Check out the site of the Village:

Monday, May 31, 2010

A Day Without Thorns

After getting back to the village after 12:30 am yesterday, we were all happy to have a later start this morning, as well as a less emotionally draining day planned. We met at 7:30 to start our service work, but split up into different sites today.

Sara: I stayed at the same construction site that we have been working at because I have been really enjoying spending time with the day workers there. Today I learned even more names and made up a silly song about sima, which is an adaptation of the French word for cement, which I sang with the workers. They helped us pick out amabuye amato, which are "small stones," to carry to the stadium seats we are building.
Even though the language barrier with them is almost insurmountable, I have felt as though I am actually making connections with the workers -- who ask when we will be back when we leave! -- because we are laughing, working, and struggling with language together.

Julie: This morning I worked on constructing a science center. I worked with four other Tufts students stacking clay bricks in groups of 5-6 that are easy to carry. We then brought the bricks around the building from the large pile of bricks, that included broken bricks that we had to sort through. I was surprised to be working next to a women, since all the other construction workers I have met are men. She had almost no knowledge of english but asked me if I was married and laughed hysterically when I said no. I found out she was 18 and married. That was the extent of our conversation but we continued to work side by side sorting through the bricks and stacking them.

After our service work, we had meetings in small groups with some of the house mothers and counselors of ASYV. Both our group and those from ASYV had the opportunity to ask questions of the other side of the discussion. A lot of our discussion focused around the opportunities for their students to apply to and come to Tufts! We were excited that so many students are curious about coming to our school, but tried to explain the reality of not only the difficulty of the admissions process, but also the financial barriers that stand in the way of attending such an expensive school. This was difficult for many of us, especially since we all want the students to reach as far and for as many opportunities as they can. It was also interesting to realize that some of the counselors are interested in applying to Tufts for graduate school!

We also presented the staff with individual gifts of messenger bags, which were donated by Tufts Admissions and absolutely adored by the recipients. We saw mothers comparing their identical bags and immediately putting the things they had brought with them in the bags.

After the meeting, we had the opportunity to visit Austin's family friend at his amazingly beautiful lake house. The waterfront views were breathtaking, which certainly made up for the cramped and bumpy bus ride there! Buses in Rwanda are very different from those we are accustomed to...

After an amazing meal including goat, which many of us had never tried before, freshly caught fish, and many other delicious treats, we thanked Austin's friend and piled back into the bus to return to ASYV in time for EPs (enrichment programs) and sports. The bus ride back was a wonderful bonding experience, most of which we spent having a very loud sing-along that kept up our lightened spirits and made the ride fly by.

After EPs, where both of us tried to weave traditional baskets, we met with Nir, the current director of the village, who gave us a unique insight into the philosophy of the village and the Rwandan educational system.

After our nightly Thorns & Roses session, during which the two of us had a very difficult time coming up with any Thorns, we were very excited to head to dinner, because it was the first meal in two days that we had spent with the students. It was great to get back into the rhythm of village life, especially when students with whom we have been forming friendships told us that they had missed us and were happy to see us.

We are looking forward to spending as much time with the students as we can in our remaining two (!) days at the village. Tomorrow we will be participating in the students' own Tikkun Olam service projects in addition to our own.

Murabeho (goodbye) for tonight!
Sara and Julie

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Two days in one - Butare and Murambi

