eastern Rwanda, is named after the Kagera River, which forms a natural border between Rwanda and neighboring Tanzania. The park serves as a protected area for wildlife as well as a location for visitors to see many animals. 

The Tufts and University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) groups began their journey to the park at 5:30 a.m. According to Tali Lieber, Tufts’ student leader, the ride was a good opportunity to socialize with other group members.

 “I really liked getting to know everyone in the jeeps,” Lieber, a rising junior, said.

Lieber also noted that the ride to the park was a great way to see life outside ASYV.

“It was fun trying to communicate with the driver and also driving through and seeing how people live,” she said. “We hadn’t seen that yet.”

Upon arrival to the park, the groups were greeted by Cecile, their tour guide for the day. Cecile was very knowledgeable about the park and its animals, such as that there are symbiotic relationships between animals that inhabit the same area. The students stayed in the jeeps for the safari and stopped to see many animals, such as giraffes, zebras, water buffalo, and baboons.

Lieber noted that she enjoyed being able to see the animals from the jeep.

“We’d be in the middle of a conversation and we’d see a baboon on the side of the road,” Lieber said.

Amanda Mendel (LA ’07), Tufts’ staff leader, noted that the baboons had an interesting feature.

“Their butts were metallic,” Mendel said.

Nate Glassman, a rising senior, had an interesting interaction with some monkeys.

“I was standing with Arielle [Maldonado] and we were doing our model poses taking some scenic pictures as well,” he said. “We saw a band of monkeys meandering across the hill which we had attracted because of our really bad singing. The monkeys stopped walking about thirty yards from us and sat in the shade of a large bush. One of the alpha monkeys decided to climb a tree and stare us down. As he puffed up his chest, he grabbed a weak branch and we heard a loud snap and heard the monkey dive-bomb out of the tree.”

The Tufts and UPenn groups made two stops on the safari, the first time in front of Lake Ihema on the Tanzania border and the second time for lunch.

In keeping with today’s kavanah, or intention, of the day, the Tufts students were able to form camaraderies by interacting with the students from UPenn as well as other students from the group.

“That day, I got to talk to a lot of people in the [UPenn] group,” Rachel Ganz, a rising junior, said. “Even if they are from a different school and have different backgrounds, we’re all here for the same reasons and if we work hard together, we can have fun together.”

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day 3 -> Muchaka Muchaka and Umuganda

We started off our day bright and early for a morning run called Muchaka Muchaka. It starts at 6 a.m. every Saturday morning and is mandatory for the students. The students gather at various places around the Village and run to Rubona, the local village, while chanting songs. The Tufts students enjoyed getting up early for the run because it allowed us to see what the students do every week. They were also incredibly enthusiastic and showed great pride for both ASYV and their country.

After breakfast, we split up into groups of two or three to work on service projects around the Village and the school. For example, our students helped on the farm, in the kitchen, and in the cornfields. We worked with ASYV students as well as with the UPenn students who are also here. The ASYV students worked very hard, as they do every Saturday on these projects with their families. It also coincided with Umuganda – a community service day on the last Saturday of each month for the entire nation.

We then had our very first discussion session as a group. The theme for our discussion was “Do I have a responsibility to take action?” We analyzed short texts that address reasons to serve others and the consequences of not serving. While there were a variety of opinions in the group, the discussion was overall optimistic about what we can do to help as individuals, no matter how small the contribution. We also did an activity where we made our own concentric circles of responsibility that, for many students, included themselves, their family, their friends, their local communities, and the global community.

After lunch, we did a scavenger hunt with the UPenn group. Each group of five or six students competed to win a breakfast-in-bed cooked by Ariela Alpert and Rachel Olstein Kaplan. The hunt included a section with trivia questions about the Village, a section where we had to take a picture or video of various objects or activities, and a section of items to bring back to the judges. The scavenger hunt allowed us to get to know the Penn students better, as well as talk to the Village youth. For example, we asked students to help us with the trivia questions, and one of our questions had us organizing a relay race with them. In the end, “Team Jumbros” had the most points and won.

Some students then had a short break while the majority of our group went to help teach an intensive English class to a group of first-year students. Our task was to list the differences and similarities between Rwanda and the United States. The students were very knowledgeable about both countries, and we enjoyed the conversations we had. It was our first time we were able to interact with the students in an academic setting, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

For Havdallah, many of our students met with some Penn students and had a traditional ceremony. Havdallah, as the ceremony that marks the separation between Shabbat and the beginning of the week, was very meaningful as we felt we were just about to begin all our hard work in the Village.

