We have spent the last few days relaxing and going on a safari at Akagera National Park. Akagera is the oldest national park in Africa and is the easternmost point in Rwanda. We stayed in the beautiful Akagera Game Lodge; that may have been the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. We spend the afternoon by the pool and after dinner, we went on an evening safari. During the evening safari, we saw zebra, impala, giraffe, hippos, and many other animals. After a quick sleep, we spent the next day on six-hour safari that traveled the whole distance of the park. We saw many animals but the most impressive was one of the seven lions that reside at Akagera. It was a dream come to safari in Africa and I really couldn’t be any happier. Rwanda is really showing me how fortunate I am.
Sunday’s here are a day or rest and celebration so it was a very easy going day on the 3rd. We started it in the local market, that resembled a large and cramped flea market in the United States. During our time at the market, I was bombarded with many scents, sounds, and people. This overstimulation quickly subsided when we started bartering at the crafts section of the market. All the handmade African crafts were so beautiful. While looking for gifts from home, I met a young boy named Frank. Frank is a young boy from Rwanda and was incredibly sweet in helping me find everything I wanted and at a good price. Many of my peers bought from Frank and it was so great to see his happiness. After we left the crafts section I went to the fabric section where you can get almost anything hand-made, from shirts to skirts to dresses. I found some beautiful batiked floral fabric and I requested the tailor to make me pillowcases. He had never made them before but he was more than happy to try.
Following the market, we spent the rest of the day at “Inema Arts Center”. This was a house that was converted into a dancing, artist studio, and gallery. We were welcomed there with open arms and we took a traditional Rwandan dance workshop. Dance has never been my skill but it was really nice to try something new and put myself out there. After our dance workshop, we took a paint workshop lead by the founders of the arts center. We each were given a canvas to share and they made a huge paint pallet full or acrylic paint. I painted an abstracted female figure with expressive color and line work, one of the founders really liked my painting. He told me, “art [for him] is about breaking the rules". I really enjoyed talking to the founders of Inema and about their artwork, which is featured throughout the inside and out of the center. Our time at the art center ended with a dance performance of about 20 children, who attend the art center. They gave a beautiful and happy performance and at the end of the show, each child brought us into the performance to participate and to teach us some dance moves.
Unfortunately, the day after wasn’t all fun and games. Early in the morning, we traveled to a refugee camp an hour away from Kigali. Gihembe refugee camp is on top of a small hill with over 17,000 refugees. As we arrived our bus was immediately surrounded by dozens of children. They were so excited to see us they pounded on the windows and waved. This excitement from the children lasted our entire time at Gihembe. It was great to see how happy they were, but it incredibly overwhelming. I have used this word before to describe the trip but the children overtook me; grabbing my hands, going through my pockets, touching my hair. The situation became very claustrophobic. This feeling was also exaggerated that this small hill was full of so many people, animals, and buildings. Their houses and schools are dwarfed by my bedroom in Buffalo. It was yet another humbling experience. After touring the camp, we performed a play about Anne Frank that we have been rehearsing on, and the children and adults alike loved it. Not because they could understand what we were saying per say but because for 20 minutes someone outside of the camp really cared for them.
Where I last left you in my journey I was at an emotional high and again my experiences have made my heart stretch. I wanted so much to be happy at the refugee camp with all the refugees smiling faces but it was so hard. Small happiness comes knowing that the donations I collected from Frontier Central High School were actually going to children who really need them. Another one is knowing by just being at the camp showed the people of the refugee camp that we care.
A roller coaster is a great way to explain the trip thus far, I would also describe it as “heart stretching”, as our fearless leader Drew Kahn often says. We are experiencing extreme highs and then extreme lows of emotion. It's hard to be pulled in both directions, leaving me in the middle, almost numb at some points. But reflection through our group discussion and the blog posts help shift those emotions back to a positive.
New Years Day was a time to re-cooperate from some of the jetlag that still is following me like a mosquito. We started the day by coming together in a group to discuss our time at the first two memorials. This discussion lead to all of these realizations about the genocide in Rwanda but also our American culture. A major theme of the discussion was how the Rwandan’s have tackled the process of healing together, as “One Rwanda”. Instead of forgiving and forgetting they have taken the philosophy to forgive but never forget. After learning and seeing first-hand the carnage that happened here 20 years ago, this notion of forgiving seems almost impossible to me. But, the Rwandan society has really adopted this philosophy and continues to amaze me.