Today kind of felt like two days. As many of you may remember from seeing our itinerary, we were scheduled to see the Genocide Memorial in Murambi today. Therefore, the day was mainly separated into pre-memorial and post-memorial experiences. Honestly, it feels like days ago before we went to the memorial, but we’ll attempt to speak of it as if it was a mere 12 hours ago.
First, we had to get up at the unfortunate hour of six to get breakfast and be at the gate by seven for the bus. Groggy and disoriented, the whole group crowded on the bus and headed first to Kigali to pick up several members of the staff who were to accompany us first to the national museum in Butare, then to the memorial in Murambi. The national museum was fascinating! It contained explanations of things as simple as the hunter-gatherer culture of the ancient Rwandan tribes to things as complex as their language, social structure, and the making of banana beer. As we are all still very much on “Rwandan time” as Rachel likes to call it, we came roughly 45 minutes late to lunch, as we all wanted the purchase items at the national museums bookstore.
Lunch was, in a word, glorious. We dined at a hotel’s restaurant in downtown Bustare, and were treated to such rare delicacies as pasta, pizza and French fries! French fries!!!! Needless to say, while we are all enjoying the fine cuisine Rwanda has to offer, we are looking forward to a hamburger and fries upon a safe return to America (although not so soon!). Lunch, then another round of shopping at a local co-op were a lot of fun, though we were by this point roughly two hours behind schedule. Shrugging our shoulders, we packed back into the bus and headed to Murambi. It was at this point of our journey that we were confronted with possibly the most breathtakingly beautiful sights yet. The famous Rwandan “terraced hills” surrounded our bus as we traveled along packed roads towards Murambi. People crowded the sides of the highway on bikes and on foot, carrying heavy loads of bananas, hay, or sugarcane. We arrived at Murambi while the sun was still high, yet past its zenith. You know, four o-clock or so.
The Murambi memorial was a school where Tutsi people were told to go, because they would be safe. Over 55,000 people gathered in the school buildings. It was April 21, 1994 when the soldiers came. Of the 55,000, only six are known to survive. Today, this site is maintained as a genocide memorial center, and is the only of its kind in the world. When the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) came to the school site, they begane to exhume the bodies for a more humane burial. They came across bodies that were not entirely decomposed. Instead of interring them in the traditional way, the RPF decided to preserve their bodies with lye (made by phosphoric acid and lard – a variation on traditional soapmaking or saponification). These bodies are presented in twenty four classrooms. There are 821 bodies in total. It was a highly visceral experience for the whole group. We had a beautiful memorial service outside of the memorial, and with grief in our hearts, we headed back to Kigali, taking the lives of Murambi with us.
Throughout this entire day’s journey, we were lucky enough to have the accompaniment of Wilton, the principle of the LiquidNet Family High School at the village. As one of the long term volunteers, Ido, so eloquently stated, Wilton is a man who does not care about Hutu or Tutsi, simply goodness. He spoke with us about reconstructing Rwanda and what it means to live side by side with your neighbor as fellow human beings. When I asked if he is able to forgive the people who killed 13 members of his family, he said that he could not, but that he wanted to live with them and form a more peaceful society. Wilton made an analogy between the students of Agahozo Shalom and the 12 Apostles. These children would carry with them the message of love and goodness and would create a brighter Rwanda. Both the memorial and Wilton’s speech touched all of in different ways. Both Matt and I felt hope at the idea – that this amazing group of 250 students could really change the country. The fire in Wilton’s eyes as he spoke this was truly inspiring. Like Will said in his speech at the memorial service- we witnessed an extreme amount and sadness today. But because of our work at the village, this reality of destruction became a message of hope. As Tufts students, we vow to tell the stories of the dead, the stories of these students, and the stories of this country. We will bring their memory and legacy into the future and just like the apostles and the students of ASYV, we will carry their message of hope with us around the world.
Murambi prompted some important questions about the nature of humanity. On the ride back, a volunteer (Barry) told a story: Last week, many students in the village ran in a marathon commemorating the genocide, Barry ran along with them, and after the race, a student who ran a half-marathon offered her his biscuit. Barry asked him why, saying she already had a biscuit. He explained to her that “I share everything I have. We all have to share everything we have. To be human is to share everything we have.” He then proceeded to share his biscuits with anyone around.
It is with this inspiring story, we bid you a good night. It is exceedingly late out here in Africa, and we have to get up early (again!) tomorrow to work on the stadium seating for the soccer (football) field. Ijoro Rwiza! (Good night!)
-Matt and Hillary

