Days 11 & 12: Last Weekend at ASYV (Saturday and Sunday, June 1st and 2nd)

Hi friends and family,

We have returned from our journey in Rwanda and ASYV! Now that we are safely back, have taken long hot showers, and eaten a meal without rice and beans, here’s a little bit about what we did our last few days!

On Friday we spent the day at Akagera National Park on a safari! We were fortunate to see hippos, giraffes, and zebras among other things, and a few of us were able to discover our spirit animal (Shane is a water buffalo). (Thanks, Natasha.) We returned to the village before Village Time, a weekly production where students showcase talents or presentations. Between acts of poetry and drumming by the students, our slightly less coordinated students took the stage and danced as Paige, Zuri, and Erica sang beautifully. The ASYV students loved it! Afterwards we had our dinner in the dining hall with the students, and then went to bed.

Saturday was our last full day at ASYV, so we tried to give our group as much free time as possible to hang out with the friends they had made in the village. We did our second Mucaka Mucaka of the trip at 5:40 in the morning, and ran around with the students around the village.  Afterwards many of us played sports on the fields below the dining hall, and a few of us even engaged in an epic game of Tug of War with the students. Breakfast followed, and afterwards we did farmwork around the village with our Senior 6 families.  Later, we had a few hours free to chill with the friends we had made. We had our last two Tufts group discussions (discussing what our trip had meant and how to bring back our experience to campus next fall) later that morning and in the afternoon and spent a lot of time chilling with our families.  To cap off the day, we left ASYV after dinner and headed into Rubona for the night for a last night with our Tufts group, with Avi (the long-term volunteer who helped to coordinate our trip to the village), and with the rest of the long-term volunteers, including one Tufts graduate, Micky.

On Sunday we woke, finished packing, presented our donated gifts to the informal staff of the village, said our goodbyes, and after lunch departed from ASYV.  It was difficult for us to leave after our two weeks there; a lot of us had made true friendships that we’re intent on keeping.  More than anything, we were aware as we left of our responsibility to follow through on our experiences at ASYV: to serve as ambassadors for the village and to do all we can to ensure ASYV continues to offer a home for a segment of Rwanda’s enormous orphan population.

After some last shopping in Kigali we left Avi at the airport and headed home.  After 24 hours of traveling and many, many in-flight movies, we made it back to Logan in Boston.

Thanks for following along with our experiences during our time in Rwanda.  This blog is just one medium through which we want people to learn and understand the importance of ASYV in the greater trends and development of Rwanda, and we hope it inspires you to involve yourself in Rwanda and in ASYV. If you have any questions or comments, or you’re looking to get involved, please contact us at Tufts Hillel, at natasha.kieval@gmail.com or goetzshane@gmail.com, or through any member of our trip.  Murakoze cyane (Thanks very much)!

Until next time,

Natasha Kieval and Shane Goetz

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Day 10: Friday, May 31st

Friday was one of the most anticipated days of the week as we were embarking on a Safari!!! The word of the day was fittingly “Adventure.”

We awoke before the crack of dawn for a meditation session. As the first rays of the new day streaked across the sky we piled into the 4 Jurassic Park style jeeps that were taking us to Akagera Park 3 hours away. Most of us were exhausted from lack of sleep so it felt like a short trip. After we arrived at the front office and filled out some paperwork we started compiling a list of hopeful animal sightings. The top animal was definitely an elephant followed closely by giraffes and zebras. Hippos were on the list but we were told not to get our hopes up. We figured baboons and gazelles/impalas were inevitable.

After about half an hour of driving through the park we arrived at a lake front for a quick breakfast. As everyone pulled out their cameras to capture the gorgeous lake view a hippo popped up from under the water and let out a loud grunt. We all freaked out and even our guide was surprised we saw a hippo. We spent the next couple of hours scoping the pathway for animals and fighting off horseflies. Horseflies were especially pesky since they bit through our clothes. Fortunately we saw numerous animals including gazelles, impalas, water bucks, baboons, cranes, warthogs, water buffalo, and even zebras. We came into a vast field that stretched for miles upon miles and stopped for lunch. They were giraffes EVERYWHERE. We chowed down on peanut butter sandwiches and pringles. We continued through the fields and spotted similar animals. Eventually we hit the end of the safari and although we never saw an elephant we saw everything else under the sun.