Having these discussions have really helped put words to my experiences. After New Years Day, we had the opportunity to visit two real co-operatives in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. This was our first trip out of the city of Kigali and the scenery was absolutely breathtaking, Rwanda really is the land of a thousand hills. The fist co-op we visited was in a small village and the co-op had a concentration on corn agriculture and processing of corn. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were immediately greeted by 20 children. They happily ran up and grabbed everyone’s hands and played with our watches and cameras. The children lead us through the village and accompanied us at the market were all the adults showed us an equal welcoming. I can’t stress enough how kind and friendly the people here are. Proceeding the corn co-op, we visited at a weaver’s co-op where we shopped and learn about the weavers.
The weaver’s co-op was a particularly emotional high for me. The experience was very overwhelming. The whole shop was full of thousands of beautiful colored and patterned baskets and other weaving products, from the floor to the ceiling. As I picked the basket I wanted, a woman came to me and was ecstatic that I liked the basket that she made. She kept saying thank you and gave me a bracelet, that she made, as a gift. After everyone made their purchases, the woman of the weaving co-op gave a talk about their mission and how most of the money goes back to the people that weave the baskets to help them feed their families, send their children to school, and other daily activities. Following the talk, the woman then presented each of us with a hand woven "peace basket" as a gift for taking the time to stop by and help support them. Even though they need the funding from the baskets to help support themselves, they gave us all a gift.
These experiences are really helping put into focus my own life, my own “problems”, and my upbringing. Making me feel so thankful for everything that I have and everyone in my life. As much as I think that I am here to help and teach in Rwanda it seems to be helping me, tenfold.
Author and researcher Brené Brown once wrote, “We need to be the adults we want our children to be... We should model the kindness we want to see”. As an Art Educator and as a young adult, I believe this to be a simple yet profound statement and an inspiring way live life. This personal philosophy is one of the many propellers that lead me to join ‘Drama Based Education: Training Teachers in Rwanda 2016’.
This past Fall 2015 semester at SUNY Buffalo State College was my final semester as an undergraduate in the Art Education program. My final semester in the Art Education program was spent outside of Buffalo State Campus, at Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy and Frontier Central High School, student teaching. As a student teacher, I struggled to juggle full-time teaching and, at the same time, planning for the future. I narrowed my future options down to continuing my education or pursuing an art education career directly out of undergraduate studies. During my debates, I met Buffalo State Professor and the Anne Frank Project’s Founding Director, Andrew Kahn.
During our first meeting, Professor Kahn quickly displayed his passion, enthusiasm, and knowledge for Rwanda, his students, and his colleagues. These energies exhibited by Professor Kahn reminded me of Brown’s quote; modeling how I envision myself as an educator and adult. He made my decision to go to Rwanda and continue my graduate education at Buffalo State, very easy. Unfortunately, my experience preparing for Rwanda hasn’t been so effortless.
After I was accepted into the Rwanda program, preparations for the trip were due almost instantaneously, including airfare, vaccinations, and other expenses. As a student teacher I was encouraged not to hold a job during the semester’s duration and because of this, I had little funds available to fund my journey. This financial predicament fueled my creative reasoning as I looked and applied for funding and scholarships to help pay for Rwanda. Through this creativity and hard work I have received 3 scholarships, ‘Improve the World—SUNY/AFP Rwanda Travel Award’, ‘International Service-Learning Scholarship’, an emergency scholarship fund through Buffalo State Art Education Department, and lastly the Art Education Department also supplied me with additional funding. Only with these scholarships and funding, I am able to serve in this year’s Training Teachers in Rwanda 2016. But, after attaining these scholarships and funding opportunities, the remaining preparation quickly fell into place.
I am physically and whole-heartedly ready to travel to Rwanda. I haven’t begun my travels and I have already learned and experienced so much through Professor Kahn, Anne Frank Project’s co-director Eve Everette, and my other fellow Rwanda 2016 participants. These experiences prior to the trip have reignited my understanding that hard work and determination really do pay off. As I travel to and experience Rwanda I keep in mind what I have learned, what I want to know, and living in the moment. I will model the kindness I want to see in the world.
We are pleased to announce the Rwanda 2016 delegates. Our group consists of a variety of disciplines which lays the foundation for exciting research, conversations, and experiences. Congratulations!
- Molly Bader (Theater/Painting)**2015 alum
- Ashanti Bryant (Sociology/Women & Gender Studies)
- Tolulope Fashuyi (Theater)
- Crystal Holmes-Smith (Grad/Elementary Education)
- Lillian Inglut (English Education/Theater)
- John Latona (Art Education)
- Samuel Merriman (Theater/Philosophy)**2015 alum
- Daniel Torres (Theater)
- Drew Kahn
- Eve Everette
- Bruce Fox (BSC photographer)
- Deborah Lanni (photographer, Bruce’s partner)
- Patricia Recchio (Teacher Certification, School of Education)