Last post! Thanks so much for traveling along with us for the past week. All five of us have now returned home and have had a chance to reflect on our time in Rwanda. Anne blogged from beside the fire on our last night, Dorthe while in transit and Julie took a while to process her experience and entered hers from her desk back in Oxford (no jokes about slow Aussies please). We will be having a get together in London on June 19th for those who will be in town – a chance to share more photos and have an in depth discussion of what we learned over drinks. If you’re interested in joining us please email Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until our next adventure…
PS We’ve posted some photos of our gorilla trek on Day 5 – which you can see here.
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Well, finally we are home, and it feels great to be here! We had the most amazing and interesting week. It takes a few days for me to have everything sink in. I find myself reflecting and processing so many of the experiences which, when they are up close, aren’t in focus. Just like reading – I now need to put on reading glasses to see the letters clearly. We go from one new experience to another and have little time to let it all absorb into the mind before we are experiencing the next, impressionable, thing.
The faces of many of the women are engraving themselves on my heart and I keep thinking about the people who were generous with their time and drove around with us, translating and explaining the stories of our clients. But not only that – they shared their own personal stories and their hopes and fears. Rwanda is doing incredibly well. It is organised and clean and safe and people live in a society where there are constant reminders of the past and where they have been and don’t want to revisit. They work for the future and don’t like to talk about what was, but conform to the strict laws, that will move this country forward. This is a democracy, but ruled as a benevolent dictatorship. Crime of any kind is not tolerated and prisons are not where you would want to find yourself. Their view on crime is harsh. So, you have a country where people now feel safe. Everyone works together in keeping it clean. Even the president is involved in the monthly community service of cleaning the towns and villages. It is illegal to walk on the grass. Plastic bags are illegal. People don’t fence in their properties, but everything is open and there seems to be a sense of tolerance and equality. The question we found ourselves asking was:
What happens next?
When the next election comes and the 2 terms are over, who will be the next president?
What can happen if the wrong party gets in?
It is not a pleasant thought. We don’t know, as tourists for the week, how well balanced or not the future is. We pray for continued strength in values and ethics, and hope that this model really is a long term answer, which hopefully other African nations can adopt.
Thanks for following us last week – it really was great to know that you were with us. I can only recommend that you get involved with OI – go on an insight trip and see for yourself the difference a small loan and a good amount of training can do. Donate – get involved – this is a worthwhile cause!
Time to reflect on this incredible trip. We are sitting around the fireplace at the Virunga Mountain Lodge (with a stunning setting and view on all the Virungas -Volcanoes). The lodge bar area, with books, games, and comfy sets wraps us with its cosy warm atmosphere. The fire is in the center and we form a circle. A perfect set up to share our thoughts. Last dinner all together and we deeply miss Veronique and Elizabeth. Adele (our Opportunity US trip guide) asks us three questions: what was the highlight of the trip? What surprised you the most? And how did it compare to other insight trips/did it meet your expectations?
I shall answer for myself on this blog… The immediate highlight is our time in the mist with the gorillas. We walked for a bit longer than an hour and there they were. Big, fury, slow moving, incredibly ‘human’ creatures with their soft eyes… Mum gorillas cuddle their babies, one has twins, and we can’t get enough of watching them… The big silverback is still, but his slow and decisive motion when he decides he had enough of the cameras shows he that is boss and no-one dares challenge him – human or ape!
But deeply, the highlight is the ‘trust group under the rain’ (“the ones who trust each other”) on the Eastern side of Kigali, on Tuesday, that depicted the very essence of what Opportunity is about. The women shared their hope, their intelligence, their ability to get organised and their professionalism in the middle of no-where. In turn, it tells us why the model of OI works: the training before they qualify for a loan, the regular visits and training of the loan officer, the clients’ sense of community and their internal rules (if one of the group does not show up to a meeting, they make her pay a fine or kick her out if she is not serious about making it work), and all the possibilities that open up from having a progressing business: the pride of sending children to school all the way, building a decent home, and getting the treatment they may need…Yet, and it is coming to what surprised me on this trip and how it differs from other trips I did with Opportunity (Malawi and India), the country seems so strong in its commitment to build a future and move on beyond their history, that poverty is not as striking as my other experience. Rwanda seems eager to work, is managed by a strong hand and wants peace. Feeling the desire for peace is so meaningful after the genocide. Those trust groups seem to progress quickly and reach levels of loans that reflect their determination to take responsibility for a better future. It leaves me with a great impression of Rwanda. Thank you to all of you – within the trip and reading the blog – to have shared this experience with us. We are truly blessed!
I’ve been back in the UK for a few days now and it has taken that time to process everything I saw, heard, smelt and felt during my week in Rwanda. I was astounded by the beauty of the country itself, with its combination of rolling hills, fast flowing brown rivers, terraced mountainsides and eucalyptus forests. Rwanda is a stunning country. I was delighted at all the languages around me, some speaking French, some English but most preferring the local language of Kinyarwanda. Speaking only one language myself, I struggled to pick up many words, but by the end of my time I was proficient saying muracoze cyane (thank you very much) and muraho (hello). Pretty pathetic really after a week but it did allow me to break the ice a little!
In amongst all these languages, in general, the people of Rwanda were quite reserved and quietly spoken. Men walking along the road pushing their bicycles loaded high with goods, women carrying their babies on their back, even school children returning home, were all relatively silent. I heard the occasional outburst of laughter from a group of kids perhaps but in general Rwandans seem happy to process their thoughts in their minds, saving their voices for times when important information needs to be shared.
Before I arrived in Rwanda I was determined to mentally record my experience through all 5 of my senses, and smell could have gone either way! Having lived in Asia for the past 7 years I know odours can be pleasant or hideous, in Rwanda, I was not sure what to expect. However, I can report that all was good!! Gum trees of course emitted their distinctive eucalyptus scent, making me pine for my homeland of Australia. The earth was dark and rich and smelled, well, earthy, which was wonderful and I always associate that with productivity and growth, and the Rwandans didn’t let me down – that earth was supporting crops left, right and centre. And finally, what did I feel? I felt gentle hands as we met clients in the markets and farmers next to their 10 x 10 m crop beds. I felt warm hugs from women who were thankful for the partnership of Opportunity International and the growth they’d seen in their businesses and their lives. I felt sorrow at what the Rwandan people have lived through. And I felt joy at the reconciliation and hope that everyone seems to strive for. In short, I can thoroughly recommend Rwanda to any visitor – old and young alike.