Monday, May 28, 2012

Day 4: Monday

This morning we had the luxury of sleeping in until the late hour of 7:15! We began by setting our Kavanah (intention) for the day: "We look at each other wondering what the other is thinking but we never say a thing" (Dave Matthews Band). We thought this was important as we began to spend more of our time in the village and getting to know individual students. We also wanted to focus on communication and really absorbing everything that we experienced. After this, we split up into our morning service projects. Some students helped the landscaping staff build a fire pit outside of our guest house, another group built an irrigation system for the farm, a third group built a parking structure, and the final group prepared lunch with the kitchen staff. It was really meaningful to see our direct positive impact on the village and to do work that was really needed in the village.

Following our morning service, we had our second learning session called "Do We Have Responsibility to Take Action?" We read texts from the Qur'an, Talmud, and the Bible about each religion's point of view on people's responsibility towards others who are in need. We discussed their relevance to our work in Rwanda especially after reading the following poem:
"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me." -Martin Niemoller

This poem raised questions about genocide and people's role in prevention and response. We talked about being bystanders and whether or not we have a responsibility to take action when we are not directly affected. This discussion was really moving in the light of the role we are playing while we are here.  

In the afternoon we joined the students for their after school activities. We had a choice of attending one of the professional skills development classes: IT, Hospitality, or Agriculture. Later in the day, we had another option to go to an Enrichment Program, including traditional art, modern art, music, photography, sewing, basket weaving, science, or video. Two of our friends had the wonderful opportunity to teach a science class. They taught about neuroscience and the students thoroughly enjoyed it! These activities were a great way to immerse ourselves in the daily routines of the students in the village. After this we went to clubs. There are a plethora of choices, it was so difficult to choose one to attend! Tikkun Olam, Culture Club, Newspaper Club, Movie Club, and Research Development Club were among the myriad of options. Some of these club meetings were conducted in Kinyarwanda, but we had wonderful student translators who welcomed us and made us feel part of the club. 

After dinner, we had a quick meeting and all shared the best parts of our days and what we are looking forward to for the rest of the week. Today was our first day spent completely in the village and we really began to feel a connection to the students. Our group is also becoming a family and we are very much looking forward to the rest of the week! 

Muramuke! (goodnight!)
Natasha and Arlen 

Day 3: Akagera National Park

Why would you want to leave this place,
The land of a thousand rolling hills.
Where the wind shares its secrets,
Of what was and what will.


We made our way to Akegara National Park today, three hours away from ASYV. We packed into our military-green Jeep cars and made it through the rugged terrain all the way across the country. Everyone was excited about the safari and all the animals we were about to encounter. But for me, it wasn't the safari that struck me that day—rather the ride up to Akagera and back. My Jeep was fortunate enough to have the main Akagera tour guide with us, Cecille. She was this passionate, energetic, loving woman, wearing her Safari gear and guiding us through the park. Although we really enjoyed our time talking, laughing and joking with her, while watching all the giraffes, zebras, antelopes and elephants, there was something from that day that will stay with me forever.

Our Jeep driver Aloys, a native of Rwanda, was very soft spoken throughout the day. He would joke around a bit, explain to us where in the country we were—but he kept to himself the entire time. But on our way back he began to open up to us. I (Jessica) began talking to him about the state of Rwanda today, the people, the culture, the food, the economy and social climate. I asked him what he does for fun in Kigali, what restaurants to go to, night clubs, etc. Then I said, " Aloys, can I ask you a personal question..." There was a pause, as he looked at me through his rearview mirror. There was a very particular tenderness in his eyes. A look that I get from many Rwandans. They are eyes that have seen hell and back, but managed to have faith in God and humanity. They are eyes that are resilient, strong, humble and so raw that it hurts me. But they are eyes that I have fallen in love with here in Rwanda—for they are the truth. He responded, " You are welcome to ask me anything you not be shy or hesitate." We began to talk about the war, the effect of the genocide on the people today, and where he wants to see Rwanda in the years to come. He said that he wants people to come to Rwanda and visit this beautiful country, so that they can go back and share with their people and their country what a special place this is, but also learn from them. We continued to talk for more than an hour. As he was talking, I looked out the window at the rolling hills, green valleys and the rays of sunlight that God was placing on this place. I waved at the young children running out of their homes yelling "Muzungu, Muzungu." They were innocent, pure and beaming with love. They were the essence of what humanity should be. 

