Yesterday was the experience of a lifetime at Gihembe Refugee Camp. The ride through the thousand hills was breathtaking and at some points reminded me of driving home from PA to NY because of the geography. We were even heading North just like if we were heading home from PA-NY. Below is one of many scenic photos I took during the ride.
When we pulled up to the camp, immediately some of my preconceptions about the camp began dissolving. Our bus was swarmed with children! I wish you could have seen it.
The manager of the camp, David, gave us a small tour and showed us one of the schools, the large health center, the small market, and our friend Clovis' house at the camp. Clovis opened his home to all of us and was more than happy to share any parts of his story if we chose to ask about them. Most of the refugees at Gihembe are Congolese and are awaiting rest in the Congo so that they could return home. On the other side of the coin, many of them are awaiting their turn to be selected to make it to the states. Clovis' family including his mother and siblings made it to Tennessee! We all were feeling the hope and positivity that Clovis is with regards to his making it to the states. I'm glad that we have such a great friend here. Before his family was resettled in America, Clovis struggled because he was and is unable to start a life in Rwanda although he has a college education. His education did not come from Rwanda, so he is completely focused on making it to his family. Many people at the camp have educations, some even from the National University of Rwanda.
David gave us some facts:
There are over three thousand refugees at the camp
Last year 2,000 of them made it out of the camp (to the US I believe)
This year they plan to send 1,000 more
The camp started in 1997
The camp is organized into over 50 villages
The refugees are able to leave the camp if they wish to - to shop on Wednesdays & Saturdays and/or are free to leave and start a life in Rwanda if they can and wish to.
These were only some of the happy and surprising facts that we learned.
Everywhere we walked to at the camp, children were adoring us and touching us. Many of them knew the word 'tattoo' and recognized me as the girl with one on her arm. A few of them tried rubbing it off for me, haha! When we got on the bus to leave, one of the boys there read what my tattoo says to me. This was one of my favorite moments at Gihembe.
Yesterday we performed our play for the first time in Rwanda! We performed on a basketball court and it was a blast to get down into the red dusty dirt while performing. We had so many people engaged for those 20 or so minutes. That's when you truly feel the power of theater and story telling; when for those minutes while you're performing, everyone is there and present.
This was the ultimate performance in many ways for me. We had to really tell the story using our bodies since we speak a different language than almost everyone at the camp. Many of the people watching were children. They received the message of our story and we all danced and sang our 'Amahoro' song at the end which was so much fun! After working with that wonderful audience, I know that anything is possible in front of my own classroom and during other performances.
Overall, it was such an honor to be allowed access into the camp and to perform for the masses. I know that we do what we can for the camp, but I can't help but to feel guilty when we get back on the bus when we leave. Many places that we go where there are children, I find that one of them always sort of sticks by my side throughout my visit. I love it because of the bright beaming smile and the dedicated grips of our hand-holding. I become sad when I feel like maybe we were stringing them along a bit and then have to cut the chord when we leave. I hold it close to my heart that I will never forget each and every child that I made a connection with and that I have a duty to tell their story, to let the world know that they exist.
It's interesting how the rain picked back up as the tears began to find their way to the surface on the cool Rwandan morning.