Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What is Our Orientation? What is Our Approach?

We must remain constant in our endeavours. No longer can we pick and choose when to be nice, compassionate, helpful, or loving. Our world needs something bigger and stronger than a part-time sacrifice. Our world needs something larger than charity that only treats the symptoms and not the causes. We must orient ourselves to a lifestyle of mercy.

I ponder on the recent news around the world: elections in Sudan, increased religious tensions in Jos, Nigeria, natural disasters that leave destruction, and the list continues... We tell ourselves, "I want to help!" And, sincerely, we do. But we...but I must not be satisfied with a pick-and-choose mentality. Every morning that we awake, we must say and remember that love is the movement...that mercy is the movement. Our hearts feel, and they are sometimes heavy and light. We can laugh and we can cry and we can sing and we can dance. It is my sincere hope that we take a risk....a leap of faith to combat the problems that we see daily.....that we take a leap of faith to love the person directly in front of us. I know it sounds abstract....and broad...vague even. But, at the same time, it can be a simple approach, and even though difficulties will arise, the power of a community acting in this manner is unparalled.

I'd like to offer a few quotes that remain true to my heart:

"Love means to committ oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person. Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is also of little love." - Erich Fromm, German Social Philosopher and Psychoanalyzer

"Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:18

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, beacause fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." 1 John 4:18

May our love continue to grow strong as we unite. May our mercy continue to grow strong as we fight.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The last days

We spent yesterday trekking mountain gorillas. WOW.

I didn't really know what to expect for this part of the trip. I had not given it much thought at all, but was excited once we arrived at base camp. It was pouring rain, but after a short while that stopped. We had a small briefing and then five of us and our guide hopped in land cruiser and started driving over hundreds and hundreds of rocks. After a couple of kilometers, our car got stuck in the mud/rocks and so we had to proceed by foot. We had a 2.5 hour battle uphill as we hiked to meet the gorillas. Finally, we met up with the trackers who had been out all morning locating the specific family we were trying to see. Once we saw them, we drank some water, put down our bags, and grabbed only our cameras. We walked about 125m and then heard a heavy growl. My heart skipped a beat.

We then walked up and around to get a better view, since all we were seeing was the rustling of bushes. Then, we saw a baby gorillas eating grass. Then another....then the silverback. Wow. These gorillas were enormous. Our group took hundreds of pictures and we will try to post some soon. The lack of internet on our computers makes it more difficult, but definitely by when we come home.

My time at the cafe is pretty much I will see if there is connection in Gisenyi today. The rest of our schedule is as follows:

Today: Morning visit to an art collaboration ( I think)
Afternoon drive to Gisenyi and check in at hotel. Day of relaxation.

Tomorrow: Visit to Gardens of Health (a non-profit that works with sustainable farming as a necessity as part of HIV/AIDS treatment
Visit a market (maybe) and dinner at a friend's house in Kigali

Saturday: Lunch at US Ambassador's house in afternoon and evening flight out of Kigali.

Hopefully, there will be some more time to write at Gisenyi.

Again, thanks for listening.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Kigali Time

Another genocide memorial yesterday born from a tragic story. Just wanted to quickly write that we are headed to Ruhengeri tomorrow and dinner in few minutes. Will try to write more tonight.



Saturday, March 13, 2010

Family Time

A couple of nights this week, a bunch of us visited the various family houses here. From my understanding, each student is placed in a house with other members of the same class and gender. Currently, there are two classes at Agahozo. One that started in December of 2008 and the other that just started in December of 2009. There are approximately fifteen (give or take a few) students, as well as a family mom and counselor, in each house. I visited a couple of houses during this past week. Although I was unable to fully understand everything that was going on (all of the conversations are in Kinyarwanda), I was blessed with a translator in each situation. I will never forget some of the things that were said that first night.

Although I will be paraphrasing due to the language translation and my lack of writing statements down, I still believe these words are very powerful.

One student was talking about the importance of still showing love to someone even if you may not like them or get along too well.

One student stressed the importance of finding and being loving in every activity that he or she does.

At the end of the entire meeting, one student stopped and said, "Mama, how are you?" It was incredibly touching to witness that type of philia, that family love that so many of us desire. To remember that many of these students are orphans, who, in one sense, may have every right to be sad, is so humbling. I know that I sometimes speak of love in a very abstract sense. Or, whenever we hear the word love, we know that there are myriad meanings that one can choose from to describe the word. But here, I mean compassion, care, mercy, humility, understanding, sympathy, kindness, peace, gentleness, patience. These young teenagers still stop and realize the importance of asking this woman, now mother, how she is feeling. Family supports one another. Family respects and family loves. I truly saw this that night among these young leaders. Even with the way they constantly welcomed me, I witnessed the familial love each and every person in Agahozo shares with one another. At the end of family night, they asked me, a newcomer, to share any thoughts or words that I had. I simply echoed what I am writing here...that the family and love they have for one another is truly inspiring for me to witness. It is something that has helped them grow and will continue to do so. I begged them to never forget or lose this love and care they have for one another. On another occasion, I practiced with the soccer team before dinner time. The coached again asked me if I had any words to share regarding the game of soccer.

To be welcomed and love is something that I believe every human truly desires. As much as many people, myself included, sometimes bypass opportunities where we can allow ourselves to be loved, I still believe that we want it. Because at the end of the day when I am about to go to sleep and reflect on the day or ponder about tomorrow, I think about others, and I can recall many times when a smile has been on my face just from knowing that I stand in strong relationship with someone, whether it is a friend, teacher, mother, father, brother, or sister.