After we returned to the village we prepared for our group performance during Village Time. Village Time is weekly meeting where the entire ASYV meets at the amphitheater for skits, songs, dances, etc. We had a 3 part performance encompassing 2 people singing ‘Just the Way You Are’ and ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and we all danced to Kei$ha’s ‘Die Young.’ The crowd loved it but to be humble it probably didn’t hold a candle to some of the other performances like the traditional Rwandan troupe and the traditional Rwandan Drum group. At about 8PM we went to the dining hall as a whole village and ate a typical dinner of rice, beans, and bananas. It was a long day so after dinner I crashed hard.

Mark Tyson

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Day 9: Thursday, May 30th (BEST DAY EVER)

We think everyone can agree that today was one of the best days we have had on this trip thus far.Today we spent our whole day at the village. We did Tikkun Olam(Repair the World) with Senior 5. We split up into three groups with each group going to different villages. I ( Anna) went to the Liquidnet Family High School in the village and watched the students teach local adults English. Then me Paige, Charlotte, and Naomi got in the front of the classroom and taught parts of the body including a rousing rendition of head shoulders knees and toes. We came back and did EP’s ( Enrichment Programs with the kids) I went to carpentry and learned how to use a saw! I then got my hair done by a group of Senior 4 girls who could not get over my curly hair.

During the reflection at the end of the day everyone had extremely positive things to say regarding the day. These are few of the thoughts that people shared with the group:

Charlotte had a great time at her house Mama’s birthday party. There was a cake and candles and they danced to candy shop by 50 cent

Ryan had the time of his life riding in the back of a pick-up truck with 23 of his closest friends after teaching English at a primary school.

Anna celebrated not only two birthdays, but also Joan of Arc day with the Joan of Arc family (her family for the week).

Zuri loved bonding with her beautiful new friends in JFK house and hated to say goodbye to her new Mama.

Shane had serious fomo (fear of missing out) because he didn’t get to ride on the pick-up truck, but who cares because he did ride on a moto earlier in the week on the way back from a nearby lake.

Sam enjoyed drinking whole milk with chunks of fat in it…..he hates milk by the way.

These are just a few of the stories, we are now headed to bed so that we can wake up at 5am for our safari trip.

XOXO,

Anna and Zuri

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Day 8: Wednesday, May 29th: Visit to Murambi

Wednesday May 29th—Visit to Murambi
Today we visited the Murambi Genocide Memorial, which is 3 hours away from ASYV (past Butare, the second largest city in Rwanda). While the bus ride was long, we were lucky to see the beautiful views of the never ending hills that make up Rwanda’s landscape. It was illuminating to see how heavily modern Rwandans rely on agriculture, as it has been deeply entrenched in their past as well. The patterns of corn fields, cow pastures, and rice paddies, while painting the mountains in a lovely way, also made evident the future of Rwanda lies deeply within the continued development of its agriculture. We stopped for lunch at a buffet restaurant in Butare, and then finally arrived at the memorial for our tour.
Murambi is an old technical secondary school that was never completely built, as it was in the process during the genocide. It sits on the top of a hill that is surrounded by many other hills. This creates a beautiful view, but it was also the downfall of those who sought refuge there as this leaves no escape routes from the hill. Victims were told by civil authorities to gather there for safety and protection, but after days of waiting the 50,000 people were being surrounded and eventually massacred in a single day. The school, still half-built and mixed with both the breathtaking view and the morbid history, creates an eerie atmosphere.
We were joined by Wilton, who shared with us his personal experience as a genocide survivor. He was the past president of ASYV and is currently the superintendent of all Seventh Day Adventist schools in Rwanda. Gaspard was our tour guide, who led us out of the main building to the first group of mass graves, where he informed us that 18,000 victims were buried there. Next we walked to the school rooms which contained the preserved bodies of those who were killed. It was extremely difficult to witness these individuals’ deaths, and a lot of us found it to be a stark contrast to the lovely natural setting. We found ourselves questioning forgiveness, God, humanity, among many other things. Gaspard also took us to where the French soldiers had stayed at Murambi and to a room that held the belongings of those who were put into mass graves. A long and complicated history helped place the context of the atrocities that occurred there, but it still felt very real to witness the bodies and the remnants of their possessions.
Lastly, we went back inside the main building and did a brief walk-through of the museum, which shows pictures and historical blurbs about the sequence of events. Before getting back on the bus, we held a service on the lawn where we said prayers of remembrance from different faiths and reflected upon our experience. Our ride home was long, but we got to stop for snacks and finally returned to our house here at ASYV where we ate and had an intense discussion about memory, forgiveness, and moving forward, both in the context of Rwanda and of our individual lives. This has been the most emotionally exhausting day for the majority of us, but it plays an important part in the impact of our time here and in our paying respect to the genocide victims.
We treasure this experience, despite how hard it was, and look forward to using it to further both our own genocide education and the education of others.
Love from Rwanda,
Paige and Naika