Dinner time in the Village is always very special because it gives us a chance to talk with individual students. Students often ask insightful questions, and they are always fun to talk to about almost anything.

Our final activity for the day was a bonfire with the UPenn group. Over s’mores, we reflected on our day with our nightly “thorns and roses” discussion. We took a lot away from today and enjoyed hearing Penn’s perspective. As our theme for the day was “intention”, we think our group was successful in finding meaning and purpose in everything we did today and will continue to do so throughout the week.

 - Laina and Laura, 5/28/11

Day 2 -> Kigali to the Village


Isabato nzizo (Shabbat Shalom)!

Today, we finally had time to sleep in a bed and woke up early for an amazing breakfast at the hotel. Our group got to try all types of Rwandan delights, including passion fruit, sweet tomatoes, fresh juice, and coffee. We then drove on the bus to the Kigali Memorial Museum. We had met the founders of the museum, the Smith brothers, when they visited Tufts Hillel earlier in the semester, so it was really exciting to see what they have created.
All of us bought the audio guide so that each of us got to go around the museum at our pace.

The goals at the museum are: 1. mass grave for 250,000 victims of the genocide and more bodies are brought there every year 2. Serves as a national archive to preserve and document the official documents, narratives and personal stories of the genocide. 3. Educational museum meant for Rwandan people including students from every district to come and learn about the history of the genocide. This is especially important because history is not formally part of Rwandan school curriculum.

We are now going to try to explain to some of the main aspects of the genocide that we learned through the symbolism that the gardens surrounding the museum provided. The three gardens that stuck out at us were the Garden of Unity, Division, Self-Protection, and Reconciliation. The first garden started as a unity garden where there was a fountain in the middle of the garden and the entire garden was shaped in a circle, the shape of a traditional Rwandan home. The fountain had a stream that led to the next garden, the garden of division which represented the chaos that occurred during the genocide of the Hutus massacring the Tutsis as well as moderate Hutus. The drop down of the waterfall that connected the gardens represented the fall of Rwandan society and the disrupted harmony and unity of ancient times. This was shown through statues that were all facing different directions as well as benches that were separated is meant for personal reflection that emphasizes each person’s responsibility. The garden was surrounded by palm trees that shoes that even during this massacre that Rwanda was still a visibly beautiful country but the terror that went on was horrific. Thirdly, the reconciliation garden contains a fountain built up with rocks symbolizing the building blocks and steps that Rwanda has made towards a positive future. Finally, the cactus garden symbolized self protection since the needles on the cactus protect the plant. The statue in the fountain in the front of the museum represented the death and mourning and the water represented life and the elephants (Go Jumbos!) represents memory so that we never forget.

After our group went though the museum, Honore, a representative from the Museum, spoke to us and answered all of our questions. We then held a memorial ceremony in the gardens to commemorate those who were buried in the graves and to discuss some of our reactions to the images, information, and stories we learned today.

Back on the bus and we headed to lunch we went to a restaurant in Kigali Africa Bites for some classic Rwandan food. Peanut sauce that we put over rice, beans, spinach, and avocado!

We then drove the 40 minutes from Kigali to the village. We were so excited to be heading to the village. Everyone couldn’t stop looking out the windows. The Rwandan landscape is so beautiful: lushes green rolling hills, valleys, a huge blue sky, and so much red from the dirt. The mountains and hillsides were so green and the red dirt of the country.

After settling into our guest houses, we headed to the Mango Tree (where Ann Heyman formally bought the land for the village) and met the group from University of Pennsylvania who has been here for a week. They gave us a tour of the village, explaining to us where everything is. The village is so spread out, but we are already beginning to understand how things are laid out. The school is located at the top of the huge hill and looks out at the entire village. The idea behind this is that “if you see far, you will go far.” Education is to allow students to have a successful future.

