My first month in Rwanda – by: Kristin Haas
Order- that’s the first word I would use to describe Rwanda. Considering the country is most known in the west for an incident filled with chaos and that currently about 45% of people live in poverty, it was completely surprising to find so much structure, orderliness and organization in almost all parts of daily life. Most notably, the roadside trash that is such a hallmark of developing countries is exchanged with tidy landscaping.
The staff and students at Maranyundo create their own unparalleled structure. Teachers demand extraordinary work of the girls and they rise to meet the challenge. They often work on schoolwork until 9:00 PM and the stronger students can be seen assisting the weaker ones as necessary. Everyone understands Rwanda needs to solve important problems and these students will be part of the solution. Therefore their lessons and assignments address serious issues ranging from the importance of education for economic development to the role foreign aid should play in Rwandan society.
Even with the organization at school, Rwandan infrastructure sometimes interferes with the most well planned ideas. During a recent computer class the electricity went out three times while the girls were learning touch typing. However, the students are flexible and did not complain as the lesson was modified on the spot to no longer require electricity (quite a task for a computer lesson). Even with the challenges, it is difficult not to relish the privilege of working with such motivated, hardworking students. Middle School girls have several stereotypes but one of the most understated is their never ending questions, curiosity and excitement about learning.
Probably the most powerful day in the community so far has been Umaganda, or Community Day. It’s an event occurring every month when everyone in the community comes together to work in the community. It was a fading tradition until President Kagame, the Rwandan president, reinstituted the model after the genocide to help heal the community. On the way to the worksite (a sideroad that needed to be repaired) many were clearly just walking to their usual Saturday destinations without work tools in hand. But the early morning felt completely worth it when the man in charge of Umaganda bellowed into his megaphone for the benefit of nonparticipating people “Even the muzungu (white people) are coming to Community Day! Why aren’t you?” Participating people initially were surprised to see foreigners at Umaganda and thought it was very humorous watching muzungu do physical labor. However, upon further reflection, I believe they respected us for working so hard to integrate into the community. Umaganda is such a great example of how Rwanda refuses to let poverty take away their dignity and people are eagerly working together to improve their country. My foremost goal during my time here is to assist them in this goal.