Monday, August 26, 2013

Various Thoughts from my First 10 Days

Rwanda is a beautiful country.  It's called "The Land of a Thousand Hills" and I believe it.  Traveling any distance in the country involves twists, turns, ascents, and descents.  The hillsides range in color from red African soil to green fields of tea plants and banana trees.  There are many flowers, including hibiscus, bougainvillea, and orange day lilies.  I am told it will become more green once the rainy season starts in September. 
Tea fields
An example of a hillside in Rwanda

The people are very friendly.  Passing an acquaintance or friend on the street requires stopping and greeting that person with a handshake or hug.  There is a lot of laughter and joy among friends. 

Being white does attract some attention, mostly stares and the occasional shout of "Umuzungu," which means "white person," from children.  One high school aged boy jumped behind a tree to take a picture of me today.  I found it humorous.

The school where I am volunteering has 540 girls and a handful of boys.  The girls live on campus and the boys commute each day. 

At a debate competition with another school
My biggest role at the Ecole Notre Dame de la Providence en Karubanda is to be a native English speaker.  The students, ages 11-19, are taught in English, but it is not their mother tongue so they don't use it at home or with their friends.  It's not the mother tongue of the teachers either so they are excited to improve their English abilities.  Since I speak only a few words of French and Kinyarwanda, everyone has to speak English with me, which is a great asset for my role. 

I'm in a period of observation right now so I go with a teacher to his or her class and watch how teachers teach and students learn in Rwanda.  The students have a lot of questions for me, especially about my marital status and the United States.  A Rwandan woman my age would either be married or in a convent by now.  The girls are eager to speak with me; I've already had two requests to be a best friend.

The school's traditional dance troupe
One intimidating area of Rwanda for me is being mono-lingual.  The thought of having to negotiate food prices at the outdoor market or find out how much a mototaxi ride will cost frightens me so I am content to walk and eat through my supplies of veggies, pasta, and rice.  I am hindered by the language barrier for now, but soon I will either improve my comprehension of French numbers or learn them in Kinyarwanda so I can be more comfortable shopping.
Kigali from the road

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My First Days in Rwanda

Today marks my third full day in Rwanda and my first in the city where I will live, Butare or Huye.  The current Fidesco volunteers in the country have been taking good care of me.  Patrice and Benedicte from the center for street children picked me up from the airport in Kigali and hosted me for 2 nights, while Segolene and Ronan and their 4 children greeted me at the bus station with a sign that said, "Welcome Heather," and have hosted me for two nights also.  Some of the highlights are as follows:


  • Visiting the Cyprien and Daphrose Center, which is a Fidesco and Emmanuel Community project for the boys who live in the streets of Kigali.  They are brought to the center of their own free will and live there for 5-6 months on average as the staff works to reunite them with their family or find them a new home.  I loved the morning and early afternoon I had with the boys.  During the morning prayer, when the group offers each other a sign of peace, some of the boys gave me hugs.  They are so hungry for affection and I didn't mind it at all.  Then I sat with them during an English lesson and then let them teach me a line dance.  At one point I played cards with them, but it was a game I didn't know.  Since they speak very little English, it took awhile to grasp the rules, but once I did, the boys clapped and cheered for me whenever I made a good move.  If anyone feels depressed, I think one would only have to go there and spend time loving the boys and leave a happy, loved person.
  • Being with the French Fidesco family in Butare.  Their welcome was great, but after that, it has just been a joy being with them.  There are 4 kids, ages 2.5-9, and it reminds me of the French family I knew in Minnesota.  Both families have young parents and they took me in as a single person far from home and let me be with their families.  Tonight I played cards with Ronan and the two girls and this morning Segolene took me shopping at the market.  I let her take the lead because I still have to learn what is a good price to barter down to and where to go for the fairest vendors.
  • Visiting the school where I will work and the house where I will live.  Sr. Maria Goretti, the principal, gave me a tour today and I was very impressed.  There are 12 heads of cattle and 5 calves so the students can have milk and rabbits for meat (sorry for the downer news for the animal lovers).  Vegetables or plants to feed the cattle are planted all over the property.  The solid waste from the cattle and the students are fed into an underground storage area to produce biogas to power the milk pasteurizer.  I'll write more about my first day at the school next time, but it's time to socialize with my hosts.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fidesco - A Long Time Coming

All the volunteers
Go!  Make others happy!  You will know what joy is!
Today was the send-off Mass for the Fidesco volunteers and the end of training in Paray.  We have said most of our goodbyes to the other volunteers and now only a few of us remain in Paray-le-Monial for the night.  We will catch a train to Paris in the morning.

I was touched by the morning and I wanted to share it with you.  The send-off Mass was a bit like a graduation ceremony, complete with a procession to introduce ourselves to the congregation and the rituals of commissioning us for the mission.  And just like a graduation, there was also the rehearsal at the beginning of the day. 

The American volunteers
During the practice, the Fidesco staff passed out the prayer we would say during the commissioning and gave us five minutes to meditate on what we were about to pray.  Here is what we would pray: "Lord, in response to your call, I make myself available for the service of the poor and the universal mission of the Church, in the spirit of the Charter of Fidesco.  I ask you to make me, by the action of your Holy Spirit and the intercession of Mary, a witness of your love and your mercy."  

As I though about these words, I was amazed that I am finally here, about to depart for Fidesco.  I remembered when I first learned of Fidesco in 2005 while I was in the Emmanuel School of Mission and how I wanted to be a volunteer for the organization at some point in my life.  Then in mid-August 2009, I was in Paray for one of the big summer conferences the Emmanuel Community runs here and I watched the new Fidesco volunteers get commissioned at the same Mass I just participated in.  I listened to them introduce their mission countries and projects, sometimes being newly married or with small children who would go on mission too, and how I wanted to be one of them.  "Some day," I thought, "I will be in their shoes."  After eight years, I am finally in their shoes and I am amazed and grateful for the fulfillment of a dream I have had for a long time.  I am humbled to have the opportunity too.

The volunteers for Rwanda - Rita and I will be in Butare, Jeremie and Timothee will be in Kigali
All that was before the Mass.  The Mass was amazing too.  After the homily, we volunteers filed in front of the sanctuary/altar and introduced ourselves to the gathering of ~3000 people and ~42 priests.  We said our name, where we are from (if not French), where we will go, for how long, and what we will be doing.  Having sat in the congregation during this Mass before, I can tell you that it is very inspiring to see all these people who are spending 1-2 years of their lives in a developing country doing inspiring things.  It's very powerful.  Once we introduced ourselves, we knelt in front of the altar and everyone clapped for us for a long time.  It was great to hear their encouragement.  Hopefully some people in the crowd were inspired to do Fidesco themselves.  After that, we prayed the prayer I typed above, we sang a song to the Holy Spirit, and then the bishop prayed a prayer of sending over us.  The Mass continued as usual and once it was finished, we gathered outside for photos. 

Paray-le-Monial by night

Friday, August 9, 2013

Training in Paray-le-Monial

I made it safely to France two days ago.  We have a rare break right now, and the recent learned knowledge of where there is wifi in the village so here I am!
There are 78 Fidesco volunteers here for training.  Most are French, but there are 5 Americans, 3 Portuguese, and a handful of Poles.  We have daily sharing groups formed by mission country regions, which means I have Portuguese, French, and Polish in my group.  We get by mostly with English in the sharing group because the French volunteers are anxious to improve their English for their placements.  The rest of the teachings are either in French with simultaneous translation or a separate English session.  Everyone appears to be very flexible and accepting of the different languages and hiccups in the schedule, which are good attitudes to develop before we go on mission.
Our training is in Paray-le-Monial, which is a small village near Lyon, France.  It is called the City of Jesus' Sacred Heart because Jesus appeared multiple times to a nun in the 1600's and showed his heart to her and spoke about his love for humanity.  It is a very peaceful village with a canal lined with day lilies running through it, small French streets, and old churches.
That's all I can write for now because my battery is about to die and I forgot to bring my plug adapter to the cafe.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

You blew away the $500 goal and a great article that helped it happen!

Praise the Lord!  You guys are the best and the Lord continues to reveal his providential care through your donations.
You have responded above and beyond the $500 matched donation challenge a friend of mine offered to sponsor during my last week in the United States.  In five days, you all donated or pledged to donate another $1500, which puts me only $3500 away from my partnership goal.  Once my friend submits his $500 matching donation, I'll only be $3000 away.  THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
This entry would be remiss without mentioning the great article written by a graduate school classmate and friend, which helped get the word out about the upcoming mission and bring in the donations, even from college friends that I haven't spoken to in years.  I think Carl did a great job capturing my motivation for going and explaining what I've been told I'll be doing over there.  Here is the link:
3 days from now, I'll be in plane heading to Fidesco training!