I guess it's something I'm a huge proponent for. Welcoming and Loving. And although it may sound abstract, I think it's something that will truly help. To see the way family and love has brought so many smiles on the teenagers of Agahozo has been the most amazing and heart-warming experience of 2010. Love can be so simple. Warmth and community can be so simple. We can start small and grow into a force of community, welcoming, support, and family that this village of Agahozo, city of New Haven, and world truly needs.

I want to quickly write about farming this morning. We woke up around 7 AM to head to one of two locations: 1) the main farm (very close to where we live) that has mango trees, avocados, corn, pineapples, and many other delicacies or 2) a coffee plantation behind the high school (which is quite a trek away). I headed to the main farm and proceeded to weed around the mango trees. We used rakes and hoes, and with all thirty of us working together, finished the job quickly. It is still bringing a smile to my face now as I reflect on weeding. Jacob (another group member) and I went to the mango trees to help with weeding and, at first, we were not sure exactly how they wanted us to proceed. As a young girl taught me (through body language and actions due to language barrier) the process she laughed. But, as I think about her laugh, in no way do I sense condemnation or embarrassment. By that, I just mean that her laugh was so welcoming. Her smile said, "I am glad to have you here. Let me teach you how to do this in the most efficient way we know."

After the hoeing, we went to meet up with the rest of the group. There, I started to help tidy up a smaller garden, where they also grew some coffee and other plants. As we worked, they taught us a song in Kinyarwanda, and we all shared smiles and laughs. I also finally found someone who speaks Swahili very well. Her name is Peace. Even though she spoke Congolese dialect, we were able to understand each other almost completely. The joy of connecting with another human beyond simple greetings and questions was very rewarding. She really liked the fact that I am taking a class on the ethics of humanitarian intervention. She wants to be a computer engineer. I'm excited because I know that will become a reality.

As we spend our afternoon on the porch eating pineapple, reading, drawing, and talking (with both one another and students from Agahozo), I pray that our last day here is fruitful and meaningful. We don't have any big plans lined up for the rest of the day. Interact, I guess. Grow. Become a family.

Thanks for reading and listening again. I am not sure how much I will get internet in the next week because we will be travelling around the country to Kigali, Ruhengeri, Gisenyi, and the National Park. I will try to write as I can.

Sincerely, thanks for reading.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sick (Day 4 and 5)

The last two days have been pretty tough on the body. I was struck with some nausea on Wednesday morning which is still affecting me now. I also feel pretty dehydrated and have a headache. I have slept an incredible amount over the last two days...and the internet wasn't working yesterday. I am still feeling bad so I am going to try to sleep some and maybe eat/drink some more.

Thanks for listening. I will have a more in-depth update soon.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Seeing Smiles and Learning about Love (Day 3)

As I perused through the final exhibits at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, I could not help but question the tragic events that took place in 1994 between April and July. After reading through almost thirty separate exhibits describing the genocide, tears had begun to stream down my cheeks. Sure, I had read stories and books depicting and illuminating the atrocities of those 100 days; yet, I had never been so close to videos, stories, and the country itself. I never had the opportunity to read about the genocide, walk outside, and look at the faces of people who live through it daily. What is more, I had never spent days in Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a space for orphans. I had never been asked “Do you have parents?” as if it was uncommon. No one had ever questioned whether I had a brother or sister in a way that did not come merely in the form of a curiosity; rather, there was a longing in the voices of these children. I had never seen a teenage girl explain to me with a faint smile that both her parents, two brothers, and three sisters were all killed during the genocide. How is she to react? The smile in no way conveyed any sense of happiness or joy. Instead, it was a smile of questioning. A smile that asked how in the world could this happen? Are we not all human? It was not a question of human rights. No. It was a question of human nature. It was a question of love. Are humans not called to love? Can we not all simply try (and in many ways succeed) to have love for everyone in our lives…the same love that we have for our family members? That was her question as she explained that she had lost her family, as she explained that they had been killed.

But her story did not end there. She truly understood what it meant to have a loving family outside of the biological blood that connects many of us. She found her family in her fellow youth at Agahozo. She found her family in me, and she called me her brother. I was honored.

I cannot count the number of times I have simply looked at a teenager here, smiled, and received the biggest smile I’ve ever seen in my life. At family time (a time where each household comprised of about 15 students comes together to discuss household and communal issues), I glanced at one child. Every time our gazes met, smiles protruded from our faces. Love was clear.

As I listened to the conversation between the household members, I was incredibly inspired by their understanding of the importance of respect and love in ones lives. To see young high schoolers, who have seen the purest of hate in their lives, not only understand love’s importance, but also seek it was yet another inspiration. It was truly beautiful.

I am going to go to sleep now…because I want to make breakfast tomorrow morning and also have energy throughout the day. I will try to expand on some of these ideas soon enough.

We had a discussion (that we will continue) as a group tonight about our experience at the memorial. We touched on everything from facts and humanitarian intervention to the efficacy of NGOs and our role in the world. I will definitely write more about this when I can.

Again, thanks for listening.


P.S. I will continue to try to upload some pictures, but the connection is faulty when it comes to uploading. Check out the group blog at for a few.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Some Pictures of the Journey and Agahozo

Trying to upload...but the internet is not connecting too well....

Check out for some pictures so far.