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Sky Filled With Stars

Today we went on a tour of Rabona and a hike through the neighboring village. Every single one of us felt like a celebrity- we had trails of people (mostly adorably scrumptious little kids) following us for the three hours we were walking. My favorite moment was when Sarah taught the girls following us who may have only known a word or two of English, how to sing a song about peace in Hebrew called Ode Yavod. These three beautiful girls sang along with us for hundreds us yards and even taught us a couple songs of their own. While it was hard to see the poverty of the surrounding region, it is amazing to see how welcoming and kind these people are and that around the world kids can be kids no matter where they come from.
We then sprinted back up the hill to make it make it back in time for Havdala, a service marking the end of the Sabbath. For me, I can honestly say that the most meaningful religious, experiences I have ever had have been in this village. The service was all about tuning into all of your senses through the candle, the wine (i.e. water with grape flavored crystal light), and the smell of cinnamon. So no matter how people connected spiritually, that fact that we were singing both Jewish songs and “Lean On Me” under a sky filled with the most amazing stars you can ever imagine, surrounded by a village of passion, affection and love was truly the most amazing experience.
Matt Davis, Rachel Olstein and I were interviewed today for the ASYV newspaper. They students asked us questions like “Why did you want to come to ASYV?” We said that we came here to learn from them because they have so much to teach us. We also came because of the connection between Tufts and ASVY, because they are a sign of hope and because we believe in the motto – If you see far you will go far. They asked, “What is the greatest thing you see in ASYV?” We said the philosophy of Tikkun Halev and Tikkun Olam (Repairing your heart and repairing the world)..and many more questions that we will try to blog about later.
Also today, during the Umuganda community service time, I worked on the soccer field. And as was said before, a slight “slacking off occurred,” but it meant that I could have an hour long conversation with a boy about history- everything from the Aztecs to the Boston Tea Party. In return, he taught me about Rwandan geography and economy. This is just one example of many in which Tufts students are constantly blown away by their intellect and passionate curiosity.
One final amazing moment, just showing the amazing capacity for love in this village was at dinner tonight. The students always insist on clearing our plates for us and we tried to refuse tonight- culminating in a tug of war battle for a single plate. The girls were all laughing and when Daphne asked why it was so important to them, one beautiful and sweet girl replied, “Tikkun Olam.”
Signing off for now!
Hillary and Matt

*Sorry for any grammar mistakes!

Hike to the Rice Paddies

After our contribution to community service day, we went on a 3 hour hike to the rice paddies outside of Rubona, led by Prosper, an ASYV counselor and agricultural specialist. Seeing rural Rwanda was an amazing experience. On our way down, we were greeted by many of the locals with smiles and shouts of "Muraho!" ("Hello!"). When we got there, a group of Rwandan kids immediately ran towards us and began to play with us, somersaulting over bales of hay. It was truly heartwarming.

Community Service Day

Today is a nation-wide community service day. Everyone throughout the country participates in giving back in some way so we have been helping the students of the village in their service activities (weeding, cleaning). We've really been able to spark up great conversations with all the kids here as we work. (They've learned the slang word, "slacking off" from us while we learned history from them). It's just tempting to talk rather then work when you're in the presence of such positive energy. We may be really tired, but we are put to shame when we see how much these kids work. They even got up for a 6am run this morning!
After lunch, we are now going on a hike. Apparently the scenery will be spectacular!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A classroom at the School

The Village

Today was a great and intense day. We started off with a walking tour of the whole village. We were able to check out the inside of the school and really understand how the education here is structured.
We also organized all the shoes that we brought here! It was really incredible to see how many pairs we were able to collect and how much the kids here will appreciate our efforts. I think our favorite moments here so far have been the meals we've been able to share with the students. It's really amazing how much you can find in common with these kids. It's not the differences that bring us together, but the similarities.
No we are off to our "E.P"s or "enrichment programs" which our organized after school activities in the arts, sports, film etc.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

We are here!

We have finally arrived at Agahozo-Shalom! It was a beautiful ride here, the scenery was incredibly spectacular. We have settled into our rooms and we will soon go to dinner and meet all the members of the Village. We are all very excited! Some of us have already picked up some Rwandan slang.

We're heading to the village!

We're finally on our way to the village and we are so excited to get there! Everything has been great so far and we are looking forward to meeting everyone at the village! More details will be posted soon.