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Day 7: Tuesday, May 28th Reflection

We started our second day of service work bright and early at 8 am. At that point our group broke into three smaller groups which worked on digging a trench, farming, or working in the kitchen. The people who went to the trench continued working on digging a trench that will help divert rain water, and will keep the roads from being destroyed. While this was tiring work it was very rewarding to be able to see the progress. The second group working in the kitchen where we joined the kitchen staff in peeling potatoes. While this was a mindless job it provided for great conversation with the kitchen staff, and particularly with one man who worked there. He told us about his experience in high school, and what he wants to do after he leaves the village. The kitchen was also a very exciting place to work because we got to taste Chai tea, and we were also lucky enough to have waffles and fruit salad. It was delicious! Those who worked on the farm helped to clear a road with hoes. They were working with the farm coordinator the whole morning.
After service work our group took the mile walk to the local town, Rubona. On our walk we were faced with many smiling faces from the elderly on the sides of the road. We also were bombarded by school children as they got out of class. They were all in their blue and gold uniforms and had huge grins on their faces. Once we reached Rubona we went to their local bi-weekly market. This market was filled with fabrics, food, and other items. Some of us bought fabric; however, we were a bit disappointed with the market’s selection, but we understood that its primary purpose was to provide the people of Rubona with their essentials. Our favorite part of the market was the Sambusas (Rwandan Samosas). In order to get the Sambusas we had to walk down an alley way and came across an unexpected kitchen. While this is not how we were used to getting our food at home they were absolutely delicious nonetheless!
Following the market and lunch, which consisted of many Sambusas, sodas, and goat skewers, we went back to ASYV to meet the students for Tikkun Olam. This is a time in which the students go out of ASYV and help those in the surrounding community. The three choices were building a mud hut, teaching English in a primary school, and working in a health Clinic.
I (Erica) went to the primary school to help teach English. My favorite part was watching the ASYV students teach English to the younger kids. It was very inspiring to see the teaching skills that the ASYV students had gained from their time in the village, they were extremely poised, able to command the room, and greatly engaged the students. Near the end we all collected as one big group in a circle and each student and teacher introduced themselves. Then us Tufts students taught them some songs. I taught them “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes.” It was amazing to see how quickly they got on, and how with very limited communication we were still able to teach them and interact with one another. When it was time for us to leave the primary students swarmed us wanting to shake our hands and say thank you. It was a very gratifying experience
I (Sam) went to the health clinic. When we arrived at the clinic we saw that the majority of the people waiting in line were either children, or mothers with babies. The health clinic director came and told us that the clinic services many young patients with malnutrition or developmental problems. He then proceeded to take us to the clinic’s garden to show us how the supplement children’s with vegetables. The garden looked dingy and measly, and Daunte explained that they barely have enough water to keep it operational. We then split into groups packaging pills into baggies and cutting and preparing gauze. While this was all going on we were interacting with the students and teaching them and learning many new hand games. After an hour of playing games and organizing supplies we walked back to the village and played catch with a water bottle on the way.
Neither of us participated in the mud hut, but the members of our group who built the huts came back covered in mud and extremely happy.
Our day wrapped up with a lively discussion about who we should help. There was a lot of debate within our group surrounding the question of domestic vs. global service. Members of our group were very opinionated on this topic, and it is something we will continue to think about in the coming days.
We concluded our nights with Family time where our families read and reacted to an article written by Paul Kagame (Rwanda’s president). They students also expressed their dreams and aspirations. It was proof to us that ASYV is doing its job. We hope that many of these students are able to follow through on these goal.

With Love,
Erica Tooch and Sam Boas

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Day 6: Monday, May 27th

Miriwe our friends!