We also learned the song “Deep Inside My Heart” that some members of our group learned during Tufts Wilderness Orientation their freshmen year at school. At Village Time before dinner we taught the whole village the song. Here are the lyrics:

            Deep Inside My Heart I’ve got an everlasting love
It’s shining like the sun and radiates on everyone
And the more that I give, the more I’ve got to give
It’s the way that I live, it’s what I’m living for

Our first meal at the village was highly anticipated and consisted of beans, rice, and sweet potatoes. We each went to a different table and it was definitely nerve racking to meet the students and get to know one another. We thought it would be like our first day of middle school all over again. The students, though, are so welcoming and friendly, that it made the meal very special. While it was sometimes difficult to communicate and to know if there was mutual understanding in what we were trying to say to one another, we started to get to know a little bit about the students including their names, what they studying, where they are from in Rwanda, and what clubs they are involved in. We are really excited for Monday when we begin to participate in village life and can take part in their Enrichment Programs (EPs).

The Dance Party after dinner was one of the highlights of the day. Some of us got to showcase our best moves: Dan introduced the famous “Shopping Cart” while Zac broke out his breakdancing skills with the “The Worm.”

The ongoing feeling upon our arrival in Rwanda has been exhaustion but the group was able to stay up to share some thoughtful thorns and roses (lows and highs of the day) including seeing the shy kids break out and dance at the dance party, being invited to eat lunch with some of the students the next day. On the flip side, the language barrier is something we hope we can ameliorate in the future.

Urabeho (Goodbye) and lots of amahoro (peace)

Tali and Jenny, 5/27/11

The flame burns for the 100 Days of Remembrance at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre.

Inbal visiting the Wall of Names.

The Fountain of Hope in the symbolic gardens of the Memorial Centre.
Dance party after village time. Zac went all out with the worm!

Day 1-> Boston, Washington, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda

The time is nine thirty at night laughably early to be ending our first day in a foreign country yet today seems like it began a week ago. I spent much of the day in transit talking to my classmates on this trip who I only knew fleetingly from our interactions on campus. It stuck in my mind how everyone on this trip has such a unique perspective and has so many interesting things about their lives despite that fact that we all go to the same school. There are people in this group personally connected with this genocide, others who have worked on service trips their whole lives, some who just love to see what’s around the next bend and others who are doing a trip like this for their first time. What follows are the highlights as I see them.
 I woke up to a blaring alarm after what seemed like five minutes of sleep. My clock showed 3:30 am and after a moment of confusion I realized that I had to be at the airport in a half an hour to meet the rest of the members of the Hillel service trip and begin my journey to Rwanda. After a quick ride to the airport on an empty highway I arrived at Logan Airport terminal C to catch the United Airlines flight to Dulles. Shortly after my arrival our fearless leader Tali Lieber arrived followed by Dan and Jenny. Dan and Jenny arrived with a carload of shoes in tow. After frantic cramming we were able to condense a month long collection of shoes into a few donation bags and our journey to Africa began. The trip to Dulles was uneventful and we made our connection with time to spare.
 The second leg of the journey was going to be a difficult thirteen hour flight to Ethiopia. A number of us were self proclaimed nervous fliers and I found myself silently hoping for a turbulent free flight for the sake of group morale. Seated in the back of the plane the beginning portion of the flight was a little choppy and I nervously glanced around the plane in an attempt to gauge the mood of the nervous fliers in our group. Luckily after a short while we smoothed out and had no other turbulence problems on the rest of the flight.
Apart from the screaming babies (who always seem to fly to exotic locations, and be seated next to me) and the plastic headphones without any padding, the Air Ethiopia flight was as pleasant a thirteen hour experience as I could have hoped for. A lot of us slept for quite awhile and the TV screens on the back of every seat back helped pass the time. Somehow I ended up with the veggie meal, the bread was a little stale but I was so hungry that I didn’t mind.
I was told that the flight over Ethiopia was gorgeous with a dark desolate landscape giving way to hills and mountains but I was so tired I only woke up when our plane had touched down.
Again we made our connection without any issue and soon after we found ourselves on board a plane that stopped first in Uganda and finally onto Rwanda. As soon as our plane crossed the border into Uganda I noticed a stark contrast between the rugged landscape of Ethiopia and the splendid green of Uganda and Rwanda. Although the flights had been pleasant enough the group heaved a collective sigh of relief when we finally touched down in Kigali after sixteen hours of travel.
After passing through customs we emerged from the airport to meet our contact Ariela Alpert, a Long Term Volunteer International Coordinator at the Agahozo-Shalom village. She helped us load a standard pickup tuck with our donation bags. We had so many gifts and shoes that we needed to lash down the bags to prevent them from falling out of the truck. I can just picture the little pickup rumbling across dirt roads ridiculously overburdened, hopefully the ropes keeping the luggage on board hold.    
We boarded a “Stella” bus and made our way through Kigali. Kigali is a beautiful city, extremely green with very little pollution anywhere. It is also one of the least densely populated cities I have ever seen and it most parts the city seems more like a suburb than the sprawling metropolis which I expected to encounter.
Shortly after leaving the airport we arrived at a small mall to exchange money and buy phones and international calling cards. A group of us who were not purchasing phones (sorry Mom and Dad!) decided to find a café and get a large pot of strong coffee to combat traveler’s fatigue. We sat on a balcony table overlooking a beautiful hill and drank delicious coffee. The coffee had an almost fruity taste with a strong roasted after taste. The delicious aroma and warm caffeinated liquid helped rejuvenate us and great conversation soon followed. I could have stayed in this comfortable café and talked for hours, but after what seemed like way shorter than an hour we were on the move again to our hotel.
When we emerged at our hotel we meet Rachel Olstein Kaplan, Director of Volunteer Service at the village and a sister of Say, one of the girls on our trip. I can’t really recall what we said in the short meeting before we broke up to get settled in but I do remember how awesomely comfortable the bed in my room was. After a quick power nap (an hour and a half) I woke up to the sound of drums coming from outside my window. I found my roommate Dan Katz-Seiger and next door neighbor David Reiff sitting out on the balcony observing a group of Rwandan students playing the drums and dancing in the distance. It was a really surreal experience to wake up from a nap and realize that you are sitting on a balcony in Africa.
Again we piled into our buses, and went to a restaurant about fifteen minutes down the road. The pizza at this place was surprisingly americanized and very good, and the beers were absurdly tall. A few of us shared beers so that we could taste all the Rwandan brewers had to offer. I ordered Turbo dark ale which according to the waiter is a beer for real men.
Tomorrow we are going to the genocide memorial something I am looking forward to intellectually yet cannot help harboring mixed feelings and apprehension about. I am barely able to keep my eyes open as I am finishing these last few sentences so goodnight and more tomorrow.
Nathan Glassman 5/26/11