However, what upset most of us in the group was seeing the expressionless faces of the parents behind these children as our safari jeeps passed by. It is difficult to fully absorb the differences between the genuinely happy and carefree children and their parents who seem to have a better grip on reality.  Traveling through Rwanda has definitely put our experiences here at the village into perspective. 

- Jessica and Ariana

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tufts in Rwanda 2012: Day 2

Today, we woke up at 5:30 and jumpstarted our day with an
Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village Saturday morning ritual called Mucaka
Mucaka. During Mucaka Mucaka, students form groups and run around the
campus singing traditional Rwandan chants. It was very special that
the students could share this ritual with us, and really helped us
feel a part of the ASYV community. Mucaka Mucaka gave us a sense of
positive reinforcement before we began a long day doing service work.
After Mucaka Mucaka, we went to breakfast at the dining hall, where we
watched the ASYV Traditional Rwandan Dance club practice a few of
their dances. It was fascinating to see the students exhibiting pride
in their national heritage.

After breakfast, we began our first service work at the farm in the
village. Together with the students, we constructed a road by clearing
a large swath of weeds and grass in order to provide easier vehicle
access to the farm.  We worked from 7:00 to 9:30, and even after only
two and a half hours, we were exhausted.  It was humbling to realize
that the work we had done for such a brief span of time is done every
day by the vast majority of Rwandans, from morning to evening.  We
came to respect how hard-working and diligent Rwandans are, and how
committed the ASYV students are to the betterment of their own
village.  A large number of Rwandans depend on subsistence farming in
order to make a living. All the students that we worked
with were extremely eager to be a part of the community effort on the
farm.  We were inspired to see so many young Rwandans working together
to create a better future for the village and for their country as a

We then ate lunch and got our first look at the ASYV school on the top
of the hill upon which the village resides.  The school looks out upon
the rest of the village and offers a beautiful view of the rolling
hills of the eastern province.  The village's motto states, "If you
see far, you will go far," and so the school strategically lies at the
top of the hill above the rest of the village, so that while at school
the students can see as far as the horizon goes.  A senior-5 student
served as our wonderful tour guide of the school.  She'd only studied
English for two years but she speaks it impeccably, showing the
students' dedication to their studies within the village.  She took
the time to explain the different combinations of classes and the
various clubs that the school offers, such as the Drama Team, the
Leadership Club, TV Club, Tikkun Olam Club, Newspaper Club, and more.
Our tour guide was the Secretary of the Guest club, in which the
students help plan for volunteer guests arrivals. The clubs at ASYV
serve as an outlet for what the students are really passionate about.

Following the school tour, we had our first interfaith discussion. We
discussed the importance of having an interfaith service, versus
having a more secular experience. Since it was our first religious
discussion as a group, it was gratifying to hear everyone share their
varying religious beliefs. As the trip is an interfaith service trip,
we have students from many different religions, including Judaism,
Christianity, Islam, Sufism, etc. Accordingly, everyone has unique
perspectives on the motivation behind service work. The discussion
also included boundary breakers, in which we got to know one another
in a more personal way and allowed us to be more open with one another
in open discussion.

Our day culminated with dinner and a relaxing evening at the guest
house. We are excited for what the next few days bring, and are
especially looking forward to spending more time with the students at
the village!

Reporting LIVE from ASYV. We are Katie and Shane.