Today was the halfway point of our trip here at the Agohozo Shalom Youth Village. We are starting to settle into the rhythm of day to day life of the kids and all who inhabit this space. At the same time, as short as our time as been here, it also feels like we have spent a small lifetime here already.

Each morning this week we have been assigned various service work to do in the village—kitchen work, landscaping and farm work.

Erica’s experience doing kitchen work: We gathered with Rwandan men in the kitchen. They taught us how to go about cutting cucumbers and sorting legumes. Feeding five hundred youth meant that we were on the tasks all morning, and we were so glad when we were rewarded for our work! The head cook brought us a tray of rolls, peanuts, fruit salad, and African tea.

Anne-Marie’s experience doing landscaping: The two weeks that we are spending here in the village lie during Rwanda’s dry season; however, we spent the day today in preparation for the rainy season later on by digging a trench to create a conduit for rainwater to flow down during the heavy wet season. This prevents erosion of the roads. The sun was high and the ground was quite hard, but with the help of two staff members and lots of smiles and singing, we were able to make an impressive mark in the red clay ground.

All in all, our first day of service work was rewarding. We felt that we were serving the village in terms of most important tasks needed at the present moment instead of a fluffy activity that was set up especially for us to do as visitors in the village. It is easy to remember the hardships of the genocide in the faces of the many children here, but we often forget that the staff here is also composed of survivors. We were so grateful to be able to work with them during our service work. With the rest of the week ahead, we hope to be able to make the most of our time here by learning as much as we can by working with the staff here, the students, and each other in our daily discussions.

With affection and smiles,

Erica and Anne-Marie

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Day 4, May 26- Goats, God and Goodness

                This morning, we were able to sleep-in to a late 8 am after a big day yesterday. We prepared for our 2 hour trek to Lake Mugesera with hats, granola bars, bug spray and an obscene amount of sunscreen. 15 minutes into the walk, we already needed to buy more water and stopped in the village of RubonaIn a place rarely frequented by outsiders, we became the center of attention while being watched closely by the villagers. As we were leaving Rubona, groups of children with ragged clothing flocked from their houses and started to follow us. Some of us made friends with the children and enjoyed learning from them, and many of us were strongly affected by their visible poverty and the amount of attention they were giving to our group.

                Even after seeing a view of Lake Mugesera from afar every morning from our guest house, the sight of the lake up close was even more striking. It was beautiful. Although we were told by Health Services not to swim, we watched with envy while the kids jumped into the water while we sweated through our clothing under the hot sun. We walked to a patch of shade, still accompanied by the kids, and were led by Charlotte and Paige in a variation on the Protestant Compline service. As the children watched our service, we were curious to know what they were thinking of our presence in their home. It was unsettling to see such disparities between the wealth in our own lives and the lives of these children, particularly after our discussion yesterday about what is our responsibility to help others.

                The sun took its toll on us and we were particularly exhausted on the way back to the village. Although the thought of goat skewers waiting for us in a restaurant in Rubano motivated a lot of us to journey on, it wasn’t quite enough for all of us. A few lucky ones got rides to the village on motorcycles called “motos” after feeling not so great from the heat. Once the rest of us reached the restaurant, we were glad to see that they were fine, but pretty jealous of Shane and Natasha who got to ride along.

                After a lot of hype about the goat skewers, there were mixed reviews. About half of our group were huge fans, while the other half either indifferent or flat-out refused to eat it. The hot commodity was the citrus Fanta but the sambusas (a Rwandan version of the Indian samosas) were also a big hit. We walked away from the restaurant and the trek fully satisfied but desperately in need of showers.

                This afternoon we attended the Catholic mass in ASYV. After a long wait involving some interesting “organ” music (we may have arrived a little too early), we enjoyed the service led in Kinyarwandan. Although most of us did not know really what was going on, partly because of the language barrier and partly because of our different faith backgrounds, we still found the music and the spirit of the mass to be uplifting. Emily was told by a student that they were impressed that our group attended the service. After, we had an impromptu discussion involving the structure of the mass and faith in general. We feel like our group is becoming closer and more cohesive every day.

                We ended our day with a nice meal in the dining hall with the ASYV students and a reflection on our day under the moonlight. Our reflection was filled with insight and laughter—we truly are fully enjoying our time here.

 

                                                               Love from,

                                                                       Charlotte and Emily (newly deemed “Emlotte”)

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