Beautiful view of Kigali!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 2 -> Our introduction to the Village

I wanted to share some pictures we just took of the Tufts students introducing themselves to the village at Friday night's "Village Time". Tali Lieber, our student leader, along with the rest of the group, led the entire village in a song.

More blogging to come from the students on Day 2 (/Day 1 in the village)!

- Amanda Mendel 5/27/11 9:22pm

Monday, May 23, 2011

One day to go!

It is the night of May 23rd and we leave tomorrow night! We would like to thank everyone who donated to the Aghozo-Shalom Village.  Thanks to every one of you, we have surpassed our fundraising goal of $5,000 and as of now we are proud to say we have made $5,563! We will continue to raise money for the village upon our return, and are very excited to finally see the village in action. We will be able to witness verything we have been writing about in our fundraising letters and telling people about in our conversations about our trip. Only a few more days until we meet at the airport to divide up the hundreds of pairs of shoes we collected and take a 24 hour plane ride to Kigali!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

First Post!

Hello to all!

One week from right now, we will all be tucking in early in order to wake up at 4 in the morning and head off to the airport to go to Rwanda! This is our first of hopefully many posts that will chronicle our times in Rwanda from May 25-June 5th on the Hillel Service Trip.

We are all so excited - we have met multiple times in anticipation and preparation for our journey, and have also been individually working to raise money for the Aghozo-Shalom Youth Village that we will be staying at for ten days. So far, we have raised $2,666 through our website, and that is not even counting donations that have been mailed in! In addition, we have also been working to collect as many shoes as possible for the village. Although we really appreciate every cent that has already been donated, we have not yet reached our goal for donations. The link for the donation site is: http://tuftsraise4rwanda.causevox.com/
Every dollar does count: the website will provide you with information on how much different amounts of money will help at the village, and we would really appreciate everyone's support!

We will keep you updated as much as possible on every day in the village. Most of us have never been to Rwanda before, and even for the ones that have, it will be a completely new experience.

See you all in eight days!
Posing after our group health visit!