Tufts in Rwanda 2012: Day 1

Day 1: Journey   to Rwanda, Kigali Genocide Memorial, and Village Time

We all chose to come to Rwanda for different reasons and had different expectations, but we were all excited to be going. Some wanted to see a new country, while some wanted to see a new continent. Others wanted to experience a new culture. I think all of us wanted to learn about what had happened in 1994, and many also wanted the trip to help guide them to their future career choices.
                  I will never forget the moment we stepped off the plane. I’m (Tayo) from Ghana, and when I go home I’m used to being hit with the hot air and the smell that can only mean that I’m finally in the place I love the most. But here I was, in Rwanda, a place I’d never been to, feeling sensations that were almost the same! I (Laura) was entirely unsure of what to expect as I had never been to Africa before.  However, we both felt that after feeling the hot air and seeing the bright lights of Kigali—the endless hours of travel had all been worth it. We went through immigration and, after dealing with some luggage issues, hopped on the bus to Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. The bus ride was surreal. Although it was night time and everybody was exhausted, we were all so excited to be in the country that we had read and watched so much about.  (Tayo) The city of Kigali seemed so quiet compared to Accra, and it reminded me of the movies I had seen about the genocide. A car full of military personnel passed by and it frightened me for a minute. It was hard to reconcile the friendly faces of passersby with the menacing looks of similar figures in the movies.
Agahozo-Shalom was as beautiful as expected. However, we were still excited to return to Kigali the next morning and do some snack-shopping, money-changing, and genocide memorial visiting. Before leaving, we were taken on a tour of the village by a staff member. She talked about the mission of the village and more about how everything works in the village. Then we left for Kigali.
Our first stop was money changing, then the memorial. After going through the exhibits, which included rooms full of preserved bones, survivor testimonies, clothes, history lessons, and brief summaries of other genocides; we came out to the mass graves and did a short interfaith ceremony of our own. We read from the Koran and the Bible, as well as from other sources, and we did a quick traditional hand-washing and sprinkling of water.
I (Tayo) really can’t remember how my emotions transitioned while we were at the memorial, but I know that I came out very angry. One thing I vividly remember was reading about the children (in the children’s exhibit) who were victims of the genocide. Exactly how does one smash a child against a wall, or chop him/her with a machete? Someone carried that child for nine months and suffered labour to bring it into the world. It scares me that life can be cut short so suddenly—there must be spiritual repercussions.
I (Laura) was frustrated that such a horrific genocide occurred so recently.  I was disgusted that the United Nations failed so miserably in helping this country. Seeing hundreds of images of people brutally beaten or shot to death in the genocide really brought our group to think about what had happened and what we can do to halt such events in the future. Although the entire memorial was quite moving for all of us, I was especially touched by the children’s room.  It was one of the last rooms in the progression of the exhibits and left me in a somber mood. I remember seeing names and pictures of all these children who had so much promise, but were murdered at such early ages. In particular, I vividly remember seeing the last quote of a 10 year-old boy, which read “somebody will save me.”  Then he died.
This thought brings us to today’s word of the day—Destiny. Each day two students decide on a word that is meant to be kept in the back of our minds throughout the day. This is how I (Tayo) chose to reflect upon the word during our trip to the memorial—can it be one’s destiny to die before one’s time? I cannot think that God meant for a child to die so brutally, but that would mean that these children were robbed of their destiny and purpose through no fault of their own. How is that fair or just? I’ve always thought of destiny as a right—each person should have a fair chance to get to that endpoint that God has planned for him/her.  For Laura, the genocide memorial was also a reminder that so many lives were cut short for such unnecessary reasons.
At village time tonight, someone said that we make our own destiny. Do we? Here is how I (Tayo) thought it through.  I could choose to die for a friend, and in doing so, I would cut my own life short. Would that make me a failure, or would it simply mean that I had made a new destiny for myself? Could it be that the children who died in the genocide may have been meant for something else, but due to the choices of others, were shifted to an alternate destiny—to bring joy to their parents, remembrance to those who had lost them, and haunting thoughts to those who perpetrate evil? Maybe not, but that is how I am going to look at it. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to be in God’s will, we may end up on a different path. That doesn’t mean that we have lost control over our destiny. I believe that I can make choices that will impact my future and the future of others, that evil does not have free reign but is merely an obstacle, a fork on the many roads to many possible destinies.
Speaking of faith, we had a wonderfully short and informal Shabbat ceremony, led by Natasha and Katie. They shared their traditions, and many other people shared thoughts as well, related or unrelated to Judaism. Three prayers were read, in Hebrew and in English. Finally, Nate led us in an interfaith song that incorporated Buddhist, Moslem, Jewish, and Christian prayers. It sounded amazing and it really manifested what our group is doing—coming from different backgrounds, perspectives, and faith to share this experience together.
The group had a wonderful day, overall. Nick and James played basketball with a student. Nate and I (Tayo) had deep conversations with students who opened up to us, challenged us, and broke down our walls. I personally felt led by my own faith to start thinking about being more humble in my heart. Jessica basked in the warmth and resilience of the village mamas. Camilla, Ariana, Natasha, and Sam (both of them, as we have two of them) experienced the Rwandan hospitality of the students, who interpreted parts of village time and constantly engaged them. Paige made instant friends who wanted to make plans with her for later in the week. Arlen has partners for Mucaka Mucaka tomorrow morning (see the next blog post if you want to know what that is or how it goes). Katie reconnected with the student she had breakfasted with this morning. I (Laura) was welcomed to visit one of the student houses and asked to watch traditional Rwandan dance.  Jenny and David were able to continue processing the experiences they had last year, now that they are student leaders. Each person in the group is growing—in our perspectives, in our personalities, and more. Let’s see how it goes. And so there was evening and morning of the first day J

-Laura and Tayo 25/5/2012