WJR Mission to Rwanda: Week 3

November 24, 2016 23:02

We’ve just finished our third week of volunteering in Rwanda for SACCA, a street children’s charity supported by World Jewish Relief, and we’ve had the chance to learn a lot more about the country.

We discovered very early on that church was a huge part of Rwandan life on Sunday mornings. Everyone dresses in their Sunday best: little girls in huge puffy dresses and with foam flip flops and little boys in suits.

SACCA’s director, William, invited us to attend church with him last Sunday, so we dressed in our finest and headed for the town’s Catholic Church. The 3 hour long service was all in Kinyarwandan, meaning we couldn’t understand what was being said, but it was clear that singing, dancing and clapping were key parts of the service. A memorable moment was the Offering in which those who could not afford to give money left the Church for a moment and then processed in with huge decorated pots full of their crops which were then laid on the altar. Church was an amazing cultural experience and very different from anything we had been to before.

After the service William went to talk to some of his friends. This left us outside the church by ourselves and within seconds we were surrounded in a circle by children, about 5 children deep. Children in Rwanda seem fascinated by us, so that it is impossible to walk down the road without at least three children following us; some even come and give us hugs as we walk past. We have started to call this the Pied Piper effect and it is a key part of day to day life here.

We have been getting extremely good at playing sports, and we’ve started to teach the kids to play rounders, though the kids don’t seem to understand the rules of getting people out despite much explanation. This results in about 5 children per base and the kids just running around in a circle until they get to bat again. The kids do not like to field leaving us to field throughout the game. They find it hilarious to hit the ball for miles and then love to watch us try and catch it. We have also ended up in a full blown football match, during which we were not considered assets to our teams: as soon as we bowed out gracefully there were goals continuously at both ends. We don’t think we will be asked to play in the next SACCA football match!

On Tuesday we went to the girls’ centre for the day. We started a lesson focused on what the children wanted to do when they grew up, but were shocked and saddened to see them struggling to copy the writing from the board. We realised that many of them couldn’t write at all, so we spent the afternoon trying to teach the alphabet. There was one girl in particular, Sandrine, who despite being 14 could not write a letter unless we drew it out in separate parts which was even more upsetting for us. She does not go to school yet as she arrived in the centre in the middle of the school year so she cannot go until January. She consequently spends the day at the centre and we have been back to try and give her some extra lessons and would love her to be able to write the alphabet by the time we leave.

At the Kabarondo Centre the boys decided to take us on a water duty. This means literally walking until we find water. We didn’t actually walk that far but walked about 15 minutes into the valley. However, it is sometimes required to go to the bottom of the valley which would take hours. We were given small jerry cans and were luckily given some water by some builders. Yet, they were not given that much so would have to go again the next day. The next day our water supplies at the volunteer house had depleted completely so we had to hail a cyclist who had jerry cans attached to his bicycle. He brought us in two 20 litre jerry cans, though the water was muddy and had sediment floating in it, proving that the lake must be getting low so they had to scrape near the bottom to get some water.

Cows. These animals are a valuable resource in Rwanda and it’s the government goal for every citizen to own one. Cows are integral to the world of marriage and courtship as they make up the dowry that the groom offers to the bride’s family. A standard cow can cost up to £500 and for the most beautiful daughter to ask for 5 cows would not be asking too much. We found this extremely hard to comprehend as cows are definitely not a currency we trade in.

On our day off we went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a three part museum on the site of mass graves belonging to the 250,000 Tutsis who were murdered in Kigali. The first section on the Rwandan Genocide explained that racial differences and rifts did not exist before German colonisation in 1895 and then later occupation the Belgians during World War One. In 1932, ID cards were issued naming citizens as either Tutsis, if they owned 10 cows or more, or Hutus if they owned less. Around 15 % of the population was classified as being part of the richer group. This caused division within the country that led to the formation of political parties for the different groups, which eventually escalated into violence. With Rwandan independence in 1962, a government was formed that wanted to eradicate Tutsis, and propaganda was used to incite hatred of the smaller group.

A turning point came in April 1994, when the Hutu president’s plane was shot down, allegedly - although doubts were later cast on this assertion - in an attack by the Tutsis. Almost immediately road blocks were set up, and killings of Tutsis and some groups of Hutus began. The genocide lasted 100 days and over 800,000 people were killed. Evidence later emerged that the killings were highly calculated.

The museum also focused on other international genocides, showing the clear parallels between the Rwandan Genocide and the Holocaust, as well as similar atrocities in Cambodia, the Balkans and Armenia.The museum’s final exhibit was perhaps the most harrowing. It was called the “Lost future”, and it sh
owed 15 huge pictures of children who had died. The pictures had plaques underneath them with information about the children, including their name, age, favorite food and personality. It then stated how they had died: 4 year old Arlene was stabbed in the eyes and the head.

Our first three weeks have been incredibly eye opening: we’ve learnt so much about Rwandan history and society. We can’t believe that we are already half way through our trip.

November 24, 2016 